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The Sun's Julie Bykowicz reports from former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s small business round table in Montgomery County that the presumptive Republican challenger to Gov. Martin O"Malley would scrap the incumbent's proposals for light rail lines in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs.

Ehrlich told the group he go back to his plan for high-speed buses on the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and be "open to ideas" about Baltimore's Red Line. He said he would prefer to spend the money on the MARC commuter rail system and the Washington Metro -- not on these new light rail lines.

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On an unrelated transportation matter, Ehrlich said he doesn't like the toll levels that have been approved for the Intercounty Connector, though he was not clear about whether or how he would change them. It was under Ehrlich's administration that the highway was approved as a toll road, though the actual rates were not set by the Maryland Transportation Authority until after a market study conducted under O'Malley.

In supporting rapid-bus service along the Purple Line, Ehrlich would be going against the preference of most local leaders in suburban Washington, where support for the Purple Line plan runs high in spite of a roughly $1.6 billion price tag.

The Red Line light rail plan has the strong support of Baltimore business and civic leaders but has aroused opposition in some neighborhoods, including Canton and Edmondson Village, where plans call for it to run on surface streets.The cost of that plan was recently revised up to roughly $1.8 billion.

The state has applied to the federal government for funding of the two transit lines  as light rail projects. If approved, the federal share of the cost would likely be 50 percent -- leaving Maryland to raise  the other half. The O'Malley administration has put off any decision on funding until its hears from the Federal Transit Administration on whether it will approve either project.

On the ICC tolls, Ehrlich could face a dilemma if he wins the election. If ICC tolls are cut, largely for the benefit of Washington-area users, it is not clear how the transportation authority could make up the lost revenue without raising tolls at its existing toll facilities -- including those in the Baltimore area.

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