Gov. Wes Moore said Thursday that his administration was resurrecting the once-canceled Red Line transit project in Baltimore, breathing new life into what he and others described as a generational opportunity to bring extensive and overdue benefits to city residents.
“We’ll be working together to seize this moment in our nation’s history when the stars are aligned to invest in public transit,” Moore said at the West Baltimore MARC Station.
A couple of hundred gathered at the station, including a long list of local, state and federal officials who both expressed gratitude for the renewed plans and took frequent shots at former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for abruptly canceling the original Red Line plans after he took office in 2015.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, wearing one of the red “Red Line” T-shirts that were handed out to guests along with other branded items like fans and cookies, referred to Hogan only as “he who shall not be named” while saying that the decision was a “deliberate and catastrophic disinvestment” in the city.
“Gov. Moore and his administration is sending a clear signal that those days are over and those who were disinvested in before will not be left behind any longer,” Scott said.
Moore, Scott and other Democratic officials have routinely expressed their desire to restart the project, originally planned as an east-west light rail through the city, connecting Woodlawn in western Baltimore County to Bayview in East Baltimore.
Whether the project remains focused on light rail is uncertain, as officials said they will seek community input and conduct new reviews of different plans over the coming months. The final product will take years, they said, as they seek federal funding through the end of next year that would not be directed to the state until at least the 2026 fiscal year.
Moore, questioned by reporters after the event, declined to say whether he would prefer light rail, heavy rail — like a subway — or bus service.
As a result, the project’s total cost is too difficult to estimate at the moment, Moore said.
Still, officials expect it could take billions more than the original $2.9 billion Red Line proposal. When Hogan canceled it, the state already had spent $300 million during the initial planning process. He gave up $900 million in promised federal funds and redirected $736 million in state money to road projects primarily in suburban, largely white areas.
Nearly every one of the several elected officials who spoke Thursday lamented the decision to return the federal money.
“We worked until it was fully funded and shovel-ready,” said Cynthia Shaw, president of the Lyndhurst Community Association who advocated for the Red Line for years before it was canceled. She said she depends on public transportation and knows “the horrors” of the city’s current system.
In an attempt to speed up what is assured to be a lengthy process of regaining federal support, language included in President Joe Biden’s successful infrastructure bill will ensure long-dormant projects like the Red Line don’t start at “the back of the line,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, said Thursday at the announcement.
“You have a friendly partner in the Biden administration in Washington giving you the tools so you can succeed,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat who has led the federal delegation’s efforts on the project and also spoke Thursday.
Moore also will have access to $100 million set aside in the state budget that he and the Democratic-majority Maryland General Assembly passed earlier. The money will be used in the initial phase of the work, though he said there is no total estimate as to how much that first phase will cost.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The exact route of the Red Line also will be reconsidered to adjust for changes in the region since the project was first planned.
Leaders from Baltimore County like House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., both Democrats, for example, said they were thrilled with the administration’s commitment to study a potential expansion of the eastern end of the route from Bayview to Sparrows Point where Tradepoint Atlantic, on the site of the shuttered longtime Bethlehem Steel mill, has become a renewed jobs center eastern Baltimore County.
Olszewski said that connection would be essential to create a “truly regional transit network” as it connects to a job-rich area that has “rapidly grown into one of the most dynamic shipping and logistics hubs in the world.”
A recently released long-range plan by the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board calls for a major east-west transit corridor in Baltimore extending to Ellicott City.
At least some immediate relief will come as the lengthy process unfolds.
While the work proceeds, the Maryland Transit Administration will begin offering additional bus services along the east-west blue and orange CityLink bus routes, which covers some of the original route of the Red Line. That increased service is scheduled to start at the end of August, MTA Administrator Holly Arnold said.
“Our communities are expanding. Our jobs are growing. Maryland’s on the move y’all. I don’t know if y’all heard yet,” Moore said.