From Christopher Boardman:
Recently Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn testified before a state legislative committee that The Red Line would not be built because it contained a “fatal flaw”, a tunnel designed within the line that would cost an estimated $1 billion out of the $3 billion forecast for the project. He mentioned a problem with a Seattle, Washington project where a giant boring machine broke down, leading to complications.
But surprisingly, Mr. Rahn didn’t mention the very successful excavation projects that continue to benefit this region for long periods of time.
The first project was initiated nearly 200 years ago, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. There was not a lot of money available in the 1820’s to build that 14 mile long canal connecting the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay, but its benefits were obvious to observers long before then, as early as the 1650’s when Augustine Herman envisioned the project. It took decades, or more than a century and a half to get that canal built. In 1764 Philadelphians Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush supported the canal, and the first canal company was formed in 1802. But funds were not obtained for the canal until the 1820’s. $2 million was raised initially with Pennsylvania contributing $100,000, Maryland $50,000, Delaware $25,000 and the U.S. Government $450,000. The difference was covered by private investors. Even then, when the canal opened in 1829 through the efforts of 2,600 men with picks and shovels, and mule drivers with wagons, $3.5 million was spent, a lot of money for the time. But the benefits were obvious and long-lasting.
The history of the C & D Canal is colorful and fascinating, but eventually President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a commission in 1906 to convert the canal to a “free and open waterway,” doing away with a cumbersome lock system that was leaking and required steam engines to move water. Today, according to Wikipedia, today’s canal carries 40 percent of all ship traffic in and out of Baltimore.
“The canal is vital to the ports of the Delaware River, Baltimore, and others along the northern Atlantic trade routes,” Wikipedia reports. Former Rep. Helen D. Bentley, a favorite of Republicans opposing the Red Line, owes much of the success of her career to the C and D Canal.
This was not the only “hole in the ground” that benefited Baltimore.
The Baltimore Harbor Tunnel was built in 1956-57, connecting the south shore of the Patapsco River to the north shore near Dundalk. Twenty one sections of 310 foot tubing were submerged into the harbor in what was probably a more challenging excavation than envisioned in the Red Line construction.
That project was so successful and heavily used that the region built an even wider tunnel, the Fort McHenry Tunnel, which opened in 1985. The Fort McHenry Tunnel closed the gap on I-95 from Maine to Florida. Its cost: $750 million, with annual traffic of 43.4 million vehicles in 2009.
There weren’t any “fatal flaws” or big problems with those excavations. Was Mr. Rahn also against them?
It’s interesting that Baltimoreans apparently always loved holes in the ground. During the Civil War, a tunnel was dug from the B & O Railroad Camden Station south to the north side of Federal Hill, then to Fort McHenry. Now that tunnel did not last, unlike the others.
Now the Hogan Administration is spending the money that is being collected from an increased gasoline tax that would have benefited the Red Line, on outlying rural and suburban road projects. Columnist Dan Rodricks recently pointed out that those expenditures will be benefiting the districts of legislators who mostly voted against the new taxes, an act of hypocrisy not lost on him. The especially sorry aspect of this is that when Red Line is eventually built, these frivolous new road projects will have cost the taxpayers a lot more money than if the Red Line construction were started without further delay. So-called penny-pinching Republicans will have made everything more expensive for everyone.
Baltimore badly needs a comprehensive regional mass transportation plan that will relieve motorist congestion, enable commuters to get to and from work more easily and enable greater mobility throughout the region. The big cities on the eastern seaboard, from Boston to Washington D.C. all have modern passenger transit systems with the exception of Baltimore. Even Governor Hogan gave the go-ahead to the Purple Line in Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties while the D.C. region already has the Metro. But Baltimore lags far behind. The economic benefits will be manifold with this type of modernization. Citizens should demand that construction on The Red Line begin as soon as possible.
Christopher “Krist” Boardman is a prison nurse, freelance writer and book author, a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, and a member of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.