Purple Line, Two Other Transit Projects Delayed

"Ridership numbers were wrong, and people were reluctant to face up to that," Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Maryland officials said yesterday that three major transit projects, two of them aimed at using light rail or express buses to ease traffic in the Washington suburbs, will likely be delayed about a year because of a flawed study that underestimated the number of riders.

State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said Metro's proposed Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, a transit link between Shady Grove and Clarksburg and the Red Line in Baltimore have been shelved while Maryland and its consultants work on new projections.

Porcari said that the state had planned to hold public hearings on draft environmental studies of the projects this spring but that they will likely be pushed to 2008. "Ridership numbers were wrong, and people were reluctant to face up to that," Porcari said. "I am not at all happy about this."

No money has yet been designated to build any of the projects. With $30 million allocated to study the Purple Line and $10 million for the Shady Grove project, known as the Corridor Cities Transitway, officials had hoped to start construction in 2010 or 2011.

Porcari, who became transportation secretary in January, said Maryland Transit Administration staff members have "known since last June that they were running behind schedule."

He said he only recently became aware of the projections in the study, which could affect the amount of federal money the projects received.

Simon Taylor, director of planning for the Maryland Transit Administration, said the state is trying to leverage as much as it can from the federal government.

"It's not about wrong information; it's ensuring that we have the best information," said Taylor, who also served under then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). "We know that we can make this a better model and a more competitive model."

Taylor said other metropolitan areas, including Charlotte and Las Vegas, are refining the data for their transit projects. Activists said they were not surprised to hear about the delay.

"The process was already slowing down; the Ehrlich administration was dragging its feet," said Hans Riemer, president of Montgomery County's Action Committee for Transit.

Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Montgomery) said that it was disheartening to know the two local projects are being delayed but that he's hopeful the additional time will work to their advantage.

"If it means we will get more accurate figures on these two important projects, which may help us to leverage more federal transit dollars, than maybe it's something we can live with," Bronrott said.

The Purple Line, a light rail or express bus line, would run 14 miles between Bethesda and New Carrollton, with stops in Silver Spring and College Park. The Corridor Cities Transitway would add light rail or rapid bus services along Interstate 270 between the Shady Grove Metro station and just south of Clarksburg.

"While I'm disappointed, I want them to get it right," said Montgomery County Council President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County). "We want to compete [for the federal dollars]. . . . We've got to make sure that when we go forward . . . there are no glitches."

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