Public hearing on MARC service likely to focus on funding

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Eastern Panhandle residents can let the Maryland Transit Authority know how a weaker MARC train service into the area would impact them.

Del. John Doyle

The MTA is holding public hearing from 10 to noon Saturday at the Charles Town Public Library, and Delegate John Doyle (D-Jefferson, 67) hopes the community comes out in droves.

“Let the Maryland Transit Administration and people in Charleston (know) that the Eastern Panhandle strongly supports the MARC commuter train service. It is, I think, critically needed infrastructure for us here,” Doyle said.

Municipal leaders from around the Eastern Panhandle have been touting the train’s importance to the economy, saying proximity to a MARC station draws folks to buy homes in the area and the good salaries commuters bring home are an economic boon.

Berkeley County Councilman Dan Dulyea said the MTA’s headcount of riders, which is around 250 is not an accurate count because many are bused from the Eastern Panhandle to a nearby Maryland station in Brunswick.

“You’re probably three times that, that’s actually riding that train; and then, if you’re going to talk about transportation in the state of West Virginia, it’s a step backwards to lose that part of it,” Dulyea said.

Craig Blair

State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said during an appearance Friday on MetroNews “Talkline” MTA’s funding request of $3.2 million is unrealistic. With 239 West Virginia rides of the train, Blair said the allocation would amount to a subsidy of about $12, 800 dollars per rider.

“We can buy them a Tesla or a Mercedes every four years (at that cost),” Blair said. “It’s just not feasible.”

Last year, the state legislature appropriated $1.5 million for MARC service and this regular session appropriated $1.1 million for the 2019-20 budget year. Blair said the maximum the state should allocate is $500,000. He said the money could be used to transport the riders by bus to a Brunswick, Maryland train stop.

Martinsburg Economic and Community Development Director Shane Farthing said on “Talkline” Friday the riders who live in the area pay the state approximately $2.5 million a year in property taxes. He said keeping service can grow the tax base.

“People are relying on that, not just for the ‘I’m going to go to work, collect my paycheck, get home,’ type of standard commuter things, which is great on its own but we’re trying to build a much more broader economy here,” Farthing said, adding the connection to Washington, D.C. that MARC provides is a key component.

The MTA has said if West Virginia doesn’t kick in the money requested, changes could be coming as early as November. That would mean fewer trains running as well as diminished services at Panhandle stations.

Delegate Doyle said other funding options should be on the table, such as municipalities with home rule using some of their added sales tax proceeds to keep the trains running into the Panhandle:

“I think the Jefferson County Commission, the Berkeley County Council, and each of the seven municipalities should be able to kick in some money,” Doyle said.

Doyle and Dulyea were guests on Friday’s Panhandle Live, heard on MetroNews affiliates WEPM & WCST.

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