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Purple Line gets federal OK for preliminary engineering

ANNAPOLIS — A 16-mile light rail proposal between Bethesda and New Carrollton has received federal approval to move into a preliminary engineering phase, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Friday.

The approval by the Federal Transit Administration means the project moves to preparation of more detailed plans, cost estimates and environmental studies.

“It’s their concurrence that we have a good project that has the characteristics of projects they fund,” said Henry Kay, executive director of transit development and delivery for the Maryland Transit Administration.

The proposal still has a way to go, because negotiations for a funding commitment from the federal government are still three years away. Still, Kay said the project received a “medium-high rating,” high marks in an evaluation by FTA.

“It puts us in a category of being among the best projects they’re looking at currently,” Kay said.

The Purple Line is planned to link both branches of Metro’s Red Line at Bethesda and Silver Spring, the Green Line at College Park and the Orange Line at New Carrollton. It also would connect all three MARC commuter rail lines, Amtrak and local bus services. It’s expected to cost about $2 billion, with half paid by the state and half by the federal government.