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The Purple Line Lives

Remember the Purple Line? Or, as Maryland officials call it, the Bi-County Transitway? It's a proposed rail connection that would run 14 miles from Bethesda to New Carrolton. Proponents say it would provide a critical link between the Maryland burbs and take traffic off the overtaxed Beltway. It's been on the back of the back burner for the last few years, as Maryland has put all its efforts into building the ICC.

A coalition in favor of building the Purple Line announced today that it will try to revive interest in the rail link by holding three rallies this week "to dramatize the urgent need for the Purple Line as gas prices hover around three dollars a gallon."

The rallies will be Wednesday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. at 9510 Georgia Avenue; Thursday from noon to 12:30 p.m. at the plaza at One Bethesda Metro Center; and Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. at 8500 Connecticut Avenue.

State officials have said they remain committed to the Purple Line. A couple weeks ago, Jack Cahalan, spokesman for Maryland Transportation Secretary Bob Flanagan, assured me in an e-mail that planning for the Purple Line is still "very active." Cahalan was responding to an online chat I had in which I said that "Maryland has gone all highway all the time in the last couple of years and while studies of the Purple Line and other transit extensions continue, there seems to be little actual momentum to build them."

Cahalan wrote that "as you know so well, you don't snap your fingers and bring out the guys in the hard hats. You plan the project, address issues, design it and acquire the necessary funding...then bring out the hard hats."

That's true. But it's also true that by going all out for the last three-plus years the Ehrlich administration has been able to bring us to the brink of building the $2.4 billion ICC, which had stalled for the previous, oh, 40 some years. So yes a lot has to happen before you bring out the hard hats, but the folks in Maryland have shown that they can make it happen for a project if they want to.

The state is holding four informational open houses in June about the Purple Line. They are: at the Holiday Inn at 8777 George Avenue in Silver Spring on June 12; Langley Park Community Center at 1500 Merrimac Drive on June 14; Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School at 4301 East-West Highway on June 19; and at the College Park Municipal Center at 4500 Knox Road on June 21. All of the open houses start at 4 p.m. and run until 8 p.m.

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 22, 2006; 12:45 PM ET
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What are the start and end times for the open houses?

Posted by: Paul_in_Maryland | May 22, 2006 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I personally believe if Maryland is going to spend transportation money, they should spend the money connecting the Metro Line to BWI in order to compete with Dulles Airport which will get a Metro station. It makes more sense because of the Money that BWI can pump into the Maryland Economy. If Maryland can afford to do both, then it would be great. But if you had to pick one, then BWI Metro link is the clear winner.

Posted by: NICEDAY | May 22, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Paul. They're all from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Posted by: Steven Ginsberg | May 22, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

hey NICEDAY, there is already rail to BWI--you can get the MARC or the AMTRAK from Union Station to BWI. No such equivalent transport is possible to/from Dulles, yet.

Posted by: ouij | May 22, 2006 3:15 PM | Report abuse

It's actually not a Holiday Inn in Silver Spring anymore. It's at the Crowne Plaza.

Posted by: Eric | May 22, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Oh and yes, there is MARC to BWI, but it is not as convenient for business travelers as Metro will be for Dulles. After the Purple line is secure in its funding and construction, attention should be paid to extend the Green line to BWI, and then work on extending the Purple line into VA and around the Beltway.

Posted by: Eric | May 22, 2006 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Purple Line needs to be heavy rail if an expansion as a Beltway line is being considered, otherwise capacity won't be high enough to serve the demand.

Posted by: Michael | May 22, 2006 4:13 PM | Report abuse

The Green line being extended to BWI should not be the #1 priority. There is actually MARC and Amtrak stops at New Carrolton already. Therefore, connecting New Carrolton to Bethesda accomplishes both things. I personally know people who commute from Prince George's to Montgomery by taking the beltway, just because it would take too much time to go from PG to Montgomery through the city. Thats the reason why there is always a backup going from PG to Montgomery every morning.. more jobs in Montgomery. Also, if someone wants to go from Montgomery to BWI, they could just ride the Purple Line to New Carrolton, and take the MARC up there. The Purple Line needs to be built!

Posted by: Navy Yard | May 22, 2006 5:51 PM | Report abuse

In reply to Navy Yard....
The ICC will also do both of those things.
The purple line is a non-starter as proposed. This is why:
1) way too many stations means those travelling from Prince Georges to a job in Bethesda (for example) will not save any time as opposed to taking metro thru the city.
2)Not enough jobs within walking distance from the metro in either Prince Georges or Montgomery to make a dent in road traffic on the beltway.

It would be a viable option to workers in PG/Montgo and students going to U of MD if it has only the following stops: New Carrolton, College Park, Silver Spring, Bethesda, Tysons corner.

Posted by: little demand | May 22, 2006 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see the purple line built, but I don't want the captiol crescent trail to be destroyed. It's an valuable bike connector from georgetown all the way to Silver Spring-- the fuel-free alternative.

I would like to see the New carrolton-Silver Spring part built first.

I also really think there is a higher need to connect the blue and orange lines in VA, since the traffic is worse in NoVA, but the kind of urban infill in Fairfax County pretty much makes that a near impossibility.

Maybe when the line is extended to Dulles, the trackwork can be built for to accomodate a future outlying connection to Franconia-Springfield. That would provide an effective loop from Rosslyn through No.VA and allow trains to be rerouted in case of an emergency.

Something like is what the red line badly needs as well.

Personally I don't see why Georgia-Ave/Petworth couldn't be connected to Van Ness to make a complete line.

That would cut at least 20 minutes from the metro transit time from Silver Spring to Bethesda, with fewer miles of track work (but a lot more tunneling). That would make it worth commuting by metro.

As far as I am concerned, they missed a golden opportunity when they started completing the green line, they could have connected Takoma Park to Tenleytown, which would shave at least 30 minutes off the commute from Bethesda to Silver Spring.

For now, the J2 bus ain't bad actually.

Posted by: Purple, pretty purple | May 22, 2006 6:16 PM | Report abuse

My preferred purple line would look like this:

Spiraling counterclockwise and inwards: College Park (UMD)
Friendship heights (AU)
Merge with blue line to:
Not quite merge with yellow to:
The Waterfront/SEU (maybe as far out as Congress heights)
Eastern Market
Union Station.

The Purple line would incorporate and connect all other lines at least twice and serve as a way to reroute the whole system in case of emergency, as well as connect different branches and allow people to get to MD from VA (and vice versa) without going through the city in case of disaster.

Posted by: Purple pretty purple | May 22, 2006 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with little demand. They should not build any new stations if they build the purple line. They should simply connect New Carrolton to College Park. College Park to Silver Spring, and Silver Spring to Bethesda. No need to create new stops, since buses can easily accomdate riders to any of these stops. Also, in the future the Yellow line should continue across the new Wilson Bridge to connect with the new National Harbor in PG County.

Posted by: Navy Yard | May 22, 2006 6:41 PM | Report abuse

The Purple Line has been studied quite extensively, including many of the options noted above. Here are a couple of points that come right out of those studies:

1. The so-called "inner purple line" using the Georgetown Branch right-of-way between Bethesda and Silver Spring scores best on cost-effectiveness, ridership, and positive economic impacts. It would make sense to do this segment now, then look to extend it east into Prince George's County.

2. The Inner Purple Line is both closer to fruition, as it has been under study for some time, and more important than the rail extension to BWI because there is already adequate (though not perfect) rail service on MARC. The Purple Line will allow many Montgomery Co. riders to access it more easily.

3. Extending any of the purple line alternatives, whether heavy rail or light, to Dulles and/or Tysons has already been studied and DROPPED. It is simply not an option because it doesn't even come close to the ridership numbers or cost-effectiveness standards it would have to meet to get federal funding. Not now, not even in 2050, according to the Montgomery Co. Planning Board (which definitely wants the Purple Line). Game over. End of discussion. Therefore, it is much more important to focus on extending the route from Bethesda to Silver Spring to Langley Park, Greenbelt, College Park, and eventually New Carrollton -- in that order -- and as the current study suggests.

4. This project, like the ICC, is badly needed and long overdue. Funding for both projects needs to be a much bigger priority (FYI - since half the ICC is paid for by tolls on the ICC, and much of the rest is from federal HIGHWAY funds that can't be used for transit, it is not so simple as doing one or the other). The two projects meet totally different transportation needs, are in two totally different travel corridors, and both are important. Bottom line: We need more dedicated funding for transit so that the Purple Line can be accelerated. It is not instead of, it is in addition to.

Posted by: Purple Line Now | May 22, 2006 6:53 PM | Report abuse

The purple line is MoCo's saviour, right? So let's see why this is a fallacy:
1. The NIMBYs in Bethesda and Silver Spring won't allow more dense development too close to their $1 million + homes, taking away the ability to cram people to use this line.
2. The country club along the route has too much money as members to want any noise through there - can you see any of those people taking the train to their club instead of driving their Mercedes?
3. The Georgetown effect - remember when they built the Metro how the people of Georgetown didn't want a metro stop there to allow "undesireables" easy access to come to their precious neighborhood? Now they are overrun with college kids and hoodlums anyways but stuck without decent transit. History will repeat itself in Bethesda / Chevy Chase.
4. This line won't help the east / west transit much - remember, people have to GET to the line to use it, and it is next to impossible to get to and through Bethesda or Silver Spring as Old Georgetown / River Road / Wisonsin Ave. / Georgia Ave. / 16th Street are all parking lots. Most will have to go north or south to access this line.
5. This line will actually INCREASE air pollution in our area. Metro uses massive amounts of electricity, and in DC, that means coal, which is incredibly dirty - much dirtier than 95% of new cars. Even if MD can con Mirant and BG&E into installing the super scrubbers, which costs tens of millions of dollars (and will translate to higher rates for all consumers), new cars burn fuel much more cleanly and thoroughly.
6. Removing the capital crescent trail, which with the inner option would be necessary unless someone pays hundreds of millions for tunnels (fat chance), would reduce the ability for pollution-free commuting with the added benefit of Americans reducing the obesity epidemic, increasing our health care costs and burden on doctors and hospitals.

I encourage someone to counter this argument and prove that this purple line is viable besides in the eyes of a few.

Posted by: Inability to get anywhere | May 26, 2006 9:01 AM | Report abuse

1. Look around downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring and see all the buildings going up. And what about the possibilities for more housing along the Prince George's part of the line, which would be connected to jobs in Silver Spring, Bethesda, and out the Red Line?

2. This is still a democracy. Commuters outnumber members of Columbia Country Club. If the public knows what is happening, the Purple Line will be built.

3. The great majority of Bethesda residents support the Purple Line. Opinion in Chevy Chase is split. One of the main reasons for supporting the Purple Line that you hear in Bethesda is that we don't want to repeat the Georgetown experience of not getting Metro.

4. Great argument -- we shouldn't build a rail line because the roads are too congested. In fact, almost all access to the Purple Line will be on foot or by bus.

5. Are you really claiming that cars pollute less than electric mass transit?

6. The Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Georgetown would not be affected in any way. Between Silver Spring and Bethesda, the trail will be greatly improved for commuting purposes when the Purple Line is built -- it will be paved, and it will be extended into downtown Silver Spring.

Posted by: RealityCheck | May 29, 2006 7:31 AM | Report abuse

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