Officials Seek To Revive Red Line

Jul 2, 2015

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, with elected officials, calling on Governor Larry Hogan to reconsider putting the Red Line on the shelf. Hogan said the state would not be moving forward with the $2.9 billion project saying it cost too much and doesn't make sense.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Elected officials led by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sharply criticized Governor Larry Hogan Wednesday for shelving the Red Line while at the same time asking him to reconsider.

They criticized Hogan’s decision as "deeply short-sighted” in a six-page letter to the Republican governor and said it would “haunt Baltimore for decades."

Rawlings-Blake, the members of the City Council and the city’s delegations to the General Assembly and congressional representatives - all Democrats - signed the letter.

Rawlings-Blake saved her sharpest words for a news conference at the West Baltimore MARC Station. 

"The Hogan administration has says yes to more liquor stores in the city but no to increased transit and jobs for those same neighborhoods," she said.  "The Hogan administration says yes to funding a youth jail but no to fully funding education for our youth to help keep them out of it."

Gubernatorial spokesman Doug Mayer called the mayor's comments "outlandish" in an e-mail.

"What the mayor said isn’t remotely true and everyone knows it isn’t," he wrote.

Flaw In The Argument

Hogan derailed the $2.9 billion dollar project last Thursday.

He called it a poorly designed "boondoggle" that doesn't meet the needs of Baltimore City and is too expensive.

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said the proposed rail link connecting Woodlawn in Baltimore County to Hopkins Bayview in East Baltimore would not connect with other transit lines. In addition, it would require that a one billion dollar tunnel be built through downtown, which he called a fatal flaw.

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes said calling the Red Line a boondoggle was "extremely unfortunate" considering the $288 million already spent on planning, design, engineering and land acquisition. He added the governor's decision did not match previous pronouncements that Baltimore is the state's economic engine.

"It doesn't make any sense if we're gonna try to connect all parts of Baltimore with each other so that Baltimore is truly rising as one community," said Sarbanes.

Don Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Community, called Hogan's decision a body blow to the city.  He said the Red Line has been a top priority for the business group since 2002.

"It's an opportunity that we saw to really be a transformational project for the city," Fry said.

Fry added that the project has gone through several levels of scrutiny and that it would have made connections with existing Metro Subway and Light Rail lines that don’t currently exist.

"That was one of the beauties of the Red Line; it provided connectivity," he added.

Plan B: ?

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday morning that she is "definitely" trying to work on a Plan B.

She met with the city's delegation to Annapolis earlier in the week to look for ways to salvage the Red Line and that her administration is looking for ways to work with the state to improve public transportation in the city.

"We know that the transportation needs of our city have changed and the MTA has not kept up," she said.

But by the time of the afternoon news conference at the West Baltimore MARC station, the mayor said there was no Plan B.

"The alternative is clear; to move forward with the well-reasoned and well-planned transportation infrastructure project that is going to bring what we need in Baltimore right now," she said.

Nonetheless, she said later she would listen to alternatives from Hogan.

"I haven’t heard of any viable alternatives to the rapid transit that would be possible with the Red Line," she said.  "If the Hogan administration has some alternatives I would love to hear about them."

Mayer, Hogan's spokesman, was vague about whether the governor has an alternative.

“The governor has made very clear that he is willing to work with anyone committed to the fair and honest development of alternatives,” he wrote. But “grandstanding and media one-upmanship won't lead to better outcomes or solve any problems."

State Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh wanted to know what Governor Hogan meant when he said the Red Line would not be built  “in this form” before talking about alternatives.

"If not in this form means 15 stops instead of 19 stops; if not in this form means you got to do something about the tunnel because it’s very concerning.  I think you have to understand that first," she said.

The Alternative

The leader of one public transit advocacy group that has been critical of the Red Line said they have an alternative, but the mayor refuses to meet with them.

"The mayor’s office has said just our way or no other way and has been totally unwilling to consider that the Red Line might not be what is being advertised and that we can do better," said Marty Taylor, president of the Right Rail Coalition.

Taylor had mixed emotions about Hogan’s decision.

"I'm really disappointed that we don't have a clear path forward at the moment,” he said, “but relieved that we're no longer throwing money down the endless Red Line sinkhole.”

Taylor said the coalition's plan would have connected the Red Line to the Metro Subway’ Lexington Market stop, then extended east above ground along the Amtrak line, to Hopkins Bayview.

It "would allow Baltimore to continue to build transit in a hub and spoke model rather than a new disconnected line that doesn't build on our existing infrastructure," he said.

And it would only cost about $1.7 billion, close to half the price of the Red Line.