GBC transit rally message: ‘We need the Red Line, and we need it now’

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Greater Baltimore Committee president and CEO Donald C. Fry distilled the business community’s advocacy for a proposed 14.6-mile light rail Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview in southeast Baltimore down to 10 simple words at a December 2 GBC rally in Canton to support the project.

“We need the Red Line … and we need it now,” Fry and rally participants chanted repeatedly during his remarks to more than 125 business executives and transit advocates who packed into the meeting room at the Du Burns Arena to support Red Line Alternative 4C, which would feature a light rail on a dedicated surface with strategic tunnels under congested areas.

Joining Fry to speak at the rally podium were GBC board members Ken Banks, president of Banks Contracting Company; Bill Struever, president of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse; and John Frisch, chairman and CEO of Miles & Stockbridge and chairman of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. All urged that public support for a light rail Red Line be voiced to state transportation officials, elected leaders in Annapolis, and Maryland’s congressional delegation.

Speakers noted that Alternative 4C, which includes tunnels under Cooks Lane in West Baltimore and under downtown and Fells Point, is the best option for transforming the region’s currently unconnected rail transit lines into a convenient, well-connected regional rail transit system for commuters, tourists, and residents.

The east-west Red Line would connect with the existing north-south metro subway and light rail lines, as well as with the MARC commuter rail system. Alternative 4C would cost an estimated $1.6 billion, most of which would come from a combination of federal and state funding.

The Red Line project is in the final stages of the planning process. A series of public hearings was held in November for comment on 11 potential Red Line alternatives that also include bus rapid transit options as well as light rail alternatives. The Maryland Transit Administration is accepting written comments on the project until January 5. After that, Governor O’Malley will designate a Red Line “preferred alternative” to federal transportation officials, who will consider the project for federal funding.

The Alternative 4C light rail proposal with strategic tunnels under congested areas “would be our region’s most significant transportation project in a generation,” Fry said. “We’ve waited 40 years to put major quality into our regional rail transit system. This is our chance right now.”

“We have a window of opportunity that we must pay attention to,” Banks said, noting that the Red Line project is poised to be considered for federal funding.

“We know that in these economic times these funds will not be unlimited. We just simply cannot leave this project behind,” Banks said. “We cannot grow, we cannot prosper without a significant transportation system.”

The definition of a city with good transit is “a place where you can truly get where you want to go without a car,” Struever said. He noted that a “great thing” about Alternative 4C is that the line would be built “where the ridership is today and where they will live and work in the future.”

“Our region desperately needs mass transit,” said Frisch. Being able to have a “seamless connection” from west to east, with connections to elsewhere in the region would be “very significant for downtown workers,” he said.

Red Line Alternative 4C would carry 42,000 passengers per weekday – more than triple the existing number of riders on existing local bus routes in the east-west corridor. It would reduce to 41 minutes the time to ride transit from Woodlawn to Bayview. It would attract 3,700 more riders per weekday than its equivalent bus rapid transit option and cost almost 50 percent less to operate, according to MTA estimates.

Alternative 4C would generate an estimated 17,000 jobs during construction and nurture development that would create an estimated 33,000 permanent jobs along the corridor.

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