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Posted at 9:27 PM ET, 07/17/2009

The Purple Line's Real Toll

By Vince Rinehart

By Kathy Strom and Patricia Burda
Chevy Chase

The July 12 editorial “Green-Light the Purple Line” claimed to dispel myths about the planned light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, but instead it perpetuated many. We write on behalf of all five members of the Chevy Chase Town Council to set the record straight:

  • The editorial acknowledged that a light-rail system would be more expensive than bus rapid transit, but it failed to mention how much more. Light rail would cost twice as much as bus rapid transit — an additional $1 billion. Even if federal funding is obtained, Maryland must still match that allocation. As The Post recently reported, the state starts the fiscal year with a $700.million budget shortfall — or 5 percent of the state’s $14.billion general fund. A $1.billion shortfall is projected for fiscal 2011, bringing the total for the next two years to nearly $2.billion.
  • The editorial asserted that the Purple Line has one of the highest ridership estimates of any transit project in the country, but this estimate cannot be substantiated until the state reveals how it arrived at those numbers, which it refuses to do despite our repeated pleas.

  • The editorial suggested the Capital Crescent Trail is a haven only for cyclists and joggers. It did not mention that thousands of families use the trail; in fact, it’s among the most popular and heavily used trails in the nation. Children walk or bike to school along it; people take their dogs for walks and senior citizens get their exercise on the trail. The editorial said that a light-rail system would preserve some of the trail and much of the surrounding foliage. Yet the state’s study noted that no trees would be left along the Bethesda-Chevy Chase portion of the corridor.

  • The editorial did not mention that bus rapid transit is recommended for other important transit projects in our region. The Purple Line as light rail would be isolated as a mode of transit, with high capital and maintenance costs and less interconnectedness. The editorial also did not note that the original plans for transit on the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring envisioned a single-track line, not a double-track trolley. Current plans call for trains running every three to six minutes at about 40 mph.

  • Finally, the editorial suggested that former Maryland transportation secretary John D. Porcari, a longtime champion of light rail who is now deputy secretary of transportation in the Obama administration, could help the state secure federal funds for two Maryland projects, the Purple Line and Baltimore’s Red Line. The 49 other states that have important transportation projects awaiting federal funds might be troubled to hear that.

The Purple Line has serious implications beyond Chevy Chase. Taxpayers everywhere — but especially in Maryland — should care about what the governor decides. As one former transit executive said at a recent public meeting we held, based on the state’s current numbers, capital costs for the Purple Line will be $139,000 per new transit rider — a costly and inefficient use of scarce, badly needed transit dollars.

While Chevy Chase has expressed these concerns, thousands of other residents and numerous communities throughout the region have publicly raised problems with light rail on the Capital Crescent Trail. Chevy Chase’s elected officials have not decided what to do next. But the town’s analysis has brought critical facts about costs and alternatives to the forefront, issues important not only to its residents but also to the region.

Kathy Strom is the mayor of Chevy Chase. Patricia Burda is a Town Council member.

By Vince Rinehart  | July 17, 2009; 9:27 PM ET
Categories:  Purple Line  
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Next: The Purple Line's Flawed Projections


It is very important that we get the central part of the Metro system in place when we can do it. Later on it will really be a nightmare. Do it now. Future generations will thanks us. And go back and make the central Metro four or even six track downtown.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 21, 2009 6:05 AM | Report abuse

" Yet the state’s study noted that no trees would be left along the Bethesda-Chevy Chase portion of the corridor."

I have walked the trail and see no reason for the trees to go down. Just work with a reasonable plan for rail and trail. The trees survived the earlier time we had trains. Why not now? This seems like so much "scare tactics."


Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 21, 2009 6:08 AM | Report abuse

We want people to ride mass transit. People are much more likelty to ride light rail than the bus. "The bus", what does that conger up in your mind? Dirty, crowded, stopped in traffic, hot. Light rail is smooth, fast, operates on its own right of way, you can actually move.

To be blunt, there are people who just don't want these things to happen. They tried to shoot down the ICC, they tried to shoot down this, they did succeed, back many years ago, in making the Maryland Beltway its unlikely shape, leading to untold hours spent in traffic and huge pollution. Between the ICC and the Purple Line, some relief will come to those who use those awful miles on the Beltway. If it's just another Metrobus, forget about it, it won't be used. Not that complacent Chevy Chase will care.

Posted by: ggreenbaum | July 21, 2009 6:23 AM | Report abuse

When I first came to the Bethesda area 20 years ago they were fighting the "purple line." Now they still have the energy to work to keep people out of the community. Must be some amount of "Georgetown envy." But do not expect it is to save trees. They will survive.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 22, 2009 5:35 AM | Report abuse

In reference to the Capital Crescent Trail- I myself use the trail often for running. I see the families etc who use the trail. BUT I was under the impression that the trail has been slated for rail use for years. I thought it was kind of a known fact that at some point the use of the trail by the public for walking, biking and all would be changed to a rail system. Further, much of downtown Bethesda's growth and commercialization plans hinge on the Purple Line's construction.

Posted by: josh2082 | July 22, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

A bus is a bus is a bus. Dress it up fancy, pair it with great-sounding terms like "rapid transit," and you still have a bus that travels on (and clogs, and gets clogged in) the same roadways as everyone else and burns the same fossil fuels as other buses.

ggreenbaum is completely right: bus systems are dreamed up by NIMBY-type characters who want to have the convenience of a suburban lifestyle (trees! jogging trails!) close to or within city limits. That attitude is not economically or environmentally sustainable.

Posted by: JoeSchmoe06 | July 27, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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