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Posted at 7:34 PM ET, 11/19/2010

Will U-Md.'s new president get on board the Purple Line?

By Marcus Afzali, College Park

This month marked the beginning of a new era for the University of Maryland in College Park, as Wallace D. Loh officially took over as president, replacing C. Daniel Mote, who led the campus for over a decade. Considering the impact the president has on the mission and direction of the institution, and the longevity of presidential terms, everybody with a stake in the flagship campus of the University of Maryland system is interested in the course Loh will set during the early days of his administration. The residents of the city of College Park are certainly no exception.

Loh has quickly impressed me and many others in the greater College Park community with his outreach efforts. He has said that improving town-gown relations is a priority and attended community events, and as a social scientist he seems to understand the importance of reaching out to the residents of the city that hosts the university. Notably, Loh has stated: “The future of the university depends on the future of College Park.”

And the city’s future relies in part on the completion of the Purple Line — and, in particular, whether Loh will support running the light-rail transit line down Campus Drive, the state’s preferred alignment. The city of College Park, Prince George’s County, the University of Maryland Student Government Association and local transportation advocates have all strongly promoted the Campus Drive route for years. The university administration alone has stood against it.

The route is the right one for several reasons. It would allow students, faculty and staff members to quickly and reliably get to campus via public transportation and greatly reduce the traffic on overly congested Baltimore Avenue. It could also bring tremendous economic benefits to College Park, especially with construction scheduled to begin in a few years on the East Campus development project and the number of mixed-use developments recently built just north of the main campus gate. The development of the Purple Line is a key part of the long-term vision of promoting smart growth and revitalizing the Route One corridor.

The university’s reasons for opposing the project — including the impact of vibrations from a light-rail system on scientific experiments — have been shown to be overblown. But while the Purple Line’s diverse supporters remain united for an aboveground light rail system with a Campus Drive alignment, the university has continued to fight it. During tough economic times, the administration has instead suggested it could raise the almost $50 million cost of placing the tracks underground for the campus portion of the line, despite the fact that it is already struggling to meet existing fundraising requirements. Holding fast to tunneling can only introduce new costs, delays and uncertainty to the project.

Loh seems to have a better understanding of the importance of a good city-university relationship than his predecessor did and does not appear tied to the views of the past. He has provided hope for a more symbiotic relationship between the city and the university and now has a chance to take a major step forward in strengthening that connection.

Loh should listen to the opinions of his own student body, local residents and elected officials, and transportation experts and support the aboveground Campus Drive alignment of the Purple Line.

As Loh knows, as the city of College Park progresses, so too will the university.

The writer represents District 4 on the College Park City Council.

By Marcus Afzali, College Park  | November 19, 2010; 7:34 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Maryland, Montgomery County, PG County, Purple Line  
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Comments

Great op-ed. Mote was most certainly well-respected at UMd, but as an alumna, I'm looking forward to seeing the type of progress Loh brings, especially in regards to the Purple line. Maryland's flagship institution should have this important transportation option available, sooner, rather than later.

Posted by: terpgal85 | November 19, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Brilliant! It's time the University moves forward on the Purple Line.

Posted by: lauracmoore | November 19, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

The tunnel options being considered by the University would not only be difficult to raise the funds but could seriously endanger the entire project as those costs are included in the FTA's analysis of cost-effectiveness. It could significantly reduce the likelihood of the project meeting the cost-effectiveness criteria.

Tony Hausner
Purple Line Now Board Member

Posted by: tonyhausner | November 20, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree with my colleague, Councilmember Afzali. I think many of us in College Park are hopeful that the new administration will provide new opportunities for community engagement with the University. The past administration was ignoring the opinions of City residents, students, and their own faculty and staff on this issue. Hopefully the new administration will help us come together and move the Purple Line forward.

Posted by: plwojahn | November 21, 2010 2:58 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Marcus, hopefully Loh supports the Campus Drive route so the university can join the rest of the College Park community in advancing the development of the Purple Line. Right now, the university's stubbornness is an impediment, and that needs to change.

Posted by: madrad2002 | November 22, 2010 1:45 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Marcus, hopefully Loh supports the Campus Drive route so the university can join the rest of the College Park community in advancing the development of the Purple Line. Right now, the university's stubbornness is an impediment, and that needs to change.

Posted by: madrad2002 | November 22, 2010 1:45 AM | Report abuse

Rezoning is the driving force behind the Purple Line. Langley Park, Long Branch and every other community the planned route runs through are vulnerable. Rail attracts real estate developers with dreams of hi-rise condos with granite countertops. Bus rapid transit or just plain upgrades of the current bus systems are the way to go.

Posted by: catbird500 | November 22, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

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