Imagine going to the doctor with a sore back. As you explain your symptoms, the doctor stops you mid-sentence and advises that it would be preferable if you had a headache instead — the treatment for headaches is a lot easier and cheaper. That's the Hogan administration's prescription for Baltimore's transportation woes.
Though Baltimore waited for months believing Governor Hogan would give the Red Line a fair shake, it appears the administration did little else except decide where to spend the Red Line spoils. The transportation secretary's expressed interest in a collaborative approach — an otherwise welcome sign — comes as an insult after the backroom dealing on the Red Line.
The spin concerning the Red Line tunnel has been particularly embarrassing. Notice how it's presented as a ridiculous idea to bore a tunnel under the downtown of a major U.S. city. Perhaps the governor thinks a cornfield in Carroll County would be a better place.
At Tuesday's transportation briefing, the secretary said tunneling is risky, comparing Baltimore's 20-foot transit tunnels to Seattle's behemoth 60-foot highway tunnels. With tunneling, risk increases exponentially with tunnel diameter. The secretary has been working in transportation long enough to know that such a comparison is not useful. The fact that it was made reveals the level of analysis actually conducted by the administration.
Instead of the Red Line, the administration's approach will be to make improvements elsewhere in the transit system by reallocating existing resources. All transit improvements are welcome, but the downtown bottleneck and missing east-west line is a problem just as tangible and geometric as crossing the Chesapeake Bay. Improvements to the roads around the bay are great, and comparatively cheap, but eventually you have to build a bridge.
Another way to say it is that the Red Line benefits — the opportunity of a generation for the Baltimore region — are of little value to the governor. Sadly, that's consistent with a view of Baltimore as a budget line item only, not a source of competitive advantage for Maryland. If that's the case, as long as transportation is the responsibility of the state executive, the Baltimore region will just have to wait for an administration willing to lead on this issue.
Ben Groff, Baltimore