Creating a Meaningful Community Input Process in Baltimore

Seeking to avoid the mistakes of the past, the city undertook a robust community engagement process when planning the reconstruction of the Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel.

2 minute read

February 14, 2023, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

In an excerpt from Lynn Peterson and Elizabeth Doerr’s Roadways for People: Rethinking Transportation Planning and Engineering republished in Next City, Veronica P. McBeth describes the community engagement process undertaken during the massive project to replace and upgrade the Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel, a 1/4 mile long train tunnel connecting key destinations on the 457-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC).

As McBeth explains, “This transformation — with the tunnel newly renamed the Frederick Douglass Tunnel — will include two new high-capacity tubes for passenger trains; new roadway, railroad bridges, rail systems and tracks; and an upgraded West Baltimore MARC station that will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The new tunnel alignment cuts through the largely Black neighborhood Reservoir Hill, which was previously divided by Interstate 83, displacing many residents and cuting the community off from a major park.

 To prevent similar damage from the new project, McBeth, as transit bureau chief for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, “oversaw an engagement process that included dozens of meetings with residents concerned about the potential impact of the project.

The consultants and rail company leading the project needed to understand the nuances of what had happened with major infrastructure projects in the past. They needed to understand that representation matters from the project team level, and that it is important to meet people where they are, using layman’s terms so everyone can understand the scope of the project.

According to McBeth, the team established trust and relationships with community members throughout the planning phase and beyond and committed $50 million to community improvements in a mitigation agreement.

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