Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal is questioning Gov. Larry Hogan’s judgment after Hogan said he was further delaying a decision on whether to move forward with the light-rail Purple Line.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Hogan plans to make a decision “in the next month sometime” on the $2.45 billion, 16-mile light-rail line that would connect Bethesda with New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.
After taking office in January, Hogan, a Republican who campaigned with a promise to reduce state spending, said he would make a decision on whether to proceed with the transportation project by mid-May. In the Post report Friday, Hogan indicated the price for the project is too high.
Leventhal, a Democrat, said Monday at a regularly scheduled press conference that canceling the project could hurt Hogan’s reputation and the Republican Party in the state.
“I just think it would be very unwise to kick the two largest counties in the state in the shins and take away our No. 1 transportation priority,” Leventhal said. “I think there’s a willingness to consider Republicans in office and the Republican Party has an opportunity to build its brand and support, but if he’s perceived as antagonistic towards this community, it won’t serve him well in the long run.
“I strongly urge him not to cancel this project. I think it’s very, very unwise for the state, very unwise for the regional economy and I think it will be unwise for him personally. I don’t think leadership is about picking fights. If he cancels this project he’s picking a big fight,” Leventhal said.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is scheduled to meet with Hogan and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker later this week. The meeting was set up by Senate President Mike Miller in order to give the two county executives another chance to make their case for the light-rail project. The two county executives have already met with the governor twice.
Leventhal also criticized Hogan’s attempt in the Post interview to compare spending on the Purple Line to spending money on school construction. In the interview, Hogan said building two miles of the Purple Line would fund the entire school construction budget of the state.
But Hogan is “not proposing to put more money into school construction,” Leventhal said.
He pointed out that transportation funds, which are raised mostly through the gas tax, can only be spent on transportation projects, after voters approved a referendum in November.
“I know that he’s not saying he would take the money we’re going to put into the Purple Line and put it into school construction,” Leventhal added. “It seems to me he’s comparing two things that are underfunded. Of course we need more resources for school construction and more resources for transportation alternatives. We need to invest in both. So to pit one against another…seems a little bit misinformed to me.”
Local elected officials, business and development leaders and transit advocates have all written letters to Hogan urging him to approve the project, which would be funded through a combination of federal, state and local funds.
If approved, the project is expected to cost the state between $300 million and $700 million, while the federal government is expected to contribute $900 million. Montgomery and Prince George’s County are expected to pay a total of $110 million each toward the project, while a private developer would add another $600 million to $1 billion for construction costs.