ROCKVILLE – Transit advocates are cautiously optimistic that Governor-elect Larry Hogan will allow the Purple Line to begin construction as planned. During the gubernatorial campaign Hogan told voters he may choose not to fund the Purple Line or the Red Line – two multi-billion dollar transit projects – and would instead devote money to road improvement.
The Red Line, an east-west metro line that will serve the Baltimore area, and the Purple Line, a light-rail style transit line that will travel from Bethesda to New Carrollton, would be temporarily shelved if Hogan decided not to fund any new transportation projects.
As governor-elect, Hogan has declined to answer questions about the future of the transit projects like the Purple Line.
“I’m going to be governor on Jan. 21, and we will start talking about policy then,” Hogan said.
Patrick Lacefield, spokesperson for the Montgomery County government, declined to comment on the future of the Purple Line. Other county officials said the Purple Line is crucial to creating jobs, improving infrastructure, and making Montgomery County more competitive with neighboring regions such as northern Virginia.
Purple Line activists said this is a sign that the construction of the line may continue as planned.
“He was asked about his position and he said he needs to go over it. I think if he was absolutely dead set against it, he would have said it. It shows that there is some hope,” said Tina Slater, vice president of the transit activist group Purple Line Now!
This is not the first time the Purple Line has received opposition from the statehouse. In 2003, Governor Robert Ehlrich decided to scrap the Purple Line in favor of a bi-county bus rapid transit line called the “Bi-county Transitway.” When his successor Governor Martin O’Malley took office in 2007, he renamed it the Purple Line and allocated $100 million in state funds for the project. Since 2007, the Maryland Department of Transportation has spent $169.3 million on planning and engineering for the purple line, not including the $3.7 million spent to obtain businesses, land and homes in the way of the proposed line.
Purple Line critics said the construction will negatively impact the environment and neighboring communities. The Town of Chevy Chase government has been fighting against the Purple Line since funding was first announced by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2013. In opposition of the Purple Line, the town has paid more than $200,000 to retain outside legal counsel. The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, a separate advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit in July 2014 against the Federal Transit Administration, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Transportation over the potential environmental impact of the line. If construction begins as scheduled in 2015, 47 acres of the trail will be cleared of construction. Supporters of the trail said if the capital crescent trail is cleared, it will affect the quality of life of nearby residents as well as the wildlife population of the 11-mile trail.
Patricia Burda, vice mayor of the Town of Chevy Chase, said she hopes Hogan’s victory is a good thing.
“The election was an encouraging step in the right direction. Voters chose a platform that does not include $2.5 billion luxury transit projects like the Purple Line, which was a cornerstone of Lt. Gov. Brown’s campaign, but instead prefer a much more fiscally sound approach to governance. We hope to work with Governor-elect Hogan to identify smart, affordable transportation solutions that will actually ease congestion and improve the quality of life for commuters in the region,” Burda said.
Purple Line construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 with completion estimated for 2020. There are currently four private companies bidding to become contractors for the line. The Purple Line is a public-private partnership, or P3 partnership. The private company will be expected to contribute between $500 million and $900 million to the line, the state has allotted $750 million to the project and the federal government has pledged a $900 million grant to the project.