Center Maryland: New report measures economic benefits of Red and Purple lines

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on on May 8, 2015.

By Donald C. Fry

If the Red Line becomes a reality, it would generate more than 15,000 jobs and increase household earnings in the Baltimore region by $539.7 million, according to a report released on May 5 by Transportation for America.

Simply put, the Red Line is a jobs line. It is a critical catalyst for our region’s economic growth.

The Greater Baltimore Committee has championed the 14.1-mile east-west light rail project for 14 years.

The report by Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C.-based alliance of elected, business and civic leaders, assesses the economic benefits of both the Red Line and Purple Line.

The 14.1-mile Red Line would connect from Woodlawn through downtown Baltimore to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical System. It is the first east west line that would create a connection between the existing light rail and Metro lines.

The more than 15,000 jobs generated by the Red Line would lead to $2.1 billion in increased economic activity, according to the report. The Purple Line would generate more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs and $7 billion in increased economic activity.

The two lines would generate a combined economic impact of more than $9 billion, the report estimates.

Additional Red Line benefits to the Greater Baltimore region, according to the report, include:

  • More than 83,000 additional Baltimore-area residents would have access to high-quality transit, a 62 percent increase from today.
  • Nearly 250,000 jobs would be accessible by rail transit in Greater Baltimore. Today, less than one in three jobs is accessible by transit within 90 minutes.
  • The Red Line would reduce travel times for riders in the Woodlawn-Bayview corridor from 79 minutes to 45 minutes in 2035.
  • Families could save more than $900 each month with one less vehicle because of the new transit.
  • A total of 7,500 businesses, mostly small or midsized, would be along the Red Line.
  • An expanded tax base is expected as a result of projected real estate development potential on approximately 2,000 acres near Red Line stations.

The reach of these projects is substantial. The Red Line would help boost the Baltimore region’s economy while the Purple Line would have a similar impact on the economy in Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburbs.

This is a critically important investment.

Last fall, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz committed to contributing $230 million and $50 million respectively toward construction of the Red Line, which closes the funding circle for the Baltimore region’s most important transit project in decades.

These commitments enable the state to meet the key local funding requirement that puts the project at the front of the queue to receive $900 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program. Governor Larry Hogan is in the process of making his final decision about whether to commit state funding for the project, as well as for the Purple Line.

The Red Line would transform Baltimore’s rail transit lines into a connected, comprehensive system and help attract businesses, create jobs and have a significant long-term beneficial impact on the city and region’s economy.

This newest report’s bottom line: both light rail projects would position Maryland for economic success in ways that few other investments would likely accomplish. The lines address significant existing mobility issues and would foster billions of dollars in economic development.

It’s time to commit state funding to both projects. The projects would put thousands of Marylanders to work in jobs that so many in both the private and public sectors have said are badly needed. And they would add a new dimension of mobility – a fundamental prerequisite for economic growth and job creation – to both Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.