GBC’s Fry: Baltimore’s 40-year wait for connected rail transit

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Sometime this month, the Maryland Transit Administration and Governor O’Malley will recommend to federal transportation funding officials a “preferred alternative” for the planned rapid transit Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview in southeast Baltimore.

Business leaders, transit advocates, Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith and Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon are urging that the recommendation be for Alternative 4C – a 14.6 mile east-west light rail line with tunnels under Cooks Lane, downtown and Fells Point.

Should 4C be adopted, the Baltimore region will be a step closer to the end of its 40-year wait for a modern, well-connected rail transit system.

Forty years …

That’s how long it’s been since plans for a regional rail transit system in Baltimore were first developed in 1968. Our region has only lurched forward in spurts since then. A 15-mile northwest heavy rail line opened in 1983 and a 30-mile north-south light rail line opened in 1992.

So today we have two north-south rail transit lines that carry more than 75,000 daily passengers between them … but they don’t connect with each other.

A light rail Red Line with tunnels would change that, connecting with existing Metro and light rail lines, and with MARC commuter rail on both the east and west sides. It would carry 42,000 passengers each weekday — more than four times the east-west route’s current bus ridership.

It would benefit Baltimore-area employees and residents who have, for decades, been seeking fast, reliable alternatives to getting around our region in something other than an automobile.

It would also result in 67,000 fewer automobile miles traveled per day in the region — another key benefit of Alternative 4C. Integrated, efficient rail transit is an essential core resource if the region is to seriously promote Smart Growth.

We’ve waited 40 years to put major quality into Baltimore’s regional rail transit. Despite current fiscal challenges, our leaders in Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington must find a way to get the Red Line funded and built … now.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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