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Baltimore Leaders Propose $4B Plan to Build Two Regional Transit Corridors

Wed June 07, 2023 - Northeast Edition #13
Maryland Matters

A proposal to reimagine Maryland's long-awaited Red Line transportation system could connect Howard County to eastern Baltimore County as part of a 25-year regional plan released by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC).

According to a May 29 report by Maryland Matters, a news site that covers the state's government and politics, the plan also includes a multi-billion-dollar transit corridor connecting Towson to Baltimore City.

"The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is concerned about the lack of progress in the region," said Regina Aris, assistant director of transportation planning for the council, during a recent virtual briefing. "They see a lot of money going to Washington, D.C., area jurisdictions, [including] a lot of money going to the Purple Line."

A long-range plan for the central Maryland region dedicates nearly $4 billion to two major transit lines, according to the online news source.

The East-West Transit Corridor system is one of more than 90 major transit routes that are a part of the council's Resilience 2050 plan. The document highlights a 25-year plan of regional road and transit projects in the central Maryland region.

The BMC is made up of leaders from seven major jurisdictions: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne's counties, as well as Baltimore City. The panel is mandated by federal law to develop transit and transportation plans based on population and other trends.

"Planning the transportation system for 20-plus years is a complex task," explained Zach Kaufman, a senior transportation planner at the council. "We consider many factors and trends that may affect the regional transportation network in the future. Planning for the future requires forecasts of where people might live and work over the time period covered" by the plan.

Over those two decades, the population of the Baltimore region is projected to grow by 358,000 people or about 13 percent. Concurrently, the number of households in the region is expected to increase by 15 percent, with the result being smaller household sizes.

The region also is expected to add 374,000 jobs, an increase of about 26 percent, Maryland Matters noted.

The cost estimates for the proposed transportation corridor projects are based on projected available funding over the next quarter century.

Huge Costs to Be Spread Over 25 Years

The BMC plan includes 56 road and 36 transit projects — all considered priorities for governments in the region — totaling more than $70 billion over the 25-year period, according to Kaufman.

Each of the road projects involves widening or improvements to existing thoroughfares, he said.

Projects in the proposal include:

  • An express bus line connecting Columbia to the National Security Agency (NSA), near Annapolis, at a cost of $45 million.
  • A $147 million interchange along Interstate 695 to support the redevelopment of the Sparrows Point area of southeastern Baltimore County.
  • Replacing 95 percent of the existing Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) bus fleet with zero emission vehicles by 2050. In the first phase, the state is looking to spend almost $1.6 billion to replace 50 percent of its 760-vehicle fleet by 2030. A second phase would bring the total to 95 percent at an added cost of more than $2.2 billion. The expenditure includes buying new buses and building charging facilities.

In an initial phase, officials envision the development of an East-West Transit corridor. A second phase would include a north-south transit corridor.

The East-West project is the heir to the Red Line light rail project killed in 2015 by then-Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

The 14.1-mi. light rail project would have connected Bayview Hospital in East Baltimore to Woodlawn in western Baltimore County.

But current Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat who took office in January, has promised to bring back the project.

He said an east-west transit system would connect underemployed areas of the Baltimore region to job centers and has tied the efforts to his focus on social and economic justice and reducing childhood poverty.

Moore and Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, and other officials have at times referred to the future project as both the Red Line and more generically an east-west transportation system.

Details On Proposed Efforts Are Hard to Come By

So far, though, only scant details about it have been made available, said Maryland Matters.

The regional transportation plan offers only broad strokes for a project expected to commence between 2028 and 2039.

"There are several major transit projects that were submitted by the [MTA]," said Aris, before adding that the MTA is not more specific with its plans at this point because the agency is currently in a planning phase and does not yet know what type of alignment or what kind of mode it will use, such as light rail, rapid bus, express bus, etc.

"So, there are reasons why some of the projects aren't better defined at this point, but it's a long-range plan," she said. "We do update it every four years. Hopefully, there will be better descriptions [in the future] and definitely by the time they move into the short-range document for the Transportation Improvement Program."

The transit plan includes alternatives for an up to a 17-mi.-long rail line connecting eastern Baltimore County to destinations west of the city that could include Woodlawn or Ellicott City. Additionally, the route would take commuters through Baltimore City.

The exact path of the project is yet to be determined and it is unlikely it will follow the path of the original Red Line project because of development over the last eight years. It is also unclear whether the project will use light rail, as envisioned in the original Red Line plan, or a less costly rapid bus service.

The projected price tag is based on an average per mile cost of the seven potential corridors identified in a 2022 study.

The BMC also wants to build a north-south transit corridor connecting central Baltimore County to Baltimore City. This 14-mi. project would also connect Towson to the city, while some proposals extend as far north as Lutherville and as far south as Port Covington. The corridor's path, though, has not been decided and officials are not sure if it will use light rail or rapid bus.

The council estimates the effort would cost more than $2 billion. Right now, construction is not slated to begin until sometime between 2040 and 2050.

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