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Hogan should derail Red Line

It is particularly disappointing that outgoing Maryland Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr.'s pro-Red Line commentary ignored the most basic facts about this massive and expensive project ("Why should we pursue the Red Line?" Jan. 21). Let's look at each of Mr. Smith's points and see what the facts are.

Jobs. How many of Mr. Smith's "4,200 direct jobs through the six-year construction period" will be available to local residents? More than half of the project's cost is attributed to the 3.5-mile downtown tunnel, which would parallel the existing Metro tunnel for much of its route. Tunnel construction is something that very few contractors around the world do well. Just ask people who live in Seattle where their tunnel project has been stalled for more than a year because the tunnel-boring machine broke down. It is likely that at least half of the Red Line construction jobs will be filled by highly-specialized employees of tunnel contractors from outside the Baltimore area.

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Economic development. Virtually all of the projects at Woodlawn and Bayview and along the eastern leg of the proposed Red Line are already completed or will occur regardless of whether the Red Line goes forward. But West Baltimore between Edmondson Village and Lexington Market is in desperate need of economic stimulation. The existing Red Line plan for West Baltimore could be under construction almost immediately at a fraction of the current costs. Some of the savings could be invested in West Baltimore.

Improved transit connections. Perhaps the greatest myth perpetrated by Red Line supporters like Mr. Smith is that the Red Line will give Baltimore a "truly interconnected transit network." Nothing could be further from the truth. The planned Red Line has no meaningful connections with either of Baltimore's other rail transit systems — the Metro and the much-maligned Central Light Rail. But this doesn't have to be the case. Creation of a transit hub at Lexington Market would enable passengers using the West Side Red Line to easily transfer to the Metro and obviate the need for the tunnel. And extending the Metro from Hopkins Broadway to Bayview would create a much more efficient, effective link from downtown to Bayview.

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Secured public funding. It is difficult to understand why the Red Line's advocates continue to claim that public funding for the Red Line has been secured when, in fact, not a penny of federal money has been authorized. In order to receive this funding, a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) must be signed with the Federal Transit Administration and every dollar and cent must be accounted for. The Feds will pay no more than $900 million of the Red Line's $3 billion price tag. After subtracting contributions from the state, Baltimore and Baltimore County, there is a gap of at least $570 million.

The Maryland Democratic Congressional Delegation wrote a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley on January 15 stating that in order to qualify for federal funding, an FFGA must be signed by September 2015. In contrast, Secretary Smith says that the FFGA won't be signed until 2016 at the earliest. In other words, Mr. Smith has revealed that the project has been delayed yet another year, the first $100 million will not be paid this year and the costs will go up again. And we haven't even talked about operating costs.

Another popular pro Red Line buzzword is "world class transit system." Due to tunnel cost-cutting, the Red Line now averages 18 miles per hour and has skinny two car trains, each car more narrow than a bus. The minute the trains leave the tunnel they stop at every red light, navigating traffic that, according to MTA studies, is worse than if the line weren't built. In other words, the Red Line doesn't get drivers off the roads because it's a slow, disconnected line. Moreover, it lacks capacity for the projected riders, much less build-out of a real transit system.

With all due respect to Mr. Smith, now is not the time to start digging a fiscal black hole by moving forward with the Red Line as planned by the O'Malley administration. Now is the time to look for alternative ways to improve public transit in Baltimore. Let's hope Gov. Larry Hogan sees it the same way.

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Marty Taylor, Baltimore

The writer is president of The Right Rail Coalition.

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