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Purple Line Prospects

The Purple Line transitway proposed for Montgomery and Prince George's counties almost certainly will be light rail rather than a rapid bus route, but what else will it be?

purple%20line%20rally.jpg Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez speaks at Purple Line rally. (Thomson)

Advocates for the project held a rally at Silver Spring Station on Thursday to highlight new ridership projections showing that the top end service, a light rail line costing between $1.5 billion and $1.75 billion to build, would provide 68,000 trips a day for its riders. It would cost $22.8 million a year to operate and maintain such a system.

The low end of investment, a very basic bus rapid transit system, would provide 40,000 trips a day, according to Maryland Transit Administration estimates, and cost between $420 million and $460 million to set up. Operating costs were estimated at $17.3 million a year.

Look here to see the range of alternatives between the low investment and the high investment. You'll understand why the ridership estimate climbs with the pricetag: A low investment in bus rapid transit produces a system that's partly in a dedicated lane and partly in traffic. A high investment light rail line runs much more quickly, because it's in a reserved lane, some of it in a tunnel.

Beverley Swaim-Staley, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, was there to show the strong support in the O'Malley administration for this project. She noted the governor had allocated $100 million for the Purple Line's engineering costs this year.

Another speaker, Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), called the Purple Line a matter of social justice for the many lower income people who live on the region's eastern side and work in the west. You can see many of these workers lining up at the crack of dawn at the Ride On and Metro bus stops each morning to begin a trip west toward Bethesda that often involves several transfers.

"People who work at the country club can't take the trail to get there," she said, adding later that "People need to have fair, equal transportation."

The Purple Line plan drew several letters to the editor in The Post over the weekend.

Grace Palladino of Bethesda said: "While politicians cited 'better service to lower-income workers' who can't afford cars, and the article mentioned 'slow and unreliable buses,' neither raised the issue of developers' interest in the project."

Karen Fitzgerald of Silver Spring said: "Those who support the Purple Line on 'social justice' grounds would do well to study what has happened in the District and other cities when Metro or light rail is brought into low-income neighborhoods. Real estate becomes more valuable, a wave of development brings in new housing and retail, and many long-time residents (many of whom were renters) are pushed out."

No transportation project is exclusively about getting people from one point to another. Projects are about organizing communities for the future. So I hope many developers will be interested in building walkable communities within range of light rail stations. But the plan for community development around the transitway must be as skillfully constructed as the transitway itself.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 2, 2008; 8:44 AM ET
Categories:  transit  
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