DALLAS – A newly formed transportation advocacy group in Baltimore wants Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to revive the $3 billion Red Line light rail project as a key link of a statewide rail system.
The Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition said Thursday that the proposed 15-mile rail line in Baltimore could be the linchpin of a rail network that would extend across the state from Delaware to West Virginia. It would connect with transit system in Washington and Baltimore.
The coalition also proposed state funding for a $25 million rail line in southern Maryland and increased frequency of the MARC commuter trains operated by Maryland Transit Administration.
Coalition members include the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, the Prince George's Advocates for Community-based Transit, and the Southern Maryland Alliance for Rapid Transit.
Hogan withdrew state funding in June 2015 from the Red Line project that he called a "wasteful boondoggle" while endorsing the $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail project. The Purple Line, which would stretch across the Maryland suburbs of Washington, is being financed as a public-private partnership.
Coalition chairman Ben Ross said Hogan should redirect funding for a proposed widening of Interstate 270 to building the Red Line.
"For the same cost as a single highway project that's been proposed on I-270 and the D.C. Beltway, we could build a transit network all across Maryland from Elkton to Frederick, from Waldorf all the way to Towson," Ross said.
The proposal suggested by Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., and some business groups in the state to widen I-270 and rebuild the American Legion Bridge across the Potomac in Washington would cost $8 billion and require up to 15 years of environmental review before work could begin, said Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. Hogan has instead proposed a $229.6 million plan to ease traffic backups along the congested I-270 corridor and on local roads in Montgomery County.
The Red Line proposal is part of a long-term plan to increase transit opportunities in Maryland, Ross said.
"Our basic strategy is to make the public understand what the possibilities are here," Ross said at a news conference. "Over the next 10 to 20 years there will be several governors. It's more a matter of what the public wants than who is in office."
Hogan's proposal for a $135 million state-funded overhaul of Baltimore's bus system is evidence of his commitment to transit improvements in the city, said spokesman Doug Mayer.
"The Red Line didn't move forward because it was poorly designed and simply unaffordable, with at least a $1 billion tunnel running through the heart of the city," Mayer said.
Several civil rights organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU of Maryland, asked the Transportation Department in late 2015 to investigate Hogan's cancellation of the Red Line. The groups contend that the decision to defund the transit project and redirect the funding to suburban roads was racially discriminatory.
The Transportation Department has not yet decided whether to pass the complaint along to the Justice Department for further action, said Ajmel Quereshi, an assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Hogan's decision to cancel the rail line shifted $1.2 billion of state funds earmarked for the Red Line to other projects, he said.
"The state has diverted the majority of the funds to road projects in rural and suburban parts of the state that are predominantly white," Quereshi said. "A finding that the cancellation violated federal law would put significant pressure on the state to reinvest money in the city, which would greatly benefit African-American families."