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Why pursue the Red Line?

With Gov.-elect Larry Hogan preparing to take office today and thus far offering little information on policy decisions surrounding Baltimore's Red Line, I was recently asked during a meeting of Maryland's Board of Public Works, "Why would you acquire land now for the Red Line?"

The answer is simple: The Red Line is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will generate thousands of jobs, spur economic development throughout the Baltimore Metropolitan Region and create an integrated transit system that will better connect people to jobs, schools, businesses and Baltimore's ever-growing entertainment venues. Above and beyond these reasons, the public financing for the $2.9 billion project is in place, and with planning and engineering nearly complete, construction is ready to start next year.

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Jobs

Many people have called the Red Line the "Jobs Line," and I agree. Construction of the east-west light rail line will create more than 4,200 direct jobs through the six-year construction period and thousands more indirect jobs. To ensure these family-supporting jobs help increase employment opportunities for those struggling to find work, we have developed a Workforce Development Program to offer training for the specific skills needed for construction and operation of the Red Line. Beyond the immediate increase in construction jobs for Baltimore-area residents, the Red Line will help connect residents to the many jobs being created throughout the 14-mile corridor. From the anticipated expansion at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Woodlawn to the thriving job markets along Baltimore's waterfront and the planned growth at the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus, the Red Line will provide the ride for Maryland workers heading to these growing job centers — thereby removing cars from some of the region's most congested roadways.

Economic Development

The Red Line will enhance Baltimore's already strong economic position — providing the incoming governor an opportunity to quickly deliver on his recent statement that Baltimore should be the state's primary economic engine. Once built, the Red Line will spur economic development from Baltimore County to east Baltimore and will support transit-oriented development at many of the 19 stations. One of the main barriers to economic development is access to good public transportation. This long-studied light rail line has nearly 40 planned or ongoing development projects near its stations — including mixed-use, residential, office, retail and research and technology.

Improved transit connections

Baltimore has good transit options, but it lacks a truly interconnected transit network. We need transit to work as an integrated system if we are to strengthen the appeal of this region as a place where people want to live and work, and where companies want to locate and create jobs. The Red Line will provide the key east-west route that connects with north-south rail and bus lines. With links to MTA's Light Rail, bus lines, Metro Subway and MARC Train, the Red Line will be the key to making transit work by ensuring it takes people where they want to go. The Baltimore region requires a modernized and comprehensively connected transit system that residents, elected officials, businesses, civic leaders and transit advocates have worked toward for more than a decade.

Secured public funding

Understanding the importance of partnering with the state to deliver improved transit connectivity, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz have provided Red Line local funding. The federal government has already committed $900 million toward the Red Line, with the full funding grant agreement expected a year from now. With approximately $1 billion in state funds already budgeted and a public-private partnership in the works, the Red Line should go to construction in 2016. If we stop now, Baltimore and the state will lose the $900 million in federal funding that cannot be used for any other project, and it will delay indefinitely the transit network Baltimore's metropolitan area needs.

So back to the question I was asked at the Board of Public Works meeting: "Why would you acquire land now for the Red Line?" The real question is: Why would Maryland not want to generate thousands of jobs, spur economic development throughout the Baltimore Metropolitan Region, create an integrated transit system and reduce congestion? The Red Line has had the support of five transportation secretaries and both Republican and Democratic administrations. The Red Line is a game changer for Baltimore, and a project we cannot afford to walk away from when we are standing at the finish line.

James T. Smith Jr. is Maryland's outgoing transportation secretary. His email is secretary@mdot.state.md.us.

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