The Maryland Department of Transportation began construction on the Purple Line on August 28 after over two decades of planning. The Purple Line is a 16-mile light rail with 21 stops between Montgomery County and Prince George’s County of Maryland.
Development of the Purple Line project began in 2002, but concerns over its $2 billion cost and construction have delayed the process.
Though many have welcomed new transportation services that would help ease daily commutes, others criticized MD Governor Larry Hogan’s decision to support the Purple Line while cancelling the construction of Red Line, a proposed light rail that would have served predominantly African-American low income neighborhoods in Baltimore.
In 2015, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint alleging that the decision to cancel Red Line discriminated against African-Americans.
According to the NAACP, the Red Line could have alleviated problems with transportation access for housing and jobs in low- and mid-income communities in Baltimore.
The NAACP also claimed that since many African-Americans living in Baltimore rely on public transportation for job security, the decision to cancel the Red Line disproportionately affected those individuals. The U.S. Department of Transportation closed the complaint without citing any reasons in July.
Matthew Crenson, a professor emeritus of political science and author of Baltimore: A Political History, said that a lack of reliable transportation has been a persistent problem in the City for the last 200 years.
“This cross-town line would have been important to city residents wanting to get to and from their jobs,” he said. “Cross-town transit in Baltimore has been a problem since the 18th century.”
Crenson explained the possible underlying political motives involved in constructing the Purple Line.
“Governor Hogan killed [the Red Line] without much thought — he called it a ‘boondoggle,’” he said. “People in the Washington suburbs tend to be on average better educated than people in Baltimore city. They probably turn out to vote more often, and that’s where Hogan grew up.”
He added that the Red Line project would have benefitted Baltimore’s residents.
“I talked to some of the people that worked on its design,” he said. “They said they had looked at all the alternatives, and this was the best way that would have brought Baltimore hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid, created many jobs and, most importantly, it would have been a rapid transit line that actually served the city’s residents.”
According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, the purple line’s construction will create around 6,300 jobs, and the investment is anticipated to spark revitalization and development in other parts of the country.
Proponents of the project also argue that the rail will be responsible for removing 17,000 cars from the road every day, which will save approximately one million gallons of gas each year.
Chris Doherty, a spokesperson for Purple Line partners, explained the potential positive impact that the new light rail would have for communities in the D.C. suburbs.
“The Purple Line has been talked about since at least the mid 1980s,” he said. “We think it’s going to bring a lot of benefit to the residents along the corridor of service and create new economic development opportunities. It’ll be one more transportation option for one of the most heavily populated areas of the state.”
The Purple Line can also impact students who live in the Washington, D.C. suburbs and could potentially provide swifter transportation for those who need to commute to D.C.
Junior Thaara Shankar, who is originally from Rockville MD, a suburb of D.C., explained that the new light rail might be helpful to students attending Maryland universities.
“[The Purple Line] would help my friends who go to University of Maryland at College Park go home easier and would probably help people in Bethesda and Silver Spring,” Shankar wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “But for Hopkins students with internships in D.C., I think using the MARC train service would still be the easiest.”
In September, the U.S. Department of Transportation allocated $900 million to the Purple Line, in addition to the $325 million it had previously signed off on. The Department of Transportation contributed funds in the hope that other states would be inspired to take on large-scale public projects.
The Transportation Department projects that there will be 74,000 daily riders on the purple line by 2040. Service is set to begin around the spring of 2022.