April 21, 2010

Purple Line planner concerned Ehrlich election would endanger light rail line

Returning former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to the state’s highest elected office in November could spell trouble for the planned Purple Line, according to the Maryland Transit Administration planner who is supervising the project. Michael Madden said in an interview that planning for the Washington area’s $1.5 billion light rail line has likely advanced far enough to avoid being axed outright — he expects to begin the $50 million preliminary engineering process by the end of this summer. The Ehrlich administration delayed the project earlier this decade, calling for further studies, Madden said, while current Gov. Martin O’Malley has been more “supportive” — making a potential Ehrlich victory at the polls a bit worrisome.

“I mean, if the governor was lukewarm or not really supportive of the project, then I would worry, but under this current administration, that’s not a problem,” Madden said.

“I don’t believe [Ehrlich] was nearly as supportive of the project as our current governor.” Madden said, suggesting that delays and scale-backs could be possible under a second Ehrlich term.

The Purple Line had the backing of Gov. Parris Glendening, but the region’s transportation focus was redirected toward the Inter-County Connector toll road when Ehrlich took office in 2003. The long-planned ICC — which faced stiff opposition for its environmental impact and the cost of the tolls — is under construction.

“We just want to point out, we think reducing congestion is a top priority for Bob Ehrlich. In fact, we proved that with getting the ICC going,” said Andy Barth, Ehrlich’s press secretary, who at first said he was not personally familiar with the transit project. “The Purple Line must be among potential solutions that are considered, and we would absolutely do that.” Barth would not commit to an Ehrlich administration funding the Purple Line, however.

“We just have to consider the [financial] circumstances at the time,” Barth said.

As planned, the Purple Line would be a dual-track light-rail line running 16 miles from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, just inside the Capital Beltway. The light rail line would connect the spokes of the region’s Metrorail system, which radiate from the center of town and force commuters to go through Washington to get from one Maryland suburb to another. The line could also spark redevelopment projects along its route, and local planners are examining sites in Langley Park and College Park for potential dense growth.

“It’s a useful thing, frankly, because one of the Governor’s main priorities is smart growth, transit-oriented development,” O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said. “But it takes a commitment in terms of upfront investment.” SOURCE: Maryland Daily Record

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