During the second term of the Obama administration, a grant was offered to Maryland to build the Red Line in Baltimore, a mass transit rail line that would have connected many Baltimore neighborhoods to downtown Baltimore and the suburbs.
According to Sheryll Cashin, a law professor at Georgetown University, the Red Line would have connected many Black Marylanders to better jobs and would have restarted Baltimore’s economy and improved race relations. Although it was a massive $900 million investment, it was an investment Baltimore was in dire need of.
In short, the Red Line might have been transformed Baltimore’s economic prospects.
However, the money never went to building the Red Line in Baltimore. Instead, the Red Line’s funds were redirected to building roads in predominantly white parts of the state. The reason? Governor Larry Hogan canceled the Red Line after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and subsequent protests and riots which drew national attention. Cashin says Hogan complained about the $20 million the state spent to respond to the protests and complained about the wastefulness of the Red Line project.
Civil rights groups were enraged at the canceling of the Red Line. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint, arguing there was a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Obama administration then opened an investigation, but then the Trump administration closed the investigation with no findings. The Maryland Department of Transit (MDOT) defended its spending and did not acknowledge the complaint.
“In other words, the Trump and Hogan administrations never gave a considered response to the Title VI petitioners’ core claim: that in canceling the Red Line and reallocating its funds to other projects, Hogan and Maryland favored white areas to the detriment of Black citizens,” Cashin says.
In a 2015 study by the Equal Opportunity Project, Baltimore ranked last in upward mobility, particularly for children.
Now, the Red Line has a chance of being revived. The two Democratic senators of Maryland, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, said they secured language in an instructor package that would have the Red Line be revisited, and possibly have billions of dollars devoted to it. Jeff Barker at the Baltimore Sun, the two senators are trying to get previously vetted projects to be considered for funding.
The 2701 page, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill does not explicitly mention the Red Line, but getting the Red Line project going again requires collaboration with the State of Maryland and the federal government. While Larry Hogan continues to defend discontinuing the Red Line, Hogan cannot run again for governor in 2022, which leaves the race open for his succession.
For now, the Red Line conversation is just talk, and the odds of passing it are slim. “Restart[ing]” the Red Line, in the words of the senators, is not that simple and would require more money today than in the original Red Line plan. Upgrading east-west transit is essential for the future of Baltimore.
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