The Red Line isn’t the only new transit coming to town.

The Maryland Transit Administration has completed a feasibility study that evaluated seven potential options for a new transit line between Towson and downtown Baltimore, eliminating some options but committing to further study of light rail, heavy rail and bus rapid transit (BRT).

The new line would aim to build upon and improve transit service in one of the busiest corridors of the region for public transportation. The report, released Thursday, lays out estimates for cost, ridership, travel times and more across the seven proposed alternatives.

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The north-south corridor east of I-83 and the existing light rail see hundreds of thousands of daily transit rides across more than 40 different bus routes, according to the MTA report. The highest density of those rides occur along the CityLink Red bus route, which connects downtown to the Lutherville light rail station. Averaging just shy of 227,000 monthly rides this year, it’s one of the most used bus lines in the Baltimore region. Whichever mode is chosen for the new transit line, it will closely mimic the CityLink Red’s path.

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Eliminating some options

The report narrows the geographic area for further study, effectively eliminating alternatives six and seven, which would have built a light rail or BRT line along Loch Raven Boulevard before turning west toward Towson.

Three of the remaining five alternatives are BRT lines that performed well in modeling, the report says. But the MTA will continue to study light rail as a potential option, as well as the possibility of constructing a new subway line that would connect with the existing Metro at the downtown Charles Center stop.

The MTA estimates that a north-south subway expansion would cost roughly $6.2 billion and take the longest to build — between 10 and 12 years — due to the difficulty associated with tunnel boring. It’s projected to serve fewer “transit critical populations” and zero-car households because of fewer, more spread-out stations, but would save riders twice as much time traveling from Towson to downtown, and vice versa, compared to a light rail or BRT line. It would also expand Baltimore’s Metro into a system right after its original fleet of rail cars gets swapped out for 78 brand new Hitachi rail cars. The MTA received the first of such rail cars this year.

BRT would take roughly four fewer years to implement and cost between $500 and $600 million. A transit mode that tries to incorporate elements of rail into a bus service, BRT has grown in popularity around the world, and is currently being built out in Montgomery County.

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Light rail falls somewhere in the middle, with an estimated cost of $4.2 billion but high marks in most other areas.

The comparisons between alternatives are available on pages 22 and 23 here.

What happens next?

The MTA will use 2024 to continue to analyze options and do public outreach about their findings. Access to federal funding will be a key factor in their considerations, and the MTA hopes to have the new service line approved by the Federal Transit Administration in 2026. Construction would happen after that.

“Public input is key to the success of transit initiatives,” said Maryland Transit Administrator Holly Arnold. “The response and interest our riders have shown in a more substantive north-south transit presence confirms that we’re on the right track. Our next steps will help us refine the proposed alternatives and gather additional public feedback.”

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues. 

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