Purple Line review begins, project remains in limbo

BALTIMORE, Md. — Maryland’s new transportation secretary says the cost of the Purple Line must come down, but he isn’t making any promises regarding the future of the proposed light rail line that would serve Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“Right now at $2.4 billion, the Purple Line is too expensive. It just consumes too much of our transit budget. So we’ve got to reduce those costs to a reasonable level to make it affordable for Maryland,” Secretary Peter Rahn says in an interview with WTOP.

For the next two months, four teams will work with the state to find ways to reduce the 21-station project’s costs. Rahn told the private firms that everything is on the table except for the route and the light rail component. Changes under consideration could mean less frequent service, fewer cars, adjusting the opening and closing time and eliminating weekend service.

I cannot assure anyone that the project goes forward. I cannot assure anyone that the project does not go forward. It’s an open question.

— Peter Rahn, Maryland Transportation Secretary

The federal government has offered $900 million for the project. But Rahn says the availability of federal funding alone shouldn’t dictate whether the line is built.

“I believe we will see what is the lowest number possible. I don’t have a range. I’m not going to set a number. I won’t know the number. I won’t know what’s possible until the teams come back with proposals. If the indications are that we can get to an acceptable number, and I don’t know what that number is, then we can hopefully move forward,” says Rahn.

Rahn also made it clear that the project is under review and might not survive. He wouldn’t say what are the chances that the project would be scrapped.

“I don’t have an answer. I can’t say it’s 50-50, 75-25. I don’t know enough yet about how low the costs could be. Should supporters be nervous? I don’t know. All I know is that I cannot assure anyone that the project goes forward. I cannot assure anyone that the project does not go forward. It’s an open question. The numbers need to make sense to move forward,” says Rahn.

Cost-cutting proposals are due in May. Rahn will then present his options to Governor Larry Hogan, with a final decision expected this summer. If the governor approves the project, then bids would be due in mid-August.

In comparison, the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line is expected to cost $2.8 billion and includes six stations. It isn’t slated to be completed until at least 2018.

During his campaign, Hogan said he couldn’t commit to the project until he had a chance to review its viability.

Stetson Miller

Stetson Miller is an anchor and reporter for WTOP. He has worked in TV newsrooms for the last several years in New York, Baltimore, Washington and Charleston, SC.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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