Can Maryland Pull Off Its Risky Purple Line Partnership?

To finance and construct a new $2.2 billion light rail line in the D.C. suburbs, Maryland will seek to enter into a unique private sector partnership. The ambitious strategy is drawing concern from lawmakers.

In this era of tight budgets and federal gridlock, cities and states are taking it upon themselves to find innovative ways to fund desirable infrastructure projects. Maryland is one of the states dipping its toes in the public-private partnership waters with a plan to design and build a 16-mile light rail line with the help of the private sector. 

"Maryland transportation officials say such a partnership would take advantage of the private sector’s light-rail expertise and require the companies to assume the financial risks of any construction delays or cost overruns," explains Katherine Shaver. "The efficiencies gained from one private entity overseeing all aspects — from the drawing board to bulldozers to trains on tracks — are projected to save up to 20 percent over 35 years, officials say."

However, "[t]he approach, while considered innovative, is drawing scrutiny," she adds. "State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who reviewed the plan as a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said he considers it a 'very risky proposition.'”

“It’s attractive. It’s an innovative approach,” Madaleno said. “But we don’t have very many, if any, examples of how this works out.”

UPDATE (10/16/13): The vote on whether to pursue the plan has been delayed until November 6. 

Full Story: Purple Line: Public-private transit partnership would be one of the broadest in U.S.

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