Feds close complaint into canceled Baltimore Red Line

The Trump administration closed a civil rights review of Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision two years ago to cancel Baltimore’s Red Line, drawing a rebuke Friday from a prominent Democrat in the state's congressional delegation.

In a letter this week to the Hogan administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation wrote that “the appropriate course of action is to administratively close the complaint, without finding.” The letter did not explain why the case was closed.

Hogan, a Republican, canceled the proposed 14-mile, $2.9 billion rail line in June 2015. He called the project — which would have run across Baltimore from Woodlawn to Bayview — a boondoggle. The state shifted the money that would have been spent in Baltimore to projects in other parts of the state that opponents note have higher concentrations of white residents.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint with the federal transportation department in 2015, alleging that the decision had a disparate impact on African-Americans in Baltimore. The Obama administration opened the review in early 2016.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn described the letter from the federal department as “self-explanatory.”

“If there are any issues in the compliance review, USDOT will discuss those with us,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“The complaint … raised critical questions about this decision’s impact on Baltimore’s residents — particularly African-American residents,” Cummings said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. Department of Transportation is summarily closing the complaint without issuing any findings.”

A separate investigation, opened on the final day of President Barack Obama’s administration, will continue. That review looks more broadly at whether decisions by the state transportation department have violated the Civil Rights Act.

But that broader review will not likely be as thorough as the investigation that would have taken place if the department followed through on the complaint.

“The closure of the complaint without a single factual statement to justify the decision is an insult to the residents of Baltimore who have waited for more than 50 years to see the Red Line built,” said NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill.

“And it shamefully deepens a history of discriminatory state and federal housing and transportation policies that prevent black Americans from having equal access to good jobs, safe neighborhoods and quality schools,” she added.

In their original complaint, the groups noted concerns about state decisions dating back to the 1930s that the groups said were discriminatory. They pointed specifically to the “highway to nowhere” in West Baltimore — a road that was supposed to be part of a new highway network, but that was abandoned after residents were forced from their homes.

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