November 18, 2011
Montgomery planners recommend alternative site for Bethesda’s Purple Line station
Montgomery County Gazette

By Jessica Ablamsky, Staff Writer

The Montgomery County Planning Board acted against the advice of county transportation planners and recommended moving the Bethesda Purple Line station at its meeting today.

If approved by Montgomery County Council, the Maryland Transit Administration would investigate the cost of moving the station to the east side of the Air Rights Center in downtown Bethesda, where the county owns Elm Street Park.

In part, the rail would run along the existing path of the Capital Crescent Trail, a popular pedestrian and biking route. Planners are considering squeezing both trail and the light rail through the existing tunnel at Wisconsin Avenue, or moving the trail to a surface route, which trail advocates are against. The MTA will handle design and construction, while Montgomery County will foot the bill.

MTA would also investigate moving the station underneath the building, which would require demolition and redevelopment.

“I have no idea what the reaction will be,” said Commissioner Casey Anderson. “I think taking down the Air Rights Building is an idea that has not been aired before, so I think that will be a surprise.”

The unfunded $1.9 billion Purple Line would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring and is intended to ease east-west traffic in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Construction is expected to start in 2014 and be completed in 2020.

The MTA has said maintaining an underground route for the trail could exceed the cost of acquiring the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. Construction would expose support beams, posing unknown risks.

A surface route for the trail planned by Montgomery County from Elm Street Park to Willow Lane would force commuters to cross crowded Wisconsin Avenue.

Transportation planners recommended more research into the cost of the tunnel for the Purple Line only and upgrading the trail’s surface route.

Purple Line design issues will be discussed at the County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee on Dec. 5, and is expected to be voted on by the full council next year.