Donald Fry: Baltimore’s Red Line, Part 1

Finding middle ground for the Red Line

For years, my transportation mantra has been that, because of the time it takes to build infrastructure, it’s hard to catch up with transportation needs if we wait until they become a crisis.

Well, when gas prices soared past $3 and hit $4 per gallon this year, transportation officially became a crisis in the Baltimore region.

Many area commuters are now seeking mass transit alternatives. They’re flocking to try out existing commuter bus and rail options. Unfortunately, the project that would convert our region’s currently fragmented mass transit choices into a genuinely convenient and efficient system – the east-west Red Line from Woodlawn to Canton – is still on the drawing board.

The long-overdue Red Line, to be either light rail or bus rapid transit, would connect with MARC commuter rail and the region’s existing north-south light rail and subway systems – which do not currently connect with each other. With construction projected to begin in 2012, the Red Line project faces two key challenges – funding and community acceptance.

Not surprisingly, both challenges are interrelated.

Project planners face strict cost parameters in order to gain the federal funding essential to pay for the project. However, many in communities along the route voice emotional opposition to the project unless it tunnels under their neighborhoods.

Tunneling, of course, is very expensive – a topic I’ll deal with in my commentary next month.

Then there are those who are opposed to tunneling for fear that the tunnel construction itself will harm their properties. And there are others who say they want no new transit whatsoever in their neighborhoods … you get the picture.

We must keep in mind that, for our region’s transportation resources and for the growing number of residents seeking transit options, the Red Line is a transformational project. This is our opportunity. If it is to become a reality, now is the time.

That’s why planners and communities along the Red Line route must find constructive middle ground that everyone can support. Sooner would be better then later.

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