With public hearings scheduled to begin November 6 on the Red Line, representatives from Baltimore’s colleges and medical institutions added their support to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s call to build the planned east-west rapid transit project from Woodlawn to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center as a light rail line with two tunnels.
The GBC is voicing strong support for Red Line Alternative 4C, which would feature modern light rail, a tunnel under Cooks Lane on the western leg, and a tunnel under Baltimore’s downtown and continuing under Fells Point before emerging to the surface in Canton.
At a news briefing and rally for transit advocates at the UMB Biopark, GBC President and CEO Donald C. Fry noted the Alternative 4C combination of light rail and strategically placed tunnels would “make a huge difference” in terms of the project’s efficiency and its ability to attract as many as 42,000 riders per weekday — more than triple the number of riders on existing east-west bus routes.
A modern, east-west light rail line connecting with Baltimore’s existing north-south metro and light rail, and with the region’s MARC commuter rail, “will transform our existing rail transit hodge-podge into an integrated system,” said Fry. “This is our chance to put major quality into our regional transit system.”
A half-dozen representatives from area colleges and hospitals spoke in support of Alternative 4C, one of 11 potential options for the Red Line that are being considered by MTA planners.
Kristen Campbell, executive director of Baltimore Collegetown Network, noted that a strong public transportation network is critical to the 120,000 college students in the Baltimore area. Better transportation is the top need consistently cited in surveys of Baltimore-area students. “A strong transportation network like the Red Line will help,” she said.
“We are very strong believers in projects that look to the long term health of the region and our economy,” said Sister Helen Amos, executive chairperson of Mercy Health Services, Inc.
“We think this is the right project at the right time,” said Thomas Hampton, executive assistant to the president of Baltimore City Community College. “All of us at the college, we can’t wait for the groundbreaking.”
Greg Schaffer, president of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, said the “viable public transportation” the Red Line would provide is important to the anticipated growth plans for his institution. The Red Line “will connect us in an unprecedented way,” he said. “Let’s get it built.”
Sojourner-Douglass College, which serves a student population comprised primarily of adult women, has a transportation referral service for its students. “We’re aware of the transportation gaps in the city,” he said in remarks supporting the implementation of Red Line Alternative 4C. For students, “nothing is more empowering than the ability to get out and connect with their environment.”
James L. Hughes, vice president for research and development at UMB, said the Red Line will “ fully connect us with our partners across town” such as Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
The Baltimore region’s economy cannot grow and prosper “until we truly have a regional transportation system,” said Otis Rolley III, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.
The GBC’s Fry noted that if Alternative 4C is adopted, it would take only 41 minutes to ride the Red Line from one end to the other — half the time of the current bus ride on the route. “We must ensure that we take full advantage of ou opportunity to take our regional transit system to the next level,” he said.
Fry urged transit supporters to attend one of four Red Line public hearings scheduled for November or write to MTA officials urging them to adopt Alternative 4C.
After the November hearings, the public may submit written comments to the MTA until January 5. After that, transportation officials will compile and analyze public comments and meet with Governor Martin O’Malley to announce a “locally preferred option” for the Red Line to submit to the Federal Transit Administration for consideration for federal funding.
Once federal funding is approved, the project would begin the engineering phase. The Maryland Department of Transportation’s current capital budget projects that Red Line construction could begin as early as 2012.