Maryland hopes to fund some of the planned Purple Line light rail through a partnership with a private company, the first time the state will use the strategy on a public transportation project.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) announced $400 million in construction funding for the Purple Line at an event on Monday at the Bethesda Metro station. The 16-mile light rail system will go from Bethesda to New Carrollton.
Maryland Transit Administration officials hope to start construction in 2015 and have the system operating in 2020.
The state is looking for about $900 million in federal funding for the estimated $2.2 billion project. The rest would be paid for by local governments and the public-private partnership, which would entail a private company building and operating the system in exchange for annual payments from the state.
“We’re showing just how serious we are to delivering the Purple Line now,” Brown said. “Public-private partnerships give us a tremendous opportunity to work with the private sector in creating jobs, in growing our economy, in building the most competitive workforce in the country and developing Maryland businesses here.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and most of the County Council, as well as a number of state delegates, attended the event. The new funding was made possible by the new gas tax passed in this year’s General Assembly, a measure Leggett said he supported for as much as eight years.
Leggett said new development in the county, including in White Flint, is projected to add 100,000 jobs in the largest period of growth in the county’s history.
“However, all of that depends on improvement in our transportation infrastructure,” Leggett said. “Without that, those jobs may come to a screeching halt. The transportation funding announced today will help Montgomery County move forward on desperately needed, overdue projects.”
Brown, who is running to replace term-limited O’Malley as governor in the June 2014 primary, took a lead role in the event, which was held in the backyard of gubernatorial opponent and Attorney General Doug Gansler. O’Malley praised Brown for shepherding a bill through the state legislature that will make it easier to attract private investment in transportation projects.
Though the exact parameters of a public-private deal are unknown, Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large) said he supports a private partnership after hearing from experts who say the concept is becoming more common with cash-strapped state and local governments.
“Where you have a private entity that is responsible for the entire thing, then they have every incentive in building it right, designing it right the first time because they’re going to operate it,” Leventhal said. “Whatever makes the Purple Line break ground in 2015 and get it operating in 2020, that’s the schedule, and I’m optimistic it’s going to happen.
“We really need to acknowledge the leadership of the governor and the bravery of the members of the General Assembly who were willing to get new revenues to make sure we replenish the transportation trust fund. It wasn’t always obvious that that was going to happen,” Leventhal said. “The political structure in Maryland worked and so today is the fruit of that courage.”
Ben Ross, a Bethesda resident and transit activist, said he was generally supportive of the funding announcement, though he thinks the state should be willing to pay its full share of the cost in case a private partnership doesn’t work out.
“Basically it puts us right there for the Purple Line. There are still things that need to be put together,” Ross said. “They have to, I believe, keep the option open to fully fund it with public money. Ideally, it should be paid for without financing. But let’s see what they offer.”
The state will also provide Montgomery County $100 million for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a rapid bus system planned to connect Shady Grove and Clarksburg, $125 million for the I-270/Watkins Mill Road Interchange, $85 million to fund 50 percent of the county’s Ride On Bus service, $25 million for the relocation of Georgia Avenue in Brookeville, and about $13 million for other highway interchange and widening projects.