MoCo Teams Up With Business Leaders To Make Final Purple Line Push

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Correction: Due to a reporting error, this story originally stated that a planned Chevy Chase Lake development project could move forward only when the Purple Line is built. A first phase of development encompassing 800,000 square feet can move forward before Purple Line construction.

Updated at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday — Montgomery County is unabashedly teaming up with business leaders and developers to make a final push for the Purple Line.

On Monday, the county unveiled a study that it, Prince George’s County and the Washington Board of Trade paid for predicting the light rail system would create 27,000 jobs per year, $2.2 billion in annual income benefits and $12.8 billion in increased property values over 30 years.

The unveiling of the study was paired with an event in Silver Spring featuring chamber leaders, building industry representatives, transit advocates and developers meant to push Gov. Larry Hogan to approve the estimated $2.45 billion project.

Hogan is expected to decide on whether to move forward with the Purple Line in mid-May.

“The governor’s welcome message at our border says ‘Maryland is open for business,'” said county assistant chief administrative officer Tom Street, referring to a new highway sign on the Maryland side of the American Legion Bridge. “Moving the Purple Line forward is linked to that message.”

Street went on to say the light rail would allow for new jobs at 30 transit-oriented development projects along the 16-mile corridor, including 1,100 new jobs at Chevy Chase Lake.

The Chevy Chase Land Company, which organized a group called the Economic Partners of the Purple line, would be allowed to move forward with the second phase of its Chevy Chase Lake redevelopment plans only when the Purple Line is built.

The study was done by Frederick-based Transportation Economics & Management Systems, Inc. (TEMS). TEMS President Dr. Alexander Metcalf said the report was an update of a 2010 economic study done on the Purple Line for the Maryland Transit Administration.

In a presentation, Metcalf said the updated study showed bigger economic improvements from the Purple Line now that the region is out of the Great Recession.

“When we first looked at the results, we thought they were too big,” Metcalf said. “This economy is very sensitive to improved transportation access.”

Metcalf compared the economic impact the Purple Line could have to that of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in New Jersey.

He said the Purple Line would provide one year’s-worth of economic growth that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. He also claimed it would help attract Facebook-sized tech companies.

“Never mind the FBI,” Metcalf said, referring to Prince George’s County’s pursuit of the new FBI headquarters, “we’re going to get high-tech firms.”

Jim Dinegar, president and CEO of the Washington Board of Trade, compared the Purple Line to Metro’s Silver Line in Virginia and said it would help create “a mega-region that competes with the mega-regions of the world.”

“Maybe we haven’t been as aggressive on the public relations as we need to be,” Dinegar said. “Everyone knew about the Silver Line.”

Metcalf said he used the MTA’s ridership estimate — which predicts 74,000 riders a day by 2040 — in the updated economic study.

Those numbers have been disputed by Purple Line opponents, including a think tank called the Maryland Public Policy Institute. On Monday, that group put out a press release written by light rail opponent Randal O’Toole.

In it, O’Toole denounced Purple Line “myths” he said are being unfairly used to push the project, including its economic impact:

Myth: The Purple Line will stimulate economic development.
Fact: Past studies have found that rail lines don’t make an area grow faster; instead, at best, they merely relocate development within an urban area. At worst, the tax burden imposed by the high cost of rail transit actually reduces growth, which means the new taxes that advocates say will pay for the Purple Line will never materialize.
To get new development along their light-rail lines, cities such as Portland, OR and Denver gave developers billions of dollars in subsidies. Where cities failed to offer such subsidies, they got almost no new development.

At the conclusion of the event in Silver Spring, Chevy Chase Land Company Vice President of Public Affairs Miti Figueredo and Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Public Affairs Illaya Hopkins urged the business leaders in the room to continue telling Hogan to approve the project.

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