Robert Ehrlich (R), former governor of Maryland, recently made comments that have ruffled the feathers of many officials in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Ehrlich, who announced a bid for the state’s top office last August, opposes the Purple Line light rail project that many local and statewide politicians have worked hard to bring to fruition.

Ehrlich says he prefers using a rapid bus system over the light rail. He believes the rail system is too costly of a burden for the state to place on its taxpayers. “We want to be honest and honestly, there isn’t money to pay for that light rail system at this point,” said Andy Barth, spokesman for Ehrlich’s campaign.

The project, put together by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) administration would be a $1.5 billion light rail line connecting New Carrollton and downtown Bethesda. The line would include stops at the University of Maryland, in Takoma Park and Silver Spring.

O’Malley is seeking assistance from Congress to help fund the project. He has some allies at the Capitol who are not interested in seeing a bus line over light rail. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is working hard to get the Purple Line the necessary funding.

“I was a proponent of the Purple Line long before I came into Congress and that hasn’t changed,” said Edwards. “Our constituents are tired of driving east-to-west on our beltway crossing counties. They recognize for our energy future and our quality of life that the Purple Line makes sense.”

Ehrlich is not opposed to getting the federal funding, but as the feds would only be covering half of the project, Ehrlich says Maryland already has too many budget issues to add another. That’s why he’s proposing a rapid bus system, which his campaign says is a much better option for the region.

“Safe, reliable and affordable transportation is what would provide,” Barth said. “We’d do it at one-third of the cost of digging new rails. Obviously we’d use existing roadways.”

However, some say buses just won’t get the job done. Prince George’s County Councilman Eric Olson, D-Dist. 3, a former member of Purple Line Now, an advocacy group for the project, believes the buses just aren’t capable of meeting the needs of the region. “The Purple Line would help create economic development, take cars of the road and benefit the environment,” he said. “A bus line just doesn’t cut it.”

O’Malley’s campaign says that Ehrlich needs to move forward and that the idea of using buses is a thing of the past. “This just shows how out of touch Bob Ehrlich is and that he truly does want Maryland to take a step back,” said Rick Abbruzzese, O’Malley spokesman. “We have an issue where gridlock has plagued the Washington Metropolitan region and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties for years. You can’t simply throw buses on roads that are already far too congested and overcrowded and expect to solve transportation problems.

“Who would’ve thought we’d be discussing the Purple Line again like this, but it’s likely that a lot of issues come back like this.”

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO