Purple Line Nears Crucial Junction

State Leaders Discuss Prospects As Federal Funding Decision Looms

Joshua Garner | 2/5/2014, 3 p.m.
State and local leaders in Maryland are bracing for a springtime decision from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on the ...
State and local leaders including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (far left), Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker (second to right) and Prince George's County Council Chair Mel Franklin discuss plans for the Purple Line. Michael Yourishin

State and local leaders in Maryland are bracing for a springtime decision from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on the fate of the proposed $2.2 billion Purple Line.

Officials from the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) said they expect to have a response from the FTA as soon as March on the Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail system connecting Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrolton in Prince George’s County. The MTA is requesting that the federal government contribute about half of the cost for the Purple Line. The remainder will be financed by state and local funds.

“The Purple Line is many things … but it will be an economic engine in Prince George’s County,” said Tom Farasy, chair of the Purple Rail Alliance, a group formed to advocate for the construction of the Purple Line.

Farasy co-chaired the Purple Line Strategic Summit, a gathering of state and local leaders in Annapolis on Jan. 27 to discuss the prospects and planning for the rail line pending approval of funds from the federal government.

“We have to put our funding in place first,” said James Smith, Maryland Transportation Secretary. “We are on track with the Purple Line … we’re hoping to get federal funding pretty soon.”

Still, the project is competing with a dozen other proposed transportation projects from around the country.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) applauded the progress of the project but warned that the climate in Congress and the lack of long-term federal funding leaves uncertainties.

“The federal position is a little complicated,” he said. “We are involved in a national competition … we are positioned as strong as any place in the nation.”

MTA officials said that securing federal funding is the project’s best chance at moving forward; options that do not include federal funding have not been developed, officials said.

Hopes are high for the project to offer additional transportation options for the region’s inner-beltway communities and to spur economic development.

If federal funding is approved, construction for the project would start as soon as 2015 with service being available by 2020. The line would have 21 stops and intersect with Metro or MARC stations in Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrolton.

The project is expected to generate 7,000 jobs during construction and an additional 400 jobs for its operation.

“We believe [the Purple Line] is key for job [development] in the future,” said Prince George’s County Council Chair Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro. “The Purple Line allows us to link Metro in a way we can’t do right now.”

MTA announced last year that it would be seeking a public-private partnership for the line’s operations. Officials said that they are hoping to enter into a 30-year agreement with a private company to operate the line. The company would receive a share of revenues generated by the rail line but would also be expected to perform maintenance.

Planners said the stipulations would include incentives for the private company to ensure the system is maintained. For example, a broken escalator that goes unrepaired could result in a reduction in the private company’s monthly earnings from the project.

Montgomery County Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said the public-private partnership and the region’s ability to work together contributed to the project’s prospects.

“We’re so close now, we can almost taste it,” he said. “We’re quite serious about [starting] construction in 2015.”

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