Zero Hour for the Purple Line

With its twisty, politically drawn route it won’t get you fast to the places you want to go. Its interconnectivity with Metro is poor and getting worse. For a foretaste of where its rising costs are headed, check out the cost overruns at the Silver Spring Transit Center.

In short, the Purple Line makes an appealing target as governor-elect Larry Hogan looks for ways to cut the Maryland budget. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute says it’s a net energy loser and unlikely to relieve congestion. Former Chevy Chase mayor David Lublin has been blogging extensively at Seventh State about the project’s shaky financial premises for which other parts of the state, and other transit users such as those who ride buses and Washington Metro, will wind up paying dearly. A common way of evaluating fixed-route transit projects is whether by stimulating intensive development along the line, they boost local real estate values and the accompanying tax base. As Lublin points out, however, pressure groups stand ready to resist denser or higher uses of land near Purple Line stops on the ground that it would lead to displacement of businesses and tenants already there. And the development impetus may not be so great to begin with — Metro is a much more powerful boost than a streetcar line because it is better suited to carry commuters in and out from around the whole D.C. area, yet even Metro stops often languish for decades without the redevelopment of nearby properties of low usage intensity. Ben Ross of Action Committee for Transit has responded to Lublin and O’Toole at Greater Greater Washington.

One further, very serious problem with an already marginal fixed-rail transit project: changes in automotive transport are happening rapidly enough to make many plans obsolete. Aside from the rise of Uber and Lyft ridesharing, we are probably within a decade or two of the widespread adoption of driverless vehicle technologies which will change demand patterns for both transit and roads (and resulting issues of congestion and capacity) in ways that are almost impossible to predict. It is already doubtful that the new line suits the needs of 2015, and much more doubtful that it will meet the needs of 2045.

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Filed under DC area, Policy

One response to “Zero Hour for the Purple Line

  1. Pingback: In miniature, December 21 | Free State Notes

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