Tag Archives: Pete Rahn

Rahn Weakens Hogan’s Hand on Purple Line

Robert McCartney in the Washington Post broke the story on Wednesday that Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn has recommend building the Purple Line:

Rahn urged his boss to go ahead with the light-rail project in the Washington suburbs providing that the price tag is trimmed by about $300 million from the estimated $2.45 billion cost and that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties pay a bigger share, one of the officials said. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because while they have been briefed on Rahn’s action, they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

I tend to give credence to the story because of the response from the Governor’s office:

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said he could not confirm that Rahn had urged the governor to back a less-costly version of the project, rather than postpone it or kill it outright.

“As far as I know, no final recommendations have been made to the governor,” Mayer said. He declined to say whether Rahn had delivered a preliminary judgment.

If Rahn had yet to deliver his judgement or it was negative, wouldn’t Hogan’s spokesman issue a flat denial instead of a “no comment” in response to these questions?

Assuming that’s the case, the story places Hogan in an awkward position. If Hogan moves forward with the project, he looks weak and pushed into it by Rahn, despite the strong opposition of many Republicans. Alternatively, if Hogan nixes it, he looks like he has ignored the advice of the Secretary he charged with it and transit advocates will beat him over the head about it.

Either way, Hogan doesn’t look good. Rahn also cannot be happy that the press got a hold of this story. It portrays him as the indiscreet member of administration that has had strong message discipline. It also doesn’t aid his future job prospects, as people don’t want to hire someone who speaks out of school.

Side Note: Was Montgomery Council President George Leventhal, quoted later in the article as confirming the story, the source of the leak despite his protestations that:

I really like the secretary, and I hope I haven’t said anything that gets him in trouble. He was abundantly clear that he supports the project, he wants to build the project, and he was getting ready to make his recommendation.”

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone was quoted as confirming their own “anonymous” leak.

Hogan Restructuring MTA

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, has fired Robert Smith, a Democratic appointee, as head of the Maryland Transit Administration. This move is part of a larger effort to restructure MTA in the face of problems of facing the agency:

The agency is a year late in producing a promised plan for improvements to its beleaguered Baltimore bus network, is facing a class-action lawsuit from transit riders with disabilities who use its Mobility service, and hasn’t met a state mandate that it provide 35 percent of its operating budget through fare revenue since 2005.

Ridership across all MTA transit modes — including local buses, light rail and MARC train service — was down in 2014, though it has rebounded some this year.

The Baltimore bus network has been a particular problem. MTA’s inadequate slow motion plan to improve buses is scheduled over 18 years. The Baltimore Sun reports that the Transportation Secretary plans to review the plan.

Smith explained that aging infrastructure is a big part of the challenges that MTA faces:

“It’s an aging system. The Metro itself is 30 years old. The light rail is at mid-life,” he said.

Hogan Approves Purple Line

In a surprise move, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he is ready to move full-speed ahead on the light-rail Purple Line that will travel from Bethesda to New Carrollton in suburban Washington. The Baltimore Sun reported:

“Working closely with Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, we have discovered the means to reduce costs substantially,” said Gov. Hogan at an early morning press conference. “If we eliminate frills, I am now confident that it can be built in a cost-effective manner that will bring business to Maryland.”

Hogan explained that a major barrier has always been the price of the light-rail cars, which are expensive and have to be imported from Ostrava in the Czech Republic:

We have cut unnecessary extras. Seats provide no benefit to the taxpayer, so they have been eliminated from the redesigned trains. Indeed, we have now also done away with walls and the ceiling to go with a sleek, modern flatbed design.

Purple Line Project Manager Mike Madden applauded the move:

I appreciate the governor’s support and leadership on the project. Eliminating not just doors but walls will make it easier to board and to exit the train, thus reducing time spent at stations and increasing speed, resulting in an estimated increase in ridership of 31.7%.

When asked for the documentation on the increased ridership, Madden described the information as “proprietary” but also reassured the public on their accuracy: “They were calculated by the same high-quality experts who designed the Silver Spring Transit Center that will open later this year.”

Hogan’s decision to simplify cars was hailed by former Action Committee for Transit President Ben Ross:

This new design is in touch with the simplified lifestyle preferred by Millennials. Let’s face it: seats are emblematic of the bourgeois Lexus lifestyle. I’m glad that Maryland and Montgomery County have said “yes” to our smart growth future by embracing open plan light-rail.

Similarly, Montgomery Council President George Leventhal congratulated Hogan on WAMU for “finally following his lead” and said “The open plan is an excellent forward-thinking idea. I think of it as a moving Capital Crescent Trail. It will be a first-class system.”

Not all of Leventhal’s colleagues were so sanguine. Council Vice Chair Nancy Floreen said to the Washington Post:

Heck, I never thought the Governor would invest so much money in areas that will never vote for him. Now, I’ll have to come up with all the money that Montgomery County promised when I’m Council President next year. I don’t see why I shouldn’t just run for Congress instead.

But Robert Thomson, better known as Dr. Gridlock, reassured the public in an online Post discussion: “I have every confidence that the Purple Line will light a fire under small business in Langley Park just as the DC Streetcar has sparked long quiet H Street.”

Former Carroll County Commissioner Republican Robin Frazier denounced the move. Appearing at a “Help Save Maryland” rally, she said that it would only help “homosexuals and illegal aliens get around so that they can use bathrooms in more places.”