Maryland looks to private funding for Purple Line - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Maryland looks to private funding for Purple Line

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BETHESDA, Md. -

The state of Maryland announced a major investment Monday in the Purple Line rail project linking Montgomery and Prince George's County.

But some are calling it a bad deal. Protesters booed as Governor Martin O'Malley touted the $2.2 billion project.

It will be the state's first public-private transit partnership.

The governor was flanked by politicians and union workers, but there were equally as many protesters.

"We are here today at the future home of the Maryland's Purple Line," Governor O'Malley said to a rousing applause, but was followed by jeers from opponents.

"Bury the rail, save the trail," yelled Deborah Vollmer as the governor began to speak.

Politicians from the state to local government staked their future on it. The line, with 21 stations linking Bethesda to New Carrollton, promises to be an economic engine for jobs and commerce.

"All of that depends on improvement in our transportation infrastructure. Without that, those jobs come to a screeching halt," said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.

Prince George's County also expects to benefit from the economic stimulus a light rail line would bring.

"We understand without transit, this type of development, neither one of our counties can grow," said Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker.

In the eyes of protesters, the Purple Line is a trail killer. The planned route follows the Capital Crescent Trail through the heart of neighborhoods in Chevy Chase neighborhood. Vollmer and many of her neighbors protested, holding signs saying no to the Purple Line.

"There was bad planning with this project from the very beginning,” she complained. “They should have put it somewhere else or put it underground.”

The state has invested $680 million in the project and expects to get the rest from the federal government, grants and a big chunk of the $2.2 billion from private funding. Even supporters agree it must be the right deal.

"Certainly we want to see the right deal for the public so we will wait and see how good a deal this is," said Cheryl Cort with Coalition for Smarter Growth.

The Lieutenant Governor, who pushed the legislation that made private investment possible, offered no guarantee this won't turn into an underutilized billion dollar boondoggle.

"I believe there is a demand for the Purple Line and for other means and forms of mass transit," said Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.

Watching from the crowd, Shelly Bagdasian and her daughter Sadie clutched their protest signs, still hoping government officials will heed their concerns. They don't want a rail line and like the trail the way it is.

"Our kids run and play and bike, and my dog walks every day and we walk every day," said Bagdasian.

Her 13-year old daughter is in middle school, but knows what is at stake.

"There are different people who want different things and you just have to fight for what you want," she said.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 and be completed by 2020 if there are no other roadblocks.

The state says it will pay a private contractor annual payments over a 30 to 40 year contract and will include deductions if the company fails to meet performance standards.

As for how the private funding will impact fares and other costs, that remains the billion dollar question.


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