Wednesday, March 5, 2014

purple line gets a boost from president obama's budget

Yesterday, the Purple Line took a big step forward when the federal government recommended giving it a $100 million grant for next year and providing additional funding in the coming years.

Image from the Maryland Transit Administration.

President Obama included the $2.2 billion, 16-mile light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton in his 2015 budget. It's one of 7 transit projects the Federal Transit Administration recommended for a "New Starts" grant, including the Baltimore Red Line, an extension of Los Angeles' Purple Line, Boston's Green Line extension, the Columbia River Crossing in Portland, and commuter rail lines in Orlando and Fort Worth.

The agency also recommended Congress give the Purple Line a "full funding grant agreement" committing it to help pay for construction. Maryland hopes the federal government will provide $900 million, though it's unclear what the final amount will be.

The state has already agreed to put in up to $900 million for the project. Montgomery and Prince George's counties will give $220 million total, while the state is looking for a private partner to build and operate the line and pitch in additional funds.

The Purple Line has been discussed in some form since 1986, and if everything goes right, it could start construction in 2015 and open in 2020. But getting here hasn't been easy.

From the beginning, it faced vehement opposition from the exclusive Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, because the line would follow the Capital Crescent Trail, a former freight rail line that bisected its golf course. Meanwhile, the University of Maryland didn't want it passing through the heart of campus, and even hired former Montgomery County executive Doug Duncan (now running for a fourth term) to oppose it.

Maryland was able to find a workable solution for both parties, and the Purple Line now enjoys the support of both county executives, elected officials in both counties, and hundreds of civic, environmental, business, and advocacy groups.

But there are still a few challenges remaining. One is that Congress actually has to approve President Obama's budget and decide how much the "full funding grant agreement" for the Purple Line would be. The other is the Town of Chevy Chase, which continues to oppose the project because of its impacts on the trail and recently hired a lobbyist who happens to be the brother of the House transportation committee chair to make their case.

Meanwhile, other residents may sue the government because they feel not enough research has been done about the Purple Line's impacts on a small, shrimp-like creature that's listed as an endangered species but is found several miles away. These things may add additional delay to the Purple Line, but it's unclear whether they're enough to actually halt the project.

In any case, yesterday was a great day for the Purple Line. When I attended my first Purple Line meeting in 2003, as a junior in high school, I assumed that I'd be riding it by now. Fortunately, 28 years after the project was first announced, we won't have to wait much longer.


JohnnyLand said...

Long Live the small shrimp like creature!

Robert said...

And today the Post reports that the cost of the Purple Line has doubled from original estimates. One has to wonder if a second-rate on-street system which may well make traffic worse is worth the increased cost. We would be better off spending more for a real Metro line with its own right-of-way and tunneled under downtown Silver Spring.

Matthew said...

Which is a higher priority in your view, Dan: Bus Rapid Transit, or the Purple Line?

I'm probably more stoked by the possibility of the Purple Line since it will go very close to my office. I plan to retire in 20-25 years. Curious if it will get built by then.

dan reed! said...

The Purple Line is definitely a higher priority. After all, it now has most of the funding it needs and most (but not all!) of the details have been worked out. It's ready to go.

Bus Rapid Transit, on the other hand, needs additional engineering and design work and funding to become a reality. It'll take a while to get there. I like to think of it as what I'll be working on after the Purple Line is built!