State allots funds to plan city transit line

Rails or rapid bus may link east, west sides

September 24, 2004|By Michael Dresser and Andrew A. Green | Michael Dresser and Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

In a move that delighted city lawmakers and business leaders, the Maryland Department of Transportation has allocated $230 million over the next six years to plan and build an east-west transit line in Baltimore.

The decision to provide the money for the Red Line is contingent on federal funding, but it puts the Ehrlich administration behind Baltimore's goal of breaking ground on the Woodlawn-to-Fells Point project by 2010.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, who had not been planning to announce the funding yesterday, said the news "should be encouraging to everyone who loves Baltimore." But he emphasized the tentative nature of the action - calling the money "projected cash requested for planning purposes only."

However, business leaders and legislators said the decision to include the money in the department's six-year spending plan - parts of which were made public yesterday in a meeting with Harford County officials - was a crucial move.

"It is the most positive news this region has had with respect to development and construction of a regional transportation system in over a decade," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Putting the money in the plan does not mean the city will necessarily get the funding to build another subway system comparable to the Metro. Whether the Red Line would be a heavy rail, light rail or rapid bus line is a question that is part of the planning process.

But city leaders, who have advocated for rail, said the amount allocated would be enough to move forward with the engineering and right-of-way acquisition for such a system.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh said the $236 million is in line with what the administration promised during the legislative session and will be the first step to giving Baltimore an integrated public transportation system.

"What the Red Line achieves for the Baltimore region is that it links two spokes of a subway system, and it also links light rail, not to mention it will intersect at various sites [with] the MTA bus system," the Baltimore Democrat said.

McIntosh, who is chairwoman of a House committee that oversees transportation policy, played a critical role in securing the money. Last spring, she cut a deal that won Flanagan's commitment to finance planning of the project in return for Baltimore lawmakers' support for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transportation revenue package.

Flanagan said that support was crucial to the decision to allocate the money, giving credit to McIntosh and Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city Senate delegation.

McFadden called the news "absolutely wonderful." He said Baltimore leaders have long expressed a preference for rail, but "right now, we're thankful for the commitment."

But McIntosh insisted a rapid bus line wouldn't be enough. "It needs to be rail, and it needs to be rail that either runs uninterrupted underground or above ground. Let the engineers figure it out," she said.

A spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Red Line supporter, said last night that city officials had not seen the proposal and could not comment.

Flanagan said the state is also allocating $12 million to plan an extension of the existing Green Line from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University.

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