Red Line still on track

Our view : Federal funding an issue, but light rail more than justified

June 18, 2008

Recent news that a Baltimore Red Line with all the proverbial bells and whistles may not be eligible for federal funding should come as no surprise. The Federal Transit Administration funding formula is notoriously stingy, and an east-west light rail line with much tunneling would be pricey.

But that should in no way diminish community support for the Red Line. Indeed, it only underscores the need to be realistic about its design and, in the long term, to change federal policy to reflect 21st-century needs.

Every new transit line must demonstrate cost-effectiveness. That's just common sense. But the Bush administration tends to view such proposals far too conservatively while appropriating too little for transit.

A tunnel through downtown Baltimore may still be possible, for instance, but certain west-side neighborhoods may have to settle for street-level tracks, or the Maryland Transit Administration may have to shorten the project's western route.

Such compromises are not unusual for new transit lines. And the MTA still has plenty of time to decide on specifics. Even the most optimistic estimates don't anticipate a groundbreaking for the project until 2012.

Still, it's absurd that Washington hasn't revisited this decision-making process - or its miserly financial commitment to public transit - in light of $4-a-gallon gasoline and the threat posed by global warming. The public needs more transit options. A commuter can't simply decide to take a train tomorrow from Point A to Point B; one has to be available.

Baltimore suffers from a lot of disconnected A's and B's. The Red Line not only would better link Woodlawn with Fells Point, Bayview and all the neighborhoods in between but it also would share certain stations (or at least platforms) with Baltimore's existing light rail and subway lines. That would be a major step toward making existing transit work much better than it does today.

The Red Line deserves enthusiastic support. But until there's new leadership in the White House with an understanding of the nation's evolving transportation needs, it's going to have to be a Chevy of a light rail (or rapid transit) line and not a Cadillac.

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