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Small community in the path of rail project with big political momentum

How would 30-40 trucks every hour from an intermodal railyard impact life in Morrell Park?

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An intermodal rail facility sending 30 -trucks per hour into their neighborhood? No way, a feisty Morrell Park crowd said in September. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Photo by: An intermodal rail facility sending 30 -trucks per hour into their neighborhood? No way, a feisty Morrell Park crowd said in September. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Public meetings about controversial projects have a familiar narrative arc, but the one in Morrell Park this week moved quickly past the first stage (quiet listening) to the second (audible groans and oaths).

It happened after a CSX Transportation official described the number of trucks that would be rumbling through this stable blue-collar community in southwest Baltimore after the company’s proposed “Baltimore-Washington Intermodal Rail Facility” was up and running.

Every hour, between 30 and 40 trucks would enter and exit the Bernard Drive entrance, he said.

“30 to 40!” several people grumbled, while others simply repeated the number around the American Legion Hall on Desoto Road, which was filled to capacity with about 175 people on Wednesday.

When someone rose to ask a question about the truck volume, CSX’s Richard Hisrich pointed him toward one of the poster boards set up around the room’s perimeter.

“You can take that question to one of the stations after we finish the presentation,” Hisrich said. (Each board had graphics and talking points about terminal operations or safety and security and was staffed by a city, state or CSX official.)

The murmuring erupted into heated protests as people realized there was to be no opportunity to stand up before the group and speak. “We don’t want stations, we want answers!” “I think this was a done deal before we even came in here!” “They’re trying to split us up!”

Robert Tivvis, a 51-year Morrell Park resident, drew loud applause when he bluntly told the half-dozen train company officials and government bureaucrats: “This is a community meeting. Talk to us together like we’re a community!”

Another telling moment was a silent one. A speaker asked for “anyone who is in favor of this” to stand up. No one did.

Suburban Sites Rejected

Sought by residents for months, this was the first community-wide meeting about the $90 million expansion of the existing Mount Clare railyard into a 24-hour container transfer facility.

The 70-acre parcel (located between Wilkens and Washington avenues, bisected by Interstate 95) is only the latest site where CSX has tried to locate such a facility in Maryland. Several suburban sites were floated and rejected amid community opposition, which was particularly strong in Howard County’s Elkridge area.

The project calls for tractor trailers from the Port of Baltimore to bring sealed containers to the facility, where they would be “double-stacked” on freight trains. The transfer is necessary because CSX’s 118-year-old Howard Street tunnel is too low for double-stack trains to pass through.

Outlines of the facility, from the city's Transportation Impact Study.

Proposed CSX intermodal transfer facility, from the city’s Transportation Impact Study. (Source: Baltimore Department of Transportation)

State officials say the project would essentially relocate the current CSX transfer depot at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, clearing out space for the Port of Baltimore to accommodate increased traffic from the widened Panama Canal.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake support the project as a way to enhance the port and boost the local economy.

As for CSX, it’s a part of their National Gateway Project aimed at moving freight more efficiently from East Coast ports to inland destinations.

Unanswered Questions

Some information has been made public. There would be 324 tractor trailer trucks a day at the site, according to the city’s traffic impact study. CSX has said there would be as many as five intermodal freight trains a day, two large cranes and lighting on poles as high as 80 feet.

But residents said they had many more questions, including a list of dozens that CSX officials have ignored, according to Paul DeNoble, who spoke on behalf of the Morrell Park Community Association and Morrell Park and St. Paul’s Improvement Association.

Morrell Park's Paul DeNoble speaks, as CSX officials stand behind him. (Photo by fern Shen)

Paul DeNoble speaks, and CSX and city officials listen behind him. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“They kept putting us off and telling us our questions would be answered at the meeting,” DeNoble said, explaining why resident were so angry about state, city and company officials assuming control of it. “This is our meeting!”

The executive director of the non-profit National Center for Healthy Housing, Rebecca L. Morley, said the CSX staffers signing people in at the door wouldn’t allow her to set up a table with fliers.

The center has published a 132-page study, funded by foundations including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, on the public health impacts of the facility.

Morley said she was told she could set her fliers (summarizing their findings) near the stack of sanctioned information sheets (marked with logos representing the state, city and rail company).

But every time she returned to check her stack, she said, it was gone: “They keep disappearing – and not from people taking them one by one.”

“A Health Sacrifice Zone”

At Wednesday’s night meeting, people with homes in the two residential neighborhoods abutting the project scrutinized the aerial photos to see how close the intermodal terminal would be. Patty Michel, who has lived on Spence Street for 12 years, already knew.

“I’m three streets from where the main tracks will be. I think this is going to be devastating,” said Michel, speaking to The Brew before the meeting got underway. She said she is dreading the prospect of truck and train noise,  exhaust fumes and bright lights.

“We like our quality of life. Will we be able to sit in the yard and look at the stars in the sky?” Michel asked.

Others noted the proximity of schools and raised the specter of hazardous waste spills and increased respiratory illness from truck exhaust, noting that residents are already affected by a nearby industrial parks and citing a recent study that found Baltimore to have the highest rate of air pollution-related deaths in the country.

“I don’t want to live in a health sacrifice zone,” said Heather Moyer, of Grinnalds Ave.

Many said the traffic congestion from trucks on roads surrounding the project would be intolerable. Mary Bush’s face fell as she listened to Valorie LaCour, of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, explain plans to mitigate the traffic impacts.

“We’ll be making minor modifications, such as increasing the radius so that trucks aren’t jumping the curbs and hitting poles,” LaCour said, as she ran through her presentation.

Bush assailed CSX for not offering to buy her house or to compensate her, asserting that its value would plummet if the rail facility is built next door.

“I step outside my door and there’s the tracks,” she said.

Prospect of Jobs

Among the questions the residents pressed on proponents of the project was how it would benefit residents of Morrell Park and surrounding communities.

“It’s really an economic development project, where there’s jobs and growth,” said Brad Smith, a project manager for the Maryland Department of Transportation. LaCour tackled the question as well, listing the benefits: “good paying jobs, increased business tax revenue, supporting economic growth, solidifying the growth of the Port of Baltimore.”

Several audience members asked what percentage of total jobs would go to local residents. CSX officials’ answer: about 50 permanent jobs will transfer from Seagirt to the new facility. Beyond that, they spoke of “200 indirect jobs,” as well as hundreds of construction jobs as the facility is built.

Reisinger Deflects the Flak

They said they had been working with state and city officials to explain these employment benefits. As talk turned to politicians, the crowd called for City Councilman Ed Reisinger to come to the microphone.

Reisinger, who hails from Morrell Park, is the mayor’s point man on the City Council and has publicly praised CSX in the press.

“You can shoot all the scud missiles you want and throw tomatoes,” said Reisinger, facing the crowd. He assured them that “nothing is carved in stone” and promised to go back to the mayor and “tell her there are a lot of problems, a lot of issues and concerns.”

“Tell her we don’t want it!” several shouted. “I got it,” Reisinger replied.

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Morrell Park resident Laurie Weishorn points out the proximity of the project to residential areas. (Photo by Fern Shen)

But he also signaled some skepticism about complaining residents. “With all due respect, when you bought your homes, you saw railroad tracks.”

Asked about that remark later, DeNoble called it “shameful and deceptive” and said the proposed facility would go significantly beyond what’s at the railyard now.

“It just has a couple of tracks running through it,” he said. “CSX currently has no right of way to access the tracks. There’s no truck traffic. It’s the same as the thousands of other tracks that run quietly through the country.”
__________________________________
UPDATE:
This came in after publication: A statement from Melanie Cost of CSX Corporate Communications

“We heard and appreciate the community’s concerns and comments. They will help us as we continue planning for the facility. As we mentioned at the meeting, we have been working with the state, city, and the Morrell Park community throughout the planning process to develop a facility that best fits the needs of everyone involved. That work included hosting and participating in dozens of meetings over the past ten months, sharing information about preliminary options with business leaders and the broader community about this evolving project. With all terminal siting projects, we comply with all local, state and federal regulations designed to govern the development process, safeguard public health and protect the environment.”

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  • Mike Weston

    No person can reasonably believe that running trains and truck traffic through a neighborhood is a good thing. Only corporations and goverment would engage in such thinking. That being said, why should corporate interests be allowed to interfere with resident’s right to enjoy their property? CSX wants to change their quality of life an diminish their property values, they should have to pay for it. Fight ‘em Morrell Park!

    • Steven Robbins

      Hi all,

      I am new to this group, and am glad I joined, nice to meet you all.

      I can not help but reply to this thread, as a lot of people are in a position that can have huge consequences, if not fully informed, and make a rash decision, that ends in a degraded way of life. Please feel free to re-post at will.

      I personally have lived in Morrell Park, less than 200 feet from the train yards, ever since the train tracks were the stockyards (Any one else remember that?) if not, that’s over 40 years, but anyway, I still live here, and my 80+ year old mother still lives here as well. I have also been intimately involved with CSX, and making a deal to purchase our house, and land, for the proposed building of the Inter-modal yard. I personally think that this is a great thing for the city, state,as well as my family, and lets face it, this neighborhood hasn’t been the great place it was, for a really, really long time.

      Morrell Park is now a shell of what it once was, and I am afraid that it’s not going to be the way it used to be ever again. Just a fact of life.
      To be honest, even though they are not allowed on the street, there are already trucks over 3/4 ton and larger traveling down Georgetown Road constantly as well as down the lower end of Washington Blvd, as well as trucks that use their “Jake brake” on I-95 that will literally wake the dead when it is used by truckers.

      We used to be able to sit out on the porch, and watch the children play as we conversed with our neighbors. Not anymore. We hear not only the traffic from the interstate, but also gunshots, we see junkies stroll down our street all the time, looking for something to take to the bar, and sell for their next fix (this HAS happened to me on more than one occasion, from a locked shed in our backyard) and to be honest, we live in an area where the neighbors no longer care about their property (as indicated on Georgetown Rd. Just ride to Bernard drive, you will see the houses I am speaking of) its basically a junkyard, not to mention that there is a dumped BOAT on one street. Really,,A BOAT!?!?! Wow. (yes, 311 has been called, but no one has ever came and done anything about it).I am disgusted with the way this neighborhood has evolved.

      Anyway, citizens of Morrell Park, I have a message to you, from a lifelong resident, and lover, of Morrell Park:

      PLEASE MAKE YOUR OWN DECISION, DO NOT GET POLLUTED BY SCARE TACTICS THAT SOME ARE MAKING AT THESE MEETINGS!!

      There are people at these meetings who DON’T EVEN LIVE HERE but in fact, own,and rent out townhouses here in MP. All he/she is out for is to make a buck off of the slum houses that they maintain here in Morrell Park. Its the epitome of whats wrong with Morrell Park, that makes it a “not-so-good” place to live anymore.

      Seems that this person is one of the most vocal opponents to this plan, but they also have no children to think of, and purely a “what money I stand to lose in rent collected” perspective.

      All because they want to maintain their rental properties, and NOT the best interest of the community or its residents.

      So who has your best interest at heart? YOU DO!

      All I ask, is that you just entertain what CSX has to offer, see whats possible, and make your own decision. This project has huge financial implications for the city, and ultimately the state, and who knows, you may be able to swing a nice enough deal that, you can then live somewhere where you don’t have to worry about police sirens, gun shots (unless its a hunter with a deer in its sights) or a fraction of the crime and paranoia that this city creates.

      I LOVE Morrell Park, let me be clear, but I also know where we came from as a community, and I cant stand to think that it is what it is now. I miss it, I miss Eat At Joe’s, I miss Tangiers, I miss the Fruit Stand, but times, well, they are a changing, Leaving here seems like a good idea for us now, and if someone else is going to help us foot the bill, then I will look back on Morrell Park, as the place I am proud to be from, and will look back with fondness in my heart, but it will be in my rear view mirror.

  • Nacho Belvedere

    This whole idea is absurd. The state can find billions to fund the ICC and the Red LIne, but they can’t work out a solution to replace the Howard St tunnel? Some sort of federal/state/CSX thing? A replacement would allay the existing safety issues *and* fix the double-decker container issue permanently, keeping the port competitive. The intermodal terminal is a band-aid, running hundreds of containers over miles of crowded highways to put them on trains is a complete joke logistically — the container terminal is the most efficient place to put them on a train.

    And aside from the detrimental impact to the Morrell Park neighborhood, what sort of effect is this going to have on I-95 traffic and the highway infrastructure? The number I’ve seen quoted is 300 trucks a day (1500-2100 truck trips a week) — is that coming around the beltway or through one of the tunnels? I bet that really will help the condition of the bridges and the road surface. Which we will then pay via higher gas taxes to fix.

    Lots of questions, but of course the corporate interests have lined up the usual City Council suspects to ram it through.

    • ham_snadwich

      Replacing the Howard Street Tunnel is pretty much a nonstarter. Hugely expensive and disruptive. It’d be better to bypass downtown altogether, since there’s no industrial users of the railroad down there anymore.

      • Nacho Belvedere

        Yeah, I’d say the best place would be to run a tunnel under the harbor parallel to the Harbor Tunnel — that’s the shortest route across the harbor. Connects to the Marine Terminal on the north side, Fairfield on the south where it could be hooked up to the existing rail infrastructure. See, how hard was that to figure out?

    • bmorepanic

      It looks like the pollution will also add to the stuff on Broening Highway or Dundalk ave or more likely, parts of both as Kane street seems to be the closest entry to 95 from the container pier at the Dundalk Marine Terminal unless there is a new exit planned..

      The houses in that area have already given their lives in sacrifice to the port traffic on neighborhood street plus I95 and I895. I guess people in that area just can’t die fast enough for our city planners.

  • Lizzie 58

    More affluent communities and elected officials in Beltsville, and Hanover killed off this proposed CSX intermodal transit center in their areas. The Mayor went after this project for the City, and she cares little for Morrell Park or any of Baltimore’s working class communities–white or black. City agencies typically refer to these southwest neighborhoods disparagingly as the land of the Baltimore hillbillies. The Port and CSX seem to share little enthusiasm for building a buffer between the intermodal center and the neighborhoods. Hard to understand why Councilman Reisinger did not push for more buffer and more community input before he started praising CSX. Also, why did he allow the community to be used in a forum that only made their long frustrations rise to the top and subject them to ridicule about this is what you get when you buy a house here.

    Morrell Park needs someone with a bigger voice who will be taken seriously by the Port and CSX. Our City Government is not on your side. Talk to St. Agnes Hospital, Seton Keough School, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore about what is being done to the neighborhood. The Catholic Church is finding its voice once again about how working class people are treated in this country by those with money, big business and government. Our politically ambitious Democratic Governor has a whole lot of reasons not to blow off the Catholic Church.

  • bmorepanic

    These are the only ideas I can think of to help Morell Park residents. I wish you guys all the best in fighting this.

    Keep landing on “Sacrifice Zone” – your entire neighborhood are expected to sacrifice your home, your health, your children’s health and your peace of mind for 50 jobs. It’s a really strong point, particularly backed by that study.

    See if anybody knows at the level of senator or house of representatives who can pull the funding at the Federal Level. This is not to say neglect the state house, but y’all need some real power. It sounds like the city and state are trying to convince you there is no other way to increase rail traffic except to sacrifice YOUR LIVES.

    Think over speaking of “compensation” – it sounds like you’re willing to sell your life. I would speak of relocation – if they can’t relocate the rail yard, they need to relocate you.

    A replacement for the Howard street tunnel should be close to a federal priority after the last fire/accident. Replacing the tunnel could be a big winner as it would allow the current rail yard to be used and possibly yield the existing tunnel for other uses – like light rail or subway or other forms of passenger rail.

    Someone who is smarter than I am should do FOIA requests for the documents backing up the assertions of jobs and more rail traffic. To me, it sounds like the city and CSX are just puffing about increasing rail traffic and increasing freight traffic into the port.

    • GXWalsh

      (ok third time trying to type this)
      Ideas:
      Everywhere SRB is (appearances, Board of Estimates, everywhere), you are too and you wait until she starts talking and roll out a banner with “Morell Park is not yours to sacrifice!” or something like that.

      The Catholic church has a philosophical bone to pick with O’Malley…get them on your side (Thanks Lizzie58).

      Get the Maryland Historical Society involved…did anything happen in that area during the battle of North Point? Possibly not, but an mandatory archaeological dig never hurt anyone.

      Can you find a pro-bono architect to work up some drawings of what the facility would look like with a giant roof on it? With air handlers and noise suppression?

      Good luck!

  • Gerald Neily

    Translating the data for impacts, the number of trucks should be multiplied by two to 648 truck trips per day or 60-80 per hour to account for ins and outs. And the number of new jobs is zero, as they will be transferred from Sea Girt. The “indirect” growth is likely double counting of future growth the port has already claimed.

    • Tom Gregory

      Excellent points.

  • Tom Gregory

    Unable to shop the intramodal plan in other parts of Maryland and due to the proven lack of intelligent decision making by those who run Baltimore, CSX soon realized the Mt. Clare rail yard was a perfect spot to construct their facility.

    Under the guise of a “community meeting” and with the blessing of the governor and mayor, politicians and bureaucrats took their Divide and Conquer Kabuki Theater on the road in order to win the hearts and minds of citizens that could lose their neighborhoods, property values and health. Thwarting Ms. Morely efforts to bring health impact findings to the community was nothing short of a bullying tactic. Referring to Councilman Reisinger in the article as “point man” for the mayor was way too kind.

  • cwals99

    Let’s see, what is O’Malley planning for rail development this coming decade? I see natural gas in our future as O’Malley leads the nation in pushing to export natural gas from Fracking and already planning a port for export. How will that bonanza flow from the West to the East?

    Then there is the high-speed rail that O’Malley signed on with Obama. You know, the one that moves the rich super-fast from DC to Boston spending tons of taxpayer money while our commuter trains are packed and accident-prone from lack of oversight and maintenance.

    These are the plans for the money being gathered from the gas tax.

  • snarkycomments

    Would it make more sense to increase the height of the Howard Street tunnel so the trains can be double-stacked at the port directly? That might impact me personally, for a while as the construction happened, but it seems like it would be a more efficient long term solution.

    EDIT: Just saw the post from Nacho Belvedere. What he said.

  • lolyer1

    Are the anticipated “XX” amount of trucks a day coming from the east? So basically, they’ll use the Caton Ave exit off of 95 and take Wilkins to Desoto Rd?I’m assuming if any hazmats are involved, the trucks will use the Key Bridge and those will exit off of Washington Blvd and come to Desoto rd from there?Once these trucks offload their containers, do they go back via Desoto Rd and hit Wilkens / St. Agnes to get back on 95 north?I think this is the first time I appreciate that there are no exits or entrances at the 95 ramps near the golf course, due to there being no access to and from 95 north from that particular junction.

  • Day_Star

    What’s’ good for the Port of Baltimore is good for Baltimore. More freight by rail = lower emissions. Cool. Controversy doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing. A few stressed citizens shouldn’t stop progress for a City and region.

    The urbanist in me would rather the Howard Street tunnel be used for mass transit. Deepening the tunnel will cost a bloody fortune and the state has other priorities in the next 10 years (don’t forget, this tunnel nearly bankrupted the B&O). The proposal deals with the reality and not people’s fantasies.

    • Nacho Belvedere

      But this isn’t good for the port; a proper rail tunnel would be good for the port and for East Coast rail traffic in general. This is a band-aid on the problem. Trucking hundreds of containers is inefficient, which is why every other port loads their containers on trains at the terminal. For instance, what happens if there’s an accident on I-95 north? All container traffic backs up, how is that efficient?

      Simply put, CSX is too cheap to build a new tunnel. To be fair though, a project of that size usually done as a public-private partnership. But Maryland has pissed their transportation dollars away on other things and federal matching funds are drying up. So instead we get this Rube Goldberg scheme that kills off a cohesive neighborhood, degrades Baltimore air quality, and slowly but steadily wears out the highway infrastructure.

  • Matthew Riesner

    I would think if there was a toll and the payments were spread out over many years in order to pay a bond, the new Howard St.tunnel could be built. My question is how much would CSX be able to pay in a toll for a tunnel vs. the cost of loading containers onto separate trucks and driving them to Morrell Park? We have used public/private financing to build many expensive projects in the past and maybe a new downtown tunnel could be one of them. We could build a big-dig type project with multiple purposes such as putting the light rail underground and tying it to the subway, having large-scale sewer and storm water upgrades, an extension of I-395 to mid-town or even the JFX, as well as having freight rail. If it was done right, it could improve efficiency and available capacity on MARC either eliminating some of the redundancy of the Camden and Penn lines or be able to use the Camden line to add more capacity to Penn line via the tunnel.

  • John Shore

    John Shore, Thirteen years since I moved from Morrell Park, and I still remember voting not to support CSX, BIDs project Big ED sold us out on back in the day. I also believe he sold his Community business just prior to this deal going down. Morrell Park stay strong and make The Good Councilman be your taste tester, because there is nothing safe in the Kool-aide he is selling the neighborhood.

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