Friday, Jan. 18, 2008

O’Malley allocates $100M for Purple Line planning

State considering alignments, modes; public discussion scheduled in June

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ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley kept alive plans for a 16-mile transit line linking Prince George’s and Montgomery counties with a $100 million budget allocation necessary to complete design documents for state approval and funding.

Supporters of the long-awaited Purple Line praised O’Malley (D) at a rally this week for what they called his ‘‘commitment to public transportation.”

‘‘We know the Purple Line would be good for the environment and would help with the gridlock that is some of the worst in the country,” said Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda.

The money was part of $10.6 billion allocated for state transportation projects in O’Malley’s six-year capital budget.

State transportation officials are considering various alternatives to the line, including different alignments and modes. Still to be decided are the line’s route, and whether the line will operate as a bus line or a rail line, said Michael Madden, the Purple Line project manager with the state transportation administration.

Until those issues are resolved, Madden said, the state cannot submit its final plans, nor can the line be considered for federal funding.

Once completed, the Purple Line is expected to cost about $1 billion, Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said. Federal funds are available for up to 50 percent of approved projects.

Residents, public transportation advocates and lawmakers in both counties have long been at odds over the route of the line, as well as the mode. Environmentalists in Montgomery County have been adamant that the line not disrupt the environment along the Capital Crescent Trail.

Also, some Montgomery advocates are citing the upcoming National Naval Medical Center expansion in Bethesda as a reason for state officials to reconsider a defunct plan for the trail to cross the county along the Capital Beltway from the Silver Spring Metrorail station to the Medical Center station.

‘‘By putting the Purple Line somewhere else, we save the trail and thousands of trees, and trail users overwhelmingly want to save the trail,” said Pam Browning, a Chevy Chase resident and trail advocate who has pushed for the state to reconsider the loop route.

No matter the route, the transit line must go through Prince George’s County, county spokesman James P. Keary said.

‘‘I don’t know what this plan is and I don’t know what the motivation is, but all along the design of the Purple Line has been to get people to stations and off the Beltway,” he said.

All of the alternatives being examined by state officials have the line running to Prince George’s County, Madden said.

The alternatives analysis is scheduled for completion in May, with public hearings scheduled for June. The final decision on the alignment and mode is up to state officials.

The earliest that construction could begin on the Purple Line would be 2012, Madden said. Construction would take between three to five years, contingent on available funding. By 2030, between 35,000 and 42,000 riders are expected to use the line each day.

Staff Writers Audrey Dutton and Daniel Valentine contributed to this report.