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Officials talk up Red Line to private sector

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said Monday the state would ideally enter into “three to five” public-private partnerships each year, but that Baltimore’s proposed Red Line did not necessarily have to be one of them.

Construction and testing on the Red Line, which will run east to west, could take six to seven years.

At an informational meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center that was held to give details of the east-west light rail project to members of the private sector, more than 300 people heard technical specifications for the $2.6 billion mass transit line.

Combined with new money generated by a gas tax increase and legislation that streamlines procurement for public-private partnerships — often long-term lease arrangements between the state and a business, where the private partner pays for construction — Brown said there were several ways the 14.1-mile Red Line could be built.

“We now have the tools to get back into the business of investing in Maryland infrastructure,” Brown told representatives of transportation, construction and other industries.

New Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary James T. “Jim” Smith Jr. called the public-private partnership legislation “a great tool.”

“It’s certainly going to be used in regard to many transportation projects in the future,” he said.

In an interview, Brown declined to elaborate on what other projects — aside from the Red Line and Purple Line in suburban Washington — might be best developed as a public-private partnership. But he said projects did not have to be exclusively transportation-related and that other state agencies were studying ways to use the new procurement method.

He also said the Corridor Cities Transitway — a proposed bus rapid transit system intended to connect Gaithersburg to Clarksburg while making 10 other stops along the way — was a “project we need to explore.”

But the focus of Monday morning’s meeting was the Red Line. Brown said transit was “patchwork” in Baltimore, but that Red Line — which would connect with city buses, the existing light rail and Metro Subway — gave the city a viable network.

“Baltimore city is probably the least connected from a transit perspective” of the United States’ largest cities, said Brown, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year.

Federal funding — up to half of building costs — is not expected to be approved until 2014, and construction and testing is expected to last between six and seven years. If all goes to plan, the project would be running by 2021. Meanwhile, there is still design, engineering and land acquisition work to be completed.

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to ask the Board of Public Works — composed of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — for $146.1 million on Wednesday to complete design of the project. The money is in addition to $140 million that was approved by the board in 2010.

Leif A. Dormsjo, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation, said the agency had always planned to ask for more money and would be seeking extra cash for the Purple Line, too. An MDOT spokesman said the agency would ask for a contract modification for the Purple Line at the board’s July 3 meeting, but did not provide a dollar amount.

Despite receiving mixed reviews from some lawmakers — who say the Red Line would not be adequate by itself to connect the city and construction would disrupt and divide some neighborhoods — Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the light rail line would create a “regional transit system” in the city and Baltimore County, which she called “interdependent.”

“The Red Line will bring Baltimore unparalleled economic vitality compared to anything we’ve seen before,” Rawlings-Blake said.