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Red Line forum will try to attract private investment

Federal, state and local government officials will detail plans for Baltimore’s Red Line on Monday at a forum intended to gauge industry interest in building or operating the light rail line.

The forum at the Baltimore Convention Center — hosted by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and new Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr. — is similar to an event held last month in Hanover, where Brown and others tried to gauge industry interest in building or operating the Purple Line.

The two light rail lines were leading engines behind the General Assembly‘s push to increase the gas tax this year. The increase, which won’t be fully phased in until 2016, should cover land acquisition and design of the transit lines. Federal dollars are being sought for construction, but the state still must figure out how to pay its half of construction costs.

The projects are expected to cost close to $5 billion combined.

A public-private partnership — in this context, a long-term lease deal with the state in which there is substantial capital investment by a private company in exchange for conducting day-to-day operations for state-owned property — is thought to be one way to find the needed money.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other government officials are expected to meet with industry representatives including regional, national and international transportation contractors; engineering, financial investment and insurance firms; rail vehicle manufacturers; and women and minority owned businesses.

The Red Line is expected to run along a 14.1-mile path starting in Woodlawn and ending at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in East Baltimore. In a statement, Brown said he expected construction to create 4,200 jobs over six years.

Despite doubts among some state and local elected officials, other officials say the Red Line is expected to open in 2021 and carry 54,000 passengers a day by 2035.