Six years after Gov. Larry Hogan killed the Red Line project, Maryland’s U.S. senators want to do more than eulogize the light rail project that they believe could have been a game changer for Baltimore’s economic fortunes.
They want to try to revive it.
In the most preliminary of steps in a long shot bid, Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said Monday that they have secured language in a massive infrastructure package that would allow the project to be revisited as part of billions of dollars in capital investment grants.
The Red Line isn’t mentioned by name in the 2,702-page bill. Rather, the senators’ language specifies that such previously vetted projects be placed at the front of the line for funding consideration, assuming state and local leaders endorse them.
The language is contained in a $1.2 trillion bill pending in the Senate to fund roads, transit systems, bridges, waterways, broadband improvements and other infrastructure.
“What this legislation says is the federal government remains a willing partner and looks forward to working with the State of Maryland, should Maryland choose to go forward with this project,” Van Hollen said in an interview.
“When we’re talking about reviving the Red Line, it doesn’t have to be identical in every way,” he said. “Obviously some changes have taken place. We would need a state government that was committed to the project because the state would have to put up funds.”
Hogan has continued to defend the cancellation, and said through a spokesman Monday that “politics” was driving the senators’ latest efforts.
“Gov. Hogan promised that, if elected, he would discontinue the Red Line, and he has kept his word,” spokesman Mike Ricci said. “In typical Washington fashion, this provision is more about politics than getting something done. For his part, the governor is proud to have helped make the bipartisan infrastructure package a reality.”
Hogan, a Republican, is in his second term and is prevented from running again by term limits. That leaves a wide-open race to succeed him, and the possibility that the Red Line could become a campaign issue.
Mayor Brandon Scott, a Democrat, welcomed Van Hollen’s and Cardin’s effort to resurrect a project whose cancellation drew federal complaints and an Obama administration investigation into whether it violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Trump administration closed the review without issuing any public findings.
Scott “considered Gov. Hogan’s cancellation of the Red Line mass transit project a regrettable missed opportunity for Baltimore,” Scott spokesman Calvin Harris said Monday.
The effort to revive the Red Line “aligns with the Scott administration’s commitment to strengthening transportation infrastructure, creating jobs, and building a more equitable Baltimore,” Harris said.
Resurrecting the Red Line would face steep odds given its cost and the task of assembling a plan agreeable to local, state and federal officials. It had a $2.9 billion price tag in 2015.
Democrats said then that the proposed east-west line would have spurred economic development by creating connections to and from some of the city’s most isolated, neglected neighborhoods.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Hogan, in canceling the project and returning $900 million in federal funding, called the Red Line a boondoggle and balked at its proposed $1 billion construction of a tunnel under downtown Baltimore, Harbor East and Fells Point.
The Red Line’s cancellation has never seemed far from many elected Democrats’ thoughts.
Testifying before a Senate committee in February, Hogan was asked by Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, about the reasons for the cancellation.
Merkley said the project had a national reputation as a “line to connect low-income neighborhoods with few jobs” to job opportunities. “But that is a project you chose to cancel and put the funds instead in predominantly white communities,” the senator told Hogan.
“I would totally disagree with your assertion for a number of reasons, but we don’t have time to debate that here this morning,” the governor replied.
Hogan said the state Department of Transportation recommended against the Red Line, “but we did move forward on the Purple Line, which goes through Prince George’s County.”
Hogan said the Purple Line will make 16 stops in minority communities and tie into the Washington Metro system. The project, being built under a public-private partnership, has been delayed in a series of disputes with a contractor and is not close to being finished.