The Red Line: Past as Present?

There once was a major transit project planned for the Baltimore area.  Federal and state funding were lined up and construction was ready to start.  However, strong opposition to the project emerged and it was canceled.  This took place not in June 2015 but in November 1975.  It was for a subway line that was planned to initially go from Owings Mills to BWI Airport and Glen Burnie.  It was to be the first line of an extensive heavy rail system that bears strong similarity to the 2002 Regional Rail Plan.  However, residents in Anne Arundel County were fiercely opposed to the project as they feared the introduction of “undesirable elements” into their communities, resulting in the cancellation of the project’s southern leg. It is worth wondering what this part of our region would be like today, had the project moved forward.

Due to the efforts of then Governor Marvin Mandel and  Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, the northwest leg of the subway from the Reisterstown Road Plaza to Charles Center was constructed.  In subsequent years,  it was extended to Owings Mills and Johns Hopkins Hospital. But there exist no current plans for any further extensions.

In 1992, the Central Light Rail opened and ran from Timonium to Camden Yards.  In 1997, the line was extended to Hunt Valley and BWI Airport.  Ironically, the southern extension ran through the very areas that had so fiercely opposed the subway line decades ago.  Unfortunately, the line was built without federal funding and corners had to be cut.  This significantly affected the effectiveness of the project. Existing rail right of way that went through some of the region’s least populated areas was used.  Large portions of the line were also initially single tracked.  It also doesn’t connect directly with the subway.  Furthermore, the light rail has to travel through congested city streets and stop at red lights due to the failure of the city and MTA to agree on how best to implement traffic signal prioritization.  As a result, it has never had a large amount of ridership.  Despite being only half its length, our metro subway has more ridership.

The Red Line proposal learned from this history and would have created true, high-quality transit in the Baltimore region, and was included in the 2002 plan.  This east-west line was to be the first part of a comprehensive rail system.  CPHA and our allies had hoped this time would be different from all other attempts at developing a comprehensive transit system.  Civic organizations joined forces with the business community to ensure both elected officials and the general public understood the importance of transit.  The Red Line project team also engaged in significant community outreach so that the stations would be well integrated into their surroundings and that residents in the communities the line traveled through would benefit.  Those portions of the line that ran through the most congested sections of Baltimore were to be placed in a tunnel.  It would also have had direct connections to the MARC train, light rail, and subway, tying our transit system together in a way no project had ever done before. The project won significant federal funding through the New Starts program, proving its merits even under the close scrutiny of the Federal Transit Administration.

The Red Line would have also created 15,000 jobs directly and indirectly during construction.  After its completion, 250,000 jobs would have become accessible through rail transit.  In a city in desperate need of revitalization, there would have been more than 2000 acres available for redevelopment.  The Red Line was a once in a generation opportunity that would have dramatically changed Baltimore for the better.

Despite our best efforts, Governor Hogan canceled the line and set transit planning in Baltimore back over a decade.  The Hogan administration also shows no interest so far in implementing the Bus Network Improvement Plan (BNIP) developed during the O’Malley administration.  These are dark days for transit in Baltimore.  But CPHA has faced difficult times before.  When CPHA was founded in 1941, overcrowded slums were present throughout Baltimore.  But through the hard work of the organization and that of our citizen volunteers, we helped to establish to nation’s first housing code.  When Baltimore was suffering from the aftermath of the 1968 riots, we brought the city together through the City Fair.

Baltimore has been dealt a major setback, but CPHA is not giving up.  We’re working with our partners to come up with a response that holds Governor Hogan accountable for his decision while also ensuring this doesn’t happen again.  History does not need to keep repeating itself.

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Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

This article was written by Gregory Friedman. Click here to meet our writing team.

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