Baltimore City, County officials agree to terms, but $500M gap remains to fund red line

Officials relying on 'in-kind' donations

BALTIMORE - Even though estimates for the Red Line has now topped $2.9 billion, this week Baltimore City's mayor and the Baltimore County executive agreed to contribute tens of millions of dollars toward the project.

A law passed by the general assembly this year means that backers of the red line have to submit a plan on how to pay for it by Sept. 1.

Who is going to pay for Baltimore's light rail Red Line?

The red line would run from the Woodlawn area in the west, under downtown, to Bayview Hospital in the east.

Over the next 10 years, Baltimore City has promised to contribute $230 million toward its construction.

“The Red Line will be a driver for community development and for neighborhood revitalization, bringing more than 4,000 jobs to the city,” said Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The money will come from several sources , including property donations, cash already earmarked for projects along the red line's route and the construction and re-routing of utilities referred to in this plan as "in-kind" contributions.

Earlier this year, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz promised only about half of the $50 million the state had requested for the project.

In a letter to the secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation this week, Kamenetz reluctantly agreed to the full $50 million -- much of it coming from those "in-kind" contributions.

Even with $900 million promised from the federal government, $689 million from the state's transportation trust fund, the city's $230 million, and the county's $50 million -- more than $500 million for the project’s nearly $3 billion cost has not been fully identified

Feedback sought on Red Line project

Supporters are touting public-private-partnerships, or "P3s" to cover that portion.  Asked Wednesday exactly what those would entail, the state's transportation secretary James Smith said:  “Well, we don't know yet.”

State Sen. Bill Ferguson represents portions of Baltimore City.  He said it's time to take a much closer look at the red line. 

“It's just a question of what are we getting into,” he said.  “This was a $1.6 billion project initially.  It's now a $3 billion project .”

Ferguson is calling for a new study to be done, to determine whether eliminating the downtown tunnel entirely and moving the red line onto dedicated surface routes would save money and create a more flexible transportation system.

“If that P3 doesn't materialize, who is on the hook for the $550 million?  Is it city taxpayers? County taxpayers? The state of Maryland?” Ferguson said.  “You know a lot of these uncertainties are really unsettling especially when we know there may be more cost effective options out there.”

The red line's planners say 65 percent of its engineering is done so future cost increases -- like the $300 million dollar hike we learned about this week -- they said, are unlikely.

The mayor said the city's contributions will not come from new taxes or fees on city residents.

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