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The Dripby Fern Shen3:07 pmDec 21, 20150

Residents, civil rights groups sue state over Red Line cancellation

Shifting resources from public transit to highway projects outside the city discriminates against African-Americans, complainants allege

Above: The long-planned Red Line would have gone from Woodlawn/Social Security through downtown Baltimore to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Critics of Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to cancel the $2.9 billion Red Line light-rail project last June have said his decision showed a disregard for transit-dependent citizens of a majority African-American city.

Now they’re making it a federal case.

A coalition of civil rights groups and city residents filed a complaint today asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate whether the state’s decision to cancel the 14-mile, east-west transit line violates federal law.

“Everyone who knows this city knows that the lack of rapid transit restricts access to jobs and housing for low and middle income African-American residents living along the city’s east-west corridor,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF).

Alleged Violation of Civil Rights Act

In remarks to the media today, Ifill highlighted the timing of Hogan’s announcement, noting that it came in the wake of the unrest following the April in-custody death of a West Baltimore man, Freddie Gray.

“It frankly shocked the entire city,” Ifill said of Hogan’s veto in a news release distributed by the coalition.

The complaint alleges disparate impact, pointing to transportation funds diverted to highway and other projects outside the city.

Specifically, it argues that the cancellation violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits state agencies that engage in discrimination from receiving federal funds.

The complaint was filed by NAACP, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Covington & Burling LLP and the ACLU of Maryland, on behalf of the Baltimore City Chapter of the NAACP, Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality (BRIDGE), and African-American residents of the City of Baltimore.

Lost Opportunity

When Hogan canceled the long-planned rail line, he said he was not against public transit but rather “wasteful  boondoggles” that would not address Baltimore’s real transit needs.

He was particularly critical of the $1 billion tunnel under downtown and Fells Point that was a key part of the project.

According to the complaint filed today, Hogan’s announcement in June meant that $900 million in federal funds promised for the project were forfeited.

(Some $300 million in state and federal funds had already been spent to plan the project, the litigants say.)

“Compounding matters, the state announced on the same day that it was transferring funding for the line’s construction to a series of road projects, none of which are in Baltimore,” the NAACP said, referring to $2 billion in state highway spending announced by Hogan, $1.35 billion of it representing new spending.

The redistribution was part of Hogan’s long-range plan to give the state road system 57% of the transportation pie rather than the 45% share it received under the Martin O’Malley administration.

The cancellation of the Red Line, the NAACP argues, was a missed opportunity for city’s poor black residents.

“The rapid transit system would have connected the predominantly African-American communities on the east and west sides of Baltimore and provided access to jobs and opportunities,” the group said in today’s press release.

“It was anticipated that the construction of the line alone would have created 10,000 jobs.”

The groups also highlighted the lost job opportunities and economic development benefits they said the project would have afforded city residents.

They cited estimates that the transit line would have served up to 57,000 commuters per day.

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