A look at the NAACP and ACLU's federal Red Line complaint

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, and several other civil rights groups filed a federal complaint yesterday over Gov. Larry Hogan's cancellation of the Red Line, claiming the rail project's death was racially discriminatory.

The complaint, addressed to the civil rights offices of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration, says the Hogan administration's refusal to build the rail line, which was to use federal money, and reallocation of more than $1 billion to highway projects outside the city violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There's plenty to unpack in the 45-page complaint, which includes a history of discriminatory transit planning in Baltimore. Here are a few highlights.

-An independent report was conducted on the complainants' behalf by an economics firm, ECONorthwest, to measure the benefits lost with the Red Line. The firm "found that over 7.9 million trips made annually by African Americans in the State of Maryland will be lengthened or made more expensive as a result of the cancellation of the Red Line and the transfer of funding to the Highways Initiative." Commutes for whites were affected at a much lesser rate. Using the same model, the study found that, by 2030, 70.5 percent of African Americans will have their commutes affected, "despite the fact that only 29 percent of Maryland residents are African American."

-The Red Line would have cost $2.9 billion, the complaint says. Here's how the funding breaks down:

  • $900 million in federal grants
  • $230 million from Baltimore City
  • $50 million from Baltimore County

Since private companies would use funds to "operate and maintain the line," the state was left on the hook for $1.235 billion. Though Hogan nixed the project because of the cost, he then "announced a $1.87 billion highway improvement plan, with $1.35 billion of that coming from new funding."

In other words, the group concludes, "[A]t the same time [the state] determined that it would be 'wasteful' for Maryland to spend $1.235 billion on what they had previously described as a much needed, but yet non-existent, public transportation solution for Baltimore, [the state] committed to spending nearly as much on improvements to already existing roads in other parts of the state."

-A bus system overhaul, known as Baltimore LINK, is still in the early stages, but the complainants contend "preliminary indications suggest the LINK is insufficiently funded to have any meaningful impact." Many of the changes were already being considered as part of the Bus Network Improvement Project and "were expected to be implemented along with the construction of the [Red] Line." Futhermore, they cited Secretary of Transportation Pete K. Rahn's recent appearance befor the Maryland legislature during which he said an imporant part of the LINK plan is a system of transit-ways dedicated to moving buses along faster. Only $6 million is allocated for this and the city is expected to fund the rest.

-As precedent, the contingent is citing a recent bus dispute near Dayton, Ohio. The predominantly white suburb of Beavercreek tried to thwart a plan to bring bus lines from the city out to the town, including "mandating that bus shelters included heated and air conditioning as well as high-tech surveillance cameras, features that would be hugely expensive and are not common at other stops," according to a 2013 report in ThinkProgress. The stops were approved in the fall of that year, two years after the "Federal Highway Administration found that adding the criteria denied transportation access to minorities to jobs, education and medical treatment available in the mall area," according to a report in the Dayton Daily News. Beavercreek faced losing $10.7 million in federal funding it had earmarked for $19 million in road work.

In response to the filing, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer told The Sun, "Ultimately, this so-called complaint has absolutely zero credibility or legal standing, and is essentially nothing more than a press release."

"The Red Line didn't move forward because it was poorly designed and simply unaffordable, with at least a billion-dollar tunnel running through the heart of the city," Mayer said.

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