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Readers Respond

Pricey Red Line plan fails to live up to expectations [Letter]

As the Red Line's cost escalates yet again to near $3 billion, how much longer can the MTA keep saying these increases are "unexpected" ("City, county agree to help pay for Red Line as cost rises to $2.9 billion," Aug. 26)?

The Red Line started in 2002 as part of a three-project transit plan with a combined cost of $2.5 billion to be completed by 2014. By 2008, plans for the two other projects were dropped and the Red Line became an isolated system, unconnected to any other transit line at a projected cost of $1.6 billion.

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Since then, without a shovel in the ground, the estimated cost has almost doubled, and there is no end in sight. Yet despite the MTA's statement that the current cost hikes were "unexpected," the MTA asks us to believe that it "does not expect further major cost increases." No tunnel project in the history of the federal New Starts program has ever come in on budget.

While the cost of the Red Line has doubled, the increase in the federal share has been insignificant. Now the state wants to share the financial pain with Baltimore City and Baltimore County taxpayers to the tune of $280 million.

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Much of this is in the form of in-kind contributions and other "soft" expenditures. But even with the $280 million contribution from the city and county, the Red Line is still $530 million short of the latest cost estimate.

That's $230 million more than before this latest round of local contributions and escalations. And Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has not explained how she intends to replace $80 million federal highway funds that make up a large portion of the city's contribution.

In a moment of candor a few days ago, the mayor said "it's not good." And County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said "I continue to be disappointed."

But Mr. Kamenetz has kept his trump card. The county has reserved the right to withdraw its funding if its segment of the Red Line "fails to materialize." That is very likely, since the MTA insists that the downtown tunnel, which comprises about two-thirds of the hard construction cost, must be built first.

All of this might be worthwhile for a modern, world-class transit system. But that isn't what we'd get. The Red Line is slower than the Central Light Rail, has a lower capacity and no meaningful connection to any other transit line in Baltimore.

The solution is simple: Get rid of the redundant downtown tunnel. This will enable a modified Red Line to be built quickly, affordably and in phases that make it the first step in creating a first-class transit system for Baltimore.

Martin S. Taylor, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Right Rail Coalition.

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To respond to this letter, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.


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