Friday, July 24, 2009

Red Line Opposition is Good News for MoCo Transit Supporters

The Baltimore Sun’s Michael Dresser reports on a new website established by neighbors of one of the Red Line routes in Baltimore. The aim of the neighbors is to fight surface rail on the Red Line and they have drawn support from their state delegation. If the O’Malley administration heeds their concerns and picks an underground option, MoCo transit advocates should celebrate a huge victory.

The arguments made by the Red Line’s neighbors against surface rail are familiar to Purple Line combatants from both sides: neighborhood destruction, pedestrian problems and inadequate infrastructure capacity for light rail. Their coalition may be as large as the group opposing light rail for the Purple Line. And they draw our compliments for their design choices on their website.

Just as Purple Line rail opponents have done, they have obtained the sympathy of three-quarters of their state delegation: District 46 Senator George Della and District 46 Delegates Peter Hammen and Brian McHale. We reproduce their letter to the Governor below.

But here is their problem. As we explained in a prior post, the Red Line fails federal cost effectiveness guidelines as an underground project. A transit project must cost no more than $23.99 per hour of user benefit to be awarded a “medium” cost effectiveness ranking or better. Anything less will endanger a project’s chances of federal approval. Only two Red Line options meet that standard: surface BRT ($18.10) and surface rail ($22.17). The underground options range from $30.42 to $63.93, all having “low” cost effectiveness by federal criteria.

Now here’s where MoCo transit advocates should cheer. The Purple Line has five options with medium cost effectiveness or better: three for BRT and two for rail. (One rail option comes in at $26.51.) The Corridor Cities Transitway has two options with medium cost effectiveness or better, both using BRT. If the state picks any underground option for the Red Line, it will be greatly handicapped against MoCo’s two transit lines in competing for federal funds.

So the O’Malley administration has an interesting choice. Most Montgomery observers believe the Governor has prioritized the Red Line over the MoCo projects by disproportionately targeting the latter for cuts last fall. But the Governor could prove everyone wrong by giving Red Line surface rail opponents what they want: an underground proposal to the feds. Martin O’Malley would be a hero to the Baltimore civic associations. He would also be a hero in the Washington suburbs if either the Purple Line or the CCT won federal approval over the now-hamstrung Red Line.

That would be a rare win-win-win for the Governor, for Montgomery County and for Red Line neighbors in Baltimore!