‘We’re Going To Get This Right’: Gov. Moore Revives Baltimore's Red Line Project
In August 2015, then-Maryland Transitportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn invited federal lawmakers and state and local elected officials from Baltimore to meet at his agency's headquarters in Hanover to discuss future mass transit projects in Baltimore.
The elected officials who attended wanted answers to one question: What alternate transit options would Rahn use to replace the Red Line?
Earlier that year, Gov. Larry Hogan took office and quickly made it clear he intended to follow through on a campaign pledge to scuttle the $2.9B Red Line project he derided as a "wasteful boondoggle."
Rahn tried to appease elected officials by praising their efforts to secure funding for the project, adding that he hoped for their continued success in securing funds for future transportation projects.
Those comments only irritated U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who represented Maryland at the time. The East Baltimore native, who previously served as the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations and was then the committee's top Democrat, worked for years to secure federal dollars to build the Red Line.
Eventually, Mikulski's exasperation boiled over. She interrupted the secretary, telling him: “The pot is really small, Mr. Rahn. … Hope is one thing, delusion is another.”
However, on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Wes Moore said his administration is moving beyond providing hope it would revive plans to build the Red Line, and he announced its first steps toward making it a reality.
As a first step in reviving those plans, the state transit agency will lead an effort in the "coming months" that is expected to result in constructing a mass transit line running east and west through Baltimore that has been on the drawing boards for over two decades. The transit project could have huge implications for the city’s economy and commercial real estate market.
"Government left the city of Baltimore, and the Baltimore region, and the dreams of the people here behind. Well, today, I stand here to say that right now, our state is ready to do big things again," Moore said at the news conference.
"This administration stands in partnership with community groups, with local elected officials and elected officials at all levels of government, with advocates, with activists, with residents, and we say with one voice now is the time that we are going to get this right. We're going to get this right for our economy."
Maryland's transit agency will begin studying factors such as whether a fixed rail or bus rapid transit route presents the best option for a new Red Line, examining the impact of tunneling and conducting a new environmental study to apply for funds next year from the federal Capital Improvements grant program.
Additionally, the Maryland Transit Administration will study how recent development in Baltimore's Highlandtown neighborhood impacts the project's initial alignment with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
These steps are necessary, Moore said, because he has no intention of dusting off previous Red Line plans and submitting them to the federal government.
"While we are grateful for how much work went into the planning of the project in years past, this initiative is not simply going to be an effort to pull something off the shelf and plug and play,” Moore said. "We will be thoughtful about how to proceed and make use of the work that has already been done. We will also apply a keen eye for adjustments that need to be made to account for some very meaningful societal shifts.”
According to the administration, additional transportation funds Moore’s team pursued, which the General Assembly approved during its most recent session, are expected to cover the $100M price tag of these initial steps in restarting the process of building the Red Line.
In restarting plans to build the Red Line, Moore is taking steps to fulfill a pledge that he made during the campaign.
“We are going to get it done in our term. It is not a compromise,” Moore told Bloomberg News in early December, shortly after his election last year.
When Hogan decided to cancel the Red Line, activists and elected officials said the state and federal government may revisit the project in the relatively distant future, and that was the best-case scenario. They based their pessimism on the length of time it takes to get the appropriate federal approvals and funding.
However, Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said Thursday that restarting work on the Red Line wouldn’t be anywhere near as burdensome as once thought. That's because the senators insisted on including a provision in the federal Infrastructure Modernization Bill they dubbed "the keep the Red Line alive provision."
"It says that where you've had a program that has been carefully vetted by the [Federal Transit Administration], previously, and the state and the city want to revive that program, it doesn't have to go to the back of the line. It doesn't have to wait forever and ever to work its way through the process," Van Hollen said.
For years, some Baltimore developers have argued that the city's mass transit system creates a hurdle in attracting tenants to office buildings and apartments and hinders retail operations.
Cross Street Partners founder Bill Struever, who is redeveloping Baltimore's Penn Station via a joint venture with Beatty Development Group called Penn Station Partners, said his organization has tried to use that development to leverage more transit investment. Struever and others have urged elected officials to consider several options to improve what he called Baltimore's "discombobulated fragmented transit system."
Those recommendations include improving light rail connections at Penn Station, a Silver Line shuttle connecting MARC stations at BWI and Middle River and a new station at Biddle and Washington streets serving the East Baltimore Development Inc. project surrounding the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus.
"Those are all kinds of things that are kind of percolating out of there out of here that we're hopeful that this kind of intense focus on improving transit will continue," Struever recently told Bisnow.
Celeste Chavis, an associate professor in Morgan State University's Department of Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies, attended the press conference Thursday and said she wanted to hear more about what Moore's administration is proposing but was hopeful about the project's potential impact.
"I'm hoping that we can get a lot done now,” she said. “The political cycles don't always align with transportation planning, as we know. And so I'm hoping we can leverage a lot of the hard work and efforts that have been done in the past, but also make sure that they're current to the changing needs. What we see in transportation today looks a lot different than what he did maybe 10 years ago when the Red Line was about to be developed."
UPDATE, JUNE 15, 7:10 P.M. ET: This story has been updated with comments from Moore's event and additional information on the Red Line project.