Wednesday, October 06, 2010

ACT Compares Ehrlich and O'Malley on the Purple Line

Action Committee for Transit (ACT) has established a new website comparing Bob Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley on the Purple Line. Here's what ACT has to say on the two Governors.

Robert Ehrlich

Former Governor Ehrlich is running as an opponent of the light rail Purple Line.

Governor Ehrlich raising campaign funds at Columbia Country Club - Photo by Patricia Metzger.

In 2003, the newly elected Ehrlich administration came into office after making campaign promises both to Purple Line opponents and to Washington-area commuters who want better transportation. Gov. Ehrlich chose not to kill the Purple Line outright, but instead embarked on a policy that his own appointee to the Metro board later described as “obfuscate, alter, study and delay.” Progress on light rail came to a near standstill while new bus alternatives were considered.

The new option that emerged was a bus line that took the same route as light rail from downtown Silver Spring to Jones Mill Road and then deviated onto existing roads. It followed Jones Bridge Road from Jones Mill to Wisconsin Avenue, and then turned south onto Woodmont Avenue, where it continued as far as the Bethesda Metro.

There was no secret about the reason this alternative was proposed. It wasn't transportation planning – studies quickly showed that this route would be too slow and would attract few riders. The objective was to keep transit away from Columbia Country Club. Governor Ehrlich was quoted in the Gazette as saying “It will not go through the Country Club.” Robert Flanagan, his Secretary of Transportation, offered another reason – to preserve a hiking trail. This trail happens to run through the country club – and as Mr. Flanagan conceded, “The governor happens to love golf.”

In his 2010 campaign, Gov. Ehrlich flatly opposes the light rail Purple Line. He announced in May that he still prefers the bus route, and a month later he chose Potomac resident Mary Kane, a long-time Purple Line opponent, as his running mate. For her part, Ms. Kane, when she first ran for public office in 2000, explained to the Gazette that she opposed light rail between Bethesda and Silver Spring because “I see the need to go from Silver Spring to Bethesda, but I don't see the need to go from Bethesda to Silver Spring.”

Martin O'Malley

Governor O'Malley is running for re-election as a supporter of the light rail Purple Line.

Governor O'Malley announcing the decision to build the Purple Line as light rail - Photo from Washington Post.

In 2006, Governor O'Malley campaigned in favor of the Purple Line and signed the Purple Line Pledge in support of light rail. Upon taking office, he chose John Porcari, a longtime Purple Line supporter who lives in Cheverly, as Secretary of Transportation.

The Purple Line made slow progress in the first months of the new administration, but it gained momentum after bureaucratic hurdles were overcome in August 2007. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement – a key document that evaluates various routes and compares bus and rail alternatives – was completed in October 2008. Public hearings in November showed wide support for light rail, and in January the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously, as the Prince George's Council had earlier, to recommend light rail.

For a more detailed map, click here.

In August 2009, Gov. O'Malley made the official decision that the Purple Line will be light rail and will follow an abandoned railway line through Columbia Country Club. By using this direct route, trains can go from Bethesda to Silver Spring in less than ten minutes.

In the face of a dismal budget situation, Gov. O'Malley repeatedly seized opportunities to move the Purple Line ahead. His newly proposed transportation budget for 2011 through 2017 adds $48 million in new money for the Purple Line – enough, when matched with federal funding, to cover the entire cost of engineering and designing the new rail line.

In his re-election campaign, Gov. O'Malley is outspoken in his support of the Purple Line. Even when challenged by opponents of the project, he does not hesitate to state a clear position.