Baltimore rail line plan gets federal environmental approval

A state plan to build a 14-mile light rail Red Line through Baltimore has received federal environmental approval, but Maryland still has no money to build it or a 16-mile light rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs, Maryland officials said Tuesday.

The federal environmental review is part of the Maryland Transit Administration’s multi-year quest to clinch federal construction money for both projects. The Federal Transit Administration’s approval of the Red Line’s environmental analysis — called a record of decision — formally moves the project from the planning and environmental review phase into the design and construction phase.

State officials have said they expect to receive a similar decision on the Purple Line's environmental review this summer.

Money is the next hurdle for both projects.

A Red Line is estimated to cost $2.57 billion to build, while a Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton is estimated to cost $2.15 billion.

State transportation officials have said they will need federal aid to cover half of the construction costs for both projects. However, the state has no money for new road or transit construction after 2017 to cover its share without a new source of transportation revenue.

Without a tax increase this year, state officials have said, design work on both a Red Line and Purple Line will end June 30 . Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) proposed a transportation revenue package Monday, and the General Assembly’s Democratic leaders have endorsed it.

The two projects also could end up competing against each other for both state and federal construction money.

Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.
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