Purple Line ‘light’ could end up saving the line

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As the time nears when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan decides whether to build the Purple Line, a lower-cost “skinny” or Purple Line “light” option has emerged as a possibility to keep the project alive.

Various figures have been floated, but according to a report from The Washington Post, a skinny option could save Maryland $300 million or more.  Earlier this year, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn told WTOP the problem had to be significantly reduced in cost to continue forward.

“Right now, at $2.4 billion, the Purple Line is too expensive,” Rahn told WTOP in March. “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.”

Montgomery County lawmakers and transit advocates are nervously waiting on a final decision this month.

“I would characterize his approach is that he would put a skinny option in front of the governor,” writes Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, who chairs the transportation committee on the County Council. “I personally would not characterize what he shared in my presence as his recommendation.”

The skinny or Purple Line light option could include a mixture of three options.

First, increase the wait time between trains. This is known as a headway.

“If you go from a train every five minutes to a train every 20 minutes, then that would have a significant impact.  But if you’re going from five to eight minutes, it will be relatively small,” says Nick Brand, President of the Action Committee for Transit of Montgomery County.

Other transit advocates agree that during nonpeak hours, that is fine.

“I would be fine doing that during the middays, at night and on weekends.  But you can’t have eight to 10 minute service at 8 o’clock in the morning or 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” says Lessie Henderson from the Advocates for Community-based Transit of Prince George’s County.

A second option would be to eliminate or delay building some of the 21 stations.

“You cannot cut out New Carrollton.  You cannot cut out Bethesda.  You cannot cut out College Park.  But it’s all in the details when the Governor makes his announcement,” says Henderson.

A final option would be for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to add more money into the pot. The counties are paying approximately $240 million toward the Purple Line. The state could fund up to $760 million from the state transportation trust fund.

“It is difficult to consider an increase in county contribution until we know what the project looks like, writes Berliner. “For example, if the project were proposed to run at grade on Connecticut Ave. and that we would be responsible for an overhead pass if we wanted one, plus make a larger contribution to the overall project cost, that would be a problem.”

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