Tag Archives: Maryland Transportation Administration

The Giant Purple Credit Card, Part II: Thank You, Baltimore!


Mike Madden, the Project Manager for the Purple Line, was once again kind enough to answer questions on the topic. I appreciate his willingness to take the time. Today, I publish some of my questions and Mike Madden’s answers along with comments.

Show Me the Money

Seventh State Question: My understanding is that the service payments will come from fare costs. Is this correct (and, if not, where do they come from)? How does MDOT estimate the takings in fares as it hasn’t set the fares or negotiated a transfer agreement with WMATA for Metro yet? It is not correct that the payments come from farebox revenues.

Mike Madden: The annual payments will come from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund, as does all the state investment and support for transportation projects and services. Farebox revenues go into the Transportation Trust Funds as do the other sources of revenue for transportation purposes. Again, the Pre-Solicitation Report provides further information on this topic.

Seventh State Comment: I followed Mike’s suggestion and looked at the report, which states that:

[T]he forecasted fare revenues generated by the Purple Line are estimated to be on average greater than the concessionaire’s debt service. Therefore, even though MTA would collect and account for the Purple Line fare revenues, the MTA revenues generated by the project are sufficient to cover the borrowed capital repayment share of the availability payment. (Source: “Presolicitation Report to the Maryland General Assembly, August 2013, pp. 17-18).

So in essence, MTA is claiming that the revenues from the Purple Line will be enough to pay back the cost of building it. There are major, serious problems with this claim. MTA has no idea what the fares will be at this point if only because they have no agreement negotiated with WMATA about how transfers between the Purple Line and Metro will be handled. As a result, we have no idea how the revenue from transfer trips–a significant number of trips including the PL–will be divided. Heck, MTA doesn’t even know how they will collect the fares on the open (i.e. no fare gate) system yet or how much it will have to spend on enforcement of it.

Next, if ridership has been overestimated, and Randall O’Toole explains why it almost certainly has been, MTA will either collect less money and or have to reduce fares in order to attract more ridership. MTA and Parsons-Brinckerhoff’s record along with their complete unwillingness to explain how they calculated ridership does not inspire confidence.

Operating Costs

Finally, notice that there is no mention of the operating cost, which will also be factored into the bids and for which the State will also have to pay. The sources of payment for this cost remain shrouded in mystery. My inquiry to Mike Madden didn’t reveal more:

7S Question: As fares usually do not even cover operating costs, where will the funds to operate the Purple Line come from?

MM: The payment for operating costs are included in the annual payments, which will come from the Maryland Transportation Trust Funds, as does all the state investment and support for transportation projects and services.

7S Comment: I imagine that the funds to fill the Transportation Trust Fund are expected to come from the planned gas tax increases–the same one our incoming Governor has vowed to stop and to repeal.

Thank You, Baltimore!

7S Question: Is it correct that the State’s ability to pay the concessionaire is backed by its income from public transit in Baltimore?

MM: No. The farebox revenues from transit services in the Baltimore region go into the Transportation Trust Funds.

7S Comment: Despite the flat denial, since the fares from the Baltimore region go into the Transportation Trust Funds, they are obviously going to be used to help guarantee that the State can pay for the Purple Line. It seems obfuscatory to pretend otherwise, especially as MTA has explained this to legislators.

More to Come in Part III


Purple Line Station Downgrade, No Tunnel Under Wisc. Ave.

In closed session yesterday, the Montgomery County Council concurred with the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett and decided not to go move forward with the funding to facilitate redevelopment of the APEX building and a much improved Purple Line stop in Bethesda.

The Council had already greatly expanded the size of the building that could be built on the spot in the hopes of enticing the owner to redevelop or to sell to a developer. However, they balked at agreement with the roughly $70 million in costs to the County to facilitate the deal and make it economically feasible.

There are three major effects of this decision:

Less Well-Designed Purple Line Station

The Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) had pressed the County to move forward with the APEX acquisition to allow construction of a well-designed Purple Line station. While the State now claims that the new station, projected to handle around 24,000 trips per day, will still be adequate, the failure to acquire the building requires major changes.

Passengers will need to cross the tracks–something MTA previously described as problematic but now says will be alright. Additionally, one of the platforms will have to be much smaller and the ease of accessibility to the system will decline. There will still be elevator banks for direct Purple to Red Line connections, though the entrances will need to be moved.

No Tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue

People wanting to continue on the much-used Capital Crescent Trail will have to make their crossing of Wisconsin Ave. at grade. Currently, there is a wide tunnel under the Air Rights Building that facilitates bike trips under Wisconsin Ave.

The original plans promised a new smaller tunnel under the Air Rights Building in tandem with the new Purple Line. This promise  evaporated after the project had moved on to a later stage when it became deemed to expensive.

Hope for the tunnel reemerged with the redevelopment of the APEX building. Indeed, Montgomery County government leaders expressed greater enthusiasm for the tunnel, most recently at a publicly televised debate before the Democratic primary.

The lack of a grade separated bicycle crossing will also likely anger area bicyclists concerned not just about ease of travel but public safety. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA),  has predicated its strong support on grade-separated crossings of major thoroughfares along the trail.

Less Development at APEX Site

One of the major goals of the construction of the Purple Line has been to stimulate development and economic growth, crucial to expanding the County’s tax base to pay to maintain infrastructure and services.

It will be more difficult and therefore much more expensive to tear down and construct a new larger building on the APEX site after the construction of the new Purple Line stop. As a result, it may never happen. Any redevelopment would be pushed much further into the future until (if ever) it become a profitable venture.


The developers working to arrange the deal (i.e. the purchase of the building from the current owners and money need to render its redevelopment economically feasible) could come back with a better set of numbers. So maybe it will all work out.

Right now, however, the County will be left will a Purple Line stop described to me as “adequate” or “functional” at best at its critical terminus and economic engine in Bethesda. It does nothing for trust in government, due to repeated broken promises from both MTA and the County over the tunnel and the politically convenient timing of these decisions.