If money talks, then the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) should like what it’s hearing from President Obama’s proposed budget for FY 2015.
Two MTA light-rail projects have be recommended to receive $100 million each in Federal Transit Administration New Starts funding—the 16-mile Purple Line, which will roughly parallel the Capital Beltway across Washington, D.C.’s northern suburbs, and the Red Line, a 14-mile system designed to provide an east-west transit axis connecting suburbs on both sides of Baltimore.
Both projects will rely on the private sector to supplement federal and state funds. MTA has shortlisted four design/build teams to engineer, construct, operate, and maintain the $2.2 billion, 22-station Purple Line, with a selection scheduled to be made as early as the end of 2014. Construction could then begin in 2015, and take three to five years to complete.
A more traditional approach is being used to deliver the $2.6 billion Red Line, which has been in development longer, but will also include some private-sector financing. The joint venture team that includes Parsons Brinkerhoff, K&K, and AECOM has been designing the track and stations for the line, which will include 15 underground stations, five surface stations, and a four-mile dual-track underground tunnel.
Should the New Starts funding receive approval, the seven-year construction phase could begin next year.
Both projects are benefitting from Maryland’s decision last year to increase its gas tax, a move the state expects will generate for $4.4 billion for both road and light rail projects over the next six years.
It’s probably premature for MTA to start popping champagne corks, given that the President’s budget will be subject to Congress’s election-year deliberation.
Potential environmental and legal challenges also loom for the Purple Line, with residents and communities upset over the system’s route through both developed areas, and alongside a popular regional recreational trail. Structural issues associated with building foundations adjacent to a narrow tunnel beneath Bethesda must also be addressed.