Purple Line rendering from MTA.
Maryland will find a private partner to build and operate the Purple Line. The state will also provide over $1 billion in funds for a set of projects that also includes the Corridor Cities Transitway, improved bus service in Montgomery County, and several road projects.
Governor Martin O’Malley announced the funding and partnership plans today at an event with state and local officials at the Bethesda Metro station. “We made the better choices to invest in the future of Maryland’s transportation network, allowing us to create more than 57,200 jobs for our hardworking families and rebuild our state’s infrastructure,” he said.
The Purple Line, which has been proposed in various forms since the 1980s, is now one step closer to becoming a reality. Maryland Transit Administration officials estimate that the 16-mile light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton would carry over 74,000 people a day in 2040. If the Federal Transit Administration issues a Record of Decision approving the $2.2 billion project this fall, it will be eligible for federal funding.
“For the first time in a generation, we are seeing the results with significant and long overdue transportation infrastructure investments for our priority projects,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
In a public-private partnership, Maryland would share the cost of building the Purple Line with a private company, then pay them an annual fee to operate it. It’s the same arrangement Colorado is using to build 122 miles of new rail transit in the Denver area. Officials also anticipate that the federal government could provide a 40% or $900 million grant, which is common for most federally-funded transit projects, and that local governments might contribute funds as well.
The state has now set aside about $900 million for the Purple Line, including $280 million budgeted earlier this year for design work and buying right-of-way. The funds come from the gas tax increase legislators approved in March.
Maryland will also provide $100 million for the 9-mile first phase of the Corridor Cities Transitway between Shady Grove and Clarksburg, along with $85 million in operating subsidies for Ride On. There’s also $125 million for a new interchange at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road, which will support a new transit-oriented development in Gaithersburg. In May, O’Malley announced funds for other projects throughout the state.
Transit and smart growth groups are nervous about the $38 million earmarked for several road projects, including a bypass around the town of Brookeville, road widenings along Routes 28 and 198, and 2 new interchanges along Route 29 in East County. They say it undermines the state’s environmental goals by encouraging more suburban sprawl. In a letter to O’Malley, representatives from the Action Commitee for Transit, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Sierra Club, and Clean Water Action say the money would be better spent on more transit.
There were also a number of vocal protesters at the event who oppose building the Purple Line along the Georgetown Branch Trail, a former freight rail line between Bethesda and Silver Spring whose right-of-way Montgomery County bought for use as a transitway in 1986. The Town of Chevy Chase and Columbia Country Club, which both abut the trail, have spent years and large amounts of money fighting the project.
During the governor’s announcement, about 20 members of the group Save the Trail waved signs and chanted, and some occasionally argued with Purple Line supporters. A few little kids with Save the Trail shirts and signs told me I could take the bus if I needed to go from Silver Spring to Bethesda. One man wearing a Save the Trail shirt waved a sheet of ridership figures in my face, yelling “No one’s going to ride it!”
But most people were excited about seeing the Purple Line come to fruition. “I live in the neighborhood. I don’t care about your trail. I like public transit,” said Barbara Rice of Bethesda to the man. “All you rich people care about is yourselves.”
After pushing for the Purple Line for decades, supporters finally had some good news to share. “Many of us have been waiting 25 years for this day,” said Ben Ross, vice president of the Action Committee for Transit, smiling.