Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Warnock's 50% Red Line

Mayoral candidate David Warnock presents his own version of the Baltimore Red Line at each of the many mayoral forums.
I have a plan for a modified Red Line to end it at Lexington Market
This is what he said, for example, at the mayoral Transportation Forum on 2/25 before a room full of folks interested in better Baltimore transit. Obviously, a line that would only cover half the distance of the originally envisioned 14.4 mile Red Line would be cheaper. He must think that especially avoiding the pesky downtown tunnel would save a bunch of cost and that connecting to the existing Metro at the Lexington Market should be  a winner, even if it requires a transfer and even though the Metro, while going east, does not serve the same corridor the Red Line would have served.
Lexington Market Subway Station: A Hub for the Red Line?

Luke Broadwater of the Baltimore SUN provided a fact-check this morning in the wake of a SUN organized candidate forum yesterday. He writes about Warnock's transit plan:
Warnock did not provide details on how he would resurrect a modified version of the nearly $3 billion Red Line that Gov. Larry Hogan rejected last year. Since the line relied mainly on state and federal funds, it is outside the power of a mayor to unilaterally create. Warnock says on his website he would develop relationships with lawmakers in Annapolis and neighboring jurisdictions to build the line. (article)
The biggest obstacle to the Warnock 50% resurrection isn't even the governor, or that as a Mayor he can't build it himself. The biggest problem it is the the fact that this would be a significant change to the Red Line that would set it back to square one. How so? will folks say who find Warnock's Red Line idea attractive. Isn't that the same line for which the engineering was done, the Environmental Impact Statement and all the other stuff? Just less?

Not the same. For one thing, the "Purpose and Need" and the cost benefit of the Red Line would change significantly if it wouldn't connect the same places as the line that had been reviewed and approved previously. Certainly it would affect ridership and utility. New Starts projects certainly allow phasing and the construction of "minimum operating segments" (such as from Social Security to the Howard Street/Arena Station), but such a segment would eventually must be at least able to be completed as the original plan required. A line that ends at Lexington Market would do so forever (Light Rail trains cannot run in a Metro tunnel without huge modifications).
Baltimore Metro subway station

And then there is this: In order to get to the Lexington Market Metro Station, the revised Red Line would have to enter an entirely a new alignment beginning at Fremount Avenue. Anything in that new alignment has not been studied or engineered before. The connection would presumably be underground, so that a seamless connection at Lexington Market would be possible. The feat of an underground connection to the existing Metro station isn't a small matter, even if the Metro has the much discussed knock-out panels for earlier versions of the Baltimore Rail Plan which had envisioned Metro in the median of what is now the highway to nowhere. It would require a full underground light rail station perpendicular to or below the current subway. It would require "tail tracks" and "crossovers" to trains could get in and back out on the right track.

To get to Lexington Market the line would have to go into a tunnel west of MLK Boulevard in order to avoid an at grade crossing of the busy roadway. Would it stay on the surface it would have to turn right on MLK, go to Saratoga Street, cross MLK and then run into a tunnel between MLK and Paca Streets, placing a portal there.

Although MTA had engineers look at such a connection in November 2014 so they could ascertain the fundamental possibilities, this new alignment would require all stages of assessment, including an Enironmental Impact Study. It would make the suggested project all new from an engineering and design point of view.

It is pretty clear where mayoral candidate Warnock got the idea: Running the Red Line to Lexington Market and then using the existing Metro has been an old standby of the "Right Rail Coalition", folks that put a lot of emphasis on avoiding the Red Line Canton alignment and using tracks along the Amtrak rails instead.

Aside from the fact that a Mayor has limited power over what the MTA will build, all politicians interested in adding more rail to the skimpy current Baltimore system would do better by preserving the possibility that the Red Line could come at a later day as engineered for hundreds of millions of taxpayer's money, than dreaming about their own alternatives.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA