Van Hollen, Cardin get Baltimore Red Line provision added to infrastructure bill

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Advocates for the revival of a scuttled Baltimore-area subway line said on Wednesday they welcome efforts by Maryland’s U.S. senators to help get the project back on track.

But they said their enthusiasm is tempered by the sober reality that many pieces would need to fall into place for the resurrection of the Red Line project, which was canceled by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in 2015, to occur.

This week Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Ben Cardin (D) were able to add a provision to the infrastructure legislation being debated in Congress “that would ensure consideration of projects previously in the [federal transportation funding] program, such as the Red Line,” the lawmakers said.

Without such a provision, the project would be forced to endure a much longer wait for federal funding should a future governor seek to revive it.

“I think it is significant,” said Brian O’Malley, head of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. “This clears a hurdle, but it’s not the only hurdle.”

After years of debate and design work, the 14-mile Red Line was set to connect Woodlawn, in Baltimore County, with Bayview, in the eastern part of Baltimore City.

Hogan, who campaigned against the project, killed it just six months into his first term, calling it “a wasteful boondoggle.”

Backers of the project howled in protest.

They said the long-planned line, which qualified for $900 million in federal funding, would have dramatically opened employment, educational and health care opportunities for thousands of people.

Transportation advocates cautioned on Wednesday that a revival faces numerous challenges.

From a political perspective, they said, the line needs to become an issue in the 2022 race for governor — and that Hogan’s successor would need to champion the project’s return.

State and city transportation officials would then need to dust off and update engineering work that was done, re-do time-consuming environmental analyses, and take into account neighborhood development that has occurred since 2015.

The state would also need to successfully re-compete for the federal funding that almost all big-ticket transit projects require to get off the ground.

Van Hollen said Hogan’s decision to kill the project sacrificed “years and years of effort and communities coming together for that common purpose.”

“It’s very unusual that — after so much work has gone into planning for a big Metro system like that — that a governor would turn his back on the project,” he added.

The lawmaker noted that if Hogan hadn’t killed the Red Line, it would possibly be nearing completion.

The provision added by Van Hollen and Cardin, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, means “Baltimore City doesn’t have to go to the back of the line if it wants to restart the Red Line.”

Del. Robbyn T. Lewis (D-Baltimore City), a longtime Red Line advocate, said she was “both super excited and traumatically cautious” about this week’s news.

She said residents would need to “mobilize” to get regional and state leaders behind the project again, which she said would be a heavy lift.

“We absolutely need a new governor and it needs to be a Democrat who gives a s— about Baltimore,” Lewis said.

Cal Harris, the communication director for Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D), called the cancellation of the Red Line “a regrettable missed opportunity,” and he praised the senators for keeping the door to revival ajar.

“Their effort to revive the Red Line project aligns with the Scott Administration’s commitment to strengthening transportation infrastructure, creating jobs, and building a more equitable Baltimore,” Harris said in a statement.

Funding for DC Metro secured

Van Hollen said the Senate version of the infrastructure bill includes other “big wins” for the state, including:

  • Reauthorization of $150 million per year in federal funds for the Washington Metropolitan Area’s Transit Authority, the entity that provides subway and bus service in the D.C. region.
  • Provisions of the “Reconnecting Communities Act, which seeks to remove infrastructure projects like Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere” that divide neighborhoods.
  • $238 million in funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program to help meet pollution-reduction targets.
  • Provisions to protect frontline transit workers and commuters.
  • $42 billion to expand broadband access and make internet service more affordable for low-income Americans.
  • $8 billion for a Federal Transit Administration program that supports the Purple Line and similar projects.
  • $17 billion to improve the nation’s ports.

“As we work to beat this pandemic and build a stronger and more inclusive economy, we must seize this opportunity to generate more good-paying jobs, tackle the climate crisis, and ensure that every American has a chance for a bright future,” the senator said in statement.

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