The Purple Line project was the main topic at a transportation forum with four Maryland gubernatorial candidates in Silver Spring on Tuesday.
Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park said she supports the project — a 16-mile light rail to connect Bethesda and New Carrollton — but still has questions.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said he wants to make sure the line is built.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) also is committed to the project, said his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who stood in for Brown on Tuesday.
Charles Lollar, the only Republican candidate at the forum, said he understands the potential of the Purple Line project, but did not take a more specific position.
After the candidates were through, one observer said she hoped to hear more about plans for new and better roads.
Cindy Snow of Germantown said there’s more to transportation than the Purple Line.
“And that, I think, it was missing: their vision for the whole Maryland because we are not all Maryland. ... I appreciate their support for the Purple Line, because definitely that’s the number-one project, but it has to be put in context with all of Maryland,” Snow said.
Candidates were asked their position on the current state of transportation in Maryland, their vision for the future, and what they’d do, if elected, to carry out that vision.
The forum took place at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center on the Takoma Park Silver Spring campus.
Candidates agreed that something needed to be done about the state’s current transportation issues, but didn’t give specific ideas on how to dissolve traffic congestion or gridlock.
Gansler said Maryland needs a competent and experienced leader to make sure the Purple Line gets built.
He said there’s a need for high-speed rails. If the state were fully connected, people could live in Baltimore City and easily ride by train to Washington, D.C.
“We need corridor cities to build our life science industry like Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Palo Alto, California,” Gansler said.
Gansler said government officials cannot tax “their way out of this” — the state needs to look at the fiscal big picture and not end up with a billion-dollar deficit situation every year.
Ulman said he has been a strong supporter of the Purple Line and investing in the state’s transportation infrastructure. Under a Brown-Ulman administration, the Purple Line will “absolutely” be built, he said.
“To me, this is not just about the Purple Line; it is about our values coming together,” he said.
The project will come through because of the “governor and the lieutenant governor, members of your delegation and members of the General Assembly who stood up and said ... ‘It is time for us to invest in our transportation infrastructure.’”
Ulman said the P3 legislation — a law that lets Maryland attract private investment in public infrastructure — gives the state another tool to afford a $2.2 billion project.
According to state transportation officials, partnering with private companies to build and operate the Purple Line will save taxpayers about 20 percent of the cost of the whole project. A 30-year contract would outline exactly what the concessionaire would be paid in exchange for specific services rendered. These payouts are called “availability payments” because they depend on the availability of the services outlined in the contract.
Mizeur said there are serious questions about the public-private partnership. She supports the project, but questioned whether the current administration can deliver the Purple Line.
Mizeur said that as a delegate, she tried to put pressure on the O’Malley-Brown administration to make transportation funding a priority and worked on raising awareness on the Maryland’s “depleted” transportation funds.
“We can create an economy that works for all of our families. ... Being governor is about setting priorities and [running mate] Delman Coates and I have made transportation funding in transit projects a top priority,” she said.
Mizeur said constituents need to ask questions such as what happens if private companies folded during construction and if ridership numbers don’t meet proposed projections.
Lollar said he envisions a Maryland that is much more “user-friendly” to everyday residents.
“We can absolutely do that with our economic plans and policies,” said Lollar, adding traffic in Maryland is a struggle.
Whether it’s the Purple Line in Montgomery County or the Red Line in Baltimore city, no development can be done if the state squanders Transportation Trust Fund money.
Lollar said he’d show community leadership to get projects done.
Tuesday night’s forum was sponsored by Purple Line NOW, a group that supports the light rail project.