Will the Purple Line Be Built?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Project Derailed

Last month Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich fired me, his appointee on the Metro transit authority board. Now that he has released me of my free-speech restraints, I can offer my thoughts about The Post's July 7 editorial regarding the proposed Purple Line.

The Ehrlich administration has been stringing this project out for all it's worth. It is leading a prolonged attempt to obfuscate, alter, study and delay the project so as not to face up to the fact that, without a tax increase, the project is underfunded. All money available is going to the intercounty connector and, indeed, even future federal money has been bonded for that project.

During my recent tenure at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, I met with several parties and engineers regarding a plan to close the Red Line loop between Silver Spring and Medical Center without involving the Georgetown Branch. The concept involves structuring the financing in a way similar to that of the New York Avenue station -- the costs would be split among the federal government, the state and developers with land interests in the area. I met with developers and financial interests who were very interested in the concept. But the ICC commitment has left the state without capital for such projects well beyond the Ehrlich administration, even if it has a second term.

Maryland's transportation needs are overwhelming and grossly underfunded. One can argue about the state's spending habits and means of revenue collection for the general fund. However, on transit issues the transportation trust fund is largely funded by the gasoline tax. It has not been adjusted in more than a decade. The recent run-up in gas prices has demonstrated the ability of the market to absorb a considerable increase in the price of gasoline. If the state wants to get serious about transportation, there needs to be strong leadership to produce the required revenue.

At this point, a 10-cent increase in the gas tax would easily be lost in the next fluctuation of the price of oil. Without such an increase there will eventually be few transportation alternatives worth riding.

-- Robert J. Smith


It's Right on Track

The Post's July 7 editorial "Going Purple" rested on the assertion that the Bi-County Transitway project (informally known as the Purple Line), an east-west transit line connecting New Carrollton to Bethesda, is stalled due to a lack of political will and local opposition to operation of a rail line on the old Georgetown Branch, now a portion of the Capital Crescent Trail. But the facts demonstrate Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s strong commitment not only to building this project but also to solving many associated community impact issues.

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