Analysis By Len Lazarick
In the four months since Gov. Larry Hogan cancelled Baltimore’s Red Line light rail project, administration officials have been privately and publicly reassuring skeptics that they were going to produce a transit plan that moved Baltimore better.
Thursday, they rolled out that plan with super buses painted like the state flag and elaborate maps, charts and timelines.
The state, which runs mass transit in the Baltimore region, would totally revamp its “antiquated and broken transit system,” said Hogan, with 12 new color-coded super bus routes running on dedicated bus lanes or even bus-only streets.
This was going to be “transformative” and fix the problems plaguing city commuters for decades by creating transit hubs and speeding routes. For more details, see accompanying story.
Furious not appeased
Folks furious at Hogan’s rejection of the $2.9 billion Red Line were not appeased. Baltimore’s political, business and media leaders are never going to forgive Hogan’s dismissal of 10 years of planning and $900 million in federal transit aid as a “boondoggle.”
They criticized Hogan for having no backup Plan B. When he unveiled Plan B, to them it looked like Plan Blech.
How could a new administration with a fondness for highways come up with a plan to fix Baltimore’s sluggish, erratic bus system with just a few months of planning, and none of the tens of millions spent on consultants and studies for the Red Line?
Good question, and there are many more from Baltimore Sun editorial writers who have paid a lot more attention to this issue than most folks.
No matter the answer, Baltimore-centric elites will never be assuaged. Only four Baltimore elected officials attended the announcement.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sent out a negative press release rather than show up; Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, already on the outs with Hogan, was dismissive; mild-mannered U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said making the buses run on time was not “innovative” but expected.
Never enough for Baltimore
For many of these folks, there’s never enough for Baltimore. Hogan’s Red Line rejection, along with his holding back a slice of school funding, is now a political bat they’ll pick up periodically to whack him.
The very few politicos that did show up — three running for mayor, Sen. Cathy Pugh, ex-Mayor Sheila Dixon, Council member Carl Stokes, along with City Council President Jack Young and Del. Nat Oakes — ranged from enthusiastic (Stokes and Young) to warily hopeful (Pugh) and skeptical (Oakes). Stokes, no fan of Rawlings-Blake, called it “a game-changer” for the city.
Busch, Miller in the dark
Surprisingly, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller, attending a Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce lunch, had not been briefed at all and were totally in the dark, where they often are with Hogan.
Where’s he getting the money, having already spent the savings from the Red Line cancellation on highway projects? they wanted to know.
“It’s all politics,” said Miller, referring to most of Hogan’s initiatives, such as toll cuts. Miller said Hogan also wanted to cut the gas tax at the same time he’s proposing new highway and transit projects with money that wouldn’t be there without the gas tax hike passed two years ago.
Neither Busch nor Miller, nor any of Maryland’s Democratic leaders trust Hogan to do the right thing. The Hogan administration doesn’t trust most of them enough to tell them anything about what they’re planning to do in advance.
Wait and see
The simplest thing to do in this case is to wait and see if Hogan and his transportation team fulfill their promises. They promise to listen and consult on their new transit plan, they promise to work closely with city officials to pull it off and they promise to have it all done by June 2017, just 20 months away, and a full year before Hogan’s reelection bid.
In the same time frame (below), the Red Line project would have been just a hole in the ground, years from completion.
If Hogan’s team can get the new bus scheme done on that awfully ambitious schedule, then Baltimore residents will be better off soon and Hogan’s Democratic critics will have less to bitch about. And if it doesn’t materialize on time or at all, BaltimoreLink will be just another serving of warmed-over politics.