At MACo, Cardin Seeks Local Governments’ Help to Advocate for Red Line

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) wants to see the Red Line become a reality, he said at a town hall during the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in Ocean City Friday, but warned that the project’s future is ultimately in the hands of state officials.

Cardin, along with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), recently added a provision to infrastructure legislation being debated in Congress that would “ensure considerations of projects previously in the [federal transportation funding] program, such as the Red Line,” but Cardin said Friday that the project’s fate will ultimately come down to state priorities.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) quashed the project in 2015, calling it “a wasteful boondoggle.” Advocates for the Red Line, which qualified for $900 million in federal funding, said it would’ve boosted employment, education and health care for tens of thousands of Baltimore-area residents.

At the town hall event Friday, Baltimore County Councilmember Israel “Izzy” Patoka (D) applauded Cardin’s efforts to revive the project. Cardin said members of congress are largely restricted to funding transportation projects that are listed as top state priorities.

“Unless it gets on the state list, we can’t do anything to help,” Cardin said.

Advocates for the Red Line previously told Maryland Matters that the project needs to overcome various hurdles even with the infrastructure provision added by Cardin and Van Hollen. Engineering work and environmental analysis would need to be updated, and the state would have to re-compete for federal funding.

Cardin told the local leaders assembled that they can play a role in making the Red Line a reality by advocating for it at the state level.

“I don’t see any change happening within the next year,” Cardin said. “It’s up to the state to make the request.”

In addition to the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal that already passed the Senate, an expansive $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” budget plan is currently being debated in Congress. Cardin said he expects action from Congress on both of those legislative items in September, and added that the final budget reconciliation could be less than the anticipated $3.5 trillion. He said input from local governments will be key as that process moves forward.

On refugees from Afghanistan 

Talbot County Councilmember Pete Lesher (D) said his family took in refugees from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and asked Cardin about what federal plans exist to accommodate incoming refugees from Afghanistan as the U.S. withdraws from the country.

Cardin said evacuating U.S. citizens is the federal government’s top priority, followed by people who supported U.S. efforts in Afghanistan like interpreters, and finally a broader group of people who could be at risk under Taliban rule, like women judges. He said that restrictive U.S. laws, combined with COVID-19 restrictions, might mean that officials need to find a third country to temporarily house refugees while they go through the immigration process.

“That requires a compassionate immigration system, which is not exactly where we are today in America,” Cardin said.

He went on to say that “every administration” has made mistakes in Afghanistan since the U.S. first invaded the country nearly two decades ago.

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