The Republican wave that swept both D.C. and Maryland in the November elections appears poised to at least reroute Baltimore’s plans to build a new east-west commuter rail. The proposed Red Line, which would run from Rosemont through downtown, Fell’s Point and Canton to Bayview Hospital, is currently projected to cost about $2 billion to build.
A combination of spending cuts from Congressional Republicans and Gov. Larry Hogan could mean it won’t go forward with the current design. But thanks to a group who has been seen as an opponent of the rail, an alternative could be waiting in the wings.
While local leaders think Gov. Larry Hogan’s election is likely to play a roll in the Red Line, the biggest issue facing the project is the Republican takeover of Congress. The Obama administration pledged about $900 million to fund Red Line construction. But with spending-averse Republicans now running the legislative branch, that money could meet the axe.
“I think that’s probably a bigger concern than anything else,” State Sen. Bill Ferguson said of the federal money at a recent Canton Community Association meeting. “At some point if the money’s not there we either risk losing everything [when it comes to] improving transit because we’re only going down one path, or we present some options that are more quickly deployable transit solutions.”
Local leaders were already facing issues with the project because the federal money wouldn’t cover any cost overruns that the project would amass during construction. So even if the plans go through, the Red Line would get $900 million from Washington, and that’s it. The state, Baltimore City and Baltimore County have already pledged money to make up for most of the rest of the costs.
Ferguson and Del. Pete Hammen told the CCA that they presented Hogan’s administration with a plan for the Red Line that has been offered by the Right Rail Coalition. The key point of the Right Rail plan is to remove an underground tunnel that would run from downtown through Inner Harbor and Fell’s Point. Currently, the tunnel is projected to cost $1.3 billion to build. In the Right Rail vision, the project would be rerouted north through Lexington Market to Johns Hopkins Medical Center. That way, it could also tie in with the existing Metro subway system.
Hogan didn’t commit to a firm position on the Red Line during the campaign for governor, and he hasn’t taken a specific policy position since being elected. But Hammen said Hogan transition team budget chief Robert Neall was at least willing to listen. Hogan ran on reining in government spending, and Neall seemed especially receptive to the reality that the state and local governments would be on the hook if the project goes over-budget, Hammen said.
“He is really a smart guy, and he understood very quickly that the liability to the state and city…any cost overruns, we have to pick that up,” Hammen told the CCA.