It’s not too late to stop the Purple Line, a boondoggle that will hurt people and wildlife.
The $5.6 billion Purple Line contract signed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) saddles Maryland with a 40 percent increase in long-term debt — probably the largest in the state’s history. Taxpayers and trees beware: Exorbitant price is but the tip of the iceberg of the Purple Line’s harm and costs to taxpayers, area commuters, our environment and transit itself.
The capital cost alone — $150 million per mile — is far higher than the costs for other comparable light-rail systems. The Maryland Transit Administration found that bus rapid transit alternatives would have been more cost-effective but chose light rail anyway.
The public-private-partnership contract does not hold the private contractor accountable for the key performance criterion: ridership (and, therefore, revenue generation). In effect, with the contract, Hogan suppressed any reason for the private sector to take a hard-nosed, marketbased look at project viability. If this is intended to serve as a model for the nation, that is bad news. In any case, it is bad news for Marylanders.
Meanwhile, transit and congestion relief priorities go unmet and are underfunded. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s crisis continues. Metro and locally run bus systems desperately need funds. In Montgomery County, where the 10 most congested roadways run north-south, many commuters, workers and residents won’t benefit at all — and may see congestion get worse — because the Purple Line will run east-west.
The Purple Line won’t take many cars off the road. Maryland Transit Administration projections show that more than two out of every three riders are already transit users. In other words, the project won’t reduce congestion or air pollution, as Maryland’s U.S. senators, Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D), suggested.
The Purple Line will destroy 48 acres of forest, including the section of the Capital Crescent Trail that runs from Bethesda to Rock Creek Park, and affect wetlands, bird and wildlife habitats, and water quality near Rock Creek, Sligo Creek and other streams within the Potomac and Anacostia watersheds. MTA estimates that 229 higher-risk hazardous materials sites could be unearthed by the construction of the Purple Line. Impervious surfaces make storm water runoff a nightmare, particularly during intense rainstorms. The elimination of our mature tree canopy (the gold standard of storm water management) will make conditions far worse.
The Purple Line is already pricing many residents out of homes and businesses — and won’t benefit them at all. Affordable-housing policies aren’t able to stanch the loss of housing within reach of lower- and middle-income families. How can small businesses survive?
Make no mistake: The Purple Line will transform our communities in ways not supported by most of the people who live there. Coming soon are noise pollution and air- and water-quality issues, especially during construction.
Safety issues are already with us. The abrupt closing of the Georgetown Branch section of the Capital Crescent Trail on the first day of school dumped students onto heavily trafficked roads such as East-West Highway without a safe alternative. And safety issues will not go away once the Purple Line is built. Try having your children cross one of the unusually complex Purple Line intersections every day just to get to school.
After years of public concerns left unheeded by MTA, citizens brought a lawsuit in 2014. This month, based on new claims and alleged violations, they filed for a pause on tree clearing while these claims are adjudicated. Meanwhile, where are the political leaders who should stop the harm that affects not just local communities but all Marylanders?
At a minimum, until the project’s legality has been established, the MTA and the Federal Transit Administration should stop any clearcutting of forest and other irreparable harm. Better yet, Hogan and the federal government should simply drop this harmful boondoggle and instead focus on truly beneficial projects that comply with the law.
Signs began appearing Sept. 5 along the Georgetown Branch Trail announcing the trail’s closure for construction of the light-rail Purple Line.