Baltimore Red Line project slowly moves forward
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 11:45

Light rail project still in planning stage

by Nicole Rodman

    Each year, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, in conjunction with the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and other agencies, prepares a short-term Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) detailing the agency’s projects over the next four years.
    After the plan is developed, it is opened up to the general public for an open comment period before being voted on for final approval.
    Under this process, the 2012-2015 TIP was approved last November. The total cost of projects in the 2012-2015 TIP is approximately $1.86 billion.
    This year, the MTA is proposing seven amendments to last year’s plan.
   

The MTA’s amendments to the 2012-2015 TIP include funding change requests for four current projects and the addition of one on-hold project and two new projects.
    The on-hold project now being added back into the TIP is one of the most notable projects discussed in the 2012-2015 TIP, the proposed Baltimore Red Line.
    Still in the planning stages, the Red Line light rail would travel east and west, connecting Woodlawn in western Baltimore County to Eastern Avenue in Baltimore City.
    The proposed line would end around Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
    The 14-mile rail system was first proposed in 2002.  Initial plans had the line extending into Dundalk, but budget constraints forced that proposal to be dropped.
    By 2009, both then-Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith and Gov. Martin O’Malley had approved of the project, but planning and funding concerns kept the project moving slowly.
    So, too, did controversy, with local residents voicing concerns that the red line would bring increased crime into the area.
    Now, after years of being put on hold, MTA is requesting to add the Baltimore Red Line project back into its 2012-2015 TIP.
    As part of their plan, MTA is hoping to reintroduce the project with $55.6 million to fund preliminary engineering costs.
    According to a press release from the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB), “The project is intended to help address traffic congestion, provide better connectivity to existing transit service, support new and future transit-oriented economic and revitalization efforts, and help address regional air quality issues.”
    The Red Line project is moving along after years of delay due in part to the recently passed Federal Transportation Reauthorization Bill, which approved federal funding for various transportation projects around the country.
    In addition to this federal funding, MTA will commit more than $127 million in state funds to continue the project.   
    According to Henry Kay, MTA executive director for transit development and delivery, the Red Line project is currently in “preliminary engineering.”
    As Kay noted in remarks to The Eagle, during this phase the plans are still being made and finalized.
    Once the preliminary engineering has been done, sometime around 2014, the project will be opened for contractors to bid.
    Once a contractor is chosen, construction will begin (likely around 2015.)
    According to Kay, the line could possibly be open for use by 2021.
    While funding for the whole project has not yet been approved, there is enough money to complete the initial planning.
    Next, funding for the construction part of the project will be secured.
    Ultimately, Kay noted, the Red Line project will end up being paid for both by the federal and state government, with each picking up half of the cost.
    For its part, the city of Baltimore has embraced the project.
    On Oct. 24, the Baltimore Board of Estimates approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) commiting the city to assisting in the construction of the Red Line.
     As part of the MOU, Baltimore will allow the MTA to use any and all city-owned property needed to construct the line.
    Additionally, the MOU also notes that the city will construct a new road — the Boston-O’Donnell Connector — and build a parking lot for a new Red Line/Marc station on Lombard Street.
    While most of the funding for the project will come from the federal and state governments, Baltimore will foot some of the construction costs.
    For now, plans are coming together for the Baltimore Red Line but public input is needed.
    To this end, public comment will be accepted until Friday, Nov. 16.
    Comments must be submitted in writing to The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, 1500 Whetstone Way, Suite 300, Baltimore, MD 21230.
    Comments can also be faxed to 410-732-8248; or emailed to comments@
baltometro.org.
    A public meeting on the  proposed amendments to 2012-2015 TIP will be held on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council offices at 1500 Whetstone Way, Suite 300, Baltimore, MD 21230.
    Comments will also be accepted during the BRTB Technical Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 9:30 a.m. and during the BRTB meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 9 a.m.
    For more information,     visit www.baltometro.org/bboard.