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Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake must now look at alternative solutions for the city’s mass-transit issues after never formulating a “Plan B” in the wake of Gov. Larry Hogan’s killing of the Red Line project. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

No Plan B: Search begins for Red Line alternative

Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to kill the proposed Red Line light rail route through Baltimore has left the city’s mass transit plans in the lurch.

William Johnson, director of the Baltimore Department of Transportation, said the city now has to consider alternatives, describing the loss of the light rail line as a major blow to a city that is 30 years behind other jurisdictions in terms of mass transit. He described Baltimore’s current system as incomplete.

“We were kind of thinking the Red Line was going to be a good start. It wasn’t the answer to everything, but it was a good start,” Johnson said.

Baltimore now has to regroup and find a way to work with the Maryland Department of Transportation to develop alternatives to the $2.9 billion Red Line. The 14.1-mile route would have connected Woodlawn in western Baltimore County with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center to the east.

The Maryland Department of Transportation controls the vast majority of the city’s mass transit options, which primarily consist of buses running on city streets. The state also controls the one light rail line that connects the city with northern and southern suburbs, a Metro route connecting Johns Hopkins Hospital and Owings Mills and two MARC commuter train lines linking Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Johnson said he has a meeting scheduled with state transportation officials in mid-July. During that meeting he hopes the agencies start discussing viable alternatives for mass transit in Baltimore. He said there may be some discussion of Bus Rapid Transit, although he doesn’t believe that’s the best solution because most city roads can’t be widened to provide dedicated lanes.

“If we go with something like a rapid bus system those buses are going to have to try to travel on the same roads that are congested with tons and tons of traffic,” Johnson said.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said that Friday represented the first day of a new process looking for solutions to Baltimore’s mass-transit problems. She said that all options, from Bus Rapid Transit to a reduced light rail line, would be considered.

“We are clearly open to all ideas,” Henson said.

The death of the Red Line came as no surprise. Hogan, while campaigning for governor last year, made his antipathy for the project known. He said he would prefer to use funds from the state’s gas tax, which would’ve contributed to its portion of the project, to pay for bridge and road repairs rather than invest in mass transit.

After taking office, Hogan instructed Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn to begin reviewing the Red Line and the Purple Line, a light rail line linking Bethesda, in Montgomery and New Carrollton, in Prince George’s County. On Thursday, Hogan announced that he would allow a scaled back Purple Line to move forward while nixing the Red Line. He said Red Line plans, with a proposed tunnel through downtown, did not meet the city’s needs.

Despite Hogan’s public stance on the Red Line,  Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake never developed a backup plan for the Red Line in case the new Republican governor followed through and axed the project. A spokesman for the mayor said in an email that she does not regret never developing a “Plan B.”

But while the city and state try to figure out what, if any, alternatives are possible, the city’s mass transit riders are left to consider what may have been.

Dee Brown, 19, waited on Pratt Street for an eastbound No. 31 bus on Friday afternoon so he could visit a friend near Dundalk. Brown, a resident of Sandtown-Winschester, said he’s not surprised Red Line won’t become a reality, but after reconsidering the route the train would’ve run he shook his head and smiled wistfully.

“That would’ve been good,” Brown said.

About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.