BY MATTHEW GALLANT — From a podium set beneath a purple banner strung between the raised buckets of two front-loaders, various state and local politicians gathered on Aug. 28 to celebrate the official groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited Purple Line, a light rail line north of the nation’s capital.
“This multi-billion dollar infrastructure project is a big win for the State of Maryland, and will be a major benefit to the National Capital Region,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release. “It is a shining example of what can be accomplished when our federal, state, county, and private sector partners work together.”
The idea of a Purple Line originated in 2001, when then-Gov. Parris Glendening favored a light rail as opposed to a heavy rail because it would be more cost effective and make less of an impact on the environment. This idea carried through the next eight years until 2009 when then-Gov. Martin O’Malley said he favored the light rail idea, but it was put on the back burner again until 2013 when O’Malley included it in a list of projects that could be covered by a $4.4 billion surplus from raising the gasoline tax.
Fast-forward to the next — and current — governor, Hogan, who in 2014 said that the project was too expensive and sidelined it. At the start of 2015, Hogan decided to reinvest in the idea, but said that it could not cost as much as had been estimated. Which brings us to the present, as Hogan and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao signed the funding bill that permits usage of $325 million and commits the government to an additional $900 million toward the $2.2 billion budget.
This 16-mile light rail will connect Montgomery County to Prince George’s County, starting in Bethesda and stretching to New Carrollton, with 21 stops between, including the Red, Orange and Green lines, the Marc and Amtrak trains, and bus routes. There are no planned stops in Hyattsville; the closest stops will be in College Park and Riverdale Park.
Speakers at the event included Chao, Hogan, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III.
Baker’s brief remarks focused on the huge opportunity this represents for the region. “This project will create thousands of new construction jobs connecting two of Maryland’s most robust economic corridors for smart and sustainable growth.” He went on to add that, upon completion, it will not just be a new public transit system that moves people between points, but a major boost that will decrease traffic, improve the environment, and shuttle people to revitalized areas, including arts districts, businesses and recreation spots.
Added Chao, “This is an example of what Americans can do when they work together.” She was referring to the decades-long process of proposals, design and challenges the Purple Line has faced, as well as the projected creation of 52,000 new jobs, which would include not only construction and maintenance, but also future economic developments.
Chao continued on to say that this project was a possible model for the rest of the nation because of its unique public-private partnership (P3) contract. Such a partnership enables infrastructure projects to dip into enormous private reserves that wouldn’t otherwise be available. This project is the largest P3 yet undertaken in U.S. history, according to Hogan.
Also present at the ceremony was a large contingent of CASA de Maryland, a local nonprofit that seeks to improve the quality of life in low-income immigrant communities. Bedecked in maroon t-shirts that bore the group’s website and motto, the hundred or so members arrived in vans “…to make sure that Maryland residents, especially those who live in our communities, are hired for the construction, and of course, once the project is complete,” said Lindolfo Carballo, director of community development for CASA.
At the conclusion of the speeches, Hogan and Chao signed the funding bill, and then the governor ascended the hill behind the loaders to begin construction — or rather destruction — as he manned the controls of a large excavator and tore in the roof of a prefabricated metal building set for demolition. The crowd was silent as they watched him work, tearing down something old to replace with something new.