Baltimore area elected officials walked out of a meeting about the future of transportation in Baltimore not feeling very optimistic.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and others met at Maryland Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Hanover on Monday with Secretary Pete K. Rahn. The meeting was ostensibly to discuss improving Baltimore’s mass transit system, but elected officials said they expected to hear alternatives to the canceled the $2.9 billion Red Line.
“We came here today in hopes of hearing alternative ideas for the Red Line and we leave here, I think, very frustrated and disappointed … there’s not a real plan, or any substitution, or alternative for the kinds of things the Red Line would’ve produced, which is economic development, jobs … rather we got, really, I think a total if not 100 percent emphasis on improving the bus service, which to some of us is their job,” said Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates.
Mikulski, former chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations and now its top Democrat, led the fight for the Red Line to receive $100 million in federal funding. The fiscal year 2016 Transportation, House and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations spending bill also includes $100 million for the project. Those funds will now be spent in other parts of the country after the federal government is officially notified of Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to abandon the Red Line.
During closing statements at the end of the session Rahn tried to spark a hopeful tone about the future. He acknowledged the federal legislators for their hard work and said he knows they will continue to be successful in securing federal funds for transportation projects improving the area’s transit system. He was interrupted by Mikulski who quipped: “The pot is really small Mr. Rahn. … Hope is one thing, delusion is another.”
During opening statements before the work session — the actual work session was closed to news media — elected officials criticized the decision in late June to cancel the 14.1-mile project that would have connected Woodlawn and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. They argue the decision wastes the roughly $300 million spent planning the project and deprives the city of desperately needed jobs.
“We invested more than a decade of time, and according to the Department of Legislative Services, nearly $300 million in developing a plan for the Red Line. And today we have nothing — nothing — to show for these investments,” Cummings said.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the Hogan administration, said this meeting wasn’t designed to roll out alternatives to the Red Line. He also said the administration should not be held responsible for money spent on the project during a previous administration.
“The purpose of today was to get ideas and we’re disappointed they didn’t want to share those ideas,” Mayer said.
Despite criticism from elected Democrats, Rahn remained optimistic after the meeting. He said the state is developing a process to determine what residents want and to address the situation efficiently, as opposed to spending money on a project because funds are available. He said the state wants to make changes that will improve mass transit in Baltimore in a matter of months not years.
He also reminded officials the state intends to spend $1.5 billion on transportation in Baltimore during the next six years.
“It was a very frank conversation that I appreciated. It was very necessary for the process for us to move forward as we find a way to significantly improve the transit system for the entire Baltimore region. I believe that’s what we were talking about, we’re not talking about trying to improve a single corridor but the entire system,” Rahn said.