Baltimore's Red Line Project should be revisited before it’s too late - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Baltimore’s Red Line Project should be revisited before it’s too late

Baltimore City wants the Red Line to happen in the worst way.

The Red Line is a proposed 14.1-mile, east-west transit line connecting the areas of

I’ve lived here for a long time and there has not been too many projects that have received this much of a media blitz. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says, “It’s a game changer.”

Yet, when you begin to scrutinize the Red Line a few problem areas arise that need  clarification so we all know what we’re exactly getting into.

The Red Line will not come anywhere close to being our New York Subway or D.C. Metro

I’m not sure if this idea stems from creative marketing or what I call the “Baltimore Little Brother Complex.”

Baltimore exists along the I-95 corridor with its “bigger brother” cities to the North and the nation’s capital about 35 minutes South. And just like a little brother, we clamor to have all the things our bigger siblings have. We, as a city want to be accepted just as they are.

This line of thinking should not apply to the Red Line. When you look at New York, that system was built over a century ago which gave the city time to grow around it. New York has a system length of 232 miles with an average weekday ridership of 8,733,300. The Washington D.C. Metro has 106.3 miles of track with an average weekday ridership of 855,300.

Both systems are fast, can accommodate high ridership and are a part of a highly accessible and connected transportation network.

baltimore-red-line-metroThe entire Red Line stretches 14.1 miles connecting the areas of Woodlawn, Edmondson Village, West Baltimore, downtown Baltimore, Harbor East, Fell’s Point, Canton and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Campus. It would take 45 minutes to get from one end to another in a two car train.

The Baltimore Metro Subway has six-car trains. Daily weekday ridership estimates have dropped from 57,000 to 47,000, according to the most recent MTA reports. That ridership is lower than the Baltimore ridership.

Except for a two block underground tunnel, the Red Line plan will not bring the City’s transportation system together. It creates another disjointed piece to the puzzle.  As you can see, this project should never be compared to those heavy-weight systems.

The problem with the downtown tunnel is not about disgruntled yuppies

Red Line supporters will tell you that the only problem with the proposed downtown tunnel is that Canton residents are upset about the disruptions it will create for their neighborhood. Neighbor dissatisfaction is the least of the Red Line’s worries.

The 3-mile tunnel alone from West Baltimore to Boston St. at the moment cost $1.2 billion. It’s going to be over 45 percent of the cost of the entire project and that should be a deal-breaker. The cost of the tunnel has forced the MTA to decrease the size of station platforms where they will only be able to handle skinny two-car trains.  This downgrade defeats the whole purpose of the project to transport large capacities quickly East and West.

baltimore-red-lineAnother cost-cutting procedure caused by the tunnel was to eliminate all crossover tracks in the tunnel meaning that any glitch or car problem would shut down the whole system.

Right now we have the Baltimore Metro Subway system with 15.5 miles of track with an average weekday ridership of 48,500. It has a station at Johns Hopkins Hospital. How much would it cost to add a mile or so of track to reach their Bayview Campus? I’m sure it will not cost $1.2 billion.

Yet it’s a necessity that this tunnel must be built even to the detriment of the rest of the project. Why?

$2.6 billion better solve all of our public transportation needs

We always start off with the right intentions.

The Baltimore Metro Subway in 1965 was planned to be six rapid transit lines emanating from a center hub in the middle of the city. It opened in 1983 as a straight-line subway going from Charles Center to Owings Mills.  In 1994, an added stretch of tunnel connected Johns Hopkins Hospital to Charles Center. However, our subway system came nowhere near addressing the transportation needs of the majority of its residents.

Family supporting the Red Line Project.

Family supporting the Red Line Project.

In 2002 the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan – which the Red Line was a part – recommended the construction of a rail system reaching East, West, North and South connecting the entire region with a 109-mile rail system.

The key in each plan was to make large areas of the region accessible to each other. Those public transportation systems in D.C. and New York make it possible for anyone to travel anywhere in the metropolitan area. How does the Red Line affect Towson, White Marsh and all the other neighborhoods Northeast of Hopkins? It doesn’t and other parts of Baltimore can say the same thing.

This will be the most expensive undertaking Baltimore has ever embarked upon. And if we actually put a shovel in the ground, this is our last chance to create a viable public transportation system.

As it stands now, the Red Line project is getting $1.2 billion from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund to make this all happen. This fund was just replenished by a gas tax hike in 2013. I don’t see the majority of state senators voting in the next few decades to give Baltimore specific dollars out of state funds after the Red Line and good luck to anyone who would suggest raising local taxes for future public transportation endeavors.

Granted, the Red Line is a complex beast. However to make the process so cut and dry is a disservice not just to those neighborhoods who might feel some discomfort, but to the entire region. We need sound forecasts to get a clear understanding of what it is we are actually getting.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the Maryland Transit Administration should explain to the City why public transportation needs wont be addressed. These same officials should tell us why cheaper more inclusive alternatives or hybrid approaches will not be as successful – if that’s the case.

 


About the author

Jason Jenkins

Jason spent eight years at T. Rowe Price serving in various roles from investment counseling to retirement planning. In 2005, he became Senior Security Analyst at Wells Fargo Corporate Trust in their Residential Mortgage-backed Securities division. He has contributed to several financial newsletters and the Motley Fool website while completing his thesis and Master’s Degree in Government from the Johns Hopkins University Advanced Academic Program. He resides in Baltimore. Contact the author.
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