How the state's proposed $2.4 billion light rail could take taxpayers for a ride. By Mary Anastasia O'Grady June 27, 2014. Full Article at The Wall Street Journal
The central questions about All Aboard Florida remain: How do you design a rail system if you don't know how many people will ride it? "It drives everything – how many tracks, how many parking spots, how many everything..." , how can they truly estimate the cost (no one else in the country has) and are we going to be fooled that AAF will perform as promised?
With a $2.4 billion price tag, the Maryland Department of Transportation's 16-mile light-rail "Purple Line" won't be built without federal taxpayers as major underwriters. The state is asking them to kick in $900 million for construction costs—and that's before contractors, who are notorious for cost overruns, have even broken ground. That kind of money is a rounding error in Washington but it also seems to be a colossal waste of money.
Federal funding for the purple dream once seemed impossible. But Maryland has tortured the numbers (not in public, mind you) and gotten them to say what it wants. California has its "crazy train." Now Maryland wants its own loco loco.
When Gov. O'Malley took office in 2007 he admitted that unpublished ridership estimates that he had seen for the Purple Line were insufficient to win federal funding. The Montgomery County Gazette reported in March 2007 that Mr. O'Malley's secretary of transportation, John Porcari, called the estimates "too low, clearly too low." He blamed "flawed" models. According to the Gazette, Mr. O'Malley blamed his predecessor: ''I suspect given the previous administration's lack of commitment to mass transit, they probably did not mind the studies underestimated the amount of ridership."
But Gov. O'Malley and his developer friends want it, and President Obama wants them to have it. The president put a cool $100 million in his 2015 budget for the Purple Line although the FTA has yet to complete the project development phase of its assessment and it hasn't even begun the engineering phase.
Whether Mr. Porcari has been able to help with all this is a matter of speculation. In 2009 he left the Maryland DOT to become President Obama's deputy DOT secretary. In December he left the Obama administration to become senior vice president and national director of strategic consulting at Parsons Brinckerhoff. He did not return requests for comment. But taxpayers could be forgiven for suspecting that he and all the other Purple Line planners are taking them for a ride.