The Red Line maps are in.

The Maryland Transit Administration released three potential alignments for the future east-west megaproject Thursday afternoon, providing a first look at what will be Baltimore’s biggest public transportation project in decades.

Three separate maps show a roughly 15-mile route connecting Woodlawn and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center through downtown. Each map has two options, one for light rail and another for bus rapid transit, or BRT.

A proposed map of the Red Line, called Surface North.
A proposed map of the Red Line, called Surface North. (MDOT MTA)
A proposed map of the Red Line, called Maximum Tunnel. (MDOT MTA)
A proposed map of the Red Line, called Maximum tunnel. (MDOT MTA)

Two alternatives would include the construction of a tunnel underneath downtown, with a western portal along U.S. 40′s infamous “Highway to Nowhere” and an eastern counterpart along Boston Street in Canton. A smaller tunnel would cross underneath Cooks Lane between Baltimore and Baltimore County. These plans most closely resemble the Red Line proposal former Gov. Larry Hogan killed in 2015.

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The remaining four alignments forgo a tunnel, planning only for surface-level light rail or BRT service.

Two routes would offer connections to both the existing north-south light rail at its Howard Street stop and the lone Metro subway line at both Charles Center and Shot Tower. These routes utilize both West Baltimore Street and West Lombard Street to cross downtown between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. and President Street.

Another two options utilize West Pratt Street for the crosstown schlep. These alternatives would connect to the existing light rail at the Convention Center but would not offer a connection to the Metro subway.

All route alignments offer connections to the West Baltimore MARC station.

“The Red Line is a major priority for our team and a critical project for the Baltimore region,” said MTA Administrator Holly Arnold in a press release. “The maps of the preliminary alternatives and other information will help stakeholders come to our November open houses fully prepared with questions and comments to keep the Red Line project moving forward.”

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The press released included information for four different open house sessions at locations along the proposed routes where the MTA will ask for public input and feedback on the design proposals.

“Transit Choices supports the process that the Governor and his staff are evaluating to determine which routes and what modality is fundable for a newly envisioned Baltimore Red Line,” said Robin Budish, executive director of the coalition group Transit Choices. “We are impressed by the people at MDOT MTA and how hard they are working on this important project.”

Eric Norton, director of policy and programs for the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a local transit advocacy organization, said his team is pleased to see the project moving forward and hopes that speed, efficiency and the rider experience will be front and center in MTA’s evaluations.

“The maps are a start, but we’re looking forward to MTA publishing its evaluation of these six preliminary alternatives to see what will provide the best outcomes for riders,” Norton said.

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“Our focus is on looking at the alternatives through the lens of which option will deliver the best results,” he said.

But not everyone is all aboard the Red Line revelry. Jonathan Sacks, executive director of HUB West Baltimore and one of the minds behind Smart Line, shakes his head at the lack of a heavy rail option.

He and his colleagues have been pushing the MTA, the office of Gov. Moore, even the state’s federal Congressional representatives, to consider what he calls a cost-saving plan to utilize and expand on the Metro subway’s existing tunnel between Lexington Market and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“It just makes no sense,” Sacks said regarding the surface-level proposals. “A bus or light rail through the downtown of a city is a nonstarter. It’s slow, particularly in the case of light rail, it’s extremely disruptive.”

Though bus rapid transit systems, like the one in Birmingham, Alabama, enhance the typical bus trip by utilizing dedicated lanes and separate, priority traffic signaling, Sacks thinks any surface-level option will get bogged down by downtown traffic.

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Samuel Jordan, president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, also thinks BRT is a nonstarter, though he fears it’s what the public will get. BRT requires less capital up front, but he thinks that light rail will be the best long-term investment because it’s more climate-conscious, more reliable, and opens more opportunities for transit-oriented development.

“Another bus is what your accountant might choose, a light rail is looking into the future. … that’s an investment in Baltimore’s future,” Jordan said.

The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed routes both through an online survey and at the following open house meetings:

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.

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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