Purple Line Passes Important Test
The resolution to add the entire Purple Line project to the region's Constrained Long Range Plan passed unanimously.
This is a major and necessary step for the project, which would provide an important new east-west transit connection for tens of thousands of people. But there are many steps to come before the Purple Line could start running late in the next decade, and many of those steps will rank as "major."
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley still needs to approve the proposal, which almost certainly will call for a light rail line rather than a bus rapid transit system, then the state must apply to the federal government for New Start money. The federal standards for approving transit projects are much too tight, given their importance not only in moving people but also in shaping communities.
The transportation panel, made of of representatives from all the local jurisdictions, has been studying Maryland's proposal for a while, but before voting today, it heard from cycling advocates, environmentalists and government officials from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, speaking in support of the plan.
They wanted the light rail line along the route proposed by the state of Maryland.
It was interesting to hear Eric Gilliland, exec director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, speak briefly in favor of the line. He said that the issue too often is portrayed as support for the Capital Crescent Trail vs support for the Purple Line. They can coexist, he said. (Gilliland's main point in testifying before the board was to protest the lack of cycling projects among those approved by the Transportation Planning Board to qualify for federal stimulus money.)
George Leventhal, an at large Montgomery County Council member, noted another issue frequently debated: Couldn't the Purple Line be a bus rapid transit system using Jones Bridge Road on its way into Bethesda from New Carrollton.
Residents along Jones Bridge Road don't want that, Leventhal told the board. "Any way you try to move this transitway, you encounter other problems," he said.
The AAA Mid-Atlantic also issued a statement in support of the line. "A major weakness of Washington's current rail system is its horeshoe design that is totally focused on getting people into and out of the city."
Opponents said the Purple Line is an example of small thinking that won't take many cars off the road or deal with the BRAC problems to come with the Walter Reed relocation. It will divide neighborhoods and diminish the quality of life along the line, they said. Why anyone's backyard? one critic said. It's an old plan not designed for these times. They want the state to go back to the drawing board. (As I typed this, I started to get the Purple Line and the Intercounty Connector confused. It's interesting that people find the same ways to oppose both highways and a transit projects.)
There should be such debates about all these projects. There are plenty of legitimate concerns about whether the Purple Line, like the Intercounty Connector, will live up to the claims its advocates -- including me -- have made for them.
But I haven't heard a strong enough local argument against moving ahead with the Purple Line while continuing to work on concerns raised by residents along the line in Bethesda and Silver Spring. Advancing transit projects like the Purple Line and the Metrorail extension to Dulles are too important to the region's future to derail.
June 17, 2009; 1:25 PM ET
Categories: Transportation Politics , transit | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Purple Line
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