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William Ferguson
Maryland State Sen. William "Bill" Ferguson (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Funding questions, price tag dog Red Line

Local funding requirements aren’t the only issue nagging the proposed Red Line light rail line, but it’s becoming obvious it’s a major sticking point for some officials.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, who represents South and Southeast Baltimore, said proposed alterations to the light rail route near Harbor East and the associated cost remain substantial obstacles to the project.

“I don’t think that it’s just the local funding. This is symbolic of larger issues. It’s a billion (dollars) over budget without even one shovel in the ground,” Ferguson said.

He estimated that proposed changes to the initial route, to appease H&S Bakery owner and developer John Paterakis, could add $200 million to $250 million to the $2.6 billion project as well as an additional 10 months construction time.

But the senator acknowledged that how the project will be financed is an issue. According to state budget documents, the state is looking for Baltimore and Baltimore County to contribute $250 million toward the construction of the 14.1 mile route that would run between Woodlawn in Baltimore County and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in East Baltimore.

“We need to know what the real final costs will be. Initially, we were told this was a 50-50 state and federal project. Over the last eight to 10 months that formula has changed,” he said.

The state is negotiating with both jurisdictions about how and what they would contribute. According to a source with knowledge of those discussions, the state is seeking $200 million from the city and $50 million from the county.

But a letter from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz revealed a deep divide in the negotiations. In the letter Kamenetz said the county would be willing to pay only $26.5 million, on the condition the county leg of the project was made a priority and the state shared with him what the city was contributing.

“There has been much debate and discussion about whether there is enough funding to complete the project as planned, and I must protect Baltimore County taxpayers as we move forward to ensure that the county portion is completed in a timely manner,” Kamenetz wrote.

Since the letter from Kamenetz was reported, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office and the city’s Department of Transportation have sidestepped questions about the letter and where they stand on the issue of local funding.

“This is an important regional project and we are optimistic that our ongoing, good-faith negotiations with MTA will get us where we need to be,” the mayor said in a statement emailed by Kevin Harris, chief of public affairs.

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation, emailed a statement saying, “The city continues to negotiate in good faith with the State on its contribution.”

Ferguson praised Kamenetz, saying he was just “being an honest and good advocate for his constituents.” Ferguson also raised doubts the state would accept “in-kind funding” as part of local contributions for the project.

“I think it’s a made-up term. It’s a fallacy. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar. It’s not ‘free money we just found in the ground,’” he said.

He also expressed doubts that the Red Line would be able to come in on budget because the plans require tunneling through the city, and he called for an independent review of the project.

“The MTA (Maryland Transit Administration) will say it will come in on budget but there is not one project where anyone has tunneled underground that has come under budget anywhere,” Ferguson said.

Daily Record business reporter Adam Bednar contributed to this article.