By: Micah Berger-Sollod
The long dormant Red Line, a project to connect East and West Baltimore through public transit, has officially been relaunched by Maryland Governor Wes Moore.
The project was first proposed as a heavy rail line in 2001 by the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan Advisory Committee. A decade later, with no progress, the project was changed into a light rail.
After being abandoned by former Governor Larry Hogan, Governor Wes Moore plans to begin work on the project twenty-two years after it was first proposed. Still, key questions remain about funding, transport type, and fare. The Red Line of the past has been reintroduced to a tumultus present.
In June of this year, Governor Moore with Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller announced the relaunching of the long abandoned and delayed Red Line. “We are officially getting the Red Line project moving again in Baltimore,” Moore said. “This is going to happen.”
Moore is trying to fulfill campaign promises made to revive the project after former Governor Hogan killed it in 2015 after the death of Freddie Grey. The cancellation affected primarily African-American communities.
Former President Barack Obama went so far as to consider launching an investigation into whether the cancellation was a civil rights violation. “This is about transportation equity, economic justice, and freedom,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said.
The nearly one billion dollars in federal funding originally set aside for the project was used by Hogan to build new highways in Baltimore county. “In Maryland, at this moment, we can do big things again, and we will,” Moore said. “This is going to be Maryland’s decade — this project will be a core reason why.”
Moore’s hopes are to revitalize a community of low-income individuals that the state left behind and rebuild the city’s public transit system.
The project is going to be relaunched off the backs of community feedback. Paul Wiedefeld, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said that the community engagement process will weigh light rail against rapid bus transit and also consider other unsolved issues.
The city’s existing east-west bus route is the state’s busiest, and he said that the state plans to improve frequency and bus shelters to help until the next iteration of the Red Line is launched.
The first series of open houses was held in July with the next five to be held in November. Cynthia Shaw, 78, has worked for decades in her community to advocate for the Red Line. She called the relaunch “a wonderful day” but also pressured elected officials “to put the shovel in the ground.”
The relaunching is not without issue. The Biden administration’s $90 billion dollar infrastructure bill was the single largest investment in public transportation in U.S history, but between light rails in Seattle and new subways in Los Angeles, Wiedefeld called the appeal for funding “a wild knife fight.”
Meanwhile, the debate between bus-rapid transit (BRT) and a rail line has caused even more controversy. Members of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, which has long backed the Red Line, attended every community open house with signs that read, “No bus rapid transit.”
At one of the open houses, Kathy Train, a community member in Fells Point, said that tunneling under the historic neighborhood could weaken already poor infrastructure. Meanwhile, Neil Castine, 39, and Ezra Begun, 41, said they feel safer on the light rail than they do on public buses.
Zac Blanchard, assistant football coach at Digital Harbor High School, said that the difference between a rail line and a bus could be what determines whether his students show up to their first period.
Time is another thing on people’s minds. Governor Moore said at a press conference that the relaunching construction might not begin until 2028 and could take years afterwards to complete.
To Bakari Height, a Gay Street resident who relies on mass transit, the development of an east-west line is the difference between him staying in the city and leaving. “If this doesn’t work, I can’t stay here,” Height said.
Despite divisions and many delays hope remains in the community. After nearly twenty years of waiting, a hazy future is taking form for the long abandoned project. Still, residents are asking, will their neighborhoods get transit justice or more broken promises?
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Featured photo credit goes to Tom Napp for the Governor’s Office.