The U.S. Department of Transportation has closed a complaint alleging that Maryland officials discriminated against African Americans when they canceled a long-planned light-rail line in Baltimore in 2015, according to a letter sent to state officials Thursday.
The federal agency will “administratively close the complaint without finding,” according to the letter sent to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn.
Federal officials have been investigating two complaints, which were consolidated into one, alleging that African Americans in Baltimore suffered “disparate impacts” when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) canceled the Red Line project and diverted its funding to road projects in mostly white, rural areas of the state. The 14-mile light-rail line would have served lower-income, African American communities in the city.
The complaints were filed in December 2015 by two African American Baltimore residents and civil rights groups, who alleged that the Red Line’s cancellation was part of a history of racial discrimination in Maryland transportation funding decisions.
Hogan called the Red Line a “wasteful boondoggle” that would have cost far more than its estimated $2.9 billion construction budget.
The letter signed by Charles E. James Sr., director of the U.S. Transportation Department’s civil rights office, did not say why the case was being closed beyond saying it was “the appropriate course of action.”
Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney for one of the complainants, called the letter “extremely disappointing.”
“With the stroke of a pen, this administration just killed the complaint without any finding or explanation at all,” said Quereshi, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “This letter just says we’re going to close the complaint because we can. It’s brazen and disrespectful to the people of Baltimore and insulting to African Americans in Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland.”
James wrote that the agency will continue a broader review of the Maryland Transportation Department’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination in programs that receive federal aid.
Quereshi said such reviews aren’t as thorough as the complaint investigative process and often only require states to show that they have a Title VI plan. Moreover, he said, the complainants will not have any say in the review, as they did in the complaint investigation.
Rahn called the letter “self-explanatory.”
“If there are any issues in the compliance review, USDOT will discuss those with us,” Rahn said in a written statement. “This review will complement our recent comprehensive MDOT-wide Title VI plan we submitted to USDOT this spring.”