Opinion: Central MD Can Recover From Loss of Red Line Light Rail Project – By Building It

 Baltimore’s 2019-2022 Transportation Improvement Plan project viewer depicted below shows with a single purple dot the only mass transit project to be constructed in Baltimore City over the next four years. Using a combination of federal and state dollars, the Kirk Division Bus Facility is to be replaced. Red dots denote highway “preservation” projects. These are largely maintenance projects including road repaving, repair to bridges, upgraded street lighting and improved stormwater drainage.

In other words, the Transportation Improvement Plan for the next four years includes not one actual transportation project. Is there any mystery why Baltimore will not grow? 

With the sudden, racially and economically punitive cancellation of the Red Line light rail project in 2015 by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan, the Baltimore region lost the most robust generator of new development that can still revitalize the metropolitan economy. Stabilized communities, 10,000 jobs for families falling deeper into poverty every day, dramatically shortened commute times, and reduced congestion, are among the benefits of the $2.9 billion Red Line project. The Red Line’s transformation of the regional economy can be achieved through community-embracing, equitable transit oriented development, or eTOD, the gift that keeps on giving. eTOD follows rail construction.   The Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition seeks not only the completion of the Red Line light rail project, but we propose an answer to the question, “How do we pay for it now that Governor Hogan has declined $900 million in federal funds intended for the project?” The legislature can create a regional transportation authority. We’ll call ours the Central Maryland Transit District. To help pay for the Red Line, the CMTD will be empowered to raise funds from a variety of sources including fees, taxes, fines, bonds and licensing as is done in at least 20 regions around the country.  We would not rely most heavily on taxes. Instead, like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to the south, another regional transportation authority, we would, for example, assemble and sell/lease a real estate portfolio and capture increased land values, as just one means of assembling the funds for transit projects.

The stipulation of affordable housing along the corridor would be a first line of defense which, along with other policies, can push back gentrification, broadening thereby the base of mixed income residential stock. Another major benefit of the CMTD is that its governing body can be chosen in local elections assuring greater accountability to the communities most directly affected by its decisions – a rarity at the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transit Administration. A second image represents some of the planned economic development impact of the Purple Line light rail project over the next four years in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties that Gov. Hogan permitted to survive.
 The image reflects the mantra in the transit industry, “Development follows rail and buses follow development.” It demonstrates persuasively the error of Hogan’s attempt to console Baltimore with the Baltimore Link Bus System in the wake of his cancellation of the Red Line. One year following its launch, there is not one economic development project even remotely associated with the Baltimore Link Bus System. Banks do not invest in bus stops.

Now look again at the blank space that is West Baltimore in the first image showing the TIP projects. In the absence of light rail transit investments and greater transit connectivity, there are no investment-attracting eTOD projects.  “The lack of such investment will only reinforce continued atrophy in West Baltimore,” according to Dr. Seema Iyer of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. 

There is no other project on the horizon that will bring equitable access to transit in the region like the Red Line. Nor is there another project on the horizon that has the economic punch the Red Line light rail project will bring to the Baltimore region. The long-needed east-west light rail line will  “anchor” the existing transit system, give it multi-modal connectivity, and foster equitable transit oriented development at its 19 stations along the 14.2-mile route from Bayview in the east to Woodlawn in the west. Access to another 250,000 jobs in the region within 45 minutes and $2.5 billion in eTOD with 3,000 to 5,000 permanent jobs round out the benefits of the Red Line project. How can we not demand and pursue its completion?

The writers are, respectively, president and vice president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition.


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