Group continues push for Purple Line shift
MTA says it could consider shifting rail to south side of Capital Crescent Trail
The state isn't prepared to change its plan to build the Purple Line light rail on the south side of the Capital Crescent Trail, but is willing to hear contrary arguments from the Town of Chevy Chase.
Maryland Transit Administration representatives told the town's Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group, or MAG, on Thursday evening that it could consider reverting to the portion of the original Master Plan governing the project that called for the trail to be on the south side of a light-rail line.
While the MTA has said the situation has changed because the project has grown, the town has said a trail on the rail's south side would create an appropriate buffer for residents and preserve safer trail access.
The MTA's tests showed that noise would not be reduced by having the trail located between the trains and town homes, located to the south of the proposed rail. The noise would not rise above current ambient levels, regardless of where the trail is located along the rail, according to the state's analysis, with the noise created by rail ranging from 46 to 54 decibels.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 50 decibels is the sound level produced by moderate rainfall.
"The bottom line is, noise is not an issue," Mike Madden, the Purple Line's project manager for the MTA, told the MAG committee, a point of view not shared by committee members.
A trail on the south side would be on the same level as trains, while a north-side trail could be elevated three to four feet above the rail bed, limiting pedestrian access points to safe rail crossings and improving trail quality, according to an MTA report. Trains in the area would reach their maximum speed of 45 mph at the planned at-grade Lynn Drive crossing, which concerned committee members.
The nine-person MAG committee was formed by the town late last year to find ways to mitigate the Purple Line's impact on the town. But the MTA spent much of the meeting defending its basic proposals from committee members' concerns and did not appear to concede notable ground on any issue.
Madden said the MTA would not consider building just one track along the town's northern border instead of two, an issue raised by the committee. Single-tracking next to the town, he argued, would have negative impacts along the entire 16-mile length of the $1.67 billion project connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring.
The committee agreed to a framework of goals for the project that included noise reduction, safety and a high-quality trail experience. Members also said they planned to discuss its concerns with Planning Board transportation planner Tom Autrey, who has studied the Purple Line, and Gary Erenrich, the county transportation department's regional coordinator.
"The [MTA] planning is so conceptual at this point," MAG chairwoman Mary Anne Hoffman said after the meeting, explaining why the committee did not seek specific mitigation measures immediately from the MTA.
The project was approved by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) last August and is being reviewed by the Federal Transit Administration.
But the MTA's tests to measure potential train noise "will not stand the light of day," according to committee member David Salzman, because they were conducted at inappropriately high elevations and did not take into account train acceleration, deceleration and braking, an argument Madden did not directly dispute.
Salzman also said proposed noise walls would fail to reduce the negative impacts as effectively as having the trail on the south side of the line.
He added later that if the MTA ultimately refused to recognize its testing failures, the town could hire a consultant to continue pressing the issue.
"We are not nearly satisfied," Salzman told Madden about the MTA's noise tests.
Despite the MTA's assertions about noise control, safety and the trail's future appeal, Elm Street resident Joan Rood stressed that the committee had to work to extract specific concessions from the MTA where possible.
"There has to be some give and take," Rood said.