Baltimore's billion dollar LRT vision Jan 2010
Paula Wallis, TunnelTalk
- Baltimore, Maryland in the United States is moving ahead with plans for a new east-west light rail line with the recent selection of the locally preferred alternative. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announced that the preferred alternative is a 14.5-mile, east-west light rail line operating between Woodlawn to the west and the Johns Hopkins Bayview medical complex to the east. The estimated $1.6 billion project includes 3.6 miles (5.8km) of tunnels and five underground stations along with 9.8 (15.8km) miles of surface track, about a mile of aerial guideway, and a further 15 above ground stations. (Fig 1).
- The Red Line runs mostly as a dedicated surface transit way in the median of existing roads with one mile of tunnel under Cooks Lane and about three miles of tunnel under the city center. It will be the region's first cross-town rail route, that will tie the city and suburbs together to serve existing dense residential neighborhoods and employment centers. It will also connect with the existing Baltimore Light Rail system, the MARC stations, the Baltimore Metro subway and local bus routes to create a comprehensive regional transit network that is unprecedented in the Baltimore area.
- The preferred alignment was selected from four alternatives, one of which included considerably more underground work, but would have added about $830 million in capital costs with only a negligible increase in total daily ridership.
Lorenzo Bryant, Project Manager for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) said overall there is strong public support for the project with some opposition from communities along the alignment.
"The lower income neighborhoods of west Baltimore, in particular, have not had a good feel or history for transit," said Bryant. "Much of their opposition steams from a highway construction project 40 years ago that cut through their communities, and so we are feeling the repercussions from that. However, we are engaged in an extensive outreach program and we are confident we can win their support."
- Last week (January 7, 2010) a new study by the University of Baltimore, and commissioned by Mayor Sheila Dixon, concluded that the design and construction of the Red Line would create almost 10,000 jobs of all skill levels and would generate $2.1 billion in total economic activity in the city.
Underground station rendering
- According to the study, the project would support 1,307 jobs during its design and planning phase and another 8,494 once construction begins. The report also suggested the indirect impact could exceed 15,000 new jobs. For purposes of the study, a job was defined as employment of one person for a single year.
- Following the selection of the preferred alternative in August 2009, geotechnical studies, including soil boring and seismic refraction investigations began in earnest and are on-going along the project corridor.
- The proposal is now with the Federal Transportation Administration, which will weigh it against other projects across the United States that are competing for New Starts funding. Bryant says a recent FTA ruling has opened up greater competition for New Starts funding. "Before the ruling, the FTA judged a project primarily on its cost benefits, ridership and travel times," said Bryant. "Now it places greater emphasis on the qualitative side of transit projects, the potential for improving the environment, or of revitalizing a community. It means a greater number of projects will be eligible for consideration, however they must still have a strong financial plan." If the project gets the the FTA's approval, the State and local authorities would have to come up with as much as 50% or more of the funding. With appropriate approvals and funding, construction could begin in 2013.
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