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Baltimore City Paper

State Senate Threatens to Derail Red Line, Purple Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway


That's not the stated reasoning—that would be testing, again, the viability of a heavy-rail option for the much-needed east-west transit line—but that would be the probable outcome if the

: a full restudy of the Red Line, Purple Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway, three public-transportation projects proposed in Maryland. The House of Delegates rejected the Senate's proposal, but that doesn't mean it's dead.

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Understand, a restudy will take years, re-evaluating alternatives will take years, and whatever new fight occurs after will probably take years as well—and it will take money, lots of money the Maryland Transit Administration doesn't have and needs to spend on keeping a strapped transit system's head above water.

Would it be worth it if the MTA restudied a

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and it magically dropped in cost by a billion dollars and fell within federal funding guidelines? Sure. The difference between heavy rail (read: subway) and light rail is significant enough that, yeah, we can hold out for a few years. But it won't be cheaper or, even if it was, it won't be cheap enough. As

points out, both the current Red and Purple Line plans are at the cost-effectiveness wire. If the cost for a new subway line were actually lowered, one could only imagine how busted that subway system would likely be. Look at Baltimore's light rail line, for instance, done on the mega-cheap to avoid dealing with federal financing altogether. The reason the line seems to go nowhere is that—just as Baltimore subway advocates are

for the Red Line—it runs on freight-rail tracks that don't have much ridership around them, instead of building new tracks and lines in places such as Greenspring, Hampden,

Towson

, Charles Village, and other locales that could really use a well-placed light rail line. In other words, building a financially feasible subway line in Baltimore in the year 2010 means building a crappy one that runs through the woods.

One might be tempted to blame this desire to restudy the proposed lines on President Obama's

of New Starts funding requirements, which declared that cost-effectiveness would no longer be the single most important element in determining how to distribute transit funds.

Though it does change the priorities somewhat in terms of funding transit-oriented development, it does not mean that transit agencies can go out and spend willy-nilly because it doesn't mean the federal government will fund said projects—such as a properly done heavy-rail Red Line in Baltimore. The pot of money being divvied is the same, and the cost-effectiveness requirement still exists in New Starts funding—it just isn't the dominant consideration anymore.

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Transportation projects have to be as cost-effective as ever and that's all there is to it. As Henry Kay, the MTA's Deputy Administrator for Planning and Engineering, told me a few months ago, "It's not in anyone's interest to make the project more expensive."


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