Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson Credit: via Montgomery County Planning Board

In the latest effort to convince Gov.-elect Larry Hogan to move ahead with construction of the Purple Line, the heads of the planning boards in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have written to the incoming governor to warn, “A decision to cancel – or even to delay – the Purple Line would be a serious mistake…”

Their message comes as Hogan visits Montgomery County later this week for a couple of public appearances, as well as a private session Thursday with County Executive Ike Leggett – the first face-to-face meeting between the two since Hogan’s upset victory over Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown on Nov. 4.

The letter to Hogan from Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Prince George’s County Planning Board Chair Elizabeth Hewlett, dated this past Thursday, reiterated many of the economic development arguments Purple Line proponents have made in recent years. But the Anderson/Hewlett letter also sought to rebut at least one point Hogan made in criticizing the project during his upset victory in this year’s campaign, while addressing the political pressures the Republican governor-elect is likely to encounter over a move to direct several hundred million dollars to two Democratic-dominated counties – both of which voted overwhelmingly for Hogan’s Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

“We know that money for the DC suburbs is a hard sell in some other parts of the state,” Anderson and Hewlett told Hogan at the close of the letter. “But as appointed officials responsible for strengthening the key assets in our counties – particularly those assets needed to be competitive within the DC metro areas for jobs and residents in the future – we urge you to support the Purple Line as beneficial to the economic health of our region and state.”

The 16-mile long light rail project would extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, traversing Silver Spring and the University of Maryland College Park campus. Brown was a strong supporter of the Purple Line, as Hogan alternated between skepticism and outright opposition to the project through the primary and general election campaigns.

“I’m opposed to the Purple Line—it’s too expensive, ridership is too speculative, and it diverts funds from needed repairs to roads and highways,” Hogan said in a Sept. 20 press release, one of several comments in which he accused Gov. Martin O’Malley of ignoring road-building projects.

Advertisement

But the Anderson/Hewlett letter took issue with Hogan’s contention that pulling the plug on the Purple Line would free up money for roads.

“…The debate over the Purple Line is not totally about roads versus transit,” the planning board chiefs told Hogan. “If you cancel the project to build a bridge over the Chesapeake Bay or to widen I-270, for example, any federal funding will come out of the state’s highway aid allocation and reduce the money available for other roads projects, not transit.” Meanwhile, the state would risk losing $900 million in federal funding tentatively set aside to help build the $2.5 billion Purple Line, Anderson and Hewlett added.

Hogan somewhat softened his stance toward the Purple Line in a couple of interviews in late September, suggesting the possibility of proceeding with planning and design of the project but delaying construction while state financial issues were addressed. Purple Line construction is reliant on a state contribution of between $360 million and $760 million, contingent on how much financing comes from a private partnership that would build and operate the light rail line.

Advertisement

By mid-October, Hogan’s comments again took a hard line against the project, noting that the cost of constructing of it had doubled since the current route was first proposed in 2001. He also labeled the project an “environmental disaster,” echoing criticisms by residents in the Chevy Chase area who have opposed having the Purple Line share the old Georgetown Branch right-of-way with the Capital Crescent Trail.

Hogan has remained silent on the future of the Purple Line since his election victory, giving hope to proponents that he may ultimately allow construction of the project to go ahead this summer as scheduled. The Maryland Transit Administration last week postponed the deadline for Purple Line bids from private partnerships – originally due by early January — until March, several weeks after Hogan is sworn into office on Jan. 21.

Contending that “decades of work and tens of millions already invested would be put to waste” if the Purple Line project is not allowed to go forward, the Anderson/Hewlett letter pointedly sought to draw a historical parallel between the decision Hogan now faces – and the decision faced by O’Malley on construction of the Intercounty Connector eight years ago.

Advertisement

“Governor O’Malley was asked to reconsider support for the Intercounty Connector, which had been a top priority of Governor [Robert] Ehrlich,” Anderson and Hewlett said to Hogan, who held a cabinet post in the Ehrlich administration. “[O’Malley] refused, recognizing that ‘the study of the ICC was one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted involving a transportation project in Maryland’. The Purple Line is now in a similar position.”

While Hogan has said repeatedly since his election that he will not discuss specific issues until after he is inaugurated next month, hints of his leanings on several policy matters have begun to leak out via social media and as the governor-elect has traveled the state. He will have such an opportunity when he speaks Friday morning at the annual legislative breakfast of the Committee for Montgomery, which is expected to attract more than 700 county political and business leaders. (Hogan is also slated to make an 11 a.m. appearance in Montgomery County Thursday in conjunction with his statewide “Thank You Tour”; an aide said the precise location of that stop has yet to be determined.)

“Dozens of developers in our counties are standing by, waiting for the Purple Line to move forward,” Anderson and Hewlett said in their letter. “Montgomery County alone has five separate areas where development can be accommodated if – and only if – the Purple Line is built.”

Advertisement

In part, it was a reference to the Chevy Chase Lake sector plan, which made development of some land along Connecticut Avenue owned by the Chevy Chase Land Co. contingent on construction of the Purple Line. While similar plans for two areas east of Silver Spring – Long Branch and Takoma/Langley Park – do not have such development “triggers,” plans for these areas were drawn up with the Purple Line strongly in mind, Anderson said in an interview. He also pointed to work on a forthcoming plan for the Lyttonsville community between Chevy Chase and Silver Spring, adding, “I doubt we would be working on that master plan if we didn’t have the Purple Line.”

In addition, Anderson noted that the precursor of the Purple Line – the so-called Georgetown Branch trolley running between Bethesda and Silver Spring – was conceived nearly three decades ago to open up additional development in downtown Bethesda. Despite the passage of time and the changes in the Purple Line, “today, there is a legal relationship between redevelopment in Bethesda and the Purple Line project,” Anderson said.