Red Line would bring almost 10,000 jobs, study contends

Report commissioned by Dixon administration foresees $2.1 billion in total economic activity

January 07, 2010|By Michael Dresser |

The design and construction of the proposed east-west light-rail Red Line through Baltimore would generate almost 10,000 jobs at a wide variety of skill levels, according to a University of Baltimore study commissioned by the Dixon administration.

The report by the Jacob France Institute of the Merrick School of Business, to be released Thursday, estimated that construction of the proposed $1.6 billion transit line between Woodlawn and Bayview would generate $2.1 billion in total economic activity in the city.

According to the study, the Red Line would support 1,307 jobs during its design and planning and another 8,494 once actual construction begins - a total of 9,801 with a direct impact of $1.4 billion. It said those jobs would bring a cumulative paycheck for Red Line workers of $539.7 million in wages and salaries. Counting the indirect impact, the report suggested the job creation total could exceed 15,000 with $775 million. For purposes of the study, a job was defined as employment of one person for a single year.

City officials pointed to the report as evidence that city residents will, as promised, share in the benefits as well as the burdens of construction.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, in a phone interview just hours before the announcement that she would resign as part of a plea deal, said the project will not only create jobs in diverse fields but teach workers skills they can use long after the Red Line is up and running.

"All these will help them long-term," Dixon said.

After a long preliminary planning and public comment process, Gov. Martin O'Malley decided last summer to move forward with the long-awaited project as a light rail line in a tunnel along part of its 14-mile route and on the surface along the rest. The proposal is now in the hands of the Federal Transit Administration, which will weigh how well it competes for funding with other projects across the United States.

Even if it receives approval for 50 percent federal funding, the project would still require the state to provide a hefty sum to cover its share. That could be as daunting an obstacle as any the project has seen so far because it faces determined opposition from many residents of Canton and parts of West Baltimore - where proposals for tunneling were rejected as too expensive.

In a bid to dampen opposition to the Red Line, the Dixon administration helped craft a community compact with the affected neighborhoods promising them - among other things - a share in the economic benefits.

"One of the things we heard loud and clear was the citizens didn't want other people coming in and getting the jobs," said city Red Line coordinator Danyell Diggs.

The report, which is an outgrowth of that compact, suggests that would not turn out to be an empty promise. It found that 83 percent of the jobs created or supported by the project would be entry-level employment or positions that could be filled by a high-school graduate with no further degrees - just what is needed by many of the low-income residents of the city neighborhoods in the Red Line's path.

Karen Sitnick, director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, welcomed the report's findings.

"The core of the study substantiates the goal of the compact, which is to make sure that the residents of the impacted communities that will be affected by the construction of the Red Line actually are likely to get those jobs," she said.

Sitnick said that under the terms of the community compact, the Maryland Transit Administration will require Red Line contractors to list project jobs through her office so it can do community outreach.

City officials said the report will help them identify the job skills needed for the Red Line project so that they can help provide training to workers so they can qualify for such positions.

The economic promise held out in the report could resonate strongly in West Baltimore, which has long been afflicted by high unemployment. However, it is less likely the projections will dampen opposition in waterfront Canton, where many affluent residents believe a surface light rail line on Boston Street could bring blight to their neighborhood.

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