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Md. lawmakers: Clock ticking on light rail proposals

Maryland’s nine Democratic federal lawmakers are calling on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to protect promised federal funding by quickly acting on plans to build two expensive light rail projects.

The delegation expressed concern about delays in the projects and what it could mean for up to $900 million in expected federal funding for each light rail line

“As you know, we have secured access to funding in a difficult fiscal climate,” reads the letter signed by Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and Reps. Elijah Cummings, John Delaney, Donna Edwards, Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen. “If these funds — $100 million for each project in fiscal year 2015 and up to $900 million each for full construction — are not spent on the Purple and Red Lines, they will not be available for other projects in Maryland.”

The letter was sent Friday before the start of the Memorial Day holiday and a day after Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker met with Hogan and his chief of staff on the issue.

At issue for Hogan is the cost of both projects.

The proposed 16-mile Purple Line route would connect New Carrollton to Bethesda at a current projected cost of $2.45 billion.

The proposed 14.1-mile Red Line route, which includes extensive tunneling under Baltimore City, would connect Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with Woodlawn in Baltimore County at a current projected cost of $2.9 billion.

Both projects have seen costs rise over the last two years.

Hogan has tasked Transportation Sec. Pete K. Rahn with finding ways to reduce the costs for both but there concerns — heightened by recent toll reductions — that one or possibly both projects could fall victim to the Republican governor’s budget ax.

The Democratic lawmakers said the federal money will not be available forever and that other states are already lining up to take advantage.

“Maryland should not squander our advantaged position in this competitive fight for funding,” states the letter to Hogan. “We urge you to move expeditiously to finalize plans for the Red and Purple Lines and bring Maryland the economic benefit and jobs they will provide.”

Shareese Churchill, a Hogan spokeswoman, said the letter was received but has not been read by the governor. There was no timeline for a final decision regarding either proposed project, she said.

The state was expected to make a decision on the projects this month. Hogan met with the county executives of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties late last week to discuss the Purple Line project. No announcement was made and Hogan left Tuesday for a 12-day economic development trip to Asia.