Students Urge Stronger Backing of Purple Line

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 13, 2007

Student leaders are urging the University of Maryland to advocate more strongly for an east-west Metro line through campus, saying the administration's opposition to an aboveground train could hurt the project's chances of being built.

In an April 25 letter, eight students urged university President C.D. Mote Jr. to "become an outright champion" of the proposed Purple Line, saying the school's "relative silence on the project is casting an unneeded shadow of uncertainty on the planning process." Tunneling a train beneath the College Park campus, as administration officials have urged, could make it prohibitively expensive, the students said.

They asked university officials to avoid "mistakes" made with Metro's Green Line. The College Park station was built almost a mile from the campus of 35,000 students, requiring an inconvenient walk or shuttle bus ride. The letter was copied to 30 federal, state and local political leaders.

"It's just too early for [administration officials] to prejudge any alternative while the study is still going on," said senior David Daddio, 22, one of the letter's writers and co-editor of a blog about development issues in College Park. "Any way we can get this project on campus, they should be happy with it."

The debate comes as the Maryland Transit Administration conducts a $30 million study of a proposed 14-mile light-rail or bus rapid transit link between Bethesda and New Carrollton, connecting the Maryland spokes of Metro's Red, Green and Orange lines. It also draws attention to the Prince George's County portion of the project, which is often overshadowed by questions about whether to build the Montgomery County section between Bethesda and Silver Spring aboveground or below.

Henry Kay, the MTA's deputy administrator for planning and engineering, said state officials agree that an aboveground line would be more viable. A one-mile tunnel beneath the campus would cost roughly $200 million to $300 million, about 10 times the cost of a one-mile aboveground line, he said.

Kay said university officials have long favored an underground system out of concern for pedestrian safety along busy Campus Drive, the school's main road, where a transit line probably would run. Although the exact location of a campus station hasn't been determined, Kay said, it probably would be near the campus center.

"We're working to convince them it can be built and operated safely," Kay said. "We've seen a lot of examples elsewhere where light rail or buses operate through campuses in a very safe way."

The university "is a major constituency along the line," he said. "We're not going to implement this project over their objections."

Daddio said the students were responding to a letter that J. Frank Brewer, interim vice president for administrative affairs, sent to state officials in late March, stating that "the university does not see 'at grade' [light-rail transit] as an option in the center of our campus."

University spokesman Millree Williams said Mote has asked state transit officials for a briefing in the next few weeks. He said the university would be willing to consider an aboveground line that did not run through the heart of campus.

"We support the idea of having as many transportation options available for our students as possible," Williams said. "The big concern for us is that an at-grade system coming through our campus, in the Campus Drive and mall area, would be far too disruptive."

A Purple Line is estimated to cost between $360 million and $1.6 billion, depending on whether it would be a bus or rail system and how much tunneling would be required. The state study is scheduled to be completed next spring.

The state transportation secretary, John D. Porcari, was a university vice president before being appointed to his position in January. Kay said Porcari has left it to his staff to recommend the transit option that is the most "safe, affordable and works well."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company