Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Montgomery County Gazette
Council approves Purple Line alignment
Construction can begin when federal funding arrives
by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer
Construction on a proposed 16-mile light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton can begin once the $1.6 billion project receives federal funding.
Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council approved the Purple Line Functional Master Plan, which dictates the route, station stops and other aspects of the project, in an 8-0 vote with little discussion. The vote went against the wishes of some Capital Crescent Trail supporters and residents in Bethesda and Chevy Chase who argued that the rail system would be inefficient and inhibit use of the trail.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) approved the project last August to be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for funding consideration. The states estimates Purple Line construction could begin as soon as 2013 and service could be available as soon as 2016.
Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, was not in the room during the vote. He returned to the council about 10 minutes after to add his vote in favor of project.
After the vote, Berliner noted that he has been a consistent supporter of the Purple Line for years. Berliner voted for the Purple Line light rail option in January of last year for what he called at the time “the greater good” of mass transit.
One of the most vocal light rail opponents, Town of Chevy Chase resident Pam Browning, who is also president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail organization, said Berliner failed to properly represent his constituents with his vote Tuesday.
“The County Council would like us to think this is not a big deal, but it’s huge. It’ll be an environmental disaster,” said Browning, citing the loss of trees along the trail as an example.
Until two weeks ago, Berliner had argued that the project should consist of one, not two, tracks during a mile-long stretch in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area. Residents there, who favor a bus route that would cost less than light rail, have argued that a two-lane rail would have several negative effects on their community, ranging from safety problems at rail crossings to increased noise levels.
As proposed by the Maryland Transit Administration, which controls the project, the Purple Line would consist of two tracks along the length of the light rail, from Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring.
But on July 15, during a council Purple Line discussion, Berliner said he was giving up the fight for single-track. He said that would not preserve the environment around the Georgetown Branch of the Capital Crescent Trail, which runs alongside a portion of the project’s proposed route. Moving to a single track on any portion of the line could also create delays and damage the project’s cost-efficiency, transportation planners said.
On Tuesday, Berliner said he had met with residents of Chevy Chase who are upset about the project’s impact on the Capital Crescent Trail, arguing that it will lose its tree canopy and its appeal to hikers, cyclists and others who enjoy the environment around the recreational trail.
Berliner promised Tuesday that, “This trail will be the finest it” can be. As an example, Berliner cited that the plan’s language now called for a 12-foot-wide trail where feasible, with a minimum width of 10 feet, instead of a standard width of 10 feet originally proposed by MTA.
While the trail was not the only point of contention, the council managed to reach a consensus on a dispute farther east, near Silver Spring.
During a July 20 discussion, the council agreed that the zoning around a potential station at Wayne Avenue and Dale Drive east of Silver Spring would not be altered if that station is eventually built after residents expressed concern about the station’s impact on their neighborhood. The council has left room for a Dale Drive station to be built, but has not committed to it.