Baltimoreans strongly support improvements to the city's rail system but remain sharply divided over specific alternatives for building the proposed east-west Red Line, according to a summary of public comments released by the Maryland Transit Administration.
Of the 656 individuals and organizations who submitted testimony on the Red Line project, about two-thirds supported transit improvement, the MTA said.
According to the summary, backing for light rail as the mode of transport far exceeded that for dedicated bus lanes - the other leading alternative.
But when the specific plan for building the Red Line was considered, public opinion divided between those backing the alternative supported by the Dixon administration and Baltimore business but opposed by those who live in the neighborhoods in its path.
That plan, known as Alternative 4C, would run light rail between Bayview and Woodlawn in tunnels beneath downtown, Fells Point and West Baltimore's Cooks Lane. It would run along the surface on Boston Street in Canton and Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore, where opposition to the plan runs strong.
According to the MTA, more of those who commented supported 4C than any other plan. But the plan also drew more opposition than any other alternative, with 146 positive comments and 131 opposing comments.
The comments include written statements, e-mail and testimony at public meetings. According to the MTA, 499 individuals and 157 organizations weighed in as part of the federally required process.
According to the MTA, many of the comments opposing surface light rail came from Canton and the Edmondson Village area.
It said 22 comments supported another alternative that would extend the tunneling to Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue - a plan MTA officials have called too expensive to pass federal muster.
The MTA said it received only 20 comments favoring a study of heavy rail such as the existing Metro subway - an alternative the agency had excluded earlier.
Ed Cohen, past president of the Transit Riders Action Council and a proponent of heavy rail, accused the MTA of running a flawed process that was rigged in favor of light rail connecting eight preferred employment centers. He said the comments show the public opposes Alternative 4C.
"We're looking at a failed, orchestrated campaign to sell street-running light rail on Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue," he said. "This is about serving institutions and not serving the region."
The MTA is expected to select a specific plan this summer and to send its recommendation to Gov. Martin O'Malley for a final decision.