Md. Governor Endorses Light Rail or Rapid Bus for Purple Line

Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration is seeking federal funding for both a Purple Line in the Washington suburbs and a Red Line in Baltimore.
Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration is seeking federal funding for both a Purple Line in the Washington suburbs and a Red Line in Baltimore. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
By Lisa Rein and James Hohmann
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Gov. Martin O'Malley endorsed a light-rail line over a rapid bus system Tuesday as he announced that Maryland will pursue federal transit money to build a Purple Line linking Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

"What we're presenting today is rightfully called the locally preferred alternative," O'Malley (D) said at the New Carrollton Metro station, part of a rail hub that would serve as the eastern terminus for the 16-mile, $1.68 billion Purple Line.

The governor said his administration will also apply for funding for a 14-mile, $1.63 billion Red Line through Baltimore, which would run between the Woodlawn area of Baltimore County, west of the city, and the Johns Hopkins Bayview medical campus in east Baltimore and connect existing transit lines. From New Carrollton, O'Malley set out for Baltimore by rail to announce the Red Line decision there.

The two projects have been in the planning stages for years, and Maryland's decision to seek scarce federal funding for both has caused some concern that the chances of each will suffer because of the other.

During the New Carrollton event, about 100 local and state officials and other supporters stood at O'Malley's side, many wearing purple shirts and ties and waving purple signs. O'Malley called the proposed Purple Line alignment "the product of a consensus through disagreement."

A rapid bus line would cost a third as much as light rail and would steer clear of a popular walking and bike path between Bethesda and Silver Spring, but light rail emerged as a better option because it's more cost-effective and rider-friendly, O'Malley said.

Today's light rail cars -- streetcars powered by overhead electrical wires -- are also less noisy and more "pleasing to the eye" than were previous generations, he said. "This is not your grandfather's light rail," O'Malley said,

The Purple Line would do much to "determine the future character of our state," O'Malley said before boarding a MARC commuter train for the West Baltimore Station.

If the Purple Line receives federal funding, construction could start in 2013, according to the most optimistic estimates, and by 2016, trains could be carrying riders between the Maryland suburbs without having to pass through the heart of the District.

The Purple Line would be operated by the Maryland Transit Administration, not Metro, but it would be the first major east-west transit route to directly connect Maryland spokes of the Metrorail system. By 2030, an estimated 64,800 daily trips would be made on the line, according to officials.

The 20-year effort to move commuters between New Carrollton and downtown Bethesda reached Tuesday's milestone mired in controversy. The light rail route has fierce opponents who say they will continue to fight the designated route as the project wends its way through a lengthy vetting by the Federal Transit Administration.

The system, with 21 surface stations, would run largely on local streets in densely developed neighborhoods, such as those east of Silver Spring, because construction underground would be too costly and disruptive, planners say.

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