Wednesday, August 5, 2009

NEW CARROLLTON | Maryland officials outlined two major light rail projects Tuesday that would cost about $1.5 billion each to ease congested roads in the D.C. suburbs and create an east-west public transit line in Baltimore.

The proposed Purple Line, which would run along a 16-mile route just outside the nation’s capital from Bethesda to New Carrollton, has been debated for years. The preferred state plan for the Purple Line will now be sent to the Federal Transit Administration for consideration in hopes of receiving federal funding.

“I think it will be very competitive, which is why we need to move forward,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said. “If we sit back and we wait for 100 percent agreement on any one of these alignments, we’ll be left out of the big investment that the federal government will be making in the upcoming transportation bills.”

Rep. Donna Edwards, Maryland Democrat, said she has been hoping for a Purple Line for about 10 years to nurture an important economic engine outside Washington and to ease terrible traffic jams.

“I’m looking forward to now taking this to the next step,” Mrs. Edwards said. “Some of you have heard that we are about ready to do the biggest transportation reauthorization in Congress that we will see probably in the next decade.”

State officials also favor light rail for a Baltimore Red Line, which would run from the Woodlawn area of Baltimore County to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in east Baltimore. The 14-mile Red Line would connect with the city’s existing transit network.

The Purple Line would cost an estimated $1.5 billion. The Red Line would cost about $1.6 billion. The amount of money paid by the state for the projects would be negotiated after FTA approval.

Under the best-case timeline, preliminary engineering could begin later this year. Construction would not start until 2013, and the light rails would not begin operating until 2016.

Despite Maryland’s budget crisis, Mr. O’Malley said it was crucial to plan for the long term.

“There’s huge economic challenges right now, but you have to make these decisions based on the projections of the next 20 and 30 years, not based on the next 20 and 30 weeks,” the governor told reporters while riding a MARC train from New Carrollton to Baltimore.

The light rail plans, which are more costly than bus options, were chosen because they provide a faster transportation alternative that would get more vehicles off congested roads.

Mr. O’Malley also said modern light rail cars are far more attractive than older models.

“They’re much sleeker,” Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat said. “They are much more modern. They are much friendlier to neighborhoods as well as to the riders.”

The Purple Line would include 21 stations. It would connect Bethesda with Silver Spring, the University of Maryland at College Park and New Carrollton with residential and commercial areas in between. It also will connect with Washington’s Metro system at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.

The Red Line in Baltimore would include 20 stations, five of them underground. It would connect with the existing light rail system in Baltimore, MARC commuter train stations, the Baltimore Metro subway and local bus routes.

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