County Council OKs Purple Line light rail
Study proposed to examine single tracking as way to preserve trail
The County Council voted unanimously in favor of the Purple Line light rail project Tuesday, but also voted to request that the state examine using only one rail track in specific areas to minimize impacts on the Capital Crescent Trail.
Councilman Roger Berliner, who proposed the vote on single-tracking that passed 5-3, said he wanted every possibility explored that could benefit and preserve the trail. But he also acknowledged that it may not be possible to single-track the 16-mile project that would connect downtown Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring.
"We did not get that analysis in the DEIS," said Berliner (D-Dist.1) of Potomac, referring to the draft environmental impact statement released by the Maryland Transit Administration last year. Berliner said he did not raise the idea in the council's transportation committee last week because it did not occur to him at the time.
MTA project manager Mike Madden said single-tracking portions of the project would make maintaining schedules more difficult, and would also require shutting down entire portions of the Purple Line during maintenance.
Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said the council's request about single-tracking was not meant to delay the project's timeline.
The council's vote in favor of light rail now goes to the MTA and to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who is expected to select the state's preferred mode for the Purple Line this spring. The council's vote included a recommendation that the trail continue under Wisconsin Avenue above the light rail, and that the number of access points to the trail be increased.
Medium-investment light rail has been endorsed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the Planning Board, as well as Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson and the Prince George's County Council.
Berliner said it was a difficult vote for him but he was determined to hold the MTA accountable for what happened to the trail while also providing for the "greater good" of light rail.
Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park praised the state's work on the Purple Line and argued against trying to quell all complaints, saying, "Our job is not to micromanage this project."
Medium-investment light rail is projected to cost $1.2 billion in 2007 dollars. While the federal government is legally permitted to pay for up to 80 percent of the project, the Bush administration limited that share to 50 percent, a policy officials said they hoped would change under President Barack Obama.
Leventhal and fellow Councilman Marc Elrich sparred over the number of cars the Purple Line would take off the road. While Leventhal stressed the 20,000 new mass transit trips that the Purple Line would create every day according to MTA estimates, Elrich argued that the number was insignificant, given the number of drivers in the county and the physical length of the project.
"I don't think we should talk about this as a traffic reliever," said Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park.
He also criticized the images the MTA used to show how the trail and light rail could interact well together, arguing that the Purple Line could be very destructive to the trail and surrounding tree canopy.
"The trail is not going to look anything like the pictures Roger (Berliner) held up," he said, referring to images prepared by the MTA.
Trail advocate Pam Browning of the Town of Chevy Chase said last week she was hopeful that O'Malley and the Federal Transit Administration would put a halt to the momentum gathering behind light rail, and that the hundreds of letters in support of preserving the trail would sway them.
"We have other mass transit options to travel from Bethesda to Silver Spring," wrote Richard Latty of Chevy Chase in one of these letters. "We do not have substitutes for the Trail."