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New Red Line proposal floated

Robert Keith, a member of the Red Line Advisory Council and a resident of Fells Point, is an outspoken opponent of what is now considered to be the leading alternative for construction of the east-west Red Line.

That alternative would run light rail from Westview ro Bayview, with tunneling under downtown, Fells Point and West Baltimore's Cooks Lane but with tracks on the surface allong Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street. The  roughly $1.6 billion plan has the support of business leaders and the Dixon administration but is opposed by many residents of Canton and West Baltimore.

Also on the table is an alternative that includes tunneling under Edmondson and Boston, but the Maryland Transit Administration said that plan would be too costly to meet the standards for federal funding.

Keith is planning to submit an alternative plan to the advisory council tonight calling for maximum tunneling, but with construction in two phases. It's an interesting idea, though the $2.3 billion price tag is daunting. Nor is it certain that the first phase of his plan would attract enough ridership to qualify.

 I'm not at all convinced by Keith's insistence that the line should run under Fayette Street downtown rather than Lombard Street. That plan would take the line two blocks farther from the waterfront, likely costing it a lot of ridership. Keith seems to believe a 600-foot underground passageway between the Red Line at the Metro's Charles Center station is an onerous imposition. To me, it sounds reasonable.

If you're interested in poring through a rather long, proposal, it's attached below. My caveat is that it is the work of an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional with extensive qualifications in the field. I pass it along without endorsing it.

 

 

A Proposal for Alternative 4D Modified;
Funding the Red Line in Two Phases

 

By Robert Keith

 
Widespread demands for tunneling, rather than surface rail, from resident organizations along Edmonson Avenue on the West Side and Boston Street on the East Side, necessitate a full rethinking of the funding approach to the Red Line project, especially in a year when the federal New Starts program expires in September and new rules and criteria are likely to emerge under the Obama Administration.

 

The only practical way to keep initial costs in line with present dollar expectations, and yet serve the tunneling requirements of the neighborhood groups, is to fund the project in two or more phases, known in transportation lingo as Minimum Operating Segments (MOS).

 

Phase One would consist of, or certainly include, the downtown core, defined for purposes of this proposal as West Baltimore MARC station on the West Side to the Harbor East / Harbor Point area on Central Avenue. Both of these end destinations would be included in the ridership calculations.

 

Phase Two would consist of the West Side alignments from the MARC Station to Social Security and CMS, and the East Side alignments from Harbor East/Harbor Point to Canton Crossing and Bayview Medical Center.

 

With MTA assistance, I have compiled on the following page the approximate costs of these alignments, based on 2009 dollars: I have used a Fayette Street tunnel alignment downtown, rather than the Lombard Street alignment of Alternative 4C, for reasons given below.

Phase One
Downtown
Calverton (West Baltimore MARC) to MLK portal (surface)
MLK portal to Central Avenue in Fells Point (tunnel)
Underground stations at Greene, Howard, St. Paul, City Hall,
Harbor East/Harbor Point
Approximate cost............................................................................$705,000,000

 

Phase Two

 

West Side
CMS to I-70 Park & ride (surface)
I-70 Park & Ride to Calverton (tunnel)
Underground stations near Edmonson Village,
Allendale and Rosemont
Approximate cost:...........................................................................$841,500,000

 

East Side
Central Avenue to Clinton St. (tunnel)
Underground stations at Fells Point (Fleet Street) and Canton (Boston Street)
Clinton Street to Bayview Park & Ride (surface & aerial).
Approximate cost............................................................................$520,500,000

 

Total Phase Two...........................................................................$1,362,000,000

Add for yard & shop, vehicles, right of ways, other.....................$294,000,000

 

Grand Total..................................................................................: $2,309,000,000

 

 

Another possibility is to include the West Side alignments with downtown as part of Phase One. The combined cost of that would be $1,546,500,000, leaving the East Side alignments for Phase Two at $520,000,000.

 

At a June 9, 2009 meeting of the Waterfront Coalition, an East Side advocacy group representing 22 neighborhood organizations, representatives agreed unanimously that if it comes to a choice, they would be happy to see the West Side sector accomodated first in the funding priorities, so long as no surface Red Line is constructed on Boston Street in the meantime. Better to have it done right on both sides of the city even if the east side tunneling needs to wait.

 

Improvements Downtown:
Shift tunnel from Lombard Street to Fayette Street
The Red Line tunnel should be shifted from Lombard Street (Alternative 4C) to Fayette Street where it will far better serve the general public in access and convenience. A Fayette Street tunnel would continue to Southeast and Fleet Street on the same alignment shown now for a Lombard Street tunnel.

 

The Lombard Street tunnel of alternative 4C forces the worst connection between the Red Line and the existing Green Line Metro Subway of any Red Line Alternative proposed by the MTA. It requires a 600’ undergound pedestrian passage--the length of two football fields--under St. Paul Street to connect the Red Line with the Metro at Charles Center. This is greater than the distance today between the Metro and Central Light Rail at their closest at point at Lexington Market.

 

A Fayette Street tunnel would require only a 300’ passage under St. Paul Street, which would be the platform of the future Yellow Line. In addition, it would offer an underground station near City Hall, bringing the high-public-use City Hall/Court complex into the rail transit system. Alternative 4C’s Lombard Street alignment fails to serve City Hall. Both alignments, Fayette Street and Lombard Street, have underground stations at Howard Street and Greene Street (VA Hospital, University of Maryland) on the west side of downtown.

 

A streetcar line on Pratt Street

 

A Pratt Street streetcar, with the westbound tracks running on Lombard Street, would nicely complement the more northerly Fayette Street light rail service, when the City moves forward with its planned Pratt Street reconstruction. The line would run from the B&O Railroad Museum on the west to Eastern and Central Avenues and the waterfront on the east, replacing portions of the City shuttlebus service that opens this year. The federal Small Starts program provides assistance, and relatively fast approval, for streetcar projects costing up to $250 milion.

 

Bring in the Yellow Line
The 2002 Rail Plan shows the Yellow Line running North/South in the St. Paul-Light Street corridor, crossing under the Metro Subway at Charles Center and tieing together the Red Line, Metro, Charles Center, Harborplace and the various trip-generating activities at Camden Yards, including the MARC Camden Line, Central Light Rail, the baseball and football stadiums, Convention Center and new hotel.

 

The connecting role of the Yellow Line was acknowledged by the Red Line engineering coordinator at the April 10, 2009 meeting of the Red Line Citizen’s Advisory Council, but with the sad prediction that the actual construction of the Yellow Line ‘will be many years down the road.” Until the Yellow Line is built, the Red Line will fail to make all the key connections downtown, and the rail system will lack the synergy that comes when the lines are closely linked. At that point, all the destinations of each line become destinations for the other lines, and ridership rises with the tide, as is the case wiith the Metro system in Washington, D.C., Boston and elsewhere. The Yellow Line sector between Penn Station and Camden Yards needs to be fast tracked, perhaps as part of Phase Two of the funding.
Remedy A Deception in the DEIS
The Executive Summary of the Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) (the only part many people read) makes this soothing statement about the Red Line on page 5-5:

 

“The Red Line will connect directly to the Central Light Rail line and the Metro Subway, making combined east-west/north-south trips seamless.”

 

In transit parlance, “connect directly” and “seamless” suggest the kind of escalator connection between intersecting lines that contributes so much to the success of the Metro system in Washington, D.C.

 

As noted on the previous page, the connection between the Red Line and Metro made by Alternative 4C consists of a 600’ pedestrian tunnel. Moreover, there is no narrative description of this pedestrian walkway to be found anywhere in the DEIS. The Stations technical report describes other stations in some detail. It includes a drawing of the underground walkway, but the description, if ever written, is omitted.

 

It is difficult to conclude that the misleading statement in the Executive Summary and the omission of any discussion in the technical report is somehow inadvertant. Intentional or not, the description in the Executive Summary pollutes the information available to the public in voicing their support of Alternative C. o serve taxpayer interest and confirm the credibility of the agency, the MTA Administrator should take these steps:

 

1. Conduct an internal review of how this happened.
2. Ask staff to:
--Revise the language in the Executive Summary relating to “directly connect” and “seamless, with regard to the link to the Subway,
--Provide a written description of the pedestrian tunnel connection,
--Communicate thls information as a courtesy to all groups and individuals known to support Alternatve C.
East Side Concerns:
Possible Tunneling to Highlandtown
The stiff opposition of Canton neighborhood groups to surface Red Line trains on Boston Street is well known to the City and the MTA. Some residents have also raised concerns about building a tunnel under Boston Street, on the edge of the flood plain. The concerns relate to the mixed nature of the soil, high water table, and the need to build an underground station at Canton and exit portal at Clinton Street with walls high enough to guard against extreme hurricane tides and the current slowly rising sea level accelerated by global warming.

 

These residents have suggested shifting the Red Line to Eastern Avenue, to serve larger neighborhoods. An Eastern Ave. alignment is shown in the DEIS.

 

Another possible alignment that should be studied is a simple eastward extension of the Red Line tunnel under Fleet Street from its Harbor East and Fell’s Point stations directly to Highlandtown. A portal location acceptable to the community would need to be identified west of Haven Street so that the line could merge into the north/south Norfolk Southern right of way on the alignment already proposed by the MTA .

 

One advantage of a Fleet Street alignment is that it would join the Norfolk Southern right of way at a point south of the Eastern Avenue surface station, thus fitting well with the visions for this area reached in a recent charette conducted by the Southeast Development Corp. The Eastern Avenue tunnel shown in the DEIS would exit from a portal well north of Eastern Avenue, at a site much less convenient to patrons from Highlandtown and Greerktown. Also it would be longer than a Fleet Street tunnel, and thus costlier.

 

A streetcar line for the East Side

 

A streetcar line should be considered as a localized feeder service in coordination with the Red Line, to best bring Canton, Canton Crossing, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown, Greektown, the Bayivew campus, O’Donnell Heights and Travel Plaza into the rail system, with bus shuttle extension to Dundalk and Turners Station. The circular streetcar line would share the Red Line tracks alongside Haven Street.

 

A streetcar may be the best way to serve the Bayview campus, The site chosen by the MTA for the terminal Red Line station at Bayview, near the entrance to the main hospital building, has been obliterated by new construction. A new alignment should be designed, in consultation with hospital officials, so that the streetcar tracks can continue to Eastern and Dundalk Avenues for the streetcar line.
Surface Extension of Green Line Metro
Community groups in Southeast Baltimore have long called for an eastward surface extension of the Green Line Metro to the Bayview Medical Center and beyond, utilizing in part the existing Amtrak/MARC corridor. This would not only link the two hospitals but provide premium Metro service to “choice” ridership at Bayview, including Park & Ride commuters. Feeder bus connections could perhaps be accomodated at a surface station in Orangeville, in coordination with private development that is at an early planning stage for the Orangeville area now, including remediation of a contaminated industrial site.

 

The present terminus in the heart of the Johns Hopkins Medical Center is a terrible place to end a subway line. There’s no place for feeder buses to come in and lay over, and no place for Park & Ride other than the hospital garages.

 

The 2002 Rail Plan projected an extension northward, up Broadway and Harford Road to Morgan State University and beyond. The MTA has quietly shelved this plan after initial scoping which indicated the the cost effectiveness potential falls far short of federal requirements for funding.

 

Any Green Line extension eastward will need to be coordinated with the Amtrak and MARC rail plans for the corridor, which could include widening of the present embankments. The Maryland Department of Transportation should prepare a status report as a guide to future Green Line planning, including the Green Line’s appropriate place in the long-range visions of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board which sets the parameters for federal funding.

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