Staff and Wire Reports//June 25, 2015
//June 25, 2015
ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday pulled the plug on the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail project that Baltimore officials and business leaders have called crucial to the region’s economic development, but he said he would back a slimmed-down plan to build the Purple Line in suburban Washington, D.C.
Hogan’s long-awaited announcement ended months of behind-the-scenes lobbying by political and business supporters of both projects. Hogan has said repeatedly that he fears the state cannot afford the projects, and he reiterated that strongly in regard to the Red Line at today’s announcement. Instead, the governor said he would spend nearly $1.4 billion in additional money on roads and bridge projects in nearly every jurisdiction in the state.
“Public transportation is important but it is vital that we invest hard-earned taxpayer dollars into those projects that will help the greatest number of our citizens in our state,” Hogan said. “We’re not opposed to mass transit but we do oppose wasteful and irresponsible spending and poorly conceived projects that waste taxpayer money.”
The 14.1-mile long Red Line proposal was designed to connect Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with Woodlawn in Baltimore County. Hogan characterized the project, which included a $1 billion tunnel under the city, as a boondoggle.
“The existing light rail system in Baltimore is the second worst in the country as far as productivity and ridership,” Hogan said. “The current (Red Line) proposal is not a design that meets the needs of Baltimore City. It requires the construction of a billion-dollar tunnel through the heart of the city. At $3 billion the current design fails to integrate effectively Baltimore’s existing infrastructure.”
Hogan’s decision to kill the Red Line isn’t sitting well with the project’s advocates.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sharply criticized Hogan after the decision, questioning his commitment to the city’s residents and its economic growth in a statement released to the news media.
“I am disheartened that Governor Hogan has chosen to ignore the needs of Baltimore City residents by canceling current plans for the Red Line. Although the Governor has promised to support economic growth in Baltimore, he canceled a project that would have expanded economic development, created thousands of jobs, increased access to thousands more, and offered residents better health care, childcare, and educational opportunities.”
Greater Baltimore Committee President and CEO Donald Fry said he was serving on a panel discussing the challenges facing West Baltimore when his staff notified him of the governor’s decision. He described his reaction to the news as “devastated and frustrated.” He, too, said Hogan’s decision set Baltimore back at least a decade in addressing its mass transit needs.
“I’m not sure where to go from here,” Fry said.
Grant Corley, of Red Line Now, congratulated supporters of the Purple Line on their success, but added that Hogan’s decision damages the long-term economic viability of Baltimore. He said it would be decades before the city has another opportunity for a project of this scale to transform the inadequate mass transportation system.
“I’m very concerned about the future of the city,” Corley said.
Money for roads and bridges
Hogan announced plans to spend nearly $2 billion on roads, highways and bridges throughout the state of Maryland, including $1.35 billion for new projects. Hogan said a portion of that money would go to repairing every structurally deficient bridge in the state.
“All during my campaign last year and ever since becoming governor, since I was elected, I’ve made it very clear that building, maintaining and fixing Maryland’s roads and bridges is our top transportation priority and it is a top priority in our administration,” Hogan said.
Of that, $1.35 billion will be for new projects, said. About $625 million will be announced for projects that already have been lined up.
“I think it’s definitely needed, especially with regards to the maintenance of our infrastructure,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Harford County and the Senate Minority leader.
About $845 million will go toward major projects, such as road widening or traffic management tools. About $500 million will be used to fix bridges and improve roads.
“These are badly needed projects all across the state, all of which are designated to address the needs of citizens from one end of the state to another,” Hogan said. “Everyone in the state relies on Maryland roads. We have a responsibility to the state as a whole and with these projects we are investing in, we’re going to touch the daily lives of citizens all across our state.”
The plan calls for investing in projects in every county, using available state funding.
Absent from a map of Hogan’s planned projects were additional projects for Baltimore City. The governor said the city maintains its own roads and receives a sizable portion of local highway money from the state. Over the next six years, the city was to receive about $839 million. That amount will increase by $392 million.
Purple Line moves ahead
The $2.5 billion Purple Line project, which is further along in the funding and planning process, will connect Bethesda in Montgomery County with New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.
“I’ve always said that this decision was never about whether public transit was worthwhile but whether it is affordable and makes economic sense,” Hogan said.
The state is in line to receive $900 million in federal money for the Purple Line light rail project. Hogan said the state has made changes that will reduce its share from about $700 million to about $168 million.
The state will get there by reducing about $200 million in expenses, including eliminating a second staging area for trains, purchasing fewer cars and cutting back on art works and other expensive design features. Additionally, trains will run every nearly every 8 minutes as opposed to every 6 minutes.
“We’re reducing a number of items out of this that were frankly producing a Cadillac project and not a Chevy project,” said Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn.
The path and number of stations will not change.
Additionally, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, which are already paying about 10 percent each on the project, will be asked to contribute up to a total $100 million in cash and in-kind project contributions.
The balance, about $400 million, will be part of additional costs that the state will seek to have picked up by the four bidders on the project.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, praised the decision to move forward with the Purple Line but also said concerns remain.
“We are concerned about the local share,” Schwartz said. “It very well could kill the project if the local governments don’t have the money available to meet the share that he’s asking them to provide.”
Staff writer Adam Bednar contributed to this story.