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Higher costs, fewer stations on proposed Red Line

Red-Line-station

Artist’s sketch of Red Line station downtown.

Photo by: Mass Transit Administration

The Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed 14-mile Red Line in Baltimore has just been released and it contains some important new information.

Here are a few highlights:

• The cost of the project has escalated from $2.2 billion to $2.5 billion (as The Brew first reported in October).

• Daily ridership is down to 50,000 from 60,000, but up from 37,000 when the analysis of alternatives was originally performed.

• The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is sticking to its highly optimistic schedule of construction beginning in 2015 and the line open in 2021. (This was done because, if the project were delayed, the Federal Transit Administration would require the MTA to factor inflation into the cost estimate.)

• There is no projected state revenue estimate – including any proposed tax increases – that would allow the MTA to meet this construction schedule.

• The Red Line no longer meets the FTA’s cost effectiveness standard, since repealed. The current CE is 30. Previously it was 23, with the FTA standard of 24.

• The MTA is now, for the first time, opening up the option of building the Red Line in phases, which would result in the initial downtown tunneling phase dominating the total cost.

Proposed route of Red Line between downtown and Bayview. Dotted line indicated tunneled portions. (baltimoreheritage.org)

Proposed route of Red Line between downtown and Greektown. Dotted line indicates tunneled portions. (baltimoreheritage.org)

• There are two fewer stations and the stations have shrunk to 194-foot-long platforms, which would accommodate only two car trains, compared to existing light-rail platforms of about 300 feet and heavy-rail platforms of about 400 feet. The stations eliminated (this has actually already been announced) are University of Maryland at Lombard near Greene  and Government Center at Lombard near Market Place.

• The impact statement contains a tortuous discussion of how the Red Line can eliminate traffic lanes on Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street – yet still reduce congestion relative to the “No Build Alternative.”

This amounts to a severe “apples to oranges” comparison, conducted by torturing the data derived from cramming the Red Line where it simply does not fit. A bottom-line excerpt:

“Based on the Design Year forecast, it is anticipated that with the Preferred Alternative the total number of vehicles on all roadways within the vicinity of the alignment would be generally less than under No-Build conditions. The travel demand model predicts that some of the motorists on these roadways would either ride LRT or take alternate routes to avoid delays because of the LRT along various routes.

“For example, along Boston Street, the Build volumes would be 20% less than the No-Build volumes, with the addition of the Red Line and the reduction in total number of lanes from four to two lanes to accommodate LRT track.

“I-70 (+30%) and Fleet Street (+7%) would have an increase in ADT [average daily traffic] in the Build condition versus No-Build, whereas most of the other roadways along the proposed LRT alignment, such as Edmondson Avenue, Franklin Street, Boston Street, and Bayview Boulevard, are anticipated to have lower ADTs.

“With the expansion and relocation of park-and-ride on I-70 in the Preferred Alternative, it is anticipated that there would be significant increase in ADT on I-70. Fleet Street and President Street would have a minimal increase in ADT because of the change in traffic patterns to utilize transit.”

 

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  • John Irvine

    What does this sentence mean: “• The Red Line no longer meets the FTA’s cost effectiveness standard,
    since repealed. The current CE is 30. Previously it was 23, with the FTA
    standard of 24.”?

    • Jamie Kendrick

      John — it means precisely nothing.  As Gerald notes, the federal regulation was repealed under the Obama Administration which took a broader view of transit projects.  Under a Bush-era rule, projects could only advance if they met a very narrow test of “cost effectiveness” measured in a black box formula but leaving out all of the benefits of a rail transit investment — neighborhood and economic development, air quality and environmental, etc.  The rule made it very difficult for projects in older cities with much more complex issues  vs. newer, sprawl-oriented cities (Phoenix, Dallas, etc.) which have plenty of right of way and few utility conflicts.  

  • Christopher Boyle

    Which 2 stations were eliminated? The map still shows 19 stations which I thought it was the last time. I’m pretty sure they nixed the Government Center and UMB stations a while ago.

    • Gerald Neily

      Thanks, Christopher, for filling in the two missing station information. You’re right. That’s relatively old news, but this is the first time I know that the projected ridership reduction has been factored in and correlated. 

      John, the Federal Transit Administration no longer requires achieving a given cost-effectiveness standard, previous set at 24. With the increased cost and reduced ridership, the Red Line has now gone from 23 to 30. The lower the number, the better. Rick, I think you answered your own question about the “concept that works”: “The Red Line will fail miserably to connect in any meaningful way with the existing light rail and subway lines.”

  • RickFromBmore

    Well, this is a bummer. I support the Red Line and don’t understand those naysayers who fail to see how a concept that works well in cities across Europe can’t work in Baltimore. But I do think that this project is veering into a territory where its completion may be in doubt. Besides the higher costs, I’m now more convinced than ever that the Red Line will fail miserably to connect in any meaningful way with the existing light rail and subway lines. I desperately want a new transit line in Baltimore, but I’m wondering if the 12-13 year battle to build the Red Line may end in failure.

  • cwals99

    The city really needs this east to west public transit corridor but as always we are seeing the development in the city center at the expense of the outlying communities that are dealing with unfunded bus service that has reached a nadir (stop defunded public transportation to make it look like it needs privatizing to be successful!).  Let’s get people into town and then let them use an already upgraded public transit.

    I hope that the citizens of Maryland will tell their pols that we all know where the Transportation Fund went….it built the ICC and a completely new Montgomery County public transportation system…..no doubt business tax credits as well.  So, we want a tax on the Washington suburbs to fill the fund and pay for the needs of the rest of the state.  We need policy that has hybrid and electric car owners paying their fair share in taxes to support transportation maintenance since they are skirting gas taxes, so a fee on annual vehicle registrations or the like would boost the fund.  A progressive corporate gas tax that charged a 8% rate on sale of gas by wholesalers to retailers and then a 4% tax on sale of gas by retailers to the customer, with the customer paying an extra 2% at the pump would be the way to go with a gas tax that we know will be coming probably in the spring.

    The middle/lower class has been soaked with regressive taxes as new revenue and we want all future tax discussions to bring in the groups that have yet to pay the piper. 

  • http://twitter.com/xDeucesJuicesx Aaron Mirenzi

    I was reading about the Charles Street Trolley plans recently, the cost of which is estimated at 200 million. This is 1/12th the cost of the Red Line, which is 2.5billion.  Could we have 10 ten trolley lines instead of one Red Line? (obviously I don’t know the logistics of this) but still, say we could 5 trolley lines. I’d rather have 5 trolley lines than the Red Line, personally. Whose with me?!

  • RickFromBmore

    I took a brief look at the EIS and I still can’t figure out if the underground connection between Charles Center Metro and the Red Line is still in the plans. Does anyone know if that has been dropped? As to the question about streetcars, I would love to see trolleys on Charles Street or on Central Avenue or North Avenue. But I think the big problem is that for MTA to get a project funded, it needs to make the case that the project is “regional”. That’s why you get a long, unwieldy line that stretches from Bayview to Woodlawn. Still, I’ll take a half-baked Red Line over nothing. If Maryland doesn’t fund the Red Line then the cash will just go to the Purple Line in the DC suburbs. And after Maryland taxpayers kicked in for the ICC, the Wilson Bridge, and numerous Metro lines over the years, its high time we get a high profile transportation project of our own.

  • Gerald Neily

    Yes, Rick, the underground pedestrian passageway is still there. I saw a reference to it somewhere in my FEIS perusal this morning. The whole funding question is completely murky. I don’t even think the 50/50 fed/state match provision is in any actual law. It’s just policy and could change at any moment. Let’s face it: Federal finances are not exactly stable right now. But it is simply bad planning to tailor projects to federal rules instead of doing what’s best. There’s a huge range of potential options and there’s not even that much inherent difference between streetcars and light rail. There is also another federal funding program called “Small Starts” that has been used for streetcars.

    The good thing about the FEIS is that it freezes the project in time instead of it being a moving target. Along with untold other factors, we knew the new tunnel under Fremont would increase costs and eliminating the two stations (the University of Maryland UMB Station was to be near Lombard/Greene and the Govt Center station near Lombard/Market) would reduce the ridership forecast. But moving the Poppleton station on MLK Boulevard from near Lexington (surface) to Fremont/Baltimore Street (underground) also was a factor. Now we know the combined net effect on all the numbers.

  • baltimorebrew

    Transit readers might wish to know that Jamie Kendrick joined the MTA last month after serving as chief of staff at the Baltimore Department of Transportation. Among his responsibilities as Deputy Executive Director for the Office of Transit Development and Delivery: Getting the Red Line built.

  • baltimorebrew

     http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/news/2012/11/12/jamie-kendrick-leaving-city-hall-to.html?page=all

  • Mark Adams

    Early in the process, I wanted to try to organize some neighborhood opposition to The Red Line. If they build it, old buildings in Fells Point will collapse. Their stability is tenuous as it is, with a high water table and foundations that were state of the art in the 18th century. The construction will destroy the neighborhood as we know it.

    I was told by some well informed people not to waste my time opposing the Red Line. The state’s transit planners knew that the project would never happen, I was told, but they wanted to suck up as much federal planning money as possible. It was a $200M plus payday for consultants and engineers. The whole process has been a disgrace.

    The Red Line was never demand driven. It was strictly driven by consulting firms seeking contracts and transit devotees in need of a hobby. The bend in the line that takes it to Canton Crossing was a pure give-away to Ed Hale. (Hale lost the property anyway.)

    Baltimore could have built the Charles Street trolley for the money that has been spent on planning for the Red Line. Better yet, the money could have created a series of circulator bus lines. (The Charles St. trolley will do nothing to address the East-West traffic issues.) The Red Line money could have put a bridge over the railroad tracks that cause gridlock from Canton to Little Italy every rush hour.

    • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

      Mark Adams wrote: “Early in the process, I wanted to try to organize some neighborhood
      opposition to The Red Line. If they build it, old buildings in Fells
      Point will collapse. Their stability is tenuous as it is, with a high
      water table and foundations that were state of the art in the 18th
      century. The construction will destroy the neighborhood as we know it. …”

      +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

      Not if the “12 feet of water” noted in a previous Brew article destroys Fells Point first (/sarc) …. Anyway, like most Marylanders, Pointers probably haven’t yet pondered the fiscal or physical ramifications of the Red Line boondoggle. When they do, I wouldn’t want to be the state’s neighborhood liaison: tar and feathers is a best-case scenario.

  • RickFromBmore

    I’m curious – where is there evidence that tunneling for the Red Line will threaten historic properties in Fells Point? I’m not saying that anyone is lying, but I’d like to know where that info comes from.

    • Gerald Neily

      Rick, the MTA’s Jamie Kendrick mentioned that it’s “very difficult for projects in older cities with much more complex issues  vs. newer, sprawl-oriented cities (Phoenix, Dallas, etc.) which have plenty of right of way and few utility conflicts.” He could have added old historic structures built upon the uncertain shifting waterfront geology. The MTA plan puts the Red Line tunnel about 75 feet down below ground (seven stories) to counteract these uncertainties, but of course there are still the required escalators, elevators, stairwells, ventilation shafts and the portal on Boston Street where the line comes up to the surface. Not long ago, an old Eastern Avenue building on the same block of Broadway as the proposed Fells Point station spontaneously fell down, with no identifiable cause.

      The MTA is certainly aware of these uncertainties. In a far simpler situation, the MTA moved the existing light rail line from Cathedral to Howard Street north of Chase at great cost requiring the demolition of the Baltimore Life building, because despite summoning the experts, they could not prove there would be no significant impact on the Meyerhoff Concert Hall. It’s still a combination of “complex issues” and the attendant risks, who and where. The MTA Red Line is high risk and high cost, but with negligible positive benefit to the city’s overall fragmented transit system structure.

  • Archphips

    The Obama administration is seeing to it that transit investments also measure benefits such as environmehtal justice, economic development and quality of life. They call this the “Sustainable Communities Initiative” (SCI) and, revolutionary for Washington, HUD, EPA and DOT are now working outside their comfort zones and silos. They join funding streams so these sustainable communities are really the outcomes of federal funding. In the case of the Red Line this means that here on the local side, we have to think similarly outside the box. Just pointing to Howard Street forever will not cut it. On the east side we need to make sure that planned development is really transit “oriented” (as the O in TOD) and not just transit adjacent. On the west side, much less development is planned and creative thinking is needed to leverage the Red Line investment and bundle it like in the case of the intermodal West Baltimore MARC station so that  revitalized communities will be the result.(A small SCI project grant has been awared for this purpose). This is much more fertile ground for discussion than fretting over engineering questions regarding the Fells Point rowhouses falling down or where some of the Edmondson Avenue cars will go once they lose a lane. I am quite sure that the assembled engineering team can figure out that a tunnel is safe as has been done in many other cities around the world. They can also forecast traffic quite well. What transit agencies and engineers have less practice with is the land use side and forging the partnerships that make positive community change happen. To make the Red Line a success under those criteria requires more than watching from the sidelines. Cities which make their transit projects inevitable through proactive planning (for example Denver’s huge Union Station TOD plan), they will see their efforts bear fruit. The Baltimore Community Compact is a good start. The County needs a similar effort. Let’s make the Red Line inevitable through a thousand steps we take beginning right now, both on the private and the public side.

    • Gerald Neily

      Nice buzzwords, Klaus. But on the east side waterfront, virtually all the intended development is already in the pipeline, regardless of whether the Red Line happens or not. On the west side desolate “Highway to Nowhere” corridor, the Red Line simply occupies median space and is thus a roadblock to redevelopment rather than an encouragement. If the West MARC station was going to spawn TOD, it would have happened by now. In order to get effective TOD, we need an effective transit system plan, not the MTA Red Line. Its development corridor is exceedingly narrow for a $2.5 billion project in any event.

  • jleanos account

    Whether or not the Red Line is built, it will eventually be seen as both a mistake and a boondoggle.  $2.5 billion is what was estimated as the cost of branching the existing Metro subway to reach Social Security and Bayview.  Various routes were feasible, and it’s even feasible to extend it north to Towson and southwestward to Columbia via branching.  And the downtown Baltimore metro tunnel is already built and is only used aprroximately 20% of its capacity.  Then again, there’s the entirely new technology and maintenance systems needed to support the Redline, both substantially more expensive than supporting the existing technology of the legacy system, the metro.  Extension costs of the metro can be substantially lowered by reducing or eliminating tunnelliing, as would be true by not tunnelling the Red Line.  In fact, in the face of predicted rising sea levels, I am amazed that the Red Line tunnels are being located along Pratt Street and in Fells Point and Canton.  Talk about creating your own false facts and false realities!!!

    The statement that the light rail and the metro are not connected is just false and somehow has a life of its own.  In two locations, State Center and Lexington Street, it’s closer than the Red Line will be from the Metro as planned.  And a moving walkway could be built in both locations for mobility impaired (or even lazy) persons. 

    Remember, the Red Line was the pet project of Secretary Flanigan of the Ehrlich administration, who was known to dislike public transportation, and who intended it as a surface rubber-tired system in it’s own exclusive lanes.  This was seen as a way to head off the expansion of the metro system in Baltimore, to save money.  Isn’t it ironic that the proposed Red Line Light Rail System is now substantially tunneled and that its costs now meet or exceed the cost of extending the metro system by branching it, all while building it in places like those in Lower Manhattan, where Sandy has illustrated the risks of building a subway tunnel near a salt-water harbor.  All resulting in a lower speed, lower capacity system than we already have in the Baltimore Metro!

    -Jim Leanos

    • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

       Jim Leanos wrote: ” … The statement that the light rail and the metro are not connected is
      just false and somehow has a life of its own.  In two locations, State
      Center and Lexington Street, it’s closer than the Red Line will be from
      the Metro as planned.  And a moving walkway could be built in both
      locations for mobility impaired (or even lazy) persons. …”

      ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

      The Metro Subway and Light Rail lines converge but are not connected. When most people say “connected” they mean that a rider can transfer from one line to another within the same station. As in, for example, changing from the Green to the Blue Line (or vice versa) at Government Center in Boston.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    Klaus wrote: ” … Just pointing to Howard Street forever will not cut it. …”

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Okay. Then I’ll point to the paucity of development along pretty much every stop of the Metro Subway. Of course, that project has been good for development in Carroll County.

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