White House backs Purple Line -- Gazette.Net


Maryland’s proposed light-rail Purple Line project has been recommended for $100 million in federal construction money in fiscal 2015 as part of President Barack Obama’s budget released Tuesday, marking a critical financial milestone that would keep the project on schedule.

More important to the project’s future is the fact that the Purple Line also was included on a list of seven large transit projects nationwide that the Federal Transit Administration recommended for a “full funding grant agreement,” a longer-term commitment by the federal government to help pay for the projects’ construction. The total amount of federal funding recommended for each project wasn’t included in budget documents released Tuesday. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said those figures would be released Wednesday.

Maryland transit officials have said they are seeking $900 million in federal funding for the $2.2 billion Purple Line. The $100 million included in the president’s budget would be allocated in the federal fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Maryland transit officials have said they hope to begin building the 16-mile line between Bethesda and New Carrollton in 2015 and open it in 2020. The proposal is awaiting federal approval from the state’s environmental impacts study.

The money isn’t a certainty. The “full funding grant agreement” spelling out how much federal money the state would receive annually must still be negotiated.

Those amounts would then be subject to annual appropriations from Congress.

The federal budget proposal also includes $100 million to help build a planned 14-mile light-rail Red Line in Baltimore. That project is estimated to cost $2.6 billion.

Some transportation-funding watchers had been skeptical that one state would receive highly competitive federal funding for two major transit projects simultaneously.

State officials say the east-west Purple Line inside the Capital Beltway would connect the state’s spokes of the Metrorail system with MARC commuter rail and Amtrak stations. It would provide faster, more reliable transit options for traveling east-west between suburbs than buses stuck in traffic and would spur new investment around stations in older, inner-Beltway suburbs, state officials have said.

Opponents say that the line’s construction would require cutting hundreds of trees along a popular wooded trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring, and that it would bring train noise and vibrations to residents living along the route. The town of Chevy Chase, whose leaders object to the current Purple Line proposal, recently hired a law firm to provide legal advice and lobby Congress and the federal government. Town leaders say the state hasn’t done enough to mitigate the project’s impact on residents, design a safe pedestrian crossing and explore a less expensive bus option.

Building the rail line would require condemning 116 homes and businesses along the route, according to the state’s environmental impact study.

The line would have 21 stations, including in Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, Langley Park, Riverdale Park and New Carrollton. Two-car trains would run mostly above ground along local streets.

Maryland has allotted $750 million in state funds to the project and is seeking $500 million to $900 million in private funding as part of its overall financial plan. An additional $220 million total would come from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, according to the plan.

The private investment would be part of the state’s plan to have a team of private companies design, build, operate, maintain and help finance the line as part of a public-private partnership that would span 30 to 35 years. The public-private partnership would be one of the broadest of any U.S. transit project and its estimated value of more than $6 billion would make it one of the largest government contracts ever in Maryland.

Four teams of private companies were recently chosen to submit proposals, which are due this fall. A private partner is scheduled to be chosen by spring 2015.