A reimagining of the long-awaited Red Line transportation system could connect Howard County to eastern Baltimore County.
The proposed expansion is part of a 25-year regional transportation plan released by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The plan also includes a multibillion transit corridor connecting Towson to Baltimore City.
“The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is concerned about the lack of progress in the region,” Regina Aris, assistant director of transportation planning for the council, during a virtual briefing last week. “They see a lot of money going to Washington DC area jurisdictions, a lot of money going to the Purple Line.”
A long-range plan for the central Maryland region dedicates nearly $4 billion to two major transit lines.
The East-West Transit Corridor system is one of more than 90 major transit plans part of the council’s Resilience 2050 plan. The document highlights a 25-year plan of regional road and transit projects in the central Maryland region.
The council is composed of leaders of seven major jurisdictions — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne’s Counties, as well as Baltimore City. The panel is mandated by federal law to develop transit and transportation plans based on population and other trends.
“Planning the transportation system for 20 plus years is a complex task,” said Zach Kaufman, a senior transportation planner at the council. “We consider many factors and trends that may affect the regional transportation network in the future. Planning for the future requires forecasts of where people might live and work over the time period covered” by the plan.
Over those two decades, the population of the region is projected to grow by 358,000 people or about 13%. The number of households in the region is expected increase by 15%, meaning smaller household sizes.
The region is also expected to add 374,000 jobs, an increase of about 26%.
Short-term plans look forward over a four-year period and include projects that are under construction or will be soon. Longer range plans look forward 25 years.
The costs are estimates and based on projected available funding over the next quarter century.
The plan is the focus of a set of public hearings that kicks off Wednesday night in Westminster.
The plan includes 56 road and 36 transit projects — all considered priorities for governments in the region — totaling more than $70 billion over the 25-year period, according to Kaufman.
All the road projects involve widening or improvements to existing thoroughfares.
Projects in the proposal include:
- An express bus line connecting Columbia to the NSA and Parole, near Annapolis at a cost of $45 million.
- A $147 million interchange along 695 to support the redevelopment of the Sparrows Point area of southeastern Baltimore County.
- Replacing 95% of the existing MTA bus fleet with zero emission vehicles by 2050. In the first phase, the state looks to spend nearly $1.6 billion to replace 50% of its 760-vehicle fleet by 2030. A second phase would bring the total to 95% at an additional cost of more than $2.2 billion. The costs include buses and construction of charging facilities.
In an initial phase, officials envision the development of an East-West Transit corridor. A second phase would include a north-south transit corridor.
The East-West project is the heir to the Red Line light rail project killed in 2015 by then-Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
The 14.1-mile light rail project would have connected Bayview Hospital in East Baltimore to Woodlawn in western Baltimore County. Hogan, faced with two multi-billion light rail projects including the Purple Line in the DC suburbs, canceled the Red Line, calling it “a boondoggle.”
Democrats in the region decried the decision. In the years that followed they repeated calls to resurrect the plan.
Gov. Wes Moore (D), who took office in January, has promised to bring back the project.
Moore said an east to west transit system would connect underemployed areas of the Baltimore region to job centers. He’s tied the efforts to his focus on social and economic justice and reducing childhood poverty.
Moore and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and other officials have at times referred to the future project as both the Red Line and more generically an east-west transportation system.
So far, only scant details have been available.
The regional transportation plan offers only broad strokes for a project expected between 2028 and 2039.
“There are several major transit projects that were submitted by the Maryland Transit Administration,” said Aris. “They aren’t more specific at this point because they’re currently in a planning process and they don’t know what type of alignment or what kind of mode whether it’s light rail, bus rapid transit express bus. So, there are some reasons why some of the projects aren’t better defined at this point, but it’s a long-range plan. We do update it every four years. So hopefully there will be better descriptions for the long range and definitely by the time they move into the short-range document — the Transportation Improvement Program.”
The plan includes alternatives for an up to a 17-mile line connecting eastern Baltimore County to destinations west of Baltimore that could include Woodlawn or Ellicott City. The route would take commuters through Baltimore City.
The exact path of the project is yet to be determined. It is unlikely it will follow the path of the original Red Line project because of development over the last eight years.
It is also unclear if the project will use light rail as envisioned in the original Red Line plan or a less costly rapid bus option.
The projected cost is based on an average per mile cost of the seven potential corridors identified in a 2022 study.
The Baltimore Metropolitan Council also envisions a north-south transit corridor connecting central Baltimore County to Baltimore City. The 14-mile project would connect Towson to the city. Some proposals extend as far north as Lutherville and as far south as Port Covington.
The exact path of the corridor has not been determined. It is also unclear if the project will use light rail or rapid bus.
The council estimates the project would cost more than $2 billion. The corridor is currently part of a set of projects between 2040 and 2050.