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Purple Line Rally Today

Backers of the proposed transitway between New Carrollton and Bethesda rallied today in front of the State House in Annapolis to show continued support for the project. Leaders of the effort have been feeling pretty good since the November elections, in which many Purple Line supporters were victorious.

The change in administrations in Annapolis also suggests that planners will wind up focusing on it as a light rail line rather than the bus rapid transit system that so interested Bob Flanagan, who was former governor Bob Ehrlich's transportation secretary. These days, it's rare to find anyone refering to the project as the Bicounty Transitway, the name it had during the Ehrlich administration.

Last week's Montgomery County Council hearing on transportation priorities was mostly about how much people love the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway along the I-270 corridor and how much they hate the intercounty connector.

But as of today, the connector highway linking I-270 and I-95 across Montgomery and Prince George's remains the big transportation project most likely to get built. There's a new set of state officials in charge of transportation, but they have not backed away from the connector project. Opponents' hopes for blocking it rest largely with the lawsuit citing flaws in the federal study that endorsed the highway.

Meanwhile, there are many hurdles to be overcome before the Purple Line or the Corridor Cities light rail can become a reality. While the ICC at $2.4 billion is the most expensive of the projects, the two light rail projects combined could add up to about that much. Throw in the Red Line, the transitway that is the heart's desire of Baltimore City, and you're talking real money. All three would have to be financed at about the same time, early in the next decade.

Planners and people who live along the proposed routes have raised questions about exactly what paths the transitways should follow. And if we're lucky enough to get this far, this question awaits: Who's going to drive those trains? Will Maryland turn them over to Metro to operate, or to some other state or bicounty agency?

Look at what's happening now regarding the extension of Metrorail through Tysons Corner: Metro's board members are just facing the uncomfortable reality that they will have to take a formal vote in March agreeing that the transit authority will take control of the new line when its completed in 2012. They won't have much say over how the line is built before they get handed the keys. Metro has enough problems with its current service and hasn't made some of the essential decisions about what it will do with all those new passengers.

All these issues about regional transit can be resolved. It's just that they're not, and it's as good a time as any to start thinking about them.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 30, 2007; 8:24 AM ET
Categories:  transit  
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