Opponents of the Red Line, as it’s currently proposed, are hopeful Maryland’s budget shortfalls and a new administration will result in plans for the light rail line to be reconsidered.
The state is facing a projected budget deficit during the next 18 months of more than $1 billion, and Gov.-elect Larry Hogan has expressed concern about Maryland’s ability to help pay for the 14.1 mile line that would connect western Baltimore County and East Baltimore. Critics of the project contend that the light rail line, which is expected to cost $2.9 billion, can be completed for less using an alternative plan.
“The big myth is that it’s this Red Line, meaning the one that’s on the drawing board right now, or nothing, and that is just completely and utterly false,” said Benjamin Rosenberg, a member of the Right Rail Coalition that wants an alternative to the proposed light rail line.
Rosenberg argues there are several other options that would be cheaper and more effective than the current plan. The coalition’s plan calls for the Red Line to be built from Baltimore County to Lexington Market, linking it to the existing metro and eliminating the need for a new tunnel downtown. The plan also reroutes the eastern portion of the line north of Patterson Park and away from neighborhoods such as Canton.
“For reasons that I can’t fathom, [Red Line supporters] are so stuck on this plan, as if there isn’t another way to skin the cat. There are hundreds of different ways to skin the cat that wouldn’t cost anywhere near as much and would provide much better transit,” Rosenberg said.
Sen. William Ferguson said he supports development of mass transit in Baltimore and expressed concern about loss of funds if the projects is killed. But he also worried about the costs of the proposed line. Currently Baltimore and Baltimore County have pledged $230 million and $50 million respectively. The rest of the project is expected to be paid for with a mix of state and federal funds as well as through public and private partnerships.
“The costs have skyrocketed and the performance metrics have diminished. So at current cost estimates it’s likely the Red Line will be the only citywide mass transit initiative that we’ll have for the next 30 years,” Ferguson said. “In a time of tightened public budgets every dollar has to be spent as efficiently as possible. So, I think there are amazing parts of the Red Line and we need to build on the parts that are effective and work. “
Proponents of the line insist that the new line would be a boon for the city and would support economic growth and better connect residents with jobs. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has repeatedly expressed optimism about the future of the light rail line despite mounting reservations about the project’s cost and value. Backers have also upped their efforts to lobby Hogan to keep the project on track by sending letters highlighting the economic impact of the project.
But advocates for a new plan believe they can get the same results with an easier and cheaper route.
“I think an effective mass transit system is absolutely essential for Baltimore City’s long-term competitiveness, and you only get one bite of the apple to do a project of this magnitude the right way, and so we have to make the tough choices now to ensure that it is the best possible project,” Ferguson said.