Praise — and concern— for Hogan’s Purple Line plan

Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that the state would move forward with the Purple Line is receiving both praise and criticism.

The Republican governor said Thursday afternoon that the state would move forward with a “more cost-effective” version of the Purple Line, a light-rail project that would connect Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s. His plan: scale back the state’s share of the project to $168 million from the original share of $700 million, and have Montgomery and Prince George’s counties pay more.

Supporters of the project in the two counties where the 16-mile light-rail line is viewed as a potential boost to economic development said they welcomed the governor’s plan to move the project forward but voiced concerns about the proposed changes to lower the costs, which some smart-growth advocates worried could lead to poorer transit service.

Hogan also announced nearly $2 billion in funding for highways and bridges. And in a blow to rail advocates, Hogan killed the $2.9 billion Red Line light-rail project for Baltimore.

[Hogan: Maryland will move forward on Purple Line, with counties’ help]

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a big supporter of the rail project, called Hogan’s plan “business-friendly” Executive director Stewart Schwartz questioned the governor’s investments on road construction:

There is no better transportation and economic development investment for the State of Maryland. This project will knit together job centers, expand access to high quality transit to new places, and provide much needed east-west connections in the dense inner suburbs of some of the most important economic parts of the state.

We are concerned about proposed changes to lower the costs, especially the decision to not build the second staging area for light rail cars, which could lead to poorer service. We are reviewing the proposals and will reach out to the state and local agencies to ensure that Purple Line performance won’t be significantly degraded.

We also are deeply concerned about the Governor’s opposition to the Red Line, especially in light of his decision to increase spending on new highway construction by close to a billion dollars. Marylanders and residents in the Baltimore region deserve better transportation choices than just the same old policies of the past. We will work closely with allies throughout the state to determine positive ways to move forward from this setback.”

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he is “heartened” by the governor’s decision:

I look forward to further discussions with the Governor over every aspect of the Purple Line – cost, design, construction schedule, and the role Montgomery County will be able to play in making the Purple Line a reality.

Enabling people to move around the Washington D.C. Metro area is extremely important to our overall quality of life. It is important for us to continue to invest in new businesses that create jobs and grow our tax base. Montgomery County benefits. Prince George’s County benefits. And, the State of Maryland really benefits.

Montgomery County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), welcomed the announcement, but added the governor’s version of the project presents some challenges:

The proposal to reduce some aspects of the project, and to put more of a financial burden on Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, will create substantial challenges, but every aspect of working toward the creation of the Purple Line has had its share of challenges, and in every case, we have found solutions. We will put some more creative thought and energy into this challenge, and we will again find solutions. When a project is this important to future generations of your residents, that is what must be done.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Lon Anderson applauded Hogan’s move to proceed with the project, saying it could bring relief to the Washington metro region, one of the most congested areas in the nation.

In Maryland and in the Washington, D.C. metro area, we have been very hypocritical about funding mass transit, so this is an opportunity to make a significant transportation upgrade and put more money where our collective mouths have been. Budget is the truest expression of policy. The Purple Line will redound to the benefit of suburban Marylanders and to the residents, commuters and businesses in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. Transportation, including mass transit, is the backbone of the economic well-being of our nation, state, and region.”

For those of us who seek and support sustainable transportation solutions, that includes mass transit, moving ahead with the Purple Line project is a great victory for a region bedeviled by the worst congestion in the entire nation.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, officials reacted with disappointment to Hogan’s decision to table the Red Line, a light rail project in Baltimore City. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) said she was “disheartened”:

“I am disheartened that Governor Hogan has chosen to ignore the needs of Baltimore City residents by cancelling current plans for the Red Line. Although the Governor has promised to support economic growth in Baltimore, he cancelled a project that would have expanded economic development, created thousands of jobs, increased access to thousands more, and offered residents better health care, childcare, and educational opportunities. I remain committed to working with my partners in government, the business community, and all our community partners to fight for transit opportunities for Baltimore’s residents.”

Baltimoreans also took to Twitter to blast Hogan for killing the Red Line. Hogan’s people tweeted a map showing how his transportation project would help every county in Maryland. The map, Baltimoreans noted, did not include Charm City. The Hogan tweet was apparently deleted, but images continued to circulate online Thursday evening.

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