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Red Line backers, foes spar over federal funds

Red Line backers, foes spar over federal funds

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Opponents of the proposed $2.9 billion Red Line light rail line are accusing the project’s backers of misleading the public and state leaders about the availability of federal funds to build the project.

Supporters of the planned 14.1 mile line connecting western Baltimore County and East Baltimore argue if the project does not move forward $900 million of federal funding will be lost. But opponents dispute that the state and federal government are anywhere near close to signing a full funding grant agreement that would guarantee the federal portion of the project.

“This whole idea, ‘If we stop now we’ll lose the $900 million we already have’ — we don’t have it. You can’t lose something that you don’t have,” said Benjamin Rosenberg, vice president of the Right Rail Coalition.

The Red Line, as currently proposed, would be paid for with a combined $1.8 billion from federal, state and local funds. The rest of the money for the project would be covered through private and public partnerships. Supporters of the project argue that the contract for the proposed downtown tunnel could be put out for bid by August, and ground could be broken on the project by this year. Gov. Larry Hogan included funds for the project in his proposed budget, but those are considered a place holder until his administration makes a decision about the future of the Red Line and its sister project, the Purple Line, in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

In the meantime, opponents are trying to get their message to state officials — The Right Rail Coalition sent a letter to Hogan on Jan. 23 detailing their arguments against the project — before the line reaches a point that it can’t be stopped.

Rosenberg accused Henry Kay, the Maryland Transit Administration’s executive director for transit development and delivery, of misleading the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee last week about the availability of federal funds for the project. Rosenberg said Kay’s assertion that funds for the project have been “approved” are untrue.

He argues that there are still several steps that need to be complete before the the federal government and the state can sign a full funding agreement that will guarantee the total $900 million for the project. Those hurdles include approving a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement needed to accommodate moving a proposed stop near Little Italy, gaining final engineering approval from the Federal Transit Administration and closing a gap between the project’s actual cost and federal, state and local funding.

In an email exchange between Kay and Greenberg, Kay disputed the assertion that his statements before the committee were misleading. He wrote that it’s accurate that federal funding has been “recommended” and that he’s confident state and federal governments will sign a full funding grant agreement for the project at the appropriate time.

“… I am confident I fairly and accurately described our prospects for federal funding and no further clarification is needed,” Kay wrote.

Kay did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Supporters of the Red Line argue that saying the state will lose $900 million in federal funds if the project isn’t built is a fair description. Grant Corley, a volunteer with Red Line Now, said that no transportation project that has reached this stage of the federal regulatory pipeline has not been able to secure a full funding grant agreement.

“Opponents of the Red Line have been searching, and searching, and searching for something to stop the project, something to oppose on the project, this is just another in their litany of complaints about the Red Line,” Corley said.

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