Image from the Maryland Transit Administration.
Maryland governor Larry Hogan’s proposed budget includes funding for the state’s big three transit projects: the Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway. But none of the projects appear to be out of the woods yet.
Hogan’s 2016 budget includes $312.8 million for the Purple Line, “pending review and reevaluation.” Baltimore’s Red Line is slated to receive $106.2 million, also pending review and reevaluation.
That’s the full amount that MDOT needs for both rail projects in the upcoming fiscal year. The pending review is potentially troublesome, but this budget is adequate to keep these projects alive through at least the next step.
For the Purple Line, that will be assessing private sector bids to help with construction costs.
For the $2.4 billion Purple Line, the Maryland Transit Administration had requested between $350 and $750 million from the state, spread out over several years. The rest of the funding for the project will come from $220 million from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, a $900 million contribution from the federal government, and several hundred million dollars from the private sector.
The Red Line has an estimated cost of $2.9 billion. In addition to the proposed state money, there are also funding commitments from local governments, and $900 million from the federal government. It’s not clear yet where the rest of the funding will come from.
Hogan’s budget also includes $18.2 million for engineering work on the Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit line in upper Montgomery County. That’s less than the total of $100 million needed from the state, but it’s possible that it may cover the most immediate costs.
The Corridor Cities Transitway hasn’t been as much of a lightning rod as the two rail lines, so it would be more of a surprise if Hogan targeted it for cuts.
What happens next?
Hogan campaigned on a platform of reducing government spending and building roads instead of transit, so this news is a blessing for transit supporters. But the Purple and Red lines aren’t done deals yet.
For the Purple Line, it’s likely that Hogan is waiting to see the bids for a public-private partnership to build and run the project. Maryland wants the private partner to provide between $500 and $900 million, but if the bid is too low and the state has to provide more money than Hogan’s budgeted, then the Purple Line may be in trouble. The bids are due March 12.
If Hogan does decide to pull the plug on the Purple Line (or the Red Line) before those projects get underway, the amount he’s budgeted in FY 2016 would go unspent, and the MTA budget would likely be lower in future fiscal years as a result.
Hogan’s actions could prompt the state legislature to allow Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to tax themselves to help pay for the Purple Line. However, Montgomery County had already envisioned taxing districts as a way to pay for its proposed bus rapid transit network, and voters may be unwilling to accept a tax increase large enough to pay for two big transit projects at the same time.
The governor’s budget also includes money for maintaining existing transit systems. WMATA would get $238.2 million for its capital improvements program, while the Maryland Transit Administration would receive $101 million for upgrades to Baltimore’s transit system, including refurbished light rail cars, new buses, and a new bus facility.