Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown were met with protesters at the Bethesda Metro Station when they announced a $400 million investment to construct the Purple Line rail project on Aug 5. The project will cut into a popular fitness trail.
The Purple Line is a $ 2.2 billion 16-mile light rail project to run from east to west inside the Beltway from New Carrolton in Prince George’s County to Bethesda in Montgomery County. The transportation project is the first that Maryland has funded through a public-private partnership using money from private sector contributors. O’Malley also announced nearly $650 million in transportation investments for Montgomery County.
“Public-private partnerships are the way of the future for us as a country to do certain things like the Purple Line,” said Governor O’Malley.
The Purple Line would connect with Metro rail’s Orange and Green Lines, two branches of the Red Line and the MARC Lines. Construction may start as early as 2015 and the line may be open for service by 2020.
People oppose it because it would eliminate three miles of the Capital Crescent Trail. It is an old freight-train line converted into an 11-mile long park, popular with hikers, bikers and joggers. The trail runs from Georgetown to Bethesda and Silver Spring.
The Purple Line project would also clear cut 20 acres of forest, according to the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail group website SavetheTrail.org. The group also cites other potentially harmful environmental effects from the construction. Air pollution is among their concerns according to their website. They anticipate coal powered electricity generating plants, Maryland’s primary electricity source, will supply most of the electricity for the project .
Deborah Vollner shared her passionate opinions about the Purple Line. “People can only take so much of trees coming down … They could put it underground,” she said.
Vollner said that she has participated in forums where community members are invited to give their input. But she said that no one is addressing her concerns.
Although the local officials at the funding announcement did not acknowledge opposing views in their formal remarks, Brown did in answer to a reporter’s question.
“Our commitment is to do it right, in the design phases, the construction phases and the operating phases. We look forward to the many opportunities now and until the completion of the project where the community will have the opportunity to participate in the delivery of the Purple Line,” said Brown.
Local lawmakers have acknowledged the community members’ desire to preserve the Capitol Crescent Trail.
“It is essential that this project be implemented in a manner that preserves the integrity of the Capital Crescent Trail and minimizes the impact on surrounding neighborhoods. I will work with Governor O’Malley and federal transportation officials to accomplish this goal,” stated Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in a press release.
The Purple Line will largely run on the surface with one short tunnel section, one aerial section, and several underpasses and overpasses of busy roadways. It will operate mainly in dedicated or exclusive lanes, allowing for fast, reliable transit operations, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.
To ease traffic congestion in Montgomery County the announced $650 million transportation investment is scheduled to fund projects that include $125 million to construct a new interchange on I-270 at Watkins Mill Road; $25 million to build a relocated MD97 around the historic town of Brookeville, and $85 million in operating assistance for the county’s Ride on Bus from FY 2014 to 2019, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The transportation investment is expected to create 9,700 jobs in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.
Some residents question the necessity of all of the spending. Some might draw comparisons to public-private partnerships in Virginia that have resulted in toll-roads with minimal apparent traffic use.
In response to comparisons to Virginia’s roadway projects, Brown said that he is confident in the demand for the rail and roadway projects in Maryland.
Yet despite skeptics, local government officials are counting on the transportation investments to not only stimulate local economies and aid traffic flow, but to also improve the quality of life in the region and to attract new residents and businesses.
“The announcement of increased spending on roads and transportation, specifically, the public-private partnership announcement and investment in the Purple Line, will help connect communities and make our region more transit-oriented and sustainable. These are the elements that help improve the quality of life for our citizens and make the State of Maryland more attractive to new residents and businesses,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in a press release.