O'Malley Backs Light Rail For Purple Line
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley picked light rail over a bus rapid transit system for the 16-mile transitway between New Carrollton and Bethesda. He also endorsed plans to follow the route of the old Georgetown Branch railroad right of way through Bethesda and Chevy Chase, as well as the largely above-ground route through downtown Silver Spring.
Maryland is "moving forward with our plan to develop the light rail option," O'Malley said. The next step, he continued, will be to submit a request for federal approval. "It's a process," he noted. "Some would say we've had 50 years of discussions."
"Among our citizens, there have been disagreements," he said, stressing that the decisions he has made about the Purple Line follow "the locally preferred alternative" backed by Montgomery and Prince George's county leaders.
The governor made the announcement this morning at the New Carrollton Metro station, the eastern terminus of a project that will link to Metrorail, MARC and Amtrak along with scores of Metro and local bus routes. After the announcement, O'Malley was scheduled to take MARC north to Baltimore, where he would tell that community which version of a new Red Line he believed should be built in the city.
The Purple Line has been a dream of planners, transit advocates and ordinary travelers for so long that it has spanned the terms of three governors: Parris Glendening, Robert Ehrlich and O'Malley all reviewed options for a transit link across Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Early on, many people were rooting for a Metrorail route that would link the ends of Washington's Red Line. There were versions of that proposed for inside and outside the Beltway. The Ehrlich administration settled on an inside the Beltway route extending east from Silver Spring to New Carrollton, and studied options that included simply managing the traffic better along the route, building a light rail line or building a system of fast-moving buses.
The years of study since then have been leading to this day, when the governor would make a final choice after reviewing the study and the recommendations of local leaders.
O'Malley's announcement is a landmark, but the marker may turn out to be somewhere in the middle of the long process leading to the first boarding of a rail car sometime in the middle of the next decade.
The decision sets in motion an appeal to the Federal Transit Administration for funding. It also may set in motion lawsuits from people in Chevy Chase who don't want to see a rail line along the Capital Crescent Trail and through a country club. Many residents of Silver Spring are not happy with the plan to drive trains along winding, congested Wayne Avenue and its residential neighborhoods.
If the project gets through all that, someone eventually is going to have to decide who will drive the trains. Will Maryland turn the keys over to Metro, or will the Maryland Transit Administration operate the line?
But first things first: Now, Maryland will have to compete with other states for the limited pile of money that constitutes the federal New Starts program for transit projects, without which, the Purple Line won't reach a ribbon-cutting.
August 4, 2009; 9:05 AM ET
| Tags: Dr. Gridlock, bus rapid transit, light rail
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