The 16-mile light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton is scheduled to break ground in 2016 and open in 2020. The Purple Line will connect Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, with intermediate stops in Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Langley Park, Riverdale, and the University of Maryland.
Where Are We on the Purple Line Today?
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that the state will be moving forward with the project on June 25, 2015. Hogan announced that the project will proceed, but that the state’s share of the costs has been reduced to $168 million. Hogan is asking Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to contribute more towards the project, and is requesting that the private concessionaires do so as well. Hogan announced several costs savings for the project, including reduced train headways (6 minutes to 7.5 minutes) as well as the removal of one of the storage yards from the original plan.
Governor Hogan’s 2016 budget includes $312.7 million in funding for the Purple Line, though the Governor has said he continues to evaluate the project. Following the election of Governor Hogan in November 2014, the Coalition for Smarter Growth released this statement on the future of the Purple Line. Governor Hogan’s decision on whether to let the Purple Line go forward is due in May 2015.
Nearly all the money needed has been secured. This February, the Federal Transit Administration recommended that the Purple Line be one of 7 competitive grant recipients, renewing its 2014 recommendation and confirming the federal government’s offer of $900 million for the $2.45 billion project. President Obama included $100 million for the Purple Line in his budget proposal, which Congress will have to approve later this year. A public-private partnership to build and operate the Purple Line will bring $600 million to $1 billion in capital to the project, and the bids from four teams of private partners are due in August 2015.
In preparation for the planned start of construction in late 2015, Maryland has been acquiring right-of-way, and the Montgomery County Planning Board has made detailed recommendations about how the Purple Line should interact with surrounding neighborhoods, like where sidewalks will link up to the stations and what materials to use for retaining walls.
Leaders in the business community have been speaking up for the Purple Line, highlighting the project’s importance to Maryland’s economic growth and citing a key study’s finding that every $1 billion invested in transit generates $3.7 billion in economic activity. A group of major developers called the Economic Partners of the Purple Line and former Lockheed Martin CEO have sent open letters to Governor Hogan in support of the Purple Line.
Recent Purple Line News
- On June 25, 2015, Governor Hogan announced that the state would be moving forward with the project. As part of the project’s progression, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are being asked to contribute more money towards the Purple Line’s construction. The private concessionaire is also being asked to contribute more. Hogan announced several costs savings for the project, including reduced headways for trains (6 minutes to 7.5 minutes) as well as the removal of one of the storage yards from the original plan.
- On April 20, 2015, the updated Purple Line preliminary economic impact study was released. The study, authored by a consultancy and commissioned by Montgomery and Price George’s Counties, concluded that the Purple Line will bring “opportunities to fundamentally change the character of business in the area,” including fostering small business growth, as well as $635 million annually in increased federal and state income tax and property tax payments.
- The Washington Post editorial board published an article April 20, 2015 urging Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to move forward with the Purple Line. The editorial board pointed to the Purple Line as an opportunity for the Governor to make good his campaign pledge to strengthen Maryland’s economy. The Washington Post also cited the Purple Line’s “potential as a catalyst in rejuvenating and reviving older, close-in suburban neighborhoods that have stagnated as newer communities outside the Beltway have flourished.”
- In March of 2015, over 150 elected officials, community leaders, and business leaders gathered for Transit Night in Annapolis to call on legislators to keep fighting for the Purple Line and Baltimore’s Red Line. The broad coalition was united in the message to legislators and the Governor that the transit lines are expected to significantly stimulate economic activity and investment, and neither delay nor cancellation of these critical projects is acceptable. See photos of the event, here and here.
Why Does the Purple Line Matter?
The Purple Line offers a fast and high quality public transit alternative for suburb-to-suburb travelers. It would take cars off local roads and the Beltway, relieve the burden of traffic congestion, and help curb greenhouse gas emissions. Even conservative estimates for Purple Line ridership demonstrate strong demand for the line, with 74,500 daily riders by 2040.
Transit-oriented development near new Purple Line rail stations would promote the revitalization of inner-suburban neighborhoods. By focusing development in inner-Beltway communities through a connected network of high quality transit stations, we can anchor our older communities, enhance property values, and bring new housing and business opportunities to underserved parts of the region. The anticipated increase in property values along the Purple Line corridor is $9.8 billion, and per capita income is predicted to rise by $1,413. A high quality light rail line will foster job growth in Silver Spring and Prince George’s County, connect workers to jobs in Bethesda and the Red Line Corridor, and reduce traffic growth. The project will generate 6,300 construction jobs and 27,000 permanent jobs — and connect the 6,000 small businesses and 130,000 jobs within a half mile of the line. The Purple Line will offer an alternative to traffic-choked commutes, cutting long east-west travel times to 9 minutes between Bethesda and Silver Spring, and 28 minutes between Langley Park and Bethesda. Daily, 17,000 cars will be taken off the road.
For a by-the-numbers look at the benefits the Purple Line will bring, see this fact sheet.
While the new high quality transit connection is a great opportunity for communities along the route, it can also pose challenges by pushing up housing and commercial space price that could lead to displacement. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is a member of the Fair Development Coalition and Purple Line Corridor Coalition, who have been working to create a community compact to ensure that investment in the community benefits existing residents and small businesses.
Purple Line and the Capital Crescent Trail
The Capital Crescent Trail is an off-road trail used by walkers, joggers, and bikers that runs from Georgetown to Lyttonsville, MD. The Purple Line will bring important improvements to the trail. Today, an approximately 1.5 mile stretch from Lyttonsville to downtown Silver Spring is incomplete and remains on-road, and there are seven at-grade crossings of streets at traffic lights east of the Bethesda Tunnel, including on multi-lane, busy streets such as Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street. The rebuilt trail along the Purple Line would replace all 1.5 miles of the on-road route with a completely off-road trail into downtown Silver Spring. All seven at-grade crossings at lights would be replaced by the rail line and trail tunneling under or bridging over these busy roadways. Prospects for ever completing the trail and removing these at-grade crossings are poor unless the Purple Line is built as planned.
Much has been made of the intersection of the trail and the Purple Line in Bethesda, where the trail currently runs through a tunnel beneath Wisconsin Avenue. Plans for the Purple Line also call for the light rail line to run through the tunnel. This is a very difficult issue. Realigning the trail out of the tunnel is a loss, but the costs of having both the trail and the light rail line in the tunnel appear to be very high and could add to the risk facing funding for the Purple Line. Given the trade-offs, we accept the proposed at-grade alternate route for the trail.
CSG’s Participation in the Maryland Purple Line NOW! and Get Maryland Moving Campaigns
The Coalition for Smarter Growth works actively with regional partners to coordinate advocacy campaigns that support sustainable development patterns. Our involvement in the Purple Line NOW! coalition at a critical point in the study process helped to rally residents’ support at hearings, submit public comments, and sign onto petitions. We have testified in strong support of the Purple Line before state and local decision makers, citing all of the economic, social, and environmental benefits. In 2013, we led the Get Maryland Moving coalition to support the gas tax increase in Annapolis that enabled sufficient funding to make federal funding possible and for the project to move forward. In March of 2015, the Coalition for Smarter Growth joined with Purple Line NOW! and other partners to organize Transit Night, where over 150 elected officials, community leaders, and business leaders called on legislators to keep fighting for the Purple Line and Baltimore’s Red Line.
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For more information on the Purple Line, visit purplelinenow.com