Why Not Monorail?

There was much consternation when the recommendations came out last year for the construction of the Baltimore Red Line. The line of course would be new 14-mile light rail line being constructed from Woodlawn across the city all of the way to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus. The main portion of the line that drew the most opposition was the proposed surfacing of the Red Line on Boston Street in Canton, starting with the American Can Company building. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this is such a problem; the plan would put two surface lines on a heavily trafficked entryway into the city. Many large trucks that go into Fells Point, Harbor East, and downtown have to use Boston Street as their entryway into the city, for example. And that says nothing of the disruptive effects on the Canton and Highlandtown communities from the surface line, leading to efforts to oppose the Red Line in those communities.

But the Red Line plan has other problems associated with it as well. Even the concept of tunneling major sections of the line will cause a number of disruptions at an enormous cost to taxpayers.

And that leads me to ask one simple question; why not build the Red Line using Monorail?

Monorail tends to be thought of as a more exotic method of transportation that is associated with tourism moreso than transportation. Many people are familiar with the Monorail at Disney World or the one in Seattle that are short lines that do not serve a public transit purpose. Monorail is being used, however, in places such as Las Vegas to provide a relatively short public transit capability for these areas.

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But would Monorail have be a practical solution for the Red Line? Perhaps. Using Monorail would not require neither expensive tunneling, nor would it require disruption of traffic on city streets. The idea of an elevated monorail that is elevated above the streets would be no worse of an eyesore than tracks going down the center of the street, and would certainly be less of an eyesore than the elevated Metrorail tracks in Owings Mills. Nor would the creation of a monorail system create delays at at-grade intersections. Intermodal connections between the existing “Blue Line” (Cromwell-Timonium Light Rail) , “Green Line” (Baltimore Metro), bus lines and MARC Trains would be no more onerous and inconvenient than the current Red Line proposal,

Is Monorail a cost-effective alternative? Perhaps, particularly when you consider that the cost of building a monorail system is would be anywhere between $14 million and $93 million a mile depending on the system, and the Red Line project as currently envisioned will cost roughly $114 million a mile. Monorail systems (believe it or not) can also be leased from the providing companies as a more cost effective way of implementing the system. The state could also (as part of my quest for privatization) consider leasing the operating rights for a monorail system to a private vendor, requiring that the Vendor construct and then operate the system at particular price.

Is Monorail the silver bullet to solving problems with the Red Line? Probably not. There are trade-offs as well as benefits to the construction of any of these public transit projects. But certainly, we owe it to ourselves as taxpayers to ask state leaders to consider all alternatives to the current Red Line project. The prohibitive costs and the disruption to communities and traffic flow (particularly in Canton) demand the consideration of alternatives that alleviate these concerns.


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