Friday, September 08, 2006

Is the Purple Line the Third Rail of District 18 Politics?

Wow. A small post on ACT's reply to Dana Beyer's letter to the Gazette on their characterization of her position on the Purple Line sure has ignited a spate of comments. This is one issue that sure divides even Democrats in the district. However, is this is a sharp debate over an idea that is unlikely to happen because the money simply isn't there? As I argued in an earlier post:

Even a county as large as Montgomery cannot pay for more than a fraction of Purple Line construction costs. The state is already committed to spending a bundle in Montgomery to build the ICC. Both Ehrlich and O'Malley claim favor the Purple Line though Ehrlich is a recent convert. However, one suspects that building Baltimore's Red Line would take priority for these two Baltimoreans.

. . .[S]peaking of Red Lines, the existing Metro system is likely to gobble up state and federal dollars. Powerful Fairfax Rep. Tom Davis has proposed to give $1.5 billion to Metro if each of the region's three juridsdictions will create a dedicated funding source for Metro. Maryland would be foolish to leave this money on the table, especially when funds are desperately needed to fix escalators and buy more cars for the Red Line. If we don't get the federal money, Metro may need the money even more.
NIMBYism is often a problem in local politics. I have friends who refer to the Northwest Current and other variations of this District paper as the "NIMBY News" because it is filled with endless stories of District individuals objecting to the smallest change near their homes. Still, one can understand why people whose homes directly face the proposed route of the Purple Line might worry about the impact of light rail on them.

Moreover, some of the opposition is not just mere NIMBY. I have neighbors who regularly use the Georgetown Branch Trail and like it the way it is. This isn't NIMBY; this is people who value the existing park. Of course, one may still conclude that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" as public transit can attack the critical problem of traffic and help promote smart growth.

Virtually all major opposition to the Purple Line is concentrated within District 18 because it would run through the heart of our district. I can't decide if this means that our debate over it is unimportant or not. Defeat for anti-Purple Liners within District 18 would snuff out significant political opposition. On the other hand, opponents are already heavily outnumbered in the Montgomery delegation. I suppose the question remains whether other legislators would defer to the opponents from District 18 because it directly affects their district, though the district's legislators remain divided on the question.

Stay tuned.