Mayor says city looking at Red Line alternatives

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday she has asked her transportation chief to develop alternative mass-transit proposals — including a possible "rapid bus" system — with the demise of the Red Line plan.

"It's too early to have a favorite" for an alternative to the planned east-west light-rail line in Baltimore, the mayor said. She called a high-speed bus system "certainly one of the many options" being discussed.


She said she is working with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and others to figure out next steps for regional mass transit.

"The problem still exists," Rawlings-Blake said. "We want Baltimore, Baltimore County, Maryland to truly be open for business, and if it is going to be open for business, it has to include public transportation to support jobs and job growth."


Making Maryland "open for business" is a slogan of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who announced last month he was killing the Red Line and devoting more money to highway projects elsewhere in the state.

Former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. favored rapid bus, in which special traffic lanes are reserved for buses, allowing them to move quickly past other traffic. The issue was a point of contention between Ehrlich and then-Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, during the 2010 gubernatorial election.

Ehrlich wanted a system of bus lanes built to link Montgomery and Prince George's counties. He pushed that as a more affordable option to the Purple Line, which O'Malley endorsed. O'Malley saw the light rail as cheaper to maintain and a better option to attract businesses and increase property values.

Rawlings-Blake said alternatives to the Red Line would likely be for east-west transportation.

"What that looks like is still up in the air, as far as the mode," she said. "These conversations are ongoing."

Other jurisdictions are considering rapid bus systems.

Howard County is studying adding rapid bus along Route 29 in Columbia. Such systems run on dedicated lines, stop at stations and operate with technology that allows buses to avoid traffic signals to minimize commutes.

About 30 such systems operate across the country and five are under construction. Another 20 systems are in the planning and design stage.


In Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake said it was too early to say where funding would come from or how much alternatives would cost.

The mayor said city officials will meet Aug. 10 with Hogan administration officials to talk about alternatives.

Pete K. Rahn, the state's transportation secretary, said officials are working to develop a number of concepts to improve transit in the city. Many riders are critical of the state-run mass-transit system in Baltimore, calling it unreliable.

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"We encourage everyone to bring their ideas to the August 10 work session," Rahn said in a statement. "Working together, I am confident we can agree on transit solutions to implement quickly that the entire city will benefit from."

The Hogan administration has raised concerns about a Maryland Transit Administration plan, first developed in 2013, to improve bus transportation in the city. The agency had discussed stretching implementation from five years to as many as 18, according to documents The Baltimore Sun obtained using open-records laws.

Earlier this year, Rahn criticized the effort, saying that "an 18-year plan is not a plan."


Rahn said he didn't know what a new plan would look like, but he said he wants one that would yield quick results

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Kevin Rector and Andrew Michaels contributed to this article.