Candidates walk the line over transit

Tours of Purple Line routes help politicians refine their positions to address residents’ concerns

Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006

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It’s hard to find a candidate who doesn’t like the Purple Line. But some Silver Spring residents say those political hopefuls should realize they can favor some of the potential routes and be opposed to others.

Many east Silver Spring residents support mass transit and in turn the Purple Line — also known as the Bi-County Transitway — said Karen Roper, a resident who has been taking community members and elected officials on tours of two proposed Purple Line routes in her neighborhood.

However, she said, they are opposed to some of the alternatives proposed for their neighborhood. Some residents have formed an organization called SSTOP (Silver Spring⁄Thayer Opposed to the Plan), protesting a route that would run along Silver Spring and Thayer avenues.

‘‘It’s very hard for us to figure out who to support when [candidates] are all saying, ‘We support the Purple Line,’” Roper said. ‘‘This is not black and white, it is not yes or no, and that’s why I say, ‘Walk with me.’”

Many of the county’s elected officials as well as political hopefuls have walked with Roper, looking at how the Purple Line will affect east Silver Spring.

Roper has showed them the neighborhood’s narrow streets, some with cars parked on both sides, and where the transit line could come close to people’s front doors. The candidates have seen where the transit line would cut between homes in areas currently shaded with trees, and where a tunnel would emerge near steps children use to access East Silver Spring Elementary School.

Lucinda Lessley, a Democrat who is running for a seat in the House of Delegates for District 20, walked along the proposed east Silver Spring alternatives with Roper. Lessley supports the Purple Line, ‘‘but we need a project that’s cost-effective, that meets [Federal Transit Administration] criteria to win federal money.”

However, Lessley said, it’s also important to look at how communities will be affected. East Silver Spring is one of the few neighborhoods left in the area with affordable older homes. ‘‘We need to look at marrying the project with land use. That needs to include preserving the character of east Silver Spring and not just looking at it as a target zone for more condos. Everything is about balance,” she said.

Another Democrat, Aaron Klein, who is running for a seat in the House of Delegates for District 20, also walked with Roper. Klein supports the Purple Line because he believes it will alleviate heavy east-west traffic. And, he said, the state needs to move forward with the project, particularly the component that connects Bethesda to Silver Spring. He thinks the project can be completed in parts.

However, Klein said he doesn’t think elected officials should be involved in choosing specific routes.

‘‘I’m very aware of the fact that I’m an economist and not an engineer,” he said. ‘‘... I don’t believe elected officials should try and play engineers.”

But what elected officials can do, Klein said, is help residents understand federal law and what’s involved in such a project, as well as make sure the community has input and ensure the project is done in a way that is least disruptive.

‘‘The Purple Line, I think, is the best alternative for the future,” Klein said.

Residents don’t necessarily disagree.

‘‘We’re not opposed to mass transit, but we’re opposed to the destruction of our neighborhood,” said East Silver Spring Citizens Association President Bob Colvin. ‘‘Who’s paying for it? The taxpayers are paying for it.”

The only way the community will support the portion of the project that goes through their neighborhood is if it goes underground, he said.

The neighborhood is already congested, with dozens of cars backed up on Fenton Street and surrounding side streets during rush hour, Roper said. A bus or light rail system could make traffic worse.

‘‘It’s a madhouse now,” she said, adding residents are also afraid the transit line will bring in development that their infrastructure can’t support.

‘‘If you really want to take traffic off the roads ... take a lane off Colesville Road and make it a dedicated lane,” Roper said.

There are several alternatives being studied for the 14-mile east-west transit line, including a no-build option and an alternative that would manage and improve transportation without building the transitway. The transitway would run between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

The state is also looking at six build alternatives; three focus on bus rapid transit and three focus on light rail. Some involve tunneling in residential neighborhoods and others involve putting the transit line at-grade in either dedicated or shared lanes.

In east Silver Spring, planners are studying two routes. One would go from Georgia Avenue down Fenton Street to Sligo Avenue and connect to Piney Branch Road. The transit line could use shared lanes or use one dedicated lane, making the other lane one-way to traffic.

Another alternative would bring a partially covered tunnel down Silver Spring Avenue to Thayer Avenue, where it would surface near East Silver Spring Elementary School. Options are also being considered for nearby Wayne Avenue.

Some options will require taking some land and possibly some homes. Other options would put the transitway close to homes.

‘‘Any one route is going to affect the whole neighborhood,” Colvin said.

Silver Spring resident Kathryn Mattimore could become intimately acquainted with the transitway when it is built. Her house is along the Thayer Avenue route and originally, it was slated to be taken, she said. The route was modified slightly to accommodate her house, but it still could be put right next to her door if that alternative is selected.

Silver Spring resident Anna Levine is concerned about the environmental impact of the transitway, particularly on Sligo Creek and Sligo Creek Park. She doesn’t want her 3-year-old son, Miles, to miss out on trips to the park. ‘‘To see something like that taken or destroyed is heartbreaking,” she said.

By spring 2007, state officials expect to complete an analysis of alternatives proposed for the rapid transit system, with the hope to begin construction in 2010. In that analysis, they will consider environmental impacts of alignments, cost and how they will affect surrounding communities, said Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan in a previous interview.

Can you support the concept of the Purple Line without supporting certain elements of the project? What Purple Line route do you think would best suit the neighborhoods that will be affected? E-mail your response to Please include your full name, address and daytime phone number.