Angry residents turn out at Canton Red Line meeting
Last night the Maryland Transportation Authority hosted its second meeting regarding the maintenance of traffic during construction of the Baltimore Red Line's Downtown East Portal. For several years now, the controversial east-west train line has been the primary source of contention between the residents of Canton and the local and state government departments tasked with seeing the project through. (Disclosure: Between 2009 and 2011, I worked for a marketing firm that managed community outreach for the Baltimore Red Line.) Many Canton residents have long loudly announced that they don't want the Red Line in their neighborhood at all and have been trying to shut it down every step of the way. Last night, at what was meant to be a strictly informative meeting, local opponents again launched attacks on the project in its entirety. Roughly 250 residents packed into the hot, muggy, meeting hall in Du Burns Arena off Boston Street. As the room started to fill up, it was obvious that one side was there for a fight, while the other was preparing to take a verbal beating. The meeting began and the crowd was asked to be respectful of the presenters and each other. Back in January, MTA presented two ideas to address the disruptions in traffic along Boston Street. The first idea involved two phases that would have Boston Street shut down for months at a time, while the second involved constructing a temporary road alongside the project, but would require the temporary use of the landscaped area between Boston Street and the waterfront townhomes that line it. "We were really up in arms" at both proposals, said Ben Rosenberg, a Canton community leader and spokesman for the Red Line opposition. The overwhelming disapproval of the first two concepts forced the project developers to return to the drawing boards and create a third concept, which would allow Boston Street to remain open to traffic during the course of construction, though the lanes would be reduced to one in either direction. Concepts one and two have projected time frames of 24-30 months, but concept three would extend the duration of construction to 30-36 months. "Nobody in their right mind would build this thing in the way they want to build it," Rosenberg says. "It's all been dictated by politics and politicians, not by asking if this is good for transit or is it good for this city." There is much debate about the benefits of the Red Line, in particular over property value and crime. In general, when something like rail transit is built in a neighborhood, property value tends to go up, but you'd be hard pressed to find a Cantonite who thinks that will happen. Jamie Kendrick, deputy executive director for transit development and delivery at the MTA, believes that all three of the presented concepts are completely viable and wants to see the project move forward as quickly and smoothly as possible. "A lot of people have a lot of very strong feelings about the project one way or another," Kendrick said, referring to whether there should be a Red Line or not. "What I would say to all of them is, that decision is made well above the pay grade of the staff working on this part of the project." Kendrick says that he wants people to work with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and MTA, and that the demands that the project should be stopped completely is a matter that should be addressed to their elected officials rather than the DOT and MTA employees assigned to the project. "We want people to work with us," he says. "In the eventuality that this is built, we should make it work as best it can." At this point, the proverbial lightrail has left the station for the Red Line. Tens of millions of dollars, countless hours of work, and the reputations of the elected officials backing it have already been invested in the Red Line. From the perspective of Baltimore City and the MTA, the project has to happen in order to justify the work that's already been done and improve the public transportation in the city. But hundreds of residents in Canton seem to see construction of the Red Line through their waterside utopia as a sign of the end of times, and they are hell bent keeping it from happening.