Weighing Red Line costs and benefits
Expanding on last month’s commentary about Baltimore’s planned east-west Red Line from Woodlawn to Canton, here are a few reasoned observations based on my review of MTA data.
Regardless of whether the Red Line is bus rapid transit or light rail, it will likely cost between $1 billion and $1.6 billion to build. This assumes that there will be some tunneling, but that the entire route will not be underground.
Tunnels downtown and along Cooks Lane on the western end would together cost slightly more than $600 million to build for either mode.
Light rail options would cost approximately $500 million more than bus rapid transit. However, light rail would be significantly more cost-effective – largely because light rail would attract at least 3,700 more riders per week and would be 47 percent less expensive to operate, the MTA estimates.
What would we get for our investment? We would more than double our region’s east-west transit ridership and fully connect our region’s rail rapid-transit resources.
Despite federal funding parameters, the prospect of tunneling key segments of the Red Line route is within reach, in my opinion. The initial cost of tunneling downtown and on Cooks Lane would be offset by the significant long-term benefits of increased ridership and operational efficiency.
We, as a community, need to remember some important things about our transit future. With tight federal funding requirements, our region’s transit system will have to live with a combination of different modes, ranging from heavy rail – for the Green Line extension; to light rail – the likely best option for the Red Line – to bus rapid transit for improving service on other routes.
One thing is clear – we need better mass transit to nurture our region’s economic development. Let’s not miss out on the opportunity to get it.
There’s an old adage: “Perfect” is the enemy of “good.” We can’t just pine for a perfect system. We must develop solid, workable solutions; secure the federal funding, and get a reliable, effective operational system constructed.