By Barry Rascovar
Aug. 12, 2015 –Instead of tamping down the furor surrounding Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.’s cancellation of the Baltimore region’s $2.9 billion rapid-rail Red Line, his administration is adding fuel to the fire.
Instead of presenting alternative rapid transit proposals to Baltimore regional officials at a Monday meeting, Hogan’s transportation chief, Pete Rahn, offered nothing concrete.
Meanwhile, Hogan’s press spokesman continues to spew invective on anyone or any organization that dares dispute that decision.
In sixty days Rahn says he’ll having something to announce on faster bus service.
What Happened to Plan B?
The sad truth is that there never was a Plan B.
Hogan fulfilled a campaign pledge by killing the Red Line and shifting all that anticipated state spending over the next six years to road and bridge projects elsewhere in Maryland.
That’s why there are zero plans coming from the governor’s office to bolster the Baltimore area’s sad excuse for rapid transit.
Better travel by bus is a great concept but it is one that Rahn’s department has worked to achieve for decades — with little success. The failure of Baltimore’s bus routes lies entirely at the feet of state officials.
The state owns the buses. The state set up the bus routes. The state pays the drivers. The state manages the bus agency. The state has conducted countless public hearings on improving service. We’re still waiting for dramatic improvements.
Officials know what’s not going right. Can they fix it? So far, the answer is “no.”
Congestion and Buses
Giving riders real-time information on bus arrivals doesn’t get the buses to their destination any faster. How is Rahn going to move buses through congested downtown quickly?
Buses, like cars, sit in backed-up traffic. Too many vehicles clog busy intersections and arterial roads, especially at rush hour. What is Rahn going to do about that?
Subterranean rapid rail bypasses time-consuming street congestion with ease. New York and Washington are great examples of this.
But Hogan won’t pay for digging the tunnels. He wants mass transit projects only if they are cheap and bare-bones. That means no tunnels.
Both Rahn and his boss are highway-centric suburbanites. That’s where the state is putting its money over the next six years, not rapid rail or other urban transportation programs.
Regional officials can complain about Hogan’s disrespect toward Baltimore’s rail deficiencies but that won’t move the ball forward.
Once and for all they need to face reality. There won’t be a Plan B coming from the Hogan administration. It was never on Hogan’s game board. He’s already redistributed the Red Line money to non-Baltimore projects.
At best, Rahn might offer Baltimore crumbs in the form of getting buses to run on-time and new bus routes connecting suburban job centers to the city.
Those would be welcome, long overdue steps. Yet they are small, incremental improvements on the cheap.
Between now and next January, the governor can do pretty much anything he wants. He’s running state government without meddling from the Democratic legislature.
He’s setting up a fractious clash next year, though.
The impression is growing that Larry Hogan doesn’t care about Baltimore City. It’s a hostile political environment for a Republican governor. The city’s chronic problems are difficult and expensive to address. He’d rather spend state dollars in communities that vote Republican. He also doesn’t seem to grasp the deep societal woes that are dragging down a once-great American community.
Yet the decline is happening on his watch.
Like it or not, Hogan will be blamed if Baltimore’s slump accelerates while he is governor and he fails to take action.
Baltimore badly needed the economic boost the Red Line would have provided. Having killed that project, Hogan haven’t come forth with an alternative stimulus.
Where are the state jobs programs and reconstruction plans for riot-torn West Baltimore? Couldn’t the governor piece together a major housing demolition-and-rehabilitation initiative? There’s a crying need for more and better drug treatment programs. Recreation activities for youth are lacking. So are after-school programs.
Three-plus months since the destructive unrest in Baltimore, the governor has yet to produce a package of helpful initiatives to make life better for inner-city residents. He knows the city’s leaders are strapped for funds. Only the state has the resources to step in and help in a big way.
That is Hogan’s challenge, especially after he axed the city’s only major economic hope.
At this point, the governor should make a point of showing he has not forgotten Baltimore. The city requires large-scale, innovative assistance from Annapolis.
Baltimore’s future lies, to a large extent, in Hogan’s hands.