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Gov. Larry Hogan, left, and and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Hogan administration to weigh options to replace Red Line project

ANNAPOLIS — State transportation officials said they plan to discuss in early August options to replace the canceled Red Line light rail project.

State Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said he and his staff will meet with nearly four dozen signatories of a letter requesting that Gov. Larry Hogan reconsider the June decision to stop work on the anticipated transit project.

“We will be exploring concepts and specifics,” Rahn told a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees. “We will not be doing anything by fiat.”

Rahn, without offering specifics, said he believes the Mass Transit Administration can improve transportation in the city through a series of improvements to the existing system within the agency’s current budget and do it faster than the five- to seven-year construction timeline for the Red Line.

Money saved from the cancellation of the Red Line and cost reductions to the Purple Line have already been redistributed to pay for roads projects in a draft of a six-year transportation plan that will be discussed at public hearings beginning in September.

Rahn said he expects to meet with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Rep. Elijah Cummings and other elected officials and civic and business leaders on Aug. 10.

Hogan, a Republican, announced nearly a month ago that he planned to move forward with the modified plan for the proposed $2.5 billion Purple Line project that will connect New Carrollton to Bethesda.

Included in those changes are aesthetic reductions to stations; the purchase of fewer rail cars; an increased cost expected to be borne by the private partner on the project; and $100 million in additional contributions from Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. The two counties already are contributing about $110 million in cash and in-kind projects.

Rahn, speaking to the two legislative committees Tuesday, would not say if the $100 million would be split evenly among the two counties.

At the same time he announced his Purple Line decision, the governor said he was canceling the proposed $2.9 billion Red Line light rail project that would have connected east Baltimore to a portion of western Baltimore County.

Rahn said the “fatal flaw” in the project was a tunnel through the center of the city at a current proposed cost of $1 billion — a projection the secretary said he had no confidence in.

“The problem for us was in every single calculation we made, the tunnel was the fatal flaw,” Rahn said “There are notorious examples of tunnel costs exploding.”

Legislators have expressed concern about the elimination of the Red Line project for Baltimore.

Del. Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore City, rejected Rahn’s comparison to a tunnel in Seattle or Boston’s “Big Dig.”

Lierman called the  Seattle tunnel and its problems “quite distinguishable from what we we are trying to attempt.”

But Rahn said that in the end, the lack of confidence in the costs of a completed tunnel “was an unacceptable risk.”

Instead, Hogan said, he would spend nearly $2 billion on highways and roads and bridge repair projects. The governor also pledged to send about $400 million to the city through increases in its share of highway user revenue.

“Governor Hogan has expressed a vision for transportation for the state of Maryland that was reflected in the plans announced on June 25,” Rahn said.

Rawlings-Blake and others have been critical of Hogan for canceling the Red Line without offering an alternative. Others complain that the decision shows a lack of concern by Hogan for problems in the city.

“We care about Baltimore,” Rahn said. “We want Baltimore to be successful.”