Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.
Baltimore Transit Workers Promote BaltimoreLink Upgrade
When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan canceled the proposed Red Line LRT route in Baltimore, he offered as a consolation prize to the city a revamped bus system designed to provide faster and more frequent service via a lattice of crosstown routes dubbed BaltimoreLink.
Now the union representing the people who drive the buses has put forth a transit improvement plan that it says will go BaltimoreLink one better.
The Baltimore Sun reports that several elected officials in the city have joined Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300 in urging the Maryland Transit Administration to consider “A People’s Alternative to BaltimoreLink,” a proposal that would add true bus rapid transit infrastructure to the BaltimoreLink plan.
The ATU’s proposal would build 14.35 miles of BRT in the corridor the Red Line was to serve, along North Avenue, through downtown on Fayette and Baltimore streets, and along Broadway east of downtown, along with segments northwest of downtown connecting the Red Line and North Avenue corridors. The routes would be built to full BRT standards, including off-board fare collection, dedicated rights-of-way and level-platform boarding, and would be used by the high-frequency crosstown bus routes being implemented in the BaltimoreLink plan along with two other MTA bus routes currently slated for cancellation.
The union’s proposal would cost $287 million, or roughly twice what the MTA is spending on BaltimoreLink improvements. John Bullock, who won a Baltimore City Council seat on Nov. 8, described the plan as a way to recoup some of the hundreds of millions in investment “squandered” when the state canceled the Red Line, and the union says that the enhancements have the potential to stimulate redevelopment in some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods.
ATU Local 1300 has launched a leafleting campaign at city bus stops and is going door-to-door to collect signatures on a petition it plans to present to Hogan in December.
MTA officials have met with the union to discuss the ideas and have not ruled out incorporating them into its plans. “At this point, BaltimoreLink is moving forward, but MTA leaders are not opposed to considering other suggestions,” MTA Spokesman Paul Shepard said in a statement to the Sun. “Nothing is off the table.”
Transit Expansion Nail-Biter in Portland Appears Headed for Victory
The Nov. 8 elections brought good news to transit advocates in several cities, as voters in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle all approved new taxes to support major transit construction and expansion programs. A measure crucial to a planned MAX light-rail extension in Portland, however, remains on the bubble, but looks like it will ultimately win approval too.
According to a news report in The Times of suburban Portland, voters in the Portland suburb of Tigard appear for now to have given their blessing to a ballot question authorizing the city to support the design and construction of the extension by a very narrow margin. As of Nov. 14, the measure led by a 50.28 percent margin, or 139 votes. The margin is just outside the 0.2 percent margin that would trigger an automatic recount under Oregon law.
Ballots are still being counted, however, and it could be as late as Nov. 22 before the count is final. Oregon offers mail-in voting, and voters whose mail ballots have been challenged have two weeks after Election Day to appear in person to verify them.
The measure was required under the terms of a previous one passed by Tigard voters in 2014. That initiative placed the city on record as opposed to high-capacity transit within its borders “as a matter of public policy” and required voter approval for any city participation in a rail transit project. Turnout in this election was significantly higher than in the one where the 2014 measure was approved: 80 percent of Tigard voters cast ballots this time.
The measure, however, does not authorize any new taxes to help pay for the line, which would run southwest from downtown Portland through Tigard on its way to Bridgeport Village. Opponents urged a “no” vote on the grounds that the line would require additional taxes down the road. Tigard Mayor John L. Cook says he expects Portland Metro to seek those taxes in a 2018 ballot question.
Sydney to Get New Metro Line to Western Suburbs
With work well underway on Sydney’s first metro line and a beginning on its second, the New South Wales state government has announced that a third line will open between 2025 and 2030, Global Rail News reports.
Sydney Metro West will relieve pressure on the overcrowded Western Line of Sydney’s regional rail network by connecting the city center with Parramatta, where it will connect to the light-rail network being built there. The line will be mostly underground.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the line will cost at least AU$10 billion ($7.53 billion U.S.) to build. Government officials said that funding would come from the AU$16 billion ($12 billion U.S.) sale of Ausgrid and value capture. Details about the exact route and station locations would be the subject of discussions with stakeholders along the proposed line’s corridor.
The line would have a capacity of 40,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Business leaders in Sydney’s western suburbs are urging the government to explore public-private partnerships as a way of fast-tracking the line’s construction.
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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.