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Posted at 7:07 PM ET, 01/17/2011

Another half-baked rail project

By Pat Garvey, Bethesda

I read the Jan. 12 editorial “Hit the brakes,” on the questionable rush to build a high-speed rail system in California, and immediately thought many of the same issues and objections were appropriate for the Maryland Purple Line. The Purple Line (which has no connection to Washington’s Metro system) is a good proposal on paper but “still a bit half baked,” as the editorial suggested the California plan is.

From what I gathered at a hearing I attended, the Purple Line light rail between New Carrollton and Bethesda has an undefined business model; lacks a clear financial plan and has unreliable ridership estimates, to list a few similarities. Neither would the Purple Line take many cars off Washington’s congested roads.

Half of the Purple Line’s cost will be paid for with federal funds, but Maryland Mass Transit Administration officials still have to answer critically important questions about the operations, maintenance and user fare costs for the 16-mile line with a $1.68 billion construction price tag.

Washingtonians have a collective vision of a well-run, adequately funded rail and bus Metro system that serves the entire region. The Maryland project should have to fill in the economic and logistical blanks before any more money is spent. The rule seems to be: Spend federal construction dollars first and answer questions about Maryland’s share of Metro’s funding and the Purple Line’s operations, maintenance and rider fees later.

By Pat Garvey, Bethesda  | January 17, 2011; 7:07 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Maryland, Purple Line, transportation  
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I just don't see the need to destroy the Northern part of the Crescent trail to do this. For 6 years I lived with the trail in my back yard, and it is a narrow space of land that in no way will support the grand plans of a light rail accompanied with a trail on the side. It is quiet and peaceful and even during the winter, it is an enjoyable place to run.
Let's see eminent domain justified for destroying it. Also where will it connect to the Bethesda metro? Will it end in downtown Bethesda?
The most beautiful aspect of this project is that if the rail plan is passed, all of Chevy Chase Land Company's land in the area will be rezoned with the possibility that large high rise buildings will be built on what are now garden style and townhouses. This area is not currently zoned for that type of development, but with a proximity to a new rail line, that changes. It will further increase overall congestion on Conn. Ave and turn it into Mazza Galerie.
I just don't see the numbers of people they say are awaiting this line are valid. It's not like this is Georgetown, which actually could use a closer Metro station.

Posted by: bmdugan | January 17, 2011 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Dugan -The publicly owned right of way varies between 66 and 100 feet. If it seems narrow behind your house, it's because you fenced in land that belongs to the public. That is a major motivation for opposition to the Purple Line - the desire to convert publicly owned land into a private preserve for a few neighbors and golfers.

Posted by: wondering27 | January 18, 2011 7:39 AM | Report abuse

If what wondering27 says is true, then the appropriate government agency really needs to send some certified letters to homeowners, giving them ten days to clear out of public land. And a report on the illegal enclosures should be made public and posted online, as well. Nothing like name and shame.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | January 18, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

The concern neighbors have is understandable. But as wondering27 points out, at least some of the benefits they see being lost were never theirs to begin with. This railbed was legally "banked" for future rail needs rather than reverting to the adjacent land owners, as happened in a few other rail line closures. All that was ever required was a determination that the Purple Line qualified--which it clearly does.

Posted by: krickey7 | January 18, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

There are no issues with the Purple Line other than the NIMBY's and their delay tactics.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 18, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what the letter writer is referring to when she says the Purple Line "has no connection to Washington’s Metro system" - Yes, it will. It will start at the New Carollton Metro and end at the Bethesda or Medical Center Metro station. It's linking the "spokes" of the Orange, Green and Red lines and will be integrated with the stations along those lines. It may be above ground and a light rail, but it is definitely part of the metro system.

Posted by: B-rod | January 18, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

If the train right of way is 66 feet wide, that's ample for two tracks and a trail. These NIMBYers just don't want to have to pull down their illegal fences.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | January 18, 2011 10:54 AM | Report abuse

First, the writer has it wrong. The proposed PL will connect to Bethesda, Silver Spring and New Carrollton Metro stations...we currently have no Metro or aadequate bus connection between Bethesda and Silver Spring. The comments from those clinging to the trail as it is today are not NIMBYs...they are BANANAS (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything). The writer's "vision" of (the existing) well-run and adequately funded rail and bus system is laughable!

Posted by: ehall2 | January 18, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

They want to pave paradise and put in the purple line. The area that you are referring to, was built as a small neighborhood with a single track, slow moving freight train that ran about once a day. After the train was abandoned, the trail was born through a Rails to Trails movement. Right down the middle of this quiet neighborhood, they want to put a double track, high speed light rail system, along with a line of pavement they call a trail - three things where it was developed to only have one. Additionally, the surrounding 17 acres of mature trees will be bulldozed, including some on private property. Some homes are less than 40' from what will be trains running every three minutes. According to the MTA, any home less than 40 feet will feel vibrations and hear the noise with every train passing. This is completely out of scale and abusive to the people who live there. All of this for hugely expensive system where the $1.68 billion estimate is just the starting point. Case in point, originally MTA estimated it would cost $25 million to build the new treeless trail. In September, Mike Madden admitted it had grown to $68 million and other things were still not included in that risen cost. MTA is in bed with the developers, who only want the light rail where they have large parcels of land they are itching to develop. Near the Trail, that would be the Chevy Chase Land Company's holding in Chevy Chase Lakes right on CT Ave right where a stop is planned. They demanded light rail stations. They pressed MTA not to consider Bus Rapid Transit because they feel those stops were not as permanent. BRT is not the buses of yore. They are as sleek as light rail, have dedicated tracks with stops crafted like the light rail ones, and a whole lot cheaper. BRT would also serve the NIH/soon to open Walter Reed area, which has huge transit needs. The current Purple Line will bypass them entirely. As the original poster says, MTA stated that the proposed PL will not taken many cars off the road! It is often said that the land was bought for transit. The trail already is a transit way - for bikers and pedestrians who use the trail to get to work and school. All of this greedy planning. Such destruction. There are much less expensive, neighborhood friendly options.

Posted by: 3suns1 | January 18, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

A Critical PG Perspective
I'd like to know how a connector plan between Bethesda and Silver Spring morphed into a train to New Carrollton? Most people in my area of Riverdale rarely go to Bethesda or Silver Spring. I've seen light rails work well in Amsterdam but that is a high density city impossible for cars. That is not the environment we see here and this pedestrian system has no parking lots. As for the much touted revitalization and redevelopment,I have seen no plans. Do we really want high rises in Langley Park and will this displace low income people? The planners took surveys and applied their mathematical formula but they asked the wrong questions. My survey asked how many times I go to Bethesda a month and not if I would take this train-which I won't. And the estimate that it will take 60 minutes to travel 16 miles is ludicrous-it has to make 22 stops, go through the U of M campus and right down the middle of University Blvd. And the current Metro only takes 50 minutes for that trip. Also, electricity is NOT clean. Meanwhile, people in Laurel are begging to hook up to the Metro. Debate has been limited and the hearings are pep talks by advocates. I'm not even sure the connection between Bethesda and Silver Spring is necessary. They are only 8 minutes apart. Couldn't an express bus do the job?

Posted by: rejenner | January 18, 2011 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Look at a map that shows existing trasportations systems and employment and population centers. Drive the route, during rush hour. Then tell me that this is not needed or that busses running on existing streets will work.

The Purple Line is needed desparetely. It's the environmentally responsible thing to do. And while I feel for people who bought houses feet from an existing rail right of way, I'm not sure why we should give them a nice little windfall at everyone else's expense.

Posted by: krickey7 | January 18, 2011 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a good deal. $105 million per mile. $20,000 per foot.

Posted by: spamsux1 | January 18, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Right on! 3suns1 and rejenner! Most of those low-income people in Langley Park and Long Branch are renters, which means their displacement would be swift. However, I suspect the eminent domain/seizure process for owner-occupied housing would be much faster than for such project in prior years. People are getting kicked out of homes right and left over paperwork mistakes during mortgage mania. When evictions become commonplace, it really lowers the bar on the notion of housing stability. Rezoning, pumping land for maximum property value/maxiumn property tax revenue has always been the whole point of the Purple Line. MTA had several options when it begain its study. One was upgrading the current bus system, another was bus rapid transit. They gave both short shrift, and stated repeatedly that rail is "the option preferred by developers." I feel sorry for the civil servants in that agency, they were just doing what their elected officials, and in turn their campaign contributors, told them to do.

Posted by: catbird500 | January 18, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Build the friggin' Purple line between Bethersda and New Carrollton already. Let the golfers put up a fence if they don't wish to look at a train(OMG a train!) and put in a tunnel under the UM College Park campus. Send the low income folk back to DC where they came from! I would much rather take the train between new Carrollton and Bethesda than have to drive!!

Posted by: soccerhead | January 18, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

"Most people in my area of Riverdale rarely go to Bethesda or Silver Spring."

Perhaps this is because it's hard to get there?

Posted by: DOEJN | January 18, 2011 6:13 PM | Report abuse

The issue of the editorial and letter being discussed is the Business Plan and cost structure that the Purple Line would satisfy. The rail line won't take many cars off the road. It will decrease the time of the proposed trip by a few minutes if you catch the train without a wait and the train runs on time. A key issue is the competition for state funding for Metro Rail and Bus with limited funds. The Purple Line will need to be subsidies just as Metro is by the political jurisdictions. Where does Maryland get these extra dollars. No rail in America is funded just through its user/rider fee, where are the O&M funds coming from once the Purple Line is built? PG and MC budgets? I don't think so.

Posted by: garvp175 | January 18, 2011 7:54 PM | Report abuse

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