Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
A map of the ill-fated Red Line, which the state Department of Transportation says will not be built. (file)

Lawsuit seeks to derail Red Line

More than two dozen property owners have filed suit in Baltimore City Circuit Court seeking to stop the state from building the $2.9 billion Red Line transit project.

The 25 plaintiffs, who own 20 properties in the 300 block of North Fremont Avenue, say state Department of Transportation officials violated their due process rights and decimated their property values in redrawing the proposed alignment of the 14.1 mile project.

The plaintiffs are seeking $7.35 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages plus attorneys’ fees. The suit also asks for an injunction that would prevent the state from building the mega-transportation project that will connect east Baltimore to western Baltimore County.

In addition to the Maryland Department of Transportation, the suit names Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr., Maryland Transit Administration Chief Administrator Robert L. Smith, and Henry Kay, the administration’s executive director for transit development and delivery, as defendants.

Officials for the Maryland Transit Administration did not respond to a request for comment.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege the Red Line originally was to run along U.S. 40, turning south before following Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and then entering a proposed downtown tunnel between Lexington and Fayette streets.

But two years later, “the MTA surreptitiously re-routed the Red Line from its originally planned route through the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to its currently planned route underneath North Fremont Avenue,” the suit says.

The route then enters a proposed downtown tunnel located in the center of U.S. 40 to an underground station at Fremont Avenue and Baltimore Street. The suit, filed Wednesday, alleges that the plaintiffs were not officially notified of the changes and how the new route would impact their property until October 2013.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Lewyn Scott Garrett, Ajile F. Brown and Lindsey D. Marable, alleges that the changes and the failure to consult with affected property owners as required in a 2006 bill passed by the General Assembly amount to an unfair taking of property. The complaint alleges the agency “seeks to use its condemnation power to acquire easements for construction, maintenance and operation of the Red Line underneath the plaintiffs’ properties.”

“The plaintiffs claim that due to the recent infrastructure issues highlighted by the 26th Street and Charles Street collapse, reports of other collapses around the country, the shallow proposed tunnel distance under North Fremont Avenue, the fact that MTA has done no testing that would prove otherwise, and the MTA’s refusal to collaborate on an alternative route, the MTA’s alignment of the Red Line beneath North Fremont Avenue has already rendered the plaintiffs’ properties worthless,” according to the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, the three-member Board of Public Works approved the purchase of an east-side property, 114 E. Lombard St., for use as a ventillation shaft for the Red Line project. The purchase price of $550,000 is more than twice the amount of two independent appraisals. The property is currently owned by developer Mark Sapperstein.

State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot complained about the price and urged the department to consider using condemnation in order to acquire properties needed for the rail project.

About Bryan P. Sears

Bryan P. Sears covers Maryland politics and government affairs for The Daily Record.