The Red Line Issue No One Is Talking About: Mass Acquisitions of Private Land To Accomplish This Public Project

November 30, 2023
By: Harris W. Eisenstein and Amelia Miller

Roughly a decade ago, then-Governor Larry Hogan nixed plans for a public transit project connecting East and West Baltimore known as the Red Line. Governor Wes Moore revived the Red Line project in June 2023, and in recent months, various media outlets have reported on the Moore Administration’s grand plans for the proposed transit system.

Much of the reporting concerns the three potential Red Line routes. Each proposed route stretches roughly 14 miles, between Johns Hopkins Bayview in the east and Woodlawn in Baltimore County in the west, passing through Canton, Fells Point, the Inner Harbor, Downtown, Edmonson Village, and other prominent Baltimore neighborhoods. The mode of transportation, whether light rail or a network of buses, is as uncertain as the final Red Line path.

However, one aspect of the Red Line project is no mystery: the government will acquire significant private land along the project route by power of eminent domain.

In this regard, the Red Line is like every other public infrastructure project. Those who own land in the Red Line’s path will soon face the harsh reality that the government is coopting their land for public use. In fact, the State has already put some on notice that their property lies on a potential Red Line route and may be condemned in short order. Many others will receive similar news in the months ahead.

Fortunately, this development is not without recourse. The Constitution guarantees that a condemning authority pay “just compensation” when acquiring private property for public use. It follows that whenever the government selects the final Red Line route, it will also commit to pay everyone with an interest in land along the route just compensation. And, stating the obvious, the project will affect land in the Red Line’s path in different ways. For instance, if a tunnel is constructed to support the Red Line, it will displace landowners, businesses, and residents both on the route and adjacent to it.

Here’s the bottom line: if your land is condemned for the Red Line project, you must protect your constitutional rights. The government will make an offer to acquire your land at a price it considers fair, but that offer will likely fall short of market value. It’s also likely the government will overlook various compensable elements of the taking, including permanent modifications to the use of your land, damages to your land post-taking, the rights of tenants, mortgagees, or other parties with interest in the land, and subsurface impacts, to name a few.

The prudent strategy before accepting the government’s acquisition offer is to seek counsel from an experienced eminent domain attorney who can secure the just compensation you deserve. We can help.

Contact Harris Eisenstein with questions or concerns about how your property may be impacted by the Red Line.


Photo from MDOT MTA.