Tag: Gov. Larry Hogan

Montgomery, Prince George’s officials are relieved by Purple Line decision

Political and business leaders and transit advocates in Maryland’s Washington suburbs mostly exhaled on Thursday after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced he was willing to let a less costly version of the light-rail Purple Line go forward.

But there was worry, too — especially in Prince George’s County, where political leaders expressed concern about Hogan’s demand that their county and neighboring Montgomery pick up a greater share of the project’s costs.

“It’s really too early to tell what all this means for the Purple Line,” said County Council chairman Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro). “We are pleased the governor gave the project the green light. But the conditions imposed create a great deal of uncertainty.”

“We need to know how much exactly is being asked for,” Franklin said. “We have to determine whether both counties can afford it, and it’s hard to know without knowing how much he wants.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker II (D), who earlier this month lost a bitter fight to raise property taxes in order to generate money for public schools, said his county “has already committed an extraordinary amount for a local government” toward the Purple Line.

But he pledged to “thoroughly review” Hogan’s proposal, and to consult with Montgomery officials “to analyze whether this new proposal maintains the spirit of the initial plan.”

In more affluent Montgomery, officials were more sanguine about Hogan’s push for additional local dollars.

“I’m very positive that we can work all of those details out,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). He said the additional money would “almost certainly” come from the county’s capital budget through the sale of general obligation bonds, which would allow the county to spread the financing out over a period of years.

“Could we bond-fund an extra $50 million? Probably,” said Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), vice president of the Montgomery County Council. “We have a very heavy capital program today, but I don’t think it would push us over the brink.”

Floreen said she was happy Hogan had finally made his announcement, after months of deliberations. “It takes a lot of the chest-bashing out of the conversation,” she said. “Now we get down to brass tacks.”

Miti Figueredo, a spokeswoman for the Chevy Chase Land Company, which has led the pro-Purple Line fight for the Montgomery business community, said business leaders have had no conversations with county officials about the possibility of pitching in, just as commercial property owners along part of the Metrorail Silver Line route have done via a special taxing district.

“We’re willing to have conversations about ‘How can we make this happen?’ ” Figueredo said. “I’m confident both counties will step up and make their contributions, because the project is so important to the economies of both counties.”

The Chevy Chase Land Company owns land at what will be a future Purple Line station on Connecticut Avenue, in Chevy Chase Lake.

Many of those who had feared Hogan would cancel the project altogether said there was time to worry about the specifics later.

“I’m just happy it’s been approved,” said Jim Estepp, president of the Prince George’s Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives, chief financial officers and chief operating officers who run businesses in the county.

“It’s not unusual for these burdens to fall on local jurisdictions. . . . Going forward, people are going to now be looking at the details.”

Although opponents of the rail line, including environmentalists, threatened legal challenges, transit advocates applauded Hogan’s decision.

“We’re thrilled,” said Purple Line Now executive director Christine Scott. “I think what we’ve heard here is that the governor gets it. Jobs and connecting the counties are key, and he understands that, so we’re tickled.”

At the same time, Scott added that she’s anxious to hear how the counties feel about their expected contributions. “I think we need to know more – the extent of what the governor is asking and how much they were prepared for,” she said.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the state should pay more.

“Given that the state and the federal government will often pay 100 percent of a highway project, it would be fairer for the state to put more money into the Purple Line than he’s proposing,” he said.

Montgomery council member Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda), chairman of the council’s transportation and environment committee, said he was confident that Hogan’s ask was “not a showstopper.”

“We can’t lose this project based on the numbers we’re talking about here,” Berliner said.

He also gave a shout-out to Hogan, who had criticized the Purple Line proposal harshly as a candidate but promised to keep an open mind and learn more about it once taking office.

“He came a long way with respect to this project. He really he was not a believer and over time he came to appreciate how important it was to fulfilling his fundamental objective, which is more jobs and a stronger economy.”

Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

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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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