Maryland to update public on Purple Line progress


Map shows proposed route of the proposed line, which would be built if there were enough money. (Gene Thorp/The Washington Post)

The Purple Line has been out of the news for a while, so here’s a refresher: The Purple Line is a purple line on planners’ maps of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties that gets argued about from time to time because it could someday be a transitway.

“Line” might be too strong a term. For the past two years, it’s been more like a centipede, consisting of joined segments that neighborhoods fight over: Where exactly will the station be? How would the tracks affect this part of the hiker/biker trail? Where exactly would the maintenance yard be? What properties are in the way of the project?

Since the decision was made in 2009 on the preferred route and mode of transportation — light rail — the project staff has been working with individual communities along the way to resolve such issues.

In February, The Washington Post’s Katherine Shaver wrote: “To win federal money, the Maryland Transit Administration must prove that the state can pay its half of the 16-mile line’s construction costs, now estimated at $2.15 billion. Maryland transit officials have said the state can’t afford that without additional tax revenue to fund highway and transit construction.

The outlook for the transit lines brightened when the Maryland General Assembly approved an increase in the gas tax. Afterward, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown went to visit John D. Porcari, the former Maryland transportation secretary who now is the deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation to talk about the projects.

Meanwhile, Maryland is seeking ideas from private companies about potential public-private partnerships to help finance the Purple and Red lines.

While financing prospects are better, neither transit project is locked in. The state’s cost estimate for the Purple Line is $2.15 billion. It’s $2.57 billion for the Red Line [in Baltimore]. That’s a lot of billions.

The gas tax increase is supposed to raise $4.4 billion of new transportation projects over the next six years. Other regions in Maryland — where people are going to pay as much in gas taxes as they do in the D.C. and Baltimore regions — are going to want a piece of that action.

Even within the D.C. region, there are plenty of other pressing transportation needs. We’ve talked a lot lately about the extreme traffic congestion at the American Legion Bridge, the west side of the Capital Beltway and along Interstate 270 through the Rockville area. There are plenty of worthy projects that are much smaller, such as rebuilding the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road.

So far, we’ve got a good idea of what the overall needs are and of how much money can be raised through the tax increase, but we don’t have a similarly clear view of how money will be distributed to meet those needs.

Maybe we could ask the state’s transportation secretary. But then, Maryland would need to have a transportation secretary. The position has been vacant since Beverley Swaim-Staley left in July.

I hope transportation decisions will be based on transportation needs, and not on the needs of 2014 gubernatorial candidates to line up votes in the D.C. and Baltimore regions.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Transit Administration has scheduled five open houses to discuss Purple Line progress. Here’s the schedule:

  • Tuesday, 5 to 8 p.m., Silver Spring Civic Center, 1 Veterans Pl., Silver Spring.
  • Thursday, 5 to 8 p.m., Riverdale Elementary School, 5006 Riverdale Rd., Riverdale.
  • Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Langley Park Community Center, 1500 Merrimac Dr., Hyattsville.
  • May 14, 5 to 8 p.m., Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, 4301 East-West Highway, Bethesda.
  • May 15, 5 to 8 p.m., Woodridge Elementary School, 5001 Flintridge Dr., Hyattsville.
Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Dana Hedgpeth | May 7, 2013