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Purple Line Faces its Biggest Challenge Yet

By Jessica Christy

After years of property disputes, trail destruction concerns, and a search for an endangered species, one of the DC area’s newest public transportation projects may encounter its most significant obstacles under newly elected Maryland governor, Larry Hogan.

History of the Purple Line

The purple line was originally conceived under Maryland Governor Glendening as a connection between the New Carrollton station on the orange line and Silver Spring on the red line. Under the Ehrlich administration, the project was merged with the Georgetown Branch Light Rail Transit, which was proposed to run from the Silver Spring station to Bethesda, both on the red line.

Initially, the purple line was proposed as one of three options: heavy rail (think Metro), light rail, or bus rapid transit. Heavy rail was quickly eliminated as too expensive and light rail is highly favored over a rapid bus line. The current proposal is a 16.2 mile line with 21 stations, which will serve approximately 70,000 riders daily, at a cost of approximately $2.5 billion to build. Having cleared several regulatory hurdles already, construction is scheduled to begin in 2015, but that appears unlikely with Governor Hogan’s refusal thus far to make a decision about whether his administration will proceed with the project.

Contentious Route for the Purple Line

To build the purple line, the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) will likely have to seize part or all of nearly 350 properties, including condemnation of 12 homes and apartment buildings and between 15 and 20 businesses, according to estimates from 2012. A more recent estimate of the number of properties affected by the purple line was not readily available.

In addition to residences, MTA also had to contend with the Columbia Country Club, a private golf course located near the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and East West Highway. The purple line will bisect the course, which the club says will jeopardize its standing as a competitive course and filed suit to prevent this. Through a series of negotiations and deals, the route through the course was modified and parcels of land were swapped in order to save the competitive layout of the course through the preservation of trees. The club has promised to refrain from participating in any lawsuits to delay or prevent purple line construction.

A Futile Search for an Endangered Species

In a bid to prevent the purple line from moving forward as a light rail line, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail (FCCT) used a $10,000 donation from the Town of Chevy Chase in order to search for three endangered species: one small shrimp-like creature and two small crustacean species. The creatures have never been found in this area and the survey, completed by David Culver of American University, found none of the targeted species. Undeterred, the Town has given FCCT another $20,000 to sample DNA of the water and sediment to determine if any of the target species could live in the area. The results of the DNA sampling should be available this summer.

Election Consequences

Maryland’s current governor, Larry Hogan, campaigned on a promise to kill the purple line (and a related project, the red line, in Baltimore). Closer to the election, Hogan reneged on his plan to scrap the projects and is still “considering” whether to cancel them or allow them to go forward. Governor Hogan’s biggest concern is the cost of the project which, at $2.5 billion, is high. This number is mitigated by $900 million from the federal government, $220 from Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, and further contributions from the public-private partnership. After months of delays on a decision, the Governor is saying he will issue a decision in June.

A new report from Transport for American combats the governor’s arguments about the project’s costs, claiming the purple line would create over 20,000 jobs, cut travel times, increase property values, and save residents money. The line would also increase access to jobs, including nearly 100,000 local residents who will have access to transit. Hogan’s Transportation Secretary recently stated he believed $200 to $300 million could be cut from the total cost. Time will tell if these benefits and potential cost savings will be sufficient for Hogan to move forward with the projects.

The purple line will provide incredible benefits to residents in this area and contribute significantly to reduced automobile congestion in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Business leaders, local residents, and the local municipalities have been planning for these projects and have a strong desire to see them through. Governor Hogan should stop kicking this decision down the road, recognize the immense benefits the purple will provide, and allow the project to move forward.

Jessica Christy is a second year law student at the University of the District of Columbia and a mother of three. She’s originally from Colorado, but has lived in DC for almost nine years. Before attending law school, she worked in industrial hygiene, including asbestos litigation and workplace safety. In her spare time, she enjoys beating her oldest child at MarioKart and needlepoint.


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