The Purple Line can do with a few less station elevators, shorter platform lengths and no environmentally friendly plant material for track beds at all, according to a list of $210 million in cost reductions identified by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
The list of potential cuts — 43 items in all — was sent to Montgomery and Prince George’s county officials last week and released by Hogan’s office late Monday. It includes one reduction already mentioned by the state: cutting service frequency from six to 7.5 minutes. It also provides more specifics behind the governor’s announcement that the 16-mile light rail project linking Bethesda and New Carrollton would go forward — but only with significant cuts to the projected $2.4 billion price tag.
Hogan’s conditions for greenlighting the project also include a deep reduction in the state’s financial commitment, from $700 million to $168 million, and increased payments from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — possibly as much as another $50 million each. All of it is intended, in the words of Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn, to scale back the Purple Line from a “Cadillac” to a “Chevy.”
But the list does little to clarify the fuzzy arithmetic surrounding Hogan’s conditional approval of the project, which leaves at least $200 million in costs unaccounted for.
Local officials were difficult to reach at the tail end of the long Fourth of July holiday. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) did not return phone calls early Monday evening. But the items are expected to be part of negotiations between the counties and the state over final cost allocations.
Transit activist Ben Ross — a member of the Action Committee for Transit, which supports the Purple Line — said that at first blush the list of reductions does not appear to threaten the basics of the project.
“Some of the stuff we were expecting,” Ross said. “But it doesn’t sound like any of it is affecting functionality,” he said. Ross added that despite Rahn’s analogy, the Purple Line was never a “Cadillac.”
He likened the trims to keeping the same body on a car but taking out a few of the pricier details.
Hogan’s proposal would reduce landscaping at stations where stormwater management is not an issue, trim station art allowances by 50 percent, reduce the amount of glass to be used in station canopies and elevator enclosures, and modify the design of a bridge over Rock Creek. Hogan also proposed converting an exit stairway at the Chevy Chase Lake station from enclosed to open air.
The list also calls for eliminating one of the two elevators planned for each of three stations: Chevy Chase Lake, Silver Spring Transit Center and Manchester Road.
Segments of the 16-mile route where plant material was to be placed between and along the rails would be covered with conventional crushed stone instead, according to Hogan’s list. “Green track” is thought to reduce rail bed temperatures and noise levels.
Hogan also said station platforms can be shorter than the 200-foot length specified in designs — if they are long enough to accommodate trains to be operated by the private concessionaire that will eventually be selected to run the system.