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The Dripby Mark Reutter6:31 pmApr 15, 20130

MTA eyes possible private partner for Red Line

Above: Current route of the 14.1-mile Red Line between Woodlawn and Bayview. (MTA)

Faced with the costliest transportation project in Baltimore history, the Maryland Transit Administration is testing the waters to see if a public-private partnership (P3) is feasible for the Red Line.

The MTA has issued a “Request for Information” to attract private interest in the planned $2.5 billion light-rail line from Woodlawn through downtown to the Bayview Medical Campus of Johns Hopkins University.

While public-private partnerships have become more prevalent in infrastructure projects, they are still a unique arrangement for states, such as Maryland, who have traditionally paid for highways and airports out of their own pocket (with the help of federal and sometimes local funds).

P3 Law Signed

Last week, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the Maryland Public-Private Partnership law that encourages private sector involvement in large-scale transportation projects.

The MTA is looking for ways to improve its traditional project delivery methods in which engineering and construction are separately contracted out, and the agency operates the line with its own employees.

Under a P3 arrangement, an investment group or construction company could be responsible for parts or all of the building and operation of the Red Line under a long-term concession. The MTA said it is seeking information “from your firm’s perspective” about the advantages and disadvantages of entering into such an agreement and will incorporate the feedback it gets as its develops more detailed plans.

The agency asks for similar information for the Purple Line, the proposed $2.2 billion light-rail project connecting Bethesda with New Carrollton in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Projected Ridership Down

The MTA disclosed in its request for information that the Red Line may cost more than $2.5 billion, up from $2.2 billion estimated in a report to the Federal Transit Administration in 2011.

The Red Line’s daily ridership was projected at 50,000 in 2030 – down from 57,000 forecast in 2011 – and substantially below the 69,000 riders forecast for the Purple Line. The travel time between Woodlawn and Bayview is estimated at 44 minutes, an average of 19 miles an hour.

The agency said it was considering whether to “bundle” the future order of rail cars (about 83 cars) for both lines to save money, and wants to operate small segments of each line without overhead electric catenary.

“Do you believe that light-rail vehicle technology has developed enough to be able to achieve this [non-catenary] goal by the time vehicles would have to be ordered for the projects,” the proposal asks.

The MTA also calls on companies to “comment on any advantages or disadvantages of the private partner managing fare collection and security.”

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