Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Rep. Elijah Cummings and others rallied in front of City Hall Tuesday to urge the Hogan administration to support the proposed Red Line transportation project. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)
About 125 supporters of the Red Line light rail project gathered Tuesday to deliver a message: The proposed east-west transit line will deliver the sort of employment opportunities that residents across the city rose up to demand during recent protests.
"Let's not beat around the bush. We know that the last few weeks have challenged our city's resiliency, but it also has shown our resolve," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told the crowd in front of City Hall. "Among the many lessons we learned is that Baltimore needs more ways to connect our citizens with more jobs and more opportunities, and the Red Line does exactly that."
Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, called the light rail line "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to improve the lives of people living across Baltimore," and called on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to commit to building the project.
"The message is loud and clear," the mayor said. "To our friends in high places in the state who heard very loud and very clear from people in Baltimore that we need jobs: The Red Line means jobs."
Hogan has questioned the Red Line's affordability and said his administration is reviewing the plans to build a 14-mile light rail line between Woodlawn and East Baltimore, in part through a tunnel beneath downtown. A Hogan spokeswoman said Tuesday that the review is ongoing.
The project, with an estimated price tag of nearly $3 billion, has attracted commitments of about $900 million in federal funding and nearly $300 million in city and Baltimore County funding. The state has spent nearly $450 million on planning and design.
The Greater Baltimore Committee estimates the project would drive economic development near its transit stations, create about 9,800 construction and related jobs, and better connect city residents with regional job hubs.
The recent rioting and unrest broke out in Baltimore after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died April 19, one week after sustaining a spinal injury while in police custody. Rawlings-Blake imposed a curfew, and Hogan declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard. Protesters cried out for justice for Gray and for more economic opportunities for young black men like him throughout Baltimore.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings praised the Red Line as a project that would enable residents to get to church, school and jobs, saying the project "brings life to life."
"Governor, I know you got a lot on your mind, but we want you to make sure that you don't let the sun go down on this wonderful opportunity," the Baltimore Democrat said.
Other officials at the summit, including state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Del. Brooke Lierman and City Councilman Pete Welch, spoke of the need for the Red Line, as did the Rev. Alvin Hathaway and Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.
Many in the crowd echoed the officials' support.
"We need jobs for our young folks. It's time," said Jean Booker Bradley, 78, a member of the Housing Authority of Baltimore's resident advisory board, who lives in Pleasant View Gardens in East Baltimore. "Our babies are walking around here with no jobs. It's not fair to them."
Graham Coreil-Allen, a 32-year-old artist who lives in West Baltimore near Mondawmin Mall, said the city's existing Metro line is a "great amenity" that he uses all the time, and public transit is something he considers a "crucial human right."
Michael Farley, 27, said he plans to move from near Penn Station into cheaper digs in West Baltimore soon, and wants the Red Line to stay connected.
"This is something we've sunk 10 years and millions of dollars into, and to cancel it now would be extremely disappointing," said the freelance writer, who held a sign reading "Give us the train or I'm moving to somewhere less crazy."
Bob Reuter, a 67-year-old retired transportation consultant wearing a shirt that read "A Desire Named Streetcar," said he has been pushing for an east-west transit line through Baltimore since the 1970s — when the city's Metro system was first envisioned.
In 1997, he bought a home in Belair-Edison around the corner from where plans at the time had a station being built.