The purple predicament

May 30, 2009, midnight | By Lauren Kestner | 14 years, 6 months ago

In a recently released 15-page report, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) detailed the disadvantages of constructing a Purple Line tunnel along Wayne Avenue between two Silver Spring stations, giving credence to a unanimous Montgomery County Council vote held in January that indicated local preference for a light-rail system. Distraught local residents criticized the one-sidedness of the report, which offered an incomplete evaluation of the drawbacks to a surface road option, at a May 20 meeting held at Oak View Elementary School. Community members advocating for the tunnel option have voiced many legitimate arguments – chief among them, the inevitable congestion that will plague Wayne if the surface option is adopted – but the above-ground trolley system is more cost-effective and will confer greater benefits on the community as a whole.

The proposed 16-mile Purple Line, shown above, will connect Bethesda to New Carollton. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley will decide on the final plan in June. Picture courtesy of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

The above-ground light-investment rail, endorsed by the County Council, County Planning Board and County Executive Ike Leggett, is one of several options under consideration for the construction of the 16-mile transit line connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton. The bus rapid transit option has all but been dismissed, as light-rail alternatives can better accommodate the projected magnitude of ridership. Community members are debating the construction of a tunnel system versus above-ground rail on Wayne Avenue and the viability of a single-rail system, which would reduce the harmful environment impact of constructing a multiple-rail system at the cost of speed. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley will make the final decision this June, when a proposal will be submitted for federal funding.

Among other downsides, the tunnel alternative would impose an additional $173 million financial burden on local governments that are already struggling to allocate funds for the current $1.3 billion plan. An inflated budget would also reduce the likelihood that the project will receive state funding critical to the construction of the transit system.

Many local residents admire the speed of the tunnel system, which would take an estimated 5.4 minutes to cover the 1.5-mile Silver Spring route – a marked improvement over the 9 minutes required for the same above-ground trip. These same residents, however, will not benefit from swift travel offered by the tunnel alternative. Stations for the tunnel system would be constructed at the transit center and Manchester Place - a long walk for the residents of Wayne Avenue, who would receive a conveniently-placed station at the intersection of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street under the surface-rail system.

An above-ground system is arguably less disruptive than the tunnel alternative, which would destroy three houses, restrict access to three or four other residences and place a retaining wall in front of yards. A relatively small amount of property would be requisitioned to widen the street for new left-turn lanes under the surface-rail system, but this is a small sacrifice when you consider the homes saved from demolition.

Residents should embrace the surface-rail option for its cost and convenience. The once-ubiquitous "No Train on Wayne" yard signs, which are losing their political value as it becomes increasingly unlikely that O'Malley will opt to forego the project altogether, are ushering in a new era of Purple Line politics: picking the lesser of two evils.

Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »

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