UM pledges support of Purple Line
Loh says light rail could be most important issue to the university
Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, said UM is "absolutely committed" to having the Purple Line come to the university's campus, which encouraged city officials hopeful to end a prolonged conflict over the light rail's placement.
"There is perhaps no issue that is more important to this university and this region of the state than this," said Loh, who replaced C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. on Nov. 1. "Not having a Purple Line is not an option."
Nearly 150 people attended a town hall meeting Tuesday on campus to discuss the Maryland Transit Administration's Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile, $1.6 billion light rail from New Carrollton to Bethesda.
The university needs to make a final recommendation about the Purple Line by late March or early April to the Federal Transit Administration, Loh said.
"We can't forever debate this or we'll never get out of the starting blocks," Loh said.
MTA officials favor having the line run along the university's most-trafficked road, Campus Drive, to make it more accessible for students and staff. About 5,500 private vehicles and 750 transit vehicles use Campus Drive from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. each weekday, according to a Maryland Transit Administration study. University officials have argued that route would put pedestrians at risk and possibly interfere with nearby research equipment.
University officials have suggested the Preinkert Drive route, which would run on the opposite side of campus and have less pedestrian traffic, or an underground tunnel through campus, which MTA officials have said would cost an additional $51 million. In 2007, Mote wrote a letter advocating for the line to run along Stadium Drive, which he said would be dedicated to mass transit and emergency vehicles.
The project could take 18 to 24 months to complete, said Gath Rockcastle, a professor at the university's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.
The project's "absolute best-case scenario" is to break ground in 2013 and complete the project in 2016 or 2017, according to project planners.
Prince George's County Councilman Eric Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park said he hopes the university is on board with the Campus Drive alignment, which he said is the best proposal.
"That makes the most sense from a lot of perspectives including that it's the heart of campus and where the pedestrians are who would use the Purple Line," Olson said. "In the past we've seen a variety of perspectives from the university, but I think we're getting closer to a resolution."
City Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) said Wednesday he was glad to hear that Loh sounds committed to making the Purple Line happen.
UM student Diane Kammegne, 37, of Germantown said she favors the Purple Line as commuters can avoid the Beltway, but does have some concerns about pedestrian accidents.
City Councilwoman Denise Mitchell (Dist. 4) said in an e-mail she is pleased with Loh's commitment to the Purple Line.
"I hope that this project will bring the university and the city to the 21st century with a viable transportation alternative," Mitchell said.