Most Maryland pols are heavily invested in the Purple Line. Virtually all discussion by politicians has been on the imperative of finishing it while downplaying the financial cost. In “Hogan’s Purple Passion”, longtime columnist Barry Rascover has taken the opposite approach in his hard look at the epic financial mess that is now the Purple Line.
Though Purple Line supporters sold the P3 (public-private partnership) as insulating taxpayers from rising cost, Rascover explains that we’re now on the hook for the skyrocketing price.
By the time the east-west Purple Line from Montgomery County to Prince George’s County opens years after Hogan leaves office, the state’s total spending on the mass-transit line could exceed $2 billion. It may even top $3 billion.
If the state takes over construction duties of the Purple Line in the next month when the private consortium running the project could leave the job, there’s at least another $1 billion worth of work to finish. Plus, an added delay of six months — or longer.
Given the line’s history of unexpected delays and under-estimated expenses, that $1 billion projection by the state for future costs could be way off.
This comes on top of the $1 billion in taxpayer dollars already expended by Hogan.
And this doesn’t count the unpaid $800 million in contested cost overruns the contractor, and a judge, blame on the state.
Either we pay the consortium building the Purple Line what they want or we pay even more and suffer greater delays building it ourselves. Instead of protecting taxpayers, the P3 has turned them into hostages.
Rascover assesses who is to blame for this fiasco:
The state tried to lay the onus on the consortium. But a judge didn’t buy that bit of illogic. He ruled the state was responsible for out-of-control costs. He called it a “self-inflicted” wound.
In hindsight it’s clear [Secretary Pete] Rahn badly under-estimated the Purple Line‘s complexity and its costs. Lawsuits by unhappy residents along the route were inevitable — but Rahn plowed ahead anyway, never anticipating these almost certain legal delays of almost a year.
Rahn also didn’t anticipate lengthy fights over obtaining rights of way along the route, or expensive re-designs to separate the Purple Line from CSX tracks. Both were predictable.
The governor’s determination to privatize this project and get it completed while he is still in office overtook common sense. Now taxpayers will foot the bill for Hogan’s and Rahn’s terribly flawed miscalculations.
It’s even worse than Rascover outlines.
The Governor campaigned against the Purple Line and the gas tax passed under O’Malley to fund transportation improvements. He didn’t repeal the gas tax but instead used the monies raised to fund new road projects around the state.
Pressured by the Washington Post, which then endorsed him for reelection, Hogan changed his mind on the Purple Line. But instead of paying for much of the construction up front as originally planned by Democrats, he put it all on credit via privatization, so he could continue to pay for his road projects.
Excepting perhaps Anthony Brown, Democrats shouldn’t feel too smug. They pushed the P3 forward in their eagerness to move the project ahead and also went along with Hogan’s magically cheaper numbers that have now turned out to be wildly unrealistic.
The state’s ability to borrow to cover the monumental additional cost is consequently highly limited. Many sacred cows are going to be gored to finish the Purple Line.