Readers Speak Out On The Red Line Proposed

October 11, 2008

The editorial endorsing the Greater Baltimore Committee's preferred alternative for the city's proposed Red Line demonstrates the confusion which has plagued this project from the outset ("Finding light rail's track," Oct. 5).

The editorial quoted a price tag of $1.2 billion for this plan, while a Baltimore Sun article from four days earlier quoted $1.6 billion for the same proposal ("GBC urges light rail over buses for east-west line," Oct. 1).

Previously, the Maryland Transportation Administration's price tag for that plan had been reported as $1.9 billion to $2.1 billion.

What gives?

The cost of tunneling is always a huge uncertainty. The GBC's preferred alternative includes far more tunneling than is necessary. So the MTA cannot know how much this plan will really cost until it starts digging - just look at Boston's disastrous Big Dig experience.

The big problem is that the MTA plan the GBC prefers makes absolutely no use of the tunneling already done for the Metro line. This plan proposes that the Red Line have its own brand-new tunnel two blocks away from the existing tunnel, with yet another tunnel for pedestrians to walk between the two lines.

Contrary to what the editorial suggested, a heavy rail Red Line could be much less expensive than this plan, as long as it made maximum use of the existing Metro tunnel.

This approach also would allow transfers between the lines on a single platform instead of requiring a two-block underground walk.

A comprehensive rail transit system that combines the best of surface rail with the greatest use of the existing Metro would serve the best of both worlds.

In contrast, the MTA/GBC plan combines the worst of both worlds.

Gerald Neily, Baltimore

The writer is a former transportation planner for Baltimore's Planning Department.

It is misleading for The Baltimore Sun and, more important, our city officials to fall back on the mantra that heavy rail is too expensive for the city's proposed Red Line. It's the tunneling that makes heavy rail expensive, not the mode of transportation itself.

And since the current light rail proposal for the Red Line already involves a significant amount of tunneling, doesn't it make sense to study heavy rail more thoroughly also, as well as the potential for elevated heavy rail in areas where tunnels are not proposed?

A heavy rail plan almost certainly could be less expensive than the proposed light rail tunnel through downtown, because we already have a heavy rail tunnel and two stations under Baltimore Street that could be used. This would eliminate almost a mile of the most difficult, expensive section of tunneling currently proposed for the light rail option.

And couldn't these savings make up for any higher costs involved in building an elevated line over Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street (the parts of the route planned as surface light rail)? Perhaps it's true that neighborhoods along Edmondson and Boston would prefer a surface light rail line to an elevated heavy rail line. But the lack of disruption to existing traffic patterns and faster transit service might be an effective counterweight to any aesthetic concerns.

Either way, that should be a discussion for neighborhood meetings and presentations, not to be sidestepped by an unfounded conclusion that heavy rail is too expensive.

Baltimore deserves a full study if nothing else.

Aaron Zephir, Baltimore

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