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With Red Line canceled, $288 million may be gone

With Gov. Larry Hogan's decision to cancel the Red Line, $288 million may, or may not be, down the drain.

With Gov. Larry Hogan's decision to pull the plug on Baltimore's Red Line, $288 million appears to be down the drain.

That's how much the Maryland Transit Administration has spent over a dozen years on planning, design, engineering and land acquisition for what was to have been an almost $3 billion light rail project between Woodlawn and Bayview, said Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson.

Hogan announced Thursday that he would not move forward with construction. He said the project was too expensive and "made no sense whatsoever."

A spokesman for the governor said Hogan, a Republican, does not bear any blame for money his administration considers ill-spent, and put the onus on former Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who championed the project.

"O'Malley has spent $288 million on the Red Line," said Hogan communications director Matthew A. Clark. "Let's be clear on who spent that money."

While the bulk of that spending occurred under O'Malley, work on the Red Line goes back at least as far as the administration of Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening and picked up steam under Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But it was O'Malley who chose light rail over a bus alternative.

Proponents of the Red Line contend the state was making a wise investment in a project that would have brought thousands of jobs to the city and improved its economic vitality. But Hogan didn't see it that way.

Not all of the $288 million spent in drawing up the plans is necessarily wasted.

"You're safe in saying they're not going to take [the plans] to the garbage can and throw them away," Henson said. They would likely be "put on the shelf somewhere."

It's possible a future governor could revive the Red Line and put some of that planning work to use.

There's precedent: In 1999, Glendening scrapped decades of planning and declared the Intercounty Connector between Interstate 270 and U.S. 1 dead. But Ehrlich took office in 2003 on a pledge to resurrect the project and took the old maps out of storage.

The toll road has now been open four years.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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