The lives of carless single Black mothers who needed to get children to school and themselves to work were made incredibly difficult by a maddeningly slow MTA bus system in which a 20-minute car commute would stretch to 90 minutes on the bus. With the Red Line canceled, they lost the opportunity for nearly halving their commute times, for gaining a projected 10,000 new jobs in Baltimore that Black residents might apply for, and for spurring renewal and transit-oriented development in chronically disinvested Black neighborhoods. Lost, too, was the possibility of reducing air pollution for the city with the poorest air quality and highest rates of pediatric asthma in the state.
The Obama administration’s Department of Transportation opened an investigation on the assertions that appear in the Legal Defense Fund’s complaint and a similar one filed by Baltimore transit activists. But the Trump administration closed the investigation without making any findings. In lieu of an investigation of the joined complaints, it said it would conduct a comprehensive review of Maryland’s transportation programs for compliance with Title VI.
The Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic sought to find out whether the Transportation Department followed through with that investigation. In January of this year, the Clinic filed freedom of information statutory requests with both the Maryland Department of Transportation and the federal Transportation Department. The Trump administration has yet to release any material in response to the Freedom of Information Act request, citing the Covid-19 pandemic for the delay, but this spring, MDOT disclosed a trove of documents and emails that my dedicated research assistant and I recently perused.
Most telling were email communications between U.S. and Maryland officials in 2018. Federal officials had opened a “Corrective Action” and informed MDOT that it had to conduct a comprehensive Title VI analysis of its transportation spending. They rejected MDOT’s initial response, saying it had “simply provided a conclusion that disparate impacts did not exist,” which was insufficient evidence of compliance with Title VI. MDOT tried again; in a subsequent email it claimed that there was no disparate impact violation because “large amounts of both State and federal funded investments in transit and other transportation modes closely correlated with the Census tracts with higher minority population.”
In its answer, MDOT did not quantify what these “large amounts” were, for what projects or which minority communities allegedly benefited. It referred to funding formulas and maps provided in its previous, rejected explanation and offered a link to a previously published 565-page consolidated report that catalogued where transportation funds were allocated in given years. Those reports do not mention race at all. They were not designed to, and did not, assess racial equity.
Perhaps it is true, as MDOT claimed in its emails, that “minority” census tracts were near road projects in outlying areas and ostensibly benefited from those road investments and that the Washington and Baltimore regions, where many “minorities” live, received “large amounts” of transportation funds. It is also possible the alleged “large amounts” do not make up the difference from the cancellation of the Red Line. But we don’t know, because the Trump administration officials accepted MDOT’s answer at face value and closed the corrective action without any explanation of its reasoning.
In other words, the Trump and Hogan administrations never gave a considered response to the Title VI petitioners’ core claim: that in canceling the Red Line and reallocating its funds to other projects, Hogan and Maryland favored white areas to the detriment of Black citizens. The citizens and communities that toiled for more than a decade planning the Red Line, building trust and a multiracial coalition for renewal, deserved a published, reasoned answer that could be reviewed by a federal court to determine if the agency’s logic was arbitrary or evaded the demands of Title VI. There was no opportunity, in short, for any public accountability.
Two years after rescinding the Red Line, Hogan did offer Baltimore a consolation project, $135 million for BaltimoreLink, an ostensibly revamped bus system. It was hardly a substitute, though, for the $2.9 billion unified rail system that was first envisioned in 1965. Though Hogan claimed the new bus system would be “transformative,” angry riders complained that commutes worsened as bus lines were eliminated.