Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect time frame for ridership figures. The transit line in suburban Maryland could draw as many as 47,000 riders daily, not annually. This version has been corrected.

Purple Line Could Draw 47,000 Riders a Day, Officials Say

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A light-rail line cutting across the Maryland suburbs could draw as many 47,000 riders daily, and a dedicated bus line along a similar route could bring in as many as 45,000 passengers, according to projections that state transportation officials released yesterday for the proposed Purple Line.

Those ridership numbers estimated through 2035 compare favorably with similar transit projects being created throughout the country, bolstering Maryland's case for federal money needed to build the $1.8 billion line, state officials said.

The state's plans, presented at an open house in Silver Spring last night, call for a 16-mile line linking Bethesda and New Carrollton, with stops in Silver Spring, College Park, Takoma/Langley Park and Riverdale Park. Depending on a series of options, travel time from one end to the other is projected to be 46 to 73 minutes. The high end of the cost estimate increased from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion.

The new data did not address some questions: whether to use light rail or buses, whether to tunnel under some areas, and how to deal with scenic trails, golf courses, even college campuses in the line's path.

Trains or buses would pass through the Columbia Country Club's golf course, and Capital Crescent Trail fans say the line would destroy the trail's tranquility and require thousands of trees to be cut between Bethesda and Silver Spring. Some University of Maryland officials have argued that running trains or buses through the College Park campus would be dangerous for pedestrians.

Isaac Hantman, a Bethesda bicyclist who came with maps of his favorite treks, studied an option that showed grass growing between the tracks that would cut through the Capital Crescent Trail. "Grass tracks are better than nothing, I guess, but anything they do is still going to change the trail we all use," he said.

The state presented several alternatives and ridership projections at an open house in a Silver Spring elementary school last night, the first of five such meetings planned in Montgomery and Prince George's counties this month.

The ridership projections, which dip as low as 29,000 for a limited bus line, are key to the project's ability to win over Federal Transit Administration officials, who use a list of complex criteria to distribute funding. Among the most important factors are how many passengers a project would attract and the estimated cost per rider. The FTA scrutinizes any ridership estimate submitted, said Michael D. Madden, the state's project manager.

Concerned that previous estimates were flawed and provided little justification for the project, Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari ordered a new study this year. According to a federal report, more than 100 transit projects across the country are expected to compete for federal money in coming years.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company