Augustine Pushes for the Purple Line, Is Super Wrong

John J. Walters Mar 27, 2015

Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin and chairman of the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission, wants Governor Hogan to commit to spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money on a 16 mile public transport boondoggle because the state has already put forth a “considerable effort… to define a route that is as least disruptive to landowners as possible.”

In other words: “You should continue to fund this project because you already started funding this project.”

Current estimates put the cost of the Purple Line at $2.4 billion—a lot of extra money to throw around for a state that suffers so chronically from over-spending—but it’s highly unlikely that costs will stay even that low. From a recent Maryland Public Policy Institute press release:

A representative sample of 31 major U.S. light rail projects over the last three decades experienced an average cost overrun of 44 percent. Of the 11 projects completed since 2005, the average cost overrun grew to 53 percent. Cost overruns are the rule, not the exception, for transit projects in the United States.

A 50 percent increase in cost would put the price at around $3.6 billion. And that’s just to build it. Maintenance and repair costs on the light rail lines will be borne by the state for decades to come. Maryland has a hard enough time finding the money to maintain the infrastructure we already use.

Aside from the substantial expense, Maryland residents should also be skeptical of the projected ridership. Randal O’Toole, senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of the Maryland Public Policy Institute’s recently released in-depth study Review of the Purple Line, summed up the issue perfectly in a recent Washington Business Journal op-ed:

The projected 2040 ridership for the line of more than 69,000 daily trips is three times greater than the average light-rail line in the country. Transit ridership is a function of population and job densities and most other light-rail lines serve areas that are much denser than the Purple Line corridor.

New Jersey's Hudson-Bergen light rail serves an area that has four times the population density of urban Montgomery County and a job center with 123,000 jobs, far more than any point on the Purple Line. Yet the Hudson-Bergen line carries only 44,000 trips a day.

The state's ridership projections for Baltimore light- and heavy-rail lines all proved to be two or more times greater than actual ridership. If built, the Purple Line will be no different.

Augustine wrote that one of the “more serious inhibitors to the growth of business in Maryland is the inadequacy of our transportation system.” He thinks that spending all this money will be yet another game changer for the state. But states that spent the most on public transit in the 90s grew slowest in the early 2000s. This is an extraordinarily expensive ticket for a ride Maryland shouldn’t take.