Gov. Larry Hogan is off the hook in a federal civil rights probe into his decision to veto the nearly $3 billion Red Line rail project for Baltimore in June 2015.
The director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s civil rights office sent a letter to state officials yesterday declaring the investigation into the governor’s decision dead, according to The Washington Post.
The letter said that DOT would “administratively close the complaint without finding” because that is “the appropriate course of action.” The department didn’t explain why.
This all began when the governor decided five months after taking office that the long-planned 14-mile light rail line that would have connected East and West Baltimore from Bayview to Woodlawn was a waste of taxpayer money. He instead proposed revamping the city’s bus system, a controversial plan that was realized last month with the rollout of BaltimoreLink.
Six months after the Red Line was axed, the NAACP, ACLU and other groups filed a complaint alleging Hogan’s administration had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (A Baltimore resident by the name of Samuel Jordan also filed a separate complaint. The two complaints were later merged into one.) The groups argued Hogan’s decision was part of a statewide “pattern of deprioritizing the needs of Baltimore’s primarily African-American population, many of whom are dependent on public transportation.”
On the Obama administration’s final day in January, the DOT expanded its investigation into the Red Line’s cancellation. In a letter to Hogan and Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, officials wrote that their investigation at that point revealed state officials “administered heir programs and services in a manner that calls into question whether [they] violated DOT’s regulations governing the planning process, including Title VI.”
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits federal funding recipients from using those dollars to discriminate against constituents. The state had received $900 million in federal funding for the project.
The letter added, “as a general rule, a pattern of cancelling projects or a pattern by a state of underserving communities in the provision of transportation services, in a way that disproportionately affects minority communities, may be a prima facie Title VI violation.”
Six months later, the Trump administration’s Department of Justice has now closed the investigation. According to the Post, the feds are still going to conduct a broader review of the state’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which officials can overcome simply by showing they have a plan to follow what the law says.
Baltimore-dwelling U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings said in a statement today that he is “deeply disappointed” in the Department of Transportation’s decision to drop the investigation. He also said he will be “closely watching” how the DOT handles its compliance review, “including whether MDOT’s investment decisions – for the Red Line and for all infrastructure projects – are disadvantaging minority residents in Baltimore and the State of Maryland in any way.”
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