Maryland's Purple Line to be Funded with Roads Money

Two roads projects likely to be canceled in favor of public transportation corridor

Good news in Maryland, where the state, facing a transportation budget deficit, has chosen to transfer money away from road expansion and towards the building of a new transit line in the Washington suburbs, reports the Post. The decision will provide more than $500 million more for the Purple Line, which will connect Washington Metro’s Red, Green, and Orange line in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. The long-awaited project has been in planning for a decade.

Governor Martin O’Malley’s (D) decision will eliminate the planned widening of Maryland Routes 3, 28, and 198, which were to enter construction in the next several years. The $1.7 billion Purple Line also has $500 million reserved from the state transportation trust fund, as well as $480 million in additional state and federal money. This most recent news means that $1.5 billion of the 16 mile project costs are already covered for a line whose construction won’t begin in 2014, with completion in 2017. Governor Martin Mr. O’Malley has yet to make a final decision, but the corridor will likely be served by light rail, though former Governor Robert Ehrlich’s (R) preferred BRT option is still on the table.

It’s great to see states choosing to sacrifice roads projects in favor of a new rail line, of course, but I’m a bit confused by why the state needs to reserve this much money for the Purple Line. The project can reasonably expect a Medium-High New Starts rating, with more than 60,000 daily riders taking advantage of one of the Washington area’s major missed connections. So why shouldn’t the state be able to rely on the fact that the federal government will cover more than half of the project’s cost in the New Starts process? Why shouldn’t the $500 million here be transferred to other major planned transit projects in the state, like Baltimore’s Red Line (or even Green Line). Those corridors also will need significant funding in the future.

States like Maryland need to be able to count on more significant federal involvement in transit projects and should be able to distribute their limited state transportation dollars to a wide variety of activities, not simply one proposed line. This is especially important if the next transportation bill equalizes new transit and highway construction funding levels (highways currently get 80% of their costs covered by the federal DOT). Mr. O’Malley is doing well in eliminating roads projects, but he shouldn’t put all his eggs in the Purple Line basket.

5 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Allan

    This is definitely great news. Hopefully, since all of the money if being accumulated up-front, construction could begin before 2014. Not relying on federal dollars can speed things up a bit. Houston TX paid for its first line with local money to speed things up and I think one of two of the expansion projects down there are locally funded while the others are awaiting federal money. To be an optimist, if MD can front the money it leaves more federal money open to other projects in the region. (hopefully some light rail lines in Arlington and Alexandria).

  • Commenter

    Two small typos:

    You introduce “Mr. O’Malley” as the governor, after you’ve already referred to him once in the first sentence of the second paragraph

    Also, check verb tense:

    “Mr. O’Malley’s decision will eliminated ”

    Don’t mean to be annoying; hope this helps.

  • Commenter –
    Thanks. Ah, the consequences of cut-and-paste…

  • Adam

    Here’s to someone with common sense. I actually just thought of a similar “common sense” project in NJ involving a PATH extension on a right-of-way they want to build a highway on.

  • Anon

    I know you’re not a big BRT advocate, but the numbers for this particular project have been skewed against BRT. Had the model properly accounted for the relocation of Walter Reade, one of the BRT alternatives (the only alternative to serve the new medical complex) would easily have received a Medium-High New Starts rating. The lower cost of this alternative would then enable some of the other transit projects in the state (Baltimore Red Line, for example) to receive funding as well. One of the major benefits of BRT has always been its lower cost.

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