Hundreds of people who own land, homes or businesses in the path of the proposed 16-mile Purple Line will begin receiving purchase offers from the Maryland Transit Administration in the next two weeks as the agency starts to buy rights of way for the light-rail project.
The transit link between Bethesda and New Carrollton is still in the design stage, but the state intends to purchase property along the route as soon as appraisals are finalized, said Michael Madden, the MTA’s manager of Purple Line planning.
The start of the property acquisition process is the most concrete sign yet that the MTA is moving ahead quickly on plans to connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties with two-car trains running mostly along local streets. The rail plan recently received federal environmental approval and a recommendation from the Federal Transit Administration for $900 million in federal construction aid — key developments that allowed the project to move forward.
The state plans to acquire 608 properties, Madden said. They include several small apartment buildings, the Spring Center strip mall, and a five-story office building in Silver Spring; a large Latino Mega Market grocery store and thrift store in Langley Park; and 25 houses in Riverdale Park.
About 288 parcels will be easements, meaning the state will pay for the land’s use during construction and return it afterwards, Madden said. Many parcels the MTA plans to buy are “slivers” of land, he said.
Madden said the state’s first offers will go to the owners of 50 houses or apartment units and 60 businesses to allow residents and tenants the most time possible to relocate. Madden said the state would like to have all rights of way bought by this time next year. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015, with the line opening in 2020.
“We want to make it as smooth as we can for people,” Madden said.
Many of those who live and work in the project’s path say they’ve been aware for at least a year that the state wants their property. Several said they are tired of the uncertainty, resigned to moving and eager to hear the state’s offers.
Laverne Webb has enjoyed living in her three-bedroom home on Riverdale Road for 26 years. But she’s tired of ever-increasing traffic just beyond her front door and worries about her grandsons playing in the front yard.
“It hurt when they said they were going to take my house, because I’ve had some good times here,” said Webb, who works as an administrative assistant for the federal government. “But I think it’s going to be a blessing. It will be a new start for me in a new home, off the highway.”
It also seems better to move, she said, than to end up living next to a train line.
“I wouldn’t want to stay here with a Purple Line at my door,” she said.
The line is designed to provide faster, more reliable east-west transit and connect Metrorail stations with Amtrak and MARC commuter rail stations. State planners predict it also will spur development in older suburbs, particularly in Prince George’s.
Many of the properties that will be bought are in areas where roads would be widened to accommodate trains or where structures such as station platforms and power substations would be built. The project has government-owned right of way preserved between Bethesda and an area west of downtown Silver Spring, where trains would run along an extension of the Capital Crescent Trail. While the western section requires less private property, it has created controversy because of the number of mature trees that would be cut along the wooded trail.
The state has allotted $280 million of the project’s $2.37 billion construction budget to real estate acquisition, Madden said.
In Riverdale Park, Vera Akin will lose her home and business to make room for tracks along Kenilworth Avenue. Her family lives above her store, Sophisticat Boutique, where she has sold colorful African fabrics, jewelry, handbags and shoes for five years.
Akin said she hopes a Purple Line will bring jobs to Riverdale Park and help people who don’t have cars. But she’s not looking forward to starting over in a new space.
“If I have to move to a new area, I might not get the customers I have here,” Akin said. “I’m known here. Business [in a new location] will be slow for a while. It takes a while to build a new business.”
In Bethesda, Doug Marshall said he’s begun scouting out possible locations for the satellite office of Newtown Auto Body, which operates out of a two-story house on Montgomery Avenue just east of downtown. An interior design firm shares the space.
Marshall, who manages the office, said he’s been told that the house, or the one next to it, could be torn down to make way for a Purple Line power substation. He said he’s concerned about being able to find another location near downtown Bethesda that has reasonable rent and six parking spaces.
“This area is really valuable for us,” Marshall said. “It would devastate the owner if he had to shut this location down. . . . I believe it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what we have here.”