If Larry Hogan Kills Maryland’s Purple Line, It’s Not About Saving Money

Building the Purple Line, a major expansion of the DC-region Metro system in Maryland, seems like a no brainer. The project is almost fully funded, with federal, local, and private commitments covering most of the expense. It promises to spur development that will provide major economic benefits as well. Business groups in that populous and growing part of Maryland have been pushing hard for its continuation. But recently-elected Governor Larry Hogan has hinted that he may kill the $2.4 billion project since early in his campaign.

A vintage photo of the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Its members have been lobbying Governor Larry Hogan to kill the Purple Line. Photo: Library of Congress
Members of the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, have been lobbying Governor Larry Hogan to kill the Purple Line. Photo: Library of Congress

Ben Ross at Greater Greater Washington says Hogan’s justification — cost concerns — just don’t hold up to scrutiny:

Given his sudden announcement last week of lower highway tolls, that’s clearly just an excuse. The real obstacle to building the light rail line is the pressure of a few well-placed opponents, chief among them the Columbia Country Club.

If the Purple Line dies, cost will be the excuse rather than the real reason. The project’s current financing plan calls for only $288 million in state outlays during construction. This is a very modest amount of money for a major transportation facility—the price of two highway interchanges. The savings that Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn has identified will make the number even smaller.

Over the six years of construction, Maryland will spend less on the Purple Line than on last week’s toll cuts. The toll cuts, targeted to benefit big trucking companies and owners of beach houses, will cost $54 million a year.

So what is Hogan’s real motivation? Ross says follow the campaign contributions from the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase:

In politics, wealth and influence can be more persuasive than facts and logic. Columbia Country Club, whose golf course lies on both sides of the railroad right of way the Purple Line will follow, has long been a favored haunt of Washington power brokers. The club only reluctantly abandoned its 25-year struggle against light rail in 2013, and after last year’s election a team of lobbyists was assembled from its membership to renew the fight.

In January, Governor Hogan came to Bethesda for a fundraiser where club members raised $47,000 for his political committee. Three top members of his staff later sat down with the club’s golfer-lobbyists to hear their objections. Neither the governor nor his staff have been willing to meet with Purple Line supporters, and—with a decision just days away—the governor has not even bothered to take a look at the Purple Line’s route.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transportation for America says Indianapolis is steadily making some exciting strides toward expanding transit access across the car-oriented region. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog reports that twice in the last four days, the new Oak Cliff Streetcar has been stopped dead in its tracks with technical problems. And Cyclelicious shares the story of a local San Jose lawmaker who traded his car for a bike for a month.

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