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January 13, 2010

Will new Obama transit policy affect Red Line?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new Obama administration policy Wednesday on funding of transit projects that scraps the Bush administration's rigid cost-benefit formula and replaces it with one that takes into account issues of neighborhoood livability.

This could be big news for the Baltimore area if it lets the Maryland Transit Administration go back and revise its pending application for funding of the east-west Red Line. In that case, what  otherwise might have been a community consensus has been fractured by the need to keep the project's budget within the old guidelines. And even if it doesn't bring about a re-examination of the  decision the keep the light rail line on the surface in Canton and along West Baltimore, it could open the door to permit  the MTA to drop its unpalatable proposal to run the line on a single track under Cooks Lane.


It was not clear Wednesday night what the MTA's view of the policy will be. We'll be seeking answers to those questions Thursday.

In the meantime, here's how LaHood summarized the new policy:

We’re going to free our flagship transit capital program from long-standing requirements that have allowed us only to green-light projects that meet very narrow cost and performance criteria.

Instead, as we evaluate major transit projects going forward, we’ll consider ALL the factors that help communities reduce their carbon footprint, spur economic activity, and relieve congestion.

To put it simply: We WILL take livability into account.

As I wrote, this could be very big for transit project nationwide. But especially here in Maryland. Stay tuned.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:24 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Red Line


I would sincerely hope that this does not allow more consideration of putting the line underground through Canton. The ability of a few residents, workers, and visitors to drive 50 mph on the short two-lane stretch of Boston Street is not worth the cost of a tunnel. The parking loss should not be great either, since it is predominantly (if not all) short-term.

I live in the northern end of Canton and am used to walking 4-6 blocks to my car. A shortage of parking is something that people have to expect if they choose to live in a city.

Could this potentially open the door for the MTA to consider a fully metro subway instead of the hybrid tram/light rail technology currently being proposed?

Don't all of the proposed alternatives make traffic worse (at least per the proposal)?

If that's the case, I couldn't see the revised formula helping at all.

Side-note: the recaptcha image said "not botching." I think that's fitting, since that's what we all need to hope for.

Jed, IIRC, Alt 3D and 4D (maximum tunnel) did not worsen traffic any over the No Build on the line segments where there was the most neighborhood concern, i.e. SW Baltimore, Downtwon, Fells Point, Canton. The aforementioned alternatives still wreaked some traffic havoc on the far western segment around Security Blvd and Rolling Rd near SSA and CMS.

Cullen, the MTA and the GBC are committed to the current alignment. From my perspective, whatever it would take to allowing approval at the federal level is what they plan to do. So actually spending the time and money to alter the alignment and/or consider heavy rail is probably the last thing they want to do. The exception might be if the MTA knew they would likely get a grant for heavy rail prior to undertaking an expanded alternatives analysis for heavy rail. They might do that to garner strong public support that has been quite lacking.

Nate Payer

Here's to hoping for that last bit, Nate.

I also forgot we've got Pocari with the FTA now (some folks on the Envision Baltimore list reminded me of that), which will of course make Red Line funding selection all the more likely.

I think most people can agree that the old policy was too narrow and needed significant changes. The worry is that when you open the gates too widely for a (relatively) small pot of money you can have equally negative outcomes (e.g. funding goes to more touristy, recreational projects rather than real mass transit needs). Hopefully the FTA will come to a good balance.

For Baltimore I hope this means double tracking Cooks Lane (which Swaim-Staley advocated for according to The Sun). That would be a huge win for this project and sensible use of the policy change. Canton getting a tunnel would be a minimal negative for the city and a complete waste of money taking it from projects in other cities and future Baltimore projects (Yellow line to Towson, anyone?).

Well, double-tracking the Cooks Lane tunnel isn't really a win. It's getting back something you already had and shouldn't have lost.

You're right in that it would be a waste of money extending the tunnel in Canton all the way down Boston St, because that alignment makes no sense for a rapid transit line in the first place! The whole eastern section of the line lacks justification in light of other options.

Nate Payer


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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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