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What Does Larry Hogan's Election Mean For The Purple Line?

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Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Annapolis, Md. Hogan campaigned relentlessly against tax increases and stuck to a pro-business message to win a big upset against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the race for governor in heavily Democratic Maryland.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Annapolis, Md. Hogan campaigned relentlessly against tax increases and stuck to a pro-business message to win a big upset against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the race for governor in heavily Democratic Maryland.

The unexpected victory by Republican Larry Hogan in the race for Maryland governor spurred an immediate negative reaction from some transit advocates. They say Hogan may try to kill projects such as the Purple Line in Montgomery County.

But they may be overreacting.

Even before the final votes were counted, some bloggers took to Twitter to say the future is grim, that Republican Larry Hogan would pour more money into roads at the expense of the Purple Line, the $2.5 billion light rail system planned for Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Hogan was asked Wednesday if he will support the project. And this is all he would say:

"Yeah, we're going to be talking about that during transition."

During the campaign, Hogan gave mixed signals about his commitment to mass transit, but one of the largest pro-transit groups in our region says the Republican victor is more open-minded about such projects than his opponents give him credit for.

"Transit is good for economic growth," says Alex Posorske at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports the Purple Line. "I think it is very unfair to say he is anti-transit."

Posorske says Hogan ran on a platform of economic development, and in Maryland, that goes hand in hand with support for the Purple Line.

"Every smart business person knows it in this day and age: jobs, economic development, they follow transit. And that is especially true in the Washington D.C. region," Posorske says.

The Maryland Transit Administration expects to begin construction next year now that the federal government has pledged close to $1 billion to help build the Purple Line. So it’s a bit late in the game for a new governor to stop the project in its tracks, but not impossible. Hogan could direct the MTA to suspend work and cut off its application for federal funds. The governor could also remove funding from future state budgets.

"We have been assuming that the Purple Line is going to happen and now it is probably fair to say that it somewhat up in the air," says Gerrit Knapp, the director of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland.

Knapp says that instead of looking at the Purple Line as a car-versus-transit issue, the Republican businessman may see it as an economic issue.

"This is the biggest jobs program in the state, and much of it is going to be funded by the federal government, so my guess is he will think carefully about what the economic development impact of this project will be before he decides either direction, whether to support it or oppose it," Knapp says.

The Purple Line briefing for the Metro board that had been on the agenda for Thursday has been cancelled at the request of Maryland officials "in order to give the Governor-elect and his transition team more time to learn about the project and provide their direction on the project," according to a Metro spokesman.

Also unclear is Hogan’s stance on funding Metro’s program to expand rail capacity to alleviate crowding. Two-thirds of the trains Metro runs during rush hour contain only 6 cars. The transit authority needs $1.5 billion from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia over the next six years to order enough rail cars to run all 8-car trains during rush hour. That funding commitment has to be locked up by the middle of next year.

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