Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) neither praised nor buried the Purple Line in his Friday speech to Montgomery County business and political leaders, which focused on the state’s fiscal troubles and a plea for bipartisan cooperation. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who met with Hogan on Thursday, described him as “noncommittal.”
But it seemed pretty clear in his comments to columnist Robert McCartney in Sunday’s Washington Post that Hogan is prepared to bury the 16-mile, $2.4 billion light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, by either delaying it or killing it outright.
“My priority is building roads,” he told McCartney when asked about Purple Line and more money for Metro.
“The priorities are out of whack,” he said. “Less than 10 percent of the people use mass transit. Most people in the state want the roads to be fixed.”
Hogan also said that much of his focus will be elsewhere in Maryland: “We are going to probably pay attention to Western Maryland and Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, where they’ve felt completely left out,” Hogan said.
Purple Line supporters cringed when they read Hogan’s remarks. But they still believe they have compelling economic arguments for the project, including the fostering of development near planned stations and connecting researchers and students at the University of Maryland with jobs in Silver Spring and Bethesda.
“Larry Hogan is the governor of Maryland. He has a strong stake in keeping Maryland moving,” said Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At-Large). “If he retreats [from the Purple Line], he’s going to have to own that for years.” Riemer added that the state would be walking away from nearly $1 billion in federal funding recommended by the Federal Transit Administration.
“There isn’t a billion dollars of federal money waiting for a different project,” Riemer said.
For the project’s opponents, Hogan’s remarks were enouraging.
“It certainly gives us hope,” said Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail. The group has opposed the proposed route because a three-mile segment would run along the trail.
“If he cancels the project, it’s a fight we no longer have to have,” Bhatt said.
A group of Montgomery and Prince George’s developers and business groups organized by the Chevy Chase Land Co — calling itself the Economic Partners of the Purple Line -- is working on a letter to Hogan warning of the “drastic consequences” of delaying or killing the project at this late stage. They include the loss of $170 million in state funds already spent on engineering and right-of-way acquisition, and additional tens of millions spent by private sector finalists competing for a spot in the public-private partnership that is expected to build and operate the system.
Appealing to his background as a real estate broker, the letter says: “As you know, success in real estate requires long-term strategic thinking. Accordingly, many of our companies have made significant investments and business decisions in reliance on the expectation that the Purple Line would be built after so many years of intensive, detailed study.”
The letter, a draft of which was obtained by The Post, also says: “Halting this project at the eleventh hour would further undermine business confidence in Maryland — and we know this is exactly the opposite of your intention.”