As county residents and officials continue to support fully funding the Purple Line, they can only speculate on cost reductions Gov. Larry Hogan’s “mid-May” decision could bring.
After a meeting last week between county officials and Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn, multiple outlets reported Rahn had a way to reduce Purple Line costs by 10 percent. However, Maryland Department of Transportation spokesperson Erin Henson said no numbers are final until they are presented to the governor.
“None of those numbers are solid at this point. We are still working on what cost savings could happen,” Henson said. “It would be most accurate to say that we are still working on what we can save and whether that will deliver what we need in cost savings to make that affordable.”
Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal (D-At large) said the meeting did not talk about specific parts of the project the state might cut to save money.
“They’re not ready to go public with those yet. So, I would imagine, based on the issues I’ve been hearing about, things like noise walls may not occur. Public art at stations, which I had been kind of excited about, that might not occur. Those are two things that I would anticipate might be dropped, but we just don’t know yet,” Leventhal said.
Leventhal added that he was not optimistic after the meeting that Hogan would approve the funding. Hogan asked for a cost reevaluation in January, according to Henson, and said during his campaign the money would be better spent on road and other infrastructure improvements. The $2.45 billion light-rail project has already been recommended for $900 million in funding at the federal level.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also commissioned an update to a 2010 study on the economic benefits of the Purple Line, which showed 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. Leventhal said he is not sure what else the county can do to show Hogan the project is the right investment.
“It’s just so vividly clear to me, as I’ve said here many times, that if Maryland is open for business and if we’re trying to attract jobs and investment, the nearest term decision we can make in that direction is to build the Purple Line,” Leventhal said.
Some also worry the focus on cost reductions could mean fewer mitigation efforts for neighborhoods. Chris Richardson, a Silver Spring resident, has started a petition with about 600 signatures as of Tuesday night to ensure the neighborhoods along the Purple Line route are treated equally.
Richardson cited examples like a lack of noise mitigation budget for the Silver Spring area and also worries along with parents in the area that the stop by Dale Drive and Wayne Avenue needs a pedestrian over/underpass and that the street should be kept narrow. The intersection sits right by the shared campus of Sligo Creek Elementary School and Silver Spring International Middle School.
Council member Tom Hucker (D-5) said he thinks the station makes sense, but he has advocated for more money on pedestrian safety measures in the area. He also pointed to recent successes of getting an elevator at the Lyttonsville Station and improvements to the eventual Capital Crescent Trail terminus in Silver Spring.
“But the main thing is to get the governor to go forward,” Hucker said. “We need to make sure that once the decision is made we continue to sweat the details on the implementation of it.”
Leventhal said he does not yet know enough about the cost reductions Hogan could propose.
“I don’t know whether or not to be concerned,” Leventhal said. “Look, if he approves the project, then I will assume that it’s being approved in a manner that enables a good project that will achieve our ridership targets.”
And not all in Silver Spring agree with Richardson’s contention that spending is unequal throughout the route. Dan Reed, a Silver Spring blogger and member of the Action Committee for Transit, said some of the east-west comparisons are “apples and oranges.”
For instance, he said the pedestrian bridge over Connecticut Avenue makes sense because it is a much busier road than Wayne in Silver Spring.
“It would be very unfortunate if we were to undo years of hard work and existing investment, money the state and county already put in this project, over a few small changes,” Reed said. “I’m hopeful none of the proposals would do anything that would unnecessarily harm the effectiveness of the Purple Line or the state’s ability to address neighborhood concerns.”
Michael Sykes contributed to this report.