On June 25, 2015, Governor Larry Hogan threw the switch to darkness on the Red Line light rail project. It was the single most important loss to transportation modernization in the history of the state. The impact of the anticipated $2.5 billion in transit-oriented-development along the Red Line corridor and its additional 3000 jobs were worth the line’s $2.9 billion cost alone – to say nothing of its economy-rescuing 10,000 construction jobs, reduced commute times, and its east-west alignment. The Red Line represented a break from the spaghetti of bus lines that still follow the segregationist street car routes dating from the nineteenth century.
Elsewhere, Hogan reduced the state’s contribution to the Purple Line project by two-thirds leaving Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties to scramble for “cash or crash.” Yet, he was willing to spend $8.0 billion to widen Montgomery County’s I-270 and the American Legion Bridge – a project having no chance to reduce congestion, his stated goal. “Pave it” is Hogan’s transportation philosophy.
During his term, a peculiarity of the Governor’s transportation policies emerged – a dramatic lack of credibility. From his claim that the Red Line is a “boondoggle” to the administration’s failure to make urgent track repairs, misrepresentations have prevailed. It is apparent that Hogan and his subordinates have perfected a presentation routine both unethical and deceptive.
First, the officials gauge the knowledge base of the audience, i.e. how well and if recently informed. Second, they project that their official data have no alternative interpretations – a defense against honest inquiry. Third, they rely on their authority and its presumption of integrity. The result, erroneous statements that survive public exposure.
On February 7, 2017, in a hearing before the Senate’s Committee on Budget and Taxation, Transportation Secretary, Pete Rahn, testified (Minutes 5:51 – 7:16) that the Red Line should have cost $5.0 billion instead of the $2.9 billion approved after thirteen years of planning.
The $1.0 billion, 3.4-mile Red Line downtown tunnel is a small, two-bore, electric vehicle system with each bore measuring 21 feet in diameter. The proposed $1.68 billion, 10,000 feet B&P Tunnel is a large, four-bore, diesel vehicle system with each bore at 32.5 feet in diameter. The B&P tunnel costs four times the Red Line’s per linear foot and “boondoggle” remains an unsupported fiction.
But Rahn said “if” you compare the Red Line tunnel to the B&P tunnel; the Red Line should have cost at least $5.0 billion. As in step one in the presentation routine, Rahn assumed that none of the Senators knew he was comparing apples to oranges. At step two, he framed his senseless comparisons as if there were no other way to assess the issue. At step three, there was complete deference to the claims of the Secretary and a false narrative sealed the fate of the Red Line. There could not have been a more opportunist distortion of truth and ethics.
On February 16, 2018, in a hearing before the Baltimore delegation, Rahn and MTA Administrator, Quinn, again rolled out the deceptive routine. The officials declared incorrectly that they ordered the cessation of service on the Metro Subway line when they discovered the dangerous conditions of the tracks. Their testimony was refuted by the disclosure in the Baltimore Sun of a report from November 2016 finding numerous sections of the tracks in a “black condition” requiring a total halt in train movement.
Rahn and Quinn made no apologies. Instead, they said that Maryland’s standards are among the most rigid in the industry implying thereby that other agencies also would not have made the repairs in November of 2016. They were boldly negligent of the public’s safety and misrepresented what they knew and when they knew it. Although irresponsible, the routine survived.
Between the February 2017 and February 2018 hearings, the department maintained the charade. On November 3, 2017 at the department’s annual presentation in Baltimore, Rahn and Quinn, declared that “land use and transportation are totally separate matters.” They added that “increased ridership was not an objective of the Baltimore Link.” Challenged directly, Rahn said that he still believes his “testimony in February 2017 was true.”
When Baltimore Delegate Lierman (D-46) laments that “It will be hard for me to trust anything the Secretary of Transportation or the deputy tell me from now on” as she did after learning of the November 2016 track report, she should be warned that objective factual representation may not be the department’s strong suit.
Samuel Jordan, President, the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition