Purple Line rendering Credit: Maryland Transit Administration

Will construction start on the long-awaited Purple Line?

At a June press conference in which he announced Maryland would move forward with the Purple Line light-rail project, Gov. Larry Hogan also said the state would significantly reduce its share of the funding.

It wasn’t immediately clear how construction costs would be divided between the state, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the federal government and a yet-to-be-picked team of private concessionaires expected to provide between $500 million and $700 million of upfront construction financing.

Six months later, and after four of those teams submitted bids for the roughly $2.2 billion, 16-mile system that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, it’s still not clear exactly how the project will be funded, or when construction will begin. (Montgomery County committed an extra $40 million to the project in July).

By mid-January, the state could choose the winning team of contractors, the details of which should provide clarity on the funding split.

Reports have put May 2016 as the earliest possible date to start construction. But county officials said an update from Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn this fall put late 2016 or early 2017 as the earliest possible time for starting construction, which is expected to take five years.

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Will liquor control make the ballot in November?

 

Comptroller Peter Franchot (left) and County Executive Ike Leggett (right) could be political combatants when it comes to liquor control in 2016. Credit: Aaron Kraut

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A state bill that would put Montgomery County’s unique alcohol control system on the ballot in November 2016 has inspired plenty of sparring between state legislators in favor of opening up the system to private competitors and county elected officials worried it would mean the loss of about $30 million in annual profit.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Bill Frick, D-Bethesda, and backed by Comptroller Peter Franchot, would let county voters to decide whether private alcohol distributors should be allowed to operate in Montgomery County and whether private alcohol retailers should be able to sell liquor. It faces an uncertain fate when the General Assembly convenes in January.

County officials, fearing a prolonged public debate on a topic they say is difficult to explain, are pushing hard to keep the bill from being approved and the referendum from hitting the ballot.

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If the bill does pass, expect months of intense debate featuring County Executive Ike Leggett, the county employees union that represents Department of Liquor Control workers, local restaurant owners and, perhaps, private alcohol wholesalers looking to get into Montgomery County.

Who will be the new leaders of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)?

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The Montgomery County Board of Education is expected to install a new school system superintendent next year. Credit: Aaron Kraut

The county’s public school system fumbled its first attempt at finding a replacement for Superintendent Joshua Starr, though it also started its process after many top-tier superintendent candidates had already considered or taken new jobs elsewhere.

Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers, who the board convinced to put off his retirement to remain in the job for the 2015-2016 school year, is expected to make way for the permanent superintendent in June.

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MCPS watchers wonder if top-tier candidates will be interested in the job after the board’s awkward split with Starr and what exactly the school board (and the community stakeholders expected to have a say in the search) are looking for in a candidate?

The board is expected to name the new superintendent in the spring.