If the proposed 14.1 mile Red Line light rail connecting East Baltimore and western Baltimore County isn’t approved there is no backup plan to address the city’s mass transit needs, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.
During her regular meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Rawlings-Blake said the city isn’t looking at alternatives, such as rapid bus transit, to replace the proposed $2.9 billion project if it’s nixed. She said the focus has to be on building the controversial light rail line because the state and federal money available for the line cannot be used for other transit projects.
“My focus is leaving it all on the field. This is a battle and a fight to keep those resources in play because I know what it means to the future of our city. Yes, for transportation, which I believe is essential for a sustainable, thriving and growing city, but also for the jobs the Red Line represents — not only in construction jobs but the development along the route,” Rawlings-Blake said.
“My focus is on making sure we protect the investment because if we miss out on this more than $900 million investment from the federal government … it’s not like if you’re at the supermarket and you let somebody get in front of you and then you’re next. We’re not next … in line for those resources. We’re at the end of the line.”
The Maryland Transit Administration has been working on the proposed light rail line for more than a decade. But the future of the project is in doubt because Gov.-elect Larry Hogan has expressed concerns about spending money from the state’s transportation fund to pay for a portion of the Red Line and the Purple Line, its sister project in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
Last week, during the Red Line Now advocacy summit, Henry Kay, Maryland Transit Administration’s executive director of transit development and delivery, said the contract for the downtown tunnel portion of the project could be bid out by August and that construction of the line could begin this year.
Detractors of the project argue it is too expensive and that the planned route does not meet the goal of helping Baltimore establish an integrated mass transit system that connects north, south, east and west. Opponents argue the project should be placed on hold while other routes and options are considered.
But supporters of the project, such as Kay, Rawlings-Blake and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, argue that any delay will result in the loss of the federal funds designated for the project and that the environmental approval needed to build the line doesn’t allow for any changes to the proposed route.