GLENRIDGE – The Purple Line has literally been decades in the making, and on Monday, shovels finally went into the ground.
Leaders at the federal, state and local level converged in Glenridge, the future home of a Purple Line station and the line’s operations center, for a ceremonial signing of a funding agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Immediately following the signing, officials held a symbolic groundbreaking and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan began demolition of a warehouse on the property, signaling the start of construction in earnest.
“Now that we have finally cleared this last, final hurdle, immediately after this ceremonial signing of the funding agreement, we will actually begin construction of the Purple Line. Today. Right here,” Hogan said. “This multi-billion dollar infrastructure project is a big win for the state of Maryland.”
Hogan was joined by County Executives Rushern Baker, III of Prince George’s County and Ike Leggett of Montgomery County, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Anthony Brown, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and other dignitaries to celebrate the milestone. Each gave praise to the others for the group effort involved in moving the 16-mile light rail project across the starting line.
“We made it,” Van Hollen said. “It’s been like a long-distance relay run, with one administration after the other passing the baton to the next at the local level, the state level, the federal level, always fueled by citizens who were pushing to make sure that we did the right thing for the region.”
The Purple Line will connect New Carrollton and Bethesda Metro stations, with 21 stops in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, including five on or near the University of Maryland campus. The project is Maryland’s first time using a public-private partnership (P3) for such a large contract – totaling $5.6 billion – and one that Chao says should serve as an example for the nation.
“P3s are widely used throughout the world to fund innovative transformational infrastructure projects. Public-private partnerships are relatively new in the United States, but they hold great potential to help rebuild and revitalize our aging infrastructure,” she said. “The Maryland project has favorable characteristics that more projects in the country should emulate. And a key one is that state and local governments also have some skin in the game.”
The federal government is contributing $900 million, with the state paying $160 million (plus yearly operations subsidies totaling $149 million) and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties pitching in a total of $330 million. The private partner, Purple Line Transit Partners, is funding $1 billion of construction costs.
Hogan was initially against the Purple Line, but changed his mind when new plans were drawn up that lowered costs to the state by $550 million through design and operations changes and increased contributions by the counties.
The Purple Line will create 6,000 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs, Van Hollen said. And proponents of the line say the benefits extend beyond just this region.
“We did it not just to benefit Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. Because what County Executive Leggett (also) knows is that this project is about the state,” Baker said. “We’re very proud in Prince George’s County that we’re creating jobs, but we’re even prouder that this will not only get people off the roads, will help with the environment, it also will create job opportunities throughout this great state. And that expands our economy here. So this is a great day for all Marylanders.”
Baker acknowledged the benefits would be seen in this county first, with the groundbreaking held here. He made that a condition of pledging additional county funds to the project last year.
“Starting it here is just symbolic. We’ve never had a Metro system start in the county. We’re the only place that hasn’t had that,” he said. “It will take place here, which means the jobs will happen first in Prince George’s County and be a boon throughout.”
Although a large crowd gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking, not everyone in the region is behind the project. Opponents say dedicated bus lanes would be a better use of transit resources and question the structure of the public-private partnership contract. A group of citizens is pursuing a lawsuit against the Federal Transit Administration over the project, and a federal judge halted construction in that case. The state and federal governments are currently appealing, and the groundbreaking indicates they are confident in winning that appeal. Brown also said such legal challenges are not uncommon with massive projects like the Purple Line.
“The repeated, customary attempts to derail a project like this – it is par for the course and it’s expected. And that’s what make the project great,” he said.
Chao said in her mind, what makes the project great is the collaboration between all levels of government and the private sector to make the funding for the Purple Line a reality.
“Today we’re kicking off another example of what Americans can do when we work together. I am so excited,” she said. “The Purple Line is a great example of what can be accomplished when the federal, state, local and private partners work together. This is a truly collaborative effort, and Maryland should be very proud of the work that they did to secure the funding.”