Baltimore Sun: Five years later, many across Baltimore bitterly lament Gov. Hogan’s decision to kill the Red Line light rail

By Colin Campbell
September 11, 2020 

Five years ago, in the face of renewed calls for investment in Baltimore after the unrest over Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered in police custody, Gov. Larry Hogan canceled the $2.9 billion Red Line, scrapping a project touted as a windfall of jobs, development and environmental sustainability, especially for some of the city’s Black neighborhoods.

The newly elected Republican governor returned $900 million in federal funding and shifted $736 million of state money to roads in the surrounding, predominantly white counties.

The move 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.

‘Ripped out of our grasp’

The transit line — from Woodlawn through West Baltimore, downtown, Fells Point and Canton to Johns Hopkins Bayview on the east — had been planned since 2002. But various versions of the line had been on city transit planning maps since the 1960s.

The Red Line aimed to transform the Baltimore region’s meager, single-line light rail and subway, which don’t share any stations, into a more unified, useful network. The project promised to create an estimated 13,000 jobs and stimulate $6.5 billion in economic development along the corridor.

More than 100 neighbors and other stakeholders helped develop the Red Line Community Compact, designed to ensure that the communities along the line benefited from the project and had input in its planning. Training for construction, maintenance and transit operation had been planned for students and adults at Edmondson-Westside High School.

“The Red Line was, and is, one of the single most important things that can be done to prepare Baltimore for the future,” said John Porcari, former Maryland secretary and U.S. deputy secretary of transportation, who helped acquire the federal funding for the project in the Obama administration.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s Democratic predecessor, signed an unpopular gas tax increase into law in 2013 to raise state money for the Red Line and other projects. But Hogan, a suburban real estate developer who campaigned against increased taxes, viewed the light rail line as a “wasteful boondoggle.”

In particular, Hogan balked at the $1 billion proposed tunnel under downtown Baltimore, Harbor East and Fells Point. The city already received the second-most state funding of any Maryland jurisdiction, he said. Rather than an outcry for more investment, the 2015 unrest became a reason to cut.

“We just spent $14 million extra money on the riots in Baltimore City a few weeks ago,” said Hogan, explaining his decision during a 2015 news conference. The governor declined a request to be interviewed for this article.

Then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, remembers feeling “profound disappointment” at Hogan’s decision.

“At a time when people were looking at Baltimore for so many [negative] reasons, it could have been a signal we were investing in our communities that needed it the most,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Instead, it was unceremoniously ripped out of our grasp.”

Cost estimate called unrealistic

Pete Rahn, Hogan’s then-transportation secretary, still believes the Red Line’s $2.9 billion cost estimate “wasn’t realistic.” After likely cost overruns due to tunneling, and factoring in all the commitments made to neighborhoods, the Red Line’s cost would have ballooned by an additional $1 billion Rahn said recently.

But the state conducted no cost-benefit or equity studies before canceling the Red Line, Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson confirmed.

The project had already received an “enormous amount of economic analysis” by federal authorities who selected it as one of only six major transit projects nationally to receive funding, said Don Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a pro-business group.

Instead, the governor set his sights on a less costly alternative: improving the MTA’s regional bus system. A $135 million overhaul in 2017 called BaltimoreLink installed bus-only lanes downtown and shortened routes to make service quicker, but required transfers that meant more time waiting for buses.

Henson said investing in the “deficient and unreliable [MTA] bus system, which is what the majority of transit users in the city use today,” allowed the state to create routes to new job centers such as Tradepoint Atlantic in Baltimore County.

“Buses are more flexible and have allowed us to meet the needs of workers throughout the region, not just along the Red Line corridor,” Henson said.

Bus service, which is targeted for significant cuts in January due to revenue losses during the coronavirus pandemic, got worse for riders by at least one key metric.

The bus overhaul was “not an adequate substitute for a multibillion-dollar project that would have provided thousands of jobs and connected significantly disadvantaged parts of the city,” Fry said.

To read the complete story. visit the Baltimore Sun website.

Source: Baltimore Sun

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