Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday the Purple Line will advance, but the two local counties that stand to benefit from the light rail line will be asked to shoulder a much larger burden.
The alignment of the 16-mile Purple Line will not change, nor will the number of stations. But Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Hogan said, will have to take on a greater percentage of the estimated $2.5 billion-plus price tag. The federal government, he said, must come through with its anticipated $900 million infusion. And tweaks to the project, such as extending the headway between trains from 6 to 7.5 minutes, will further drive down the cost.
Maryland officials say those changes, if accepted, will drive down the state’s investment from more than $700 million to less than $300 million.
“I look forward to further discussions with the Governor over ever
y 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,” Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said in a statement. “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.”
In the same vein, Baker thanked Hogan for recognizing the “positive impact this project could have on the region and the State of Maryland,” while simultaneously not committing to the new terms.
“Prince George’s County has already committed an extraordinary amount for local governments to contribute toward a state project,” Baker said in a statement. “I will thoroughly review this proposal along with my budget, finance, economic development and transportation advisors to assess what this means for Prince George’s County. In addition, we will work in concert with Montgomery County to analyze whether this new proposal maintains the spirit of the initial plan for the Purple Line and will lead to the outcomes and benefits we have been talking about for years.”
Long a Purple Line skeptic given the anticipated cost, Hogan’s decision to build what supporters deem a critical economic development and smart growth initiative came as something of a surprise, as the governor kicked off his press conference with a new commitment to invest $2 billion roads and bridges — deferred maintenance and new construction.
The list includes $200 million for a new I-495/I-95 interchange at Greenbelt — a project that’s needed to bring the FBI headquarters there — as well as $100 million for congestion reduction efforts on Interstate 270 and $190 million to widen Route 404 on the Eastern Shore from two to four lanes.
“We’re going to touch the daily lives of citizens across our state,” Hogan said.
Maryland must invest in projects that will help the greatest number of people, the governor said, adding he is not opposed to public transportation, only “wasteful boondoggles.” Driving the Purple Line’s cost down was mandatory, he said, but the project itself will be an “economic driver for Maryland.”
“I’ve always said this decision was never about whether public transportation is worthwhile, but about whether it is affordable and makes economic sense,” he said.
Running between Bethesda and New Carrollton, the preferred east-west Purple Line alignment includes 21 stations with stops in Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley Park and College Park. It will serve an estimated 69,000 daily riders by 2040, create thousands of construction jobs and provide easier access and connections between various Metro’s Green and Red lines, MARC and Amtrak.
“I welcome Governor @LarryHogan’s decision to proceed with the #PurpleLine. It is a needed project to improve mobility & the economy,” Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal tweeted shortly after the announcement.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has not yet publicly responded to the governor’s announcement, though he is expected to later Thursday. Neither county executive was in Annapolis for the governor’s press conference. And while both have shown unwavering support for the Purple Line, their respective counties are not swimming in extra revenue to throw its way.
Proponents of the transit line say they are concerned about changes to it, including the headway reduction and the decision to not build a second staging area for light rail cars. Still, said the Silver Spring-based Action Committee for Transit, Hogan’s choice is “good news for Marylanders who want more jobs, more travel options and better communities.”
“There is no better transportation and economic development investment for the state of Maryland,” added Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a statement. “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.”
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