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Purple Line construction begins

Gov. Larry Hogan at the launch of the Purple Line construction.
Gov. Larry Hogan at the launch of the Purple Line construction. (Erin Cox/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland launched construction on the Purple Line on Monday, the culmination of more than two decades of political and financial wrangling to build a transit line connecting the Washington suburbs.

The $2 billion, 16-mile light rail project is the largest public-private infrastructure project in the nation, state and federal transportation officials said. When complete, the 21-stop rail line will carry an estimated 41,000 passengers a day and generate more than 50,000 new jobs.

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao signed off on $900 million in federal funds to build the project this month. On Monday, she said other states should try to replicate Maryland's model of using private companies to help build and maintain large public projects.

A federal funding agreement for a 16-mile light rail project in the traffic-choked suburbs of the nation’s capital is expected to be signed “in the very near future."

"We do not have the money for every project that needs to be done in this country," Chao said at a press conference in Hyattsville.

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Purple Line construction was scheduled to begin a year ago, but court challenges delayed it. The project also faced uncertainty after the Trump administration took office.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan had questioned the wisdom of the project during his 2014 campaign, but ultimately supported it after planners found a way to reduce the cost and local jurisdictions agreed to pay more of the tab.

Hogan said he lobbied Chao, whom he called a personal friend, to help pay for a project that Maryland's federal delegation had been pressing for years.

While Hogan pushed ahead with the Purple Line in 2015, he canceled the proposed Red Line, a $2.9 billion east-west light rail line planned for Baltimore, arguing the project was too expensive and a "boondoggle."

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Many Baltimore lawmakers criticized that action, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a federal complaint, arguing Hogan's decision effectively discriminated against African-Americans. That complaint was dismissed in July.

On Monday, Hogan, wearing a hardhat and seated at the controls of heavy construction machinery, personally began construction on the Purple Line by demolishing part of a building.

"The Purple Line will be a transformative, long-term asset for the state," said Hogan, adding that's "it's a shining example" of government. He also called the railway an "important economic driver."

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen called the project "a long-distance relay run" carried out by legions of public officials.

Rep. Anthony Brown, who as lieutenant governor lobbied to pass legislation to make the project possible, said the 2013 increase in the state's gas tax was a crucial step in trying to build it.

Hogan's transportation secretary Pete Rahn said the Purple Line will be Hogan's "legacy" to Maryland.

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