Bal­ti­more needs tran­sit

Our view: Scaled-down Red Line gets a boost from County Ex­ec­u­tive Kamenetz

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD -

Each year, all 24 Mary­land sub­di­vi­sions sub­mit to the state what are es­sen­tially wish lists for fu­ture trans­porta­tion spend­ing. What topped this year’s re­quest from Bal­ti­more County for the Con­sol­i­dated Trans­porta­tion Pro­gram? A new pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem to con­nect Wood­lawn with Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket in down­town Bal­ti­more.

If that sounds fa­mil­iar, that’s be­cause it is. What County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz is seek­ing is slightly less than half the Red Line, the $2.9 bil­lion light rail sys­tem that Gov. Larry Ho­gan axed last year. This isn’t the first time Mr. Kamenetz has gone to bat for tran­sit — he pre­vi­ously asked of­fi­cials to study Red Line al­ter­na­tives — but it does un­der­score how the lack of a vi­able east-west pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem in the Bal­ti­more re­gion is a prob­lem that isn’t go­ing away.

What the county ex­ec­u­tive en­vi­sions isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a Red Line Lite. He specif­i­cally men­tions rapid bus tran­sit (a sur­face bus sys­tem with ded­i­cated right-of-way) as a po­ten­tial al­ter­na­tive, as well as tra­di­tional fixed rail. It also isn’t the first time that a west-side tran­sit pro­ject with Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket as its eastern ter­mi­nus has been pro­posed — the non­profit ad­vo­cacy group Right Rail Coali­tion sug­gested some­thing sim­i­lar (along with an ex­ten­sion of the Metro sub­way and some street­car lines) back when the Red Line was still on the draw­ing board.

What are the chances the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion will pounce on this and se­cure a place on the six-year cap­i­tal spend­ing plan for west-side tran­sit? We’re not hold­ing our breath. Gover­nor Ho­gan has so far been a big a fan of high­way spend­ing, not sig­nif­i­cant mass-tran­sit in­vest­ments. But that doesn’t mean Mr. Kamenetz hasn’t made some im­por­tant points.

As the county ex­ec­u­tive notes in his Oct. 20 let­ter to Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Pete Rahn, tin­ker­ing with ex­ist­ing bus ser­vice isn’t go­ing to solve the re­gion’s traf­fic con­ges­tion, now rated as the fifth-worst in the coun­try. To get new “choice” rid­ers on tran­sit (the kind who can af­ford a car) re­quires more than re­ar­rang­ing bus sched­ules or stops as the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion is cur­rently at­tempt­ing to do. You need speed and ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

What doomed the Red Line, Mr. Ho­gan claimed, was the cost of a down­town tun­nel. A Wood­lawn-to-Lex­ing­ton sys­tem wouldn’t have that ex­pense. But it would still serve one of the re­gion’s more im­por­tant em­ploy­ment cen­ters, the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices in Wood­lawn. Com­muters headed to the east could use Metro to get at least as far as Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal.

We don’t know if this is an ideal re­place­ment for the Red Line, but it cer­tainly ought to be stud­ied. The ab­bre­vi­ated sys­tem would ob­vi­ously have a lot less rid­er­ship (serv­ing pri­mar­ily the Ed­mond­son Av­enue cor­ri­dor in­stead of places like Har­bor East, Fells Point and Can­ton), wouldn’t con­nect as well to the ex­ist­ing light rail line and could neg­a­tively af­fect Saratoga Street (as­sum­ing it uses that route) and per­haps even Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket. But at least Mr. Kamenetz rec­og­nizes that the state needs to get the ball rolling on a truly trans­for­ma­tive tran­sit pro­ject for Bal­ti­more.

Of course, it may all be pol­i­tics and another poke be­tween the Demo­cratic county ex­ec­u­tive and the Repub­li­can gover­nor, given the prospect that Mr. Kamenetz might chal­lenge Mr. Ho­gan in the 2018 elec­tion. But it would be nice to imag­ine that the two politi­cians could put their dif­fer­ences aside and ac­tu­ally work on a bet­ter so­lu­tion than re­jig­ger­ing the Mass Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion bus sched­ule.

As we’ve noted be­fore, the can­cel­la­tion of the Red Line wasn’t en­tirely the gover­nor’s fault. Had lo­cal of­fi­cials been pre­pared with a Plan B, a lower-cost al­ter­na­tive, per­haps Mr. Ho­gan might have thrown his sup­port be­hind it, much as he did for a re­duced-price Pur­ple Line, the planned 16-mile light rail con­nect­ing Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties. Per­haps Mr. Kamenetz’s re­quest could be the first step to­ward a sim­i­lar com­pro­mise here.

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