County holds Purple Line hearing

Dec. 17, 2009, 3:35 p.m. | By Sarah Schwartz | 10 years, 10 months ago

Montgomery County residents voiced concerns

The Montgomery County Planning Board held a public hearing Dec. 10 to discuss the proposed Purple Line Plan in the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission auditorium in Silver Spring, according to Tom Autrey, head of Montgomery County Transportation Planning.

The 2009 Purple Line Functional Plan details additional guidelines to the Georgetown Branch Amendment of 1990 for the layout of the Purple Line light rail system, an above-ground train track. It proposes station locations on the route from Bethesda to New Carrollton. The plan's goal is to amend the current Master Plan to create a more comprehensive layout for future project developers, said Autrey. Thursday was the first time the Functional Plan was open for public testimony.

Members of community groups both in favor of and in opposition to the proposed plan spoke. Those opposed to the Purple Line Functional Plan cited the proximity of the rail to the Capital Crescent Trail and residential areas and the potential environmental concerns of double-track light rail as main concerns at the hearing. Purple Line supporters emphasized the system's convenience, far reach and promise of economic growth.

The Purple Line is a proposed 16-mile light rail transit train addition to the Metro, reaching from Bethesda to New Carrollton. According to Councilmember George Leventhal, the system would operate mostly above ground, unlike the rest of the Metro system, but would connect to Metro's Orange, Blue, Green and Red lines, as well as AMTRAK and MARC lines. The Purple Line's purpose is to provide quick, convenient transport, according to Leventhal.

Hearing and considering public testimony will bring the Planning Board closer to their ultimate goal of the Functional Plan's approval by the County Council, said Leventhal. County Council approval will make the revised master plan eligible for an additional $1.5 billion in federal funding necessary to begin construction. Currently, the Purple Line only has enough funding to complete the final environmental impact statement and begin preliminary engineering, according to Autrey.

The Planning Board will accept additional written testimony for 30 days after the hearing, according to Royce Hanson, Planning Board Chairman. Beginning in early February, the board will hold work sessions during which they will revise the Purple Line Functional Plan, taking all testimony into account, said Autrey. The Planning Board's goal is to submit the revised plan to Isiah Leggett, the County Council Executive, in the spring of 2010, he said. The County Council will then also hold work sessions, further revising the plan. According to Leventhal, only the County Council has the legal authority to approve the final Functional Plan for integration into the Purple Line Master Plan. If the plan can obtain the necessary $1.5 billion in federal funding, the Purple Line will be completed by 2016 at the earliest, said Autrey.

Pam Browning is the organizer of the Save the Trail Coalition in Chevy Chase, a group that opposes Purple Line rail alongside the Capital Crescent Trail. She said that double-track rail would force the tracks to be closer to the trail and to residential areas. According to Browning, the Purple Line would operate less than 10 feet from the existing trail. "People are going to want a nature trail and want to be able to contemplate life without trains whizzing by, and they won't be able to do that," she said.

Browning said that the coalition and other groups against the current plan oppose the line's proposed placement and double-track system, not the Purple Line itself. According to Autrey, the 1990 plan proposed a combination of single- and double-track rail from Bethesda to Silver Spring, but the Functional Plan proposes an entirely double-track system. The route extension east of Silver Spring, to New Carrollton, necessitates a double-track system to reduce potential delays, said Autrey.

Those opposed to the double-track also say that double-track rail is more destructive to the environment than single-track. David Salzman, a resident of Chevy Chase who testified at the hearing, said that a double-track rail would necessitate the clearing of more trees than a single-track rail.

Small changes to the Functional Plan are a possibility, but the Planning Board is not likely to change the Purple Line's proposed main route, or do any other major restructuring, said Autrey. "The Functional Plan reflects recommendations that the Planning Board, the County Council and the governor have supported. It would be unlikely that the alignment would change," he said. Autrey cited possible changes as adding a stop on Dale Drive in Silver Spring and changing the proposed placement of part of the light rail to the south side instead of the north side of the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda.

Though the Purple Line will run near trails and residential areas, Leventhal said that the Purple Line Functional Plan ensures that developers will protect natural environments and respect homeowners by creating a clear boundary, separating the train tracks from the rest of the area. "There will be buffering, there will be shrubs – it will be very clear what is the track and what is the trail," he said.

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