Having given its electoral votes to the Democratic Party’s candidate the last five presidential elections, Maryland is considered a fairly reliable “blue state” in current political vernacular.
But a different kind of color competition is shaping up for the Free State, as it aims to find some federal funding assistance for two major light rail projects with 2015 construction start dates. Will the winner be Baltimore’s Red Line, the Purple Line through the DC suburbs, or maybe even both?
In terms of specs, the projects are relatively equal. Both will use streetcar-like rolling stock on largely existing right-of-way. The $2.2 billion, 14.1-mile Red Line would provide a new east-west transit connection for approximately 50,000 daily riders between Baltimore’s western suburbs to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center campus, with a tunnel through downtown.
At $1.9 billion, the 16-mile Purple Line would link Bethesda in Montgomery County with New Carrollton in Prince George's County, providing a lateral connection to multiple north-south highways and transit systems. Projected daily ridership, estimates of which vary depending on which study is cited, would average around 65,000.
So which color has the best chance to receive some Federal Transit Administration New Starts green? At the moment, neither. While both the Red and Purple lines enjoy local and state-level, Maryland has yet to identify sources to cover its half of either project, let alone support both.
That’s not stopping MTA from pursing $55.6 million from its share of this year’s $105 billion federal Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 for preliminary engineering on the Red Line. (Preliminary engineering on the Purple Line got underway last year.) By getting a better handle on Red Line construction costs, the MTA hopes to have a stronger case for support first in Annapolis, then in Washington.
It’s probably too early to handicap the winner in this race. As noted in the Baltimore Sun story, Maryland’s DC suburbs have received the lion’s share of transportation attention recently with the $2.56 billion Intercounty Connector and the $2.5 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. But nobody wants to see the losing project languish for another five years, as state transportation officials suggest in the story.
Should Maryland defy the trend in other states and resolve its transportation funding formulae, it’s not inconceivable for both projects to secure some New Starts assistance. (It’s also conceivable that both could be shut out as well.)
Perhaps the solution is to follow Major League Baseball’s lead and stage a playoff series between the resurgent Orioles and upstart Nationals (who play in DC, but draw from Maryland as well), whereby the winner receives the necessary state funding nod for its closest rapid transit project. (Note to the Nats: use the alternate blue jerseys/caps instead of the usual home red; otherwise fans may be confused.)
Compared with other infrastructure funding schemes that have been talked about, it’s not all that absurd. And the teams will be playing for more than just hometown pride.