One of the most impactful decisions Governor Larry Hogan has made in four years in Annapolis has been the cancelation of the proposed "Red Line."
The governor stands by the decision; his opponent in the governor's race this year says it was a mistake - and he believes there might be a way to bring the Red Line back.
The light rail train known as the Red Line had been in the works for decades, and as late as 2014, there were meetings to talk about what it would look like, architectural renderings of the proposed stations, and even signs along the route that read, “Future Home of the Red Line.”
The trains would have carried passengers from the Woodlawn area in Baltimore County, all the way under Downtown Baltimore, to Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital and back again. It would have also connected Baltimore's other, now-unconnected transit options.
Instead, on June 25, 2015 - less than six months after he took office – Governor Hogan held a news conference at the State House and announced, “I can confirm today that the Red Line as currently designed is not going to be built.”
That was the same news conference that featured a map of proposed transportation projects around the state, without any trace of Baltimore on it. The mayor at the time, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said got the message.
“The map was about investments in transportation and if they were interested in making investments in transportation in Baltimore, we would be on that map,” Rawlings-Blake said in an interview shortly after the governor’s announcement.
Instead of the Red Line, over the past four years, the state has spent billions of dollars repairing and improving roads and bridges around the state, like Route 404 on the Eastern Shore, and the Severn River Bridge, in Anne Arundel County.
There has been a major redesign of the MTA bus system, which carries passengers in and around Baltimore City. The busses have new routes, a new name - BaltimoreLink - and colors instead of numbers.
The changes won an award from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, for projects costing between $25-million and $200-million.
“It's just a mess. They should have kept it how they had it at first. I don't like the new colors neither,” said MTA bus rider Alexica Chandler.
It seems that the riders we spoke with were not among the voters for that award.
“The system is not working,” said Beulah Hall. “Half the bus drivers don't know, and can't tell you where to go.”
“I used to take the 97 to go where I live, the 97 bus. That would take me where I go down here on Cold Spring. But now I don't know what bus to get to come up here,” added Diane Horton.
Change can be difficult, and the governor says BaltimoreLink remains a work in progress.
“To improve it, they could change it back. That's the only way they could probably better improve it,” Chandler said.
“It's just that the bus stops are father though. The bus stops are farther to walk to, that's about all,” said Anthony Rollins.
Back in 2015, the Red Line was expected to cost nearly $3-billion. The governor now says $4-billion, when he talks about the project.
Either way, $900-million of that had been earmarked to come from the federal government. That money - now rejected - is unlikely to be available again.
In an interview last week, Governor Hogan said he has no regrets about his decision to cancel the Red Line project.
“None whatsoever,” he said. “It was the right decision. I promised that's what I was going to do when I ran for office. That's what people voted for. Everybody in that transportation department said that project made no sense whatsoever. If it made sense the previous governor probably would have done it in the eight years that he was here, but he did not even though he was a former mayor of the City of Baltimore.”
Hogan's democratic challenger, Ben Jealous, told WMAR-2 News that not only was the cancelation of the Red Line a mistake but like the riders we spoke with, the new BaltimoreLink system has made things worse.
“There's a lot we can do, but it means that you have to really, quite frankly, believe in public transportation,” Jealous said. “One of the big differences between myself and the current governor is that he's much more in love with roads and highways. He typically has to be pushed into mass transit.”
And he says just because Governor Hogan killed the Red Line - a new governor, he believes, may be able to bring it back to life.
“Governor Hogan really set us back when he killed the Red Line,” Jealous said. “It took us 10 years to get to the starting line; there was $900-million on the table. I believe we can get back to the starting line. It may take changing who's the president of the United States. I'm totally in support of that too.”
The governor told WMAR-2 News his administration is looking into the possible extension of some of the city’s current light rail lines – now called Baltimore Light RailLink.
He has also been working with the federal government to try to gain control of the B-W Parkway, with the goal of widening that highway between Washington DC and Baltimore.