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O'Malley Backs Light Rail For Purple Line

governor purple line.jpg
Maryland governor said today's announcement is part of a long process. (Thomson)

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.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 4, 2009; 9:05 AM ET
 | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, bus rapid transit, light rail  
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Comments

I am terribly upset that the Capital Trail site has been chosen. It is a trail that I ride on and walk on, several times a week. What a wonderful trail, where many elderly from the nearby retirement facility walk and enjoy nature. First the ICC and now this. Does anyone care about the preservation of places for solitude and exercise? Those are stressed in the media as solutions to stress and poor health, but then the officials take those places away. It is a sad, sad day and I am very upset at our governor, who I campaigned for, but he will not get my vote every again.

Posted by: martharh1 | August 4, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Boo hoo marthah1. As a commuter in Silver Spring I look forward to the day I can get to Bethesda for dinner without taking a bus or going through downtown DC. Please move, you're standing, hiking or meditating in the way of progress.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | August 4, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't the trail originally the rail bed for a train that was then switched over for use as a walking trail? It makes perfect sense to return it to its original use, more so than having the state spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying new right of way through peoples back yards because a few people think their walking trail is too important.

I keep hoping that Metro or VDOT will establish a light rail system along the WO&D trail from Arlington to Reston. That ex rail bed now runs right through the most heavily populated areas of NOVA from Leesburg to Rossyln. Think of how many thousands of people who both live and work along that corridor would use it rather than the beltway or 66?

Posted by: Nosh1 | August 4, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Everyone seems to be missing the fact that has been present from the beginning. The trail will NOT be taken away. It will still be able to be used for recreation and exercise and accomodate light rail. Not only will the trail be preserved, but it will be improved in alot of areas. Another thing that will help relieve stress and poor health is not sitting in traffic because there are no viable alternatives to get from east to west and vice versa.

Posted by: djamesjr | August 4, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Thank you djamesjr. Chevy Chase needs to stop whinnig. DO NOT hand this over to Metro to operate. It's time to break Metro's hold on mass transit. Metro has proven enough times in just the past six weeks that it can not run a railroad.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 4, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Too bad O'Malley's blowing nearly $4 billion on the Intercounty Connector, including roughly $1.5 billion in state and federal transportation funds that he could have and should have invested in public transit and in road and bridge safety.

What makes this even more outrageous is that Maryland could have used that doubled that $1.4 billion by using it to provide the state match for federal transit dollars.

Instead, he simply continued the fraud perpetrated by Doug Duncan, his "End(less)gridlock" friends on the Montgomery County Council, Bob Ehrlich, George Bush and their corporate backers.

Pretty sad. And pretty damned irresponsible, Governor.

Posted by: gpsmith1 | August 5, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Why do we not remember that Montgomery County paid around $10 million for the B&O RR line so that a Light Rail Line could be constructed at some time in the future? After the tracks were removed a perfect walking path was left, and the county made it into the present Trail, until the time came for Light Rail. That time is NOW!

Posted by: vzexiozo | August 5, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

What most of the readers seem to be ignoring due to various degrees of disinterest and lack of information, is the fact that light rail makes no sense as an option to connect the two ends of a high speed, high capacity Metro line that is itself in dire need of expansion to areas scheduled to be served back in 1967. This is because most DC area residents have no idea how many more people subways carry as opposed to light rail. WMATA Metrorail carries ten percent of ALL rail mass transit riders in the country, once every 3-6 mins; Light rail carries the volume of two or three bus lines, once every 12-20 mins. It is utterly unsuited for a dense, inner urban area such as Silver Spring. Officials say Metro will never be expanded out to places such as Laurel. Why? No connectivity. Transfers would take too long. By the way, NO, a single-track freight spur alignment with no shoulders does not automatically make a good 2-track transit alignment. Most such routes were abandoned for a reason and make better parks because the trail running along a clear-cut rail embankment would be utterly useless. Might as well leave it out entirely. So whoever posted that remark is obviously not an engineer or transit planner. The CCT alignment only makes sense until you get to Jones Bridge, where you can get directly to NIH or go to the fake urban center called Bethesda Row, your choice. People who want a hood ornament will always choose the latter. They assume if you can see the Starbucks facing the transit stop, you're improving peoples lives. No, you're just taking one or two buses off the road. Metrorail is the only option that even remotely makes sense. Consider the difference in headways -- for those folks who know what headways are -- look it up -- between an existing Red Line that terminates half its trains at the beginning of the key connector segment, versus a mode that would essentially be a bus on rails designed to do only one thing (and planners have admitted this): tear down all the funky shops in the Fenton District and Woodmont Triangle areas. It's easier to do this when you're tearing up the streets: Action Committee For Transit flat out declared they opposed tunneling even if it was cheaper because it's harder to facilitate them tearing down and redeveloping the few proudly walkable urban areas along the route (instead of creating more, which Metro has proven its ability to do). (An "anarcho-liberal" wants more Starbucks in Silver Spring? Amazing.)

Posted by: BRobinsn | August 10, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

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