The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail fundraiser/briefing packed the house on March 5 with over 60 supporters from Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Kensington, Washington DC, and Alexandria, Va, and speakers from Silver Spring and Prince George’s County.  The event demonstrated that concerns with the Purple Line – and support for a full and fair assessment of alternatives  – extend over the length of its proposed route and beyond.
Participants heard new information and analysis about the Purple Line, currently suspended by a federal court order, and about the status of the lawsuit. Some of the points presented by experts and lawyers included:


–  The Purple Line is not a true Public-Private Partnership (P3) and does not leverage significant private funding to pay for the more than $6 billion dollars that the project will cost, explained Frank Lysy, former Chief Economist within the World Bank Group, who in that capacity reviewed many P3 and project contracts.  In fact, in the case of the Purple Line, 94% of project funds come from the government.


– The Purple Line, cannibalizing funding and riders from other systems, is “transit that hurts transit,” explained Dr. Lysy.  Funding casualties of the Purple Line already include, for example, the Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery County, providing congestion relief along the North-South corridor to Shady Grove, which can’t go ahead now for lack of funding.  Meanwhile, Prince George’s County’s TheBus system, which covers 10,000 miles and 29 routes, and the Montgomery County bus system, could be improved and run for free at a fraction of the cost of the Purple Line, encouraging transit use and serving people who need it the most.


– In Prince George’s County, the Purple Line’s new stops would take away much-needed development from the already existing, over-abundant transit centers , and funding for the Purple Line would compete with the investments needed to sustain the County’s aging transportation infrastructure – impacts that must be assessed in a new or supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, according to Bradley Heard, an attorney and advocate in Prince George’s County, who on February 20, 2017, filed an Administrative Procedures Act petition with the US Department of Transportation.


– Fixing Metro and WMATA Metrobus first is what common sense, and the law, require.  Frank Lysy, Bradley Heard, and attorney and advocate John Fitzgerald, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, also pointed to Metro’s current crisis, to the Purple Line’s potential adverse impacts on that system, and the fact that the Metrobus improvements proposed in WMATA’s Momentum Plan include improvements in the Purple Line corridor and adding over 100,000 new daily boardings to the regional bus network, making the Purple Line not only costly but duplicative of more effective solutions now being proposed.


What’s more, the Federal Highway Act itself, in Section (49 U.S.C. § 5309(f)(1) requires that “local resources [be] available to recapitalize, maintain, and operate the overall existing and proposed public transportation system,” without any reduction in service, before federal funds can be disbursed to projects like the Purple Line, explained John Fitzgerald.  (see March 2, 2017 Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail letter to US Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao).


Noise would be a major impact on children in schools near the Purple Line, such as Rosemary Hills, explained Don MacGlashan, an engineer who was a consultant for the Federal Government, and who has done sound analysis for citizen groups. He and Julia Randall, another volunteer, investigated Rosemary Hills as well as other schools.  They found that the Purple Line tracks will be so close to the Rosemary Hills school that the impact of its frequent transient noise could disrupt the cognitive learning ability of the children. It is the high peak transient noise, not average noise, that is the true sound impact of a Light Rail Transit System.


–In Silver Spring, concerns continue about the widening of Wayne Avenue in a residential area with schools, where stakes have been placed in front yards showing where the County claims right of way for the Line.  Other residents worry about the blasting of the tunnel at Sligo Creek, and runoff that would go into a stream that the community have been restoring, explained Jean Cavanaugh of Silver Spring.


–In Bethesda, news just recently surfaced about a permit application from Purple Line Construction Partners to “appropriate and divert” large volumes of water for at least four years from an underground spring – which likely gave Bethesda its name – for the construction of the “shaft” for the project’s station there. This permit and impact was never mentioned or assessed in the Environmental Impact Statement process for the project, and nothing has been said so far about where the up to 100,000 gallons a day of water will be diverted.


–  Chainsaws are ready and construction stakes are in the ground — ready to be unleashed and mow down a total of 48 acres of irreplaceable forest inside the Beltway should the judge decide to rule in favor of the agencies.  But will MTA follow the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)’s request not to cut trees during nesting season?  The DNR in a letter to the MTA on the Purple Line in 2011 stated:


“Do not remove or disturb forest habitat during April-August, the breeding season for most FIDS [Forest Interior Dwelling Species of birds, including some migratory birds, species of woodpeckers, and more]. This seasonal restriction may be expanded to February-August if certain early nesting FIDS (e.g. Barred Owl), are present. ”


Barred owls have been heard often on the trail and nearby this February.  Many of the fundraiser’s participants have already taken steps to urge the Maryland Attorney General and County Executive to respect and enforce that restriction. Attendees discussed how best to continue to keep the pressure on those authorities to protect the birds and their habitat.
Following the presentations, attendees mingled, continued to share ideas, and made donations in support of the lawsuit. Many who could not attend sent their encouragement and contributions.  The event and those associated contributions raised over $10,500.

Many thanks to all those who are making possible this fight for green space, for fiscal responsibility and transparency, for projects that serve people and not just developers, and for the rule of law!