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Talking About Plan B For The Red Line

P. Kenneth Burns

Baltimore City and county leaders say they’re looking for a transit Plan B to replace the east west Red Line that Gov. Larry Hogan killed last month. And even state Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn says he’s on board for an alternative. But nobody seems to know, or is willing to say, what that is.

Rahn said this week he will talk with elected officials next month to discuss what a plan B would look like. He has scheduled a meeting for Aug. 10 to discuss that as well as other ways to improve public transportation in the Baltimore region.

“You’re going to see, as we get into the coming months, I think are solutions that we can deliver much faster than the Red Line and will provide more benefit.” he said.

Rahn also said he will talk with city and county residents in the coming months about ways to improve MTA services.

“We will work with city leaders, we will work with the citizens and we will get input and we will see from the concepts that are there; which [will] fit Baltimore the way people that live in Baltimore want it to work,” he added.

Hogan killed the $2.9 billion Red Line in June and dispersed money set aside for the project to road projects across the state. He called the transit line “a wasteful boondoggle.”  Rahn said the fatal flaw was a $1 billion tunnel.

He said Thursday the department has worked on several concepts, but they’ve been placed on hold.

“Because of the focus on the Red Line, there were no resources available to try to implement these other improvements to the system that could benefit the entire city,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz began searching last week for an alternative to the Red Line, which would have run from Woodlawn in the county to Johns Hopkins Bayview on the east side of the city.

He asked the staff at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to look for ways to improve public transportation.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the Baltimore regional leaders to at least generate some conversation,” he said.

Kamenetz, who chairs the council, said the staff will study the issue over 90 days and members will discuss their next steps at the council’s October meeting. He said he hopes to have a consensus before the start of the 2016 Maryland General Assembly session.

In addition to Red Line alternatives, he said transit experts need to do “a total re-analysis” of current bus routes.

“It appears to me the current bus routes are based upon a 1960s model of downtown as the hub and all the spokes are leading from downtown,” he said. “There has to be a way to let the job centers be the hubs and then we figure out how to do the spokes to get people to and from home.”

Rahn said Kamenetz was off by about 20 years. The routes are based on a 1940s model.

“The routes that are in place are legacy routes that have been just the way things have been done for a long time and we will have to look at those,” he said.

What Does Plan B Look Like?

Kamenetz’ idea for a plan B would involve using the existing tunnel for the Metro Subway.

“Maybe there’s opportunities to create links that connect, for example, to Lexington Market as a transit hub at the existing Metro station and then that can be a spur that runs to Social Security in Woodlawn,” he said.

He also suggested making an eastern spur from the Metro station at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The idea is similar to one the public transit advocacy group Right Rail Coalition presented to state officials earlier this year. Members were told it was inadequate.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was trying to revive the Red Line earlier this month, now says she is willing to look at a plan B.

She said during a news conference Wednesday that city Transportation Director William Johnson was looking at alternatives, but that “it’s too early to pick a favorite.”

Both Rawlings-Blake and Kamenetz have said rapid bus should be part of the conversation. That echoes Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who said earlier this month that rapid bus is “the way to go.”

Rahn, however, is remaining neutral.

“I’m not going to critique the various proposals that came to me,” he said, “If there are good ideas there, we’re going to hear them in the environment we’re stepping into now as we look for solutions Baltimore citizens want for their transit system.”