The Case For Baltimore's Red Line Now!

The Case For Baltimore's Red Line Now!

red line map

Six years ago, to the delight of those who had long decried the lack of a serious transit vision for the Baltimore area, a group of regional leaders put forth the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan. The plan called for “a system with fast, convenient and reliable rail lines connecting all of life’s important activities.” The proposal was not remarkably different than rail plans of earlier decades, which recognized downtown Baltimore as the heart of our region and emphasized the idea that Baltimore could have a great transit system like other cities across the country. The new plan went further than previous transit proposals, adding links to Howard County and strengthening the role of the MARC Train, rather than just shipping people south to Washington, D.C. each day. From this rail plan came two high priority projects: the Red Line, a twelve mile east-west transit project linking the suburbs of western Baltimore County with the southeastern side of Baltimore City at Fells Point, Canton and Bayview; and the Green Line, an extension of the Metro Subway northeast from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University. The Red Line Emerges… Now in 2008, as Baltimore is faces its first opportunity to advance this vision, there are opponents to the Red Line plan. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) will soon be completed and public hearings held in the hopes of developing a “Locally Preferred Alternative”. Some opponents believe the impact of the project on their particular communities are insurmountable, and others feel that the Red Line as proposed does not honor the guiding principles of the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan. Will the Red Line be running on the street surface through certain neighborhoods and what will the impacts be on parking, houses and the aesthetics of our historic districts? How will stations integrate into neighborhoods? Will the service be fast and frequent enough to attract commuters out of their cars and onto the Red Line? The DEIS and the “Locally Preferred Alternative” should answer these questions, yet more than likely, our elected officials will be faced with a plan that meets the financial and environmental tests imposed by the federal government. The Choice Before Us… The question we must ask ourselves is, do we throw away six years' worth of study and the hope that we might finally advance a real transit vision for our region? Do we continue to force hopeless alternatives for a local streetcar in Fells Point or a subway bypass to Orangeville into a federal evaluation process which may not accept them; and, hope that somehow the federal government, which has dozens of cities lined up for the very funds we seek, will somehow relax their standards and grant Baltimore a free-pass that it has not given to any other city in the country? With the re-authorization of the Federal Transportation Act looming in less than a year, we either choose to proceed now with the Red Line and have our project included using one of the alternatives currently being evaluated or we wait another generation or two to try again – all the while, sitting in traffic, choking on filthy air and passing up opportunities to grow and strengthen the core of our city and the neighborhoods which surround it. Absent a billion dollars of local funds (not state funds, but money from the city and county governments), our choice really is between a project that the federal government will choose to fund and not having a project at all. There is a long list of opportunities to be seized from the Red Line project: neighborhood reinvestment where no private sector activity has been realized for years; allowing communities to access the MARC train system at West Baltimore and thus BRAC-related jobs at Aberdeen and Fort Meade; strengthening our hospitality, tourism, and convention industry by linking our convention center with Fells Point, Harbor East and Canton; a one-transfer trip (at West Baltimore MARC) between Fells Point and Union Station in Washington, DC; and the list goes on. The moment is now. Further study, further delay, and further unwillingness to see the larger community and regional benefit of the Red Line project only serves to destroy the vision of the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan. Will we succumb to the notion that neighborhood-level impacts are insurmountable or shall we seize the opportunities of a $1.5 billion investment in Baltimore that comes only once in a generation? The Indypendent Reader sent a few follow-up questions to Danyell Diggs concerning the Red Line project: IR: Can you further explain the transportation benefits that this project would afford the city once it is fully built and operational? Diggs: The ridership benefits alone are significant – all of the models show at least 40,000 riders per day for the mid-range alternatives. That’s 40,000 trips per day that won’t be made on our already congested roads and highways or on buses that stop at every street corner. We’re talking about real travel time savings for those riders – as well as the opportunity to build a culture of transit use in parts of the City where transit isn’t very prevalent. Frankly, if you look at the projected traffic congestion in certain parts of the City and region, we don’t have much choice but to build a major transit project. In Southeast Baltimore, the entire President Street, Fleet/Aliceanna, and Boston Street corridor is projected to be in gridlock by 2012. The only way to provide the necessary traffic capacity to keep our City moving and growing is with the Red Line. IR: One of your main arguments for going ahead with the project as-proposed is the ever-shortening window of time that Baltimore has to get funding for the project. You say: "The moment is now. Further study, further delay, and further unwillingness to see the larger community and regional benefit of the Red Line project only serves to destroy the vision of the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan." Can you elaborate on the funding situation for this project and provide concrete information on just how much time we actually have, how much funding is at stake, and how long this project has been in its proposal stage? Diggs: Our goal is to have a shovel in the ground for the Red Line in 2012. Since the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan was adopted in 2002, we’ve made a good bit of progress in getting these lines into the design and construction phase. It usually does take between 8 and 10 years to move from concept to construction – so from that perspective, we’re right on schedule. On the funding situation, the state has already programmed $239 million for final design and the beginning stages of construction. With Congress scheduled to reauthorize SAFETEA-LU (the federal surface transportation authorization law) in late 2008/early 2009, we really need to have all of our “ducks in a row” by the time that new law is being adopted by Congress in order to win the federal funds for this project. So in reality, we probably have less than a year to finish up the DEIS, select a "Locally Preferred Alternative" and move it formally into the federal New Starts process. The clock is ticking. IR: Do you have a response to the resistance that some communities have raised against the building of the Red Line through their neighborhoods? Can you clarify the City's plan to adequately deal with this "problem?" Diggs: Mayor Dixon will be doing a series of community “walk-throughs” along the corridor to hear directly from residents – and to talk to them about their concerns and what resources can be brought to bear to address those concerns. There will, of course, be issues that just can’t be resolved to the satisfaction of all. That’s just a fact of a major infrastructure project – but that doesn’t mean we won’t stop working every day to work these issues through.