Montgomery and Prince George’s county officials expressed alarm Wednesday about the possibility that Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) would cancel construction of a light-rail Purple Line and vowed to fight for a project they consider key to the region’s economic future.
During a post-election news conference Wednesday, Hogan deflected questions about the Purple Line and other policy issues, saying only, “We’re going to be talking about that during the transition.”
But Hogan’s statements during the campaign have Purple Line supporters and county officials nervous. Hogan said that a Purple Line would be too expensive and that he would devote money to improving roads rather than expanding mass transit.
Maryland’s gubernatorial transition comes at a critical time for the $2.45 billion project. The state is scheduled to award a contract to a team of private companies next spring to design, build, operate and help finance it. The Obama administration has included $100 million for the Purple Line in its latest budget request, and the Federal Transit Administration has recommended it for highly competitive federal construction aid.
If Hogan pulls the plug, a rail project that has been 13 years in planning could languish until local, state and federal political support aligns again.
“It would be catastrophic if he tried to derail it now,” said Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large).
Purple Line supporters said they hope Hogan, who ran on improving Maryland’s business climate, will hear from the Prince George’s and Montgomery business communities, which are pushing for the project.
“Mr. Hogan’s message had a lot to do with economic competitiveness,” said Montgomery County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large). “The primary issue for our economic competitiveness is that our residents are stuck in traffic.”
David S. Iannucci, a senior economic development adviser to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), said he “looks forward” to meeting with Hogan to tell him that “the Purple Line is key to job growth, economic development and community revitalization.”
Maryland transportation officials said the state has spent $169.3 million on planning and engineering the Purple Line since Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) revived the project in 2006. In addition, the state has spent $3.7 million to buy right-of-way for the line. Some homeowners and businesses in the planned path between Bethesda and New Carrollton also have begun making plans to move.
State officials have said they planned to begin construction by late 2015 and open the line to service in 2020.
If Hogan cancels the project, the state might have to pay back $3 million in federal transit money that has been spent, state officials said.
Purple Line supporters also bemoaned the fact that Republican control of the U.S. Senate will result in Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) losing her chairmanship of her chamber’s Appropriations Committee, a key position for securing federal transit funding.
Of course, not everyone is upset about the possibility of the project stalling.
John Bickerman, a member of the Chevy Chase Town Council, said Hogan’s victory showed that voters repudiated the recent gas-tax increase pushed by his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. The tax revenue would be used, in part, to pay for construction of a Purple Line. The town has hired a law firm to fight the project.
Bickerman, a Democrat who said he generally supports mass transit, said the plan is too expensive.
“I think with Hogan’s election, the Purple Line just got a huge red light,” Bickerman said. “This will set it back four years, if not stop it altogether.”
Hogan has waffled on his Purple Line stance. In mid-September, the Baltimore Sun quoted him as saying he would cancel both the Purple Line and a planned $2.9-billion Red Line in Baltimore.
In early October, Hogan told WBAL radio that he was “not really opposed to either project” and that both were “worth considering.”
In late October, a Hogan campaign spokeswoman told the Post that Maryland couldn’t afford to build the transit projects and that Hogan would instead fund road projects, including improving the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.