Maryland Gov Larry Hogan Plays Chicken With Purple Line Funding

Newly elected Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he’s putting off bids on the Purple Line light rail project in an attempt to cut costs, but the delay could also jeopardize the whole project by putting federal funding at risk.

The Purple Line would represent a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,'s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD
The Purple Line would be a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,’s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

A cloud of uncertainty has been hanging over the Purple Line since Hogan’s election in November. On the campaign trail, the Republican threatened to kill the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade and was expected to break ground this year. Hogan has kept some state funding for the project in his budget, but hasn’t committed to building it.

In his latest announcement, Hogan said he is extending the deadline for bids to construct the Purple Line five months, from March to August. He had already pushed the deadline back two months, before taking office.

The additional time, Hogan argues, will allow firms to revise their proposals to lower costs and save money. His newly appointed transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, will study and review the proposals.

But is this move really about cost containment? Advocates are concerned that Hogan’s foot-dragging will have another effect: jeopardizing federal funding.

Nick Brand, president of the Action Committee for Transit in D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, says Hogan’s new timeline would put the project out to bid in early August instead of March. Then, the state must spend some time reviewing and ranking bids before making a selection. But $100 million in federal funding was appropriated for the fiscal year ending September 30. Even if there are no additional delays, it’s going to be tough to finalize a funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration before then, Brand said.

Running past the September date isn’t a dealbreaker, but it will increase uncertainty surrounding the project, according to Brand. “There’s apparently not a fixed deadline for the money to be spent or committed,” he said. But “once you’re into a new fiscal year, the competition is out there saying, ‘Maryland’s not ready but we’re ready.'”

“If it goes into January and February and there’s not an agreement with the FTA and the state and the [private] investors, then the first $100 million in federal funds becomes increasingly eyed by the circling sharks, the other projects that are out there.”

If the governor elects not to continue the project there will likely be a fight in the legislature, where representatives from Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, which generally support the project, hold a fair number of seats.

Pushing in the other direction are residents of the wealthy suburb of Chevy Chase, who have been lobbying Hogan hard to stop the transit project. The town has spent close to $1 million opposing the Purple Line, according to the Action Committee for Transit. Members of the Columbia Country Club held a fundraiser for Hogan last month in Chevy Chase.

  • Peter L

    Why are Republicans scared of trains? What did the trains ever do to scare them so?

  • Mark Walker

    I guess the Koch brothers don’t own a railroad or rail-car manufacturer.

  • Yeah Right

    Because those trains will be so close to their homes, they can see “the help” from their breakfast table rather than out of view.

  • Businesses like certainty and predictability. This Governor is creating an unpredictable business climate.

  • Jack Jackson

    Perhaps you should ask the 50 charred corpses in Lac Magantic.

    On a more timely manner, I prefer to get to work on time, ergo I stopped using Metro

  • Mike B

    Railroads are major GOP donors. Union Pacific even has a locomotive painted to honor George HW Bush (#4141). And of course the trains are carrying oil, which is even better to the GOP. The torched corps in Lac Magantic represent GOP politics and their close allies much more closely than public safety. If the GOP cared about public safety, they’d support public transit and moving people out of cars (which kill 30k+ annually).

    I too like to get to work on time without arriving in a rage, ergo I take transit or bike.

  • Mike B

    But they’re doing it for businesses! And freedom!
    /s

  • neroden

    Republicans are consistently bad for business. This has been true since at least 1980.

    (To be fair, there are rare exceptions. Rick Snyder in Michigan has actually been good for business.)

    Republicans are, however, good for elite 0.01%er executives. Bad for business, but good for rich scam artists…

  • neroden

    It’s a random shibboleth, like opposing abortion or denying evolution or ritually pledging support for Israel or wearing flag pins or hating Hispanic people.

    There’s no reason there — it’s just part of the list of things you’re supposed to do to be admitted to the Republican club. I’m not sure how the train hatred developed.

  • Bolwerk

    Provide an inexpensive, reliable alternative to things that depend on petroleum.

  • La Coruña

    Purple line will not be good for businesses, at least not small local businesses that will be displaced by the pl or displaced by anticipated redevelopment and higher rents. The only business that stands to profit are the big real estate developers. It is disingenuous to say it is Republicans and rich folks who don’t want PL. Many of my Democrat working class community DO NOT want the PL. In fact, we consider it to be driven by big developers and a group of elitists ideologues who truth be told, wouldn’t want it running by their houses either. Funny how nimby these hypocrites really are when it hits them where they live.

    If the death of Arlington Streetcar, and the absolute fiasco of the 2 mile still not ready for prime time DC street car is any indication of the Purple Line’s future prospects, I guess I can see why they have their progressive panties in such a twist.

    As for me and MANY of my neighbors, we’ll keep writing to the Governor to do what WE who actually did vote for him to do. Make the smart choice and shut down this useless project.

  • kanenas101

    The state is broke and if the Silver Line boondoggle is any indicator the Purple line is going to do little in terms of helping to ease traffic.

    Most people drive around here. A more effective use of money would be to either extend the 495 Express Lanes out of Virginia or connect the west end of I-370 to VA Route 28 by Dulles.

  • Truthmission

    As an Hispanic I can tell you our community values are aligned with Republicans. Please stop speaking for us. We understand not spending money you should not spend. Why fo Progressive people feel so entitled to spend other people’s money?

  • The main reason for not building the Purple Line is the Silver Spring Transit Center–more specifically, the public-private partnership Silver Spring Transit Center. Until we know why Montgomery County, with blessings from the Federal Transit Administration and the Maryland Transit Administration, non-competitively chose Foulger Pratt to build the SSTC, Parsons Brinkerhoff to provide the engineering design and Balter Co. to inspect and test concrete, when private companies are selected competitively for most public works projects, the public-private partnership Purple Line should be put on hold indefinitely.

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