Major issues with current Red Line plan, say state legislators

Written by on September 4, 2013 in Neighborhood News - No comments

State representatives for the 46th District—including delegates Peter Hammen, Brian McHale and Luke Clippinger, as well as Senator Bill Ferguson—have co-authored a letter to Governor Martin O’Malley, asking him to take another look at the proposed Red Line train in East Baltimore.

The letter states that the Red Line as proposed in 2002 could have been part of a solution to “mass transit challenges” such as “patchwork economic development, intractable quality of life frustrations for neighborhoods and persistently segregated communities.”

The legislators emphasize the importance of public transit and their commitment to it, including the Red Line, but they state that there are some major problems with the project’s current iteration that should be addressed before moving forward.

The letter criticizes the current proposal on four grounds: rising cost, a heavy burden on local taxpayers, the disruption of stable communities such as the Canton waterfront, and the disruption and expense caused by building an underground tunnel east of downtown.

Cost and transit efficiency
On cost, the letter states that the projected expense of the project “has risen significantly,” while the projected amount of daily riders has not increased proportionally. Furthermore, the average train speed has gone down.

“In 2008, the MTA projected the Red Line to cost $1.631 billion and serve 42,100 riders per day at average speeds of 23-25 miles per hour,” states the letter. “Today, just five years since initial estimates, the MTA now projects that the Red Line will cost at least $2.574 billion to build—nearly $1 billion over initially projected costs without a shovel in the ground—and serve 55,000 riders per day but at an average speed of roughly 18.8 miles per hour—thereby traveling nearly 25 percent more slowly along the line than initially designed.”

The letter goes on to state that Maryland and Baltimore taxpayers will pay “an unprecedented and unbalanced share” of those higher construction costs.

Burden on taxpayers
At the outset, the letter states, the MTA expected that the federal government would pay for half of the project through the New Starts grant program.

However, the 46th District legislators say, the grant program is “fiercely competitive, and federal funding support for the Red Line at any level is most certainly not guaranteed.”

Maximum federal funding through the New Starts program would provide $900 billion for the Red Line, leaving state and city taxpayers on the hook—in that best case scenario—for $1.7 billion, the letter states.

Canton waterfront
The letter criticizes the Red Line for skipping certain communities in need of economic development—Washington Hill, Pleasant View Gardens, Upper Fell’s Point, Fell’s Prospect, McElderry Park, Patterson Park, Highlandtown, etc.—while disrupting “one of the most congested and developed corridors in the entire City of Baltimore.”

“The Red Line thereby circumvents communities that could most benefit from a transit oriented economic investment, and disrupts a developed community where increased transit ridership is the least fertile according to the MTA’s own ridership analysis and projections.”

Going underground
The letter calls the underground tunnel east of downtown Baltimore “both a driver of the Red Line’s escalating costs and the primary source of excessive disruption to our neighborhoods.”

It goes on to site “rapid streetcar” systems in Washington, D.C., and Seattle as “cost effective and a better match to urban infrastructure.”

Similar systems are being designed and built across the U.S., says the letter, which adds that justifications for the Red Line as currently now can be summarized as: “The Red line is all we’ve got going, and Baltimore has to take what it can get.”

The letter concludes that “the Red Line can still be a project that positively transforms Baltimore City’s mass transit future. But to achieve this objective, the MTA must develop a more effective and modern plan for the Red Line in East and Southeast Baltimore.”

by Erik Zygmont

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