ANNAPOLIS – Governor Larry Hogan is moving forward with the Purple Line provided that Montgomery and Price George's counties increase their contributions, he announced Thursday.
Hogan declined to reveal the amounts expected from each county, but said those negotiations were ongoing. The total cost of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail project from Bethesda to New Carrollton, would have been $2.45 billion. The cost-saving measures—including train minutes instead of six minutes between trains—will bring the state contribution down from almost $700 million to $168 million, Hogan said.
“Public transportation is important, but it is vital that we invest hard-earned taxpayer dollars into those projects that will help the greatest number of our citizens in our state. We’re not opposed to mass transit, but we do oppose wasteful and irresponsible spending on poorly conceived projects that waste taxpayers’ money,” Hogan said. “I’ve always said that this decision was never about whether public transit was worthwhile but whether it is affordable and makes economic sense ... by reducing this cost we’ve freed up hundreds of millions of dollars for other important projects across Maryland.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III said Hogan’s announcement supporting the Purple Line shows that he recognizes the positive impact the project will have on the region and in the state of Maryland. The line will create more than 23,000 jobs, he said, and reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
As far as Hogan’s conditions, Baker said, the county is reviewing what they could mean for the project’s future and what they will be able to contribute. Originally, both counties were asked to contribute $2.4 million to the project, but the governor is asking for more.
“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,” Baker said. “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.”
Prince George’s County Council Chairman Mel Franklin said it is good that Hogan is showing his support for the Purple Line. However, he said, there is still cause for concern for the county because the state’s commitment to the project is still in question with Hogan’s conditions.
“While we appreciate the Governor’s support for the Purple Line, today’s decision drastically reduces state funding for the project from $700 million to under $200 million, and is contingent upon Federal Government funding and additional funding from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties,” Franklin said. “This causes concern about the state’s commitment and the future of the project.”
Prince George’s County Councilwoman Danielle Glaros agreed with Franklin. It is good to see the state support the Purple Line project, she said, but the drop from a $700 million contribution to just $168 may be cause for concern.
“I am thrilled that Governor Hogan has made the decision to move the Purple Line forward, however, his announcement that the State’s contribution is dropping from $700M to $168M is puzzling. The Purple Line project is crucial for the State of Maryland to connect our knowledge centers, increase jobs, and ensure the state’s economic competitiveness,” Glaros said.
Now that Hogan has decided to move forward, the state will let the four teams bidding on the project know of the new plan. State Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn said he estimated it would be between 120 and 150 days before the state announced its chosen proposal. He could not say how soon construction would begin or when people could begin riding the train.
Under the original proposal, construction was to start this year and finish in 2020. The Purple Line is being built through a public-private partnership, which means a private concessionaire also takes on some of the costs in addition to designing and constructing the project.
Proponents of the Purple Line said they were very happy with the decision despite the cost-saving measures and now await the counties’ decisions on increased contributions to the transit project. Christine Scott, executive director of Purple Line Now, said she is “cautiously optimistic.”
“We’re happy and encouraged by his announcement. We want to see the details; we want to know how the counties are going to react to the increased dollar figure perhaps on their load. But we -- at least I personally -- understand that he got it, he understands the jobs that are coming as a result of the PL, the economic benefit to our region and connecting the two counties most especially,” Scott said.
Lessie Henderson, co-chair of the Prince George’s County Advocates for Community-based Transit (ACT) said that while the purple line is good, the state should have contributed more to the Purple Line project because they are not moving forward with the Baltimore Red Line project.
“To be honest, I do feel like they could’ve contributed more considering that all these conditions were not issued for road expansion and things like that,” she said. “Personally, I feel like they had a friendlier bend toward the roads than they did the transit system.”
With the economic growth of Prince George’s County, Henderson said, the governor needs to make sure that citizens have transit options to get back and forth. Things like the National Harbor, the new MGM Grand Casino and other projects the county has to offer will bring in loads of people to the county, she said. The Purple Line will help them go from destination to destination.
Hogan said some job estimates seemed doubtful to him, but it is nonetheless clear the Purple Line will spur economic development.
The two counties along with the Greater Washington Board of Trade recently commissioned a study to reiterate the economic development and job creation that the Purple Line would spark.The study shows the Purple Line will lead to an extra year’s growth in the economy, 23,033 more permanent jobs, a $12.8 billion increase in property values and a $1.8 billion increase in income per year, according to consultant Alexander Metcalf, who conducted the study.
Montgomery County officials have spoken out in favor of the Purple Line and Council President George Leventhal (D-At large) said in the past that Hogan would be picking a “fight” if he decided to do away with the project altogether. At the June 20 opening of the Silver Spring library, County Executive Ike Leggett said he sent a picture of the future Purple Line stop crowded with people to the governor to show the community’s excitement.
On Monday, Leventhal said he was happy with Hogan’s decision.
“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.”
Hogan also announced $2 billion in improvements to and new construction on roads, highways and bridges throughout the state. The funding, which he said comes from taking back some of the money the previous administration removed from the transportation fund, also includes $845 million in newly funded “top priority projects.”
In Montgomery County, it will involve $100 milion to reduce congestion on I-270 and Prince George’s County will see $200 million to build a full interchange between I-495 and I-95 near Greenbelt for the potential new FBI headquarters.
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