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Purple Line Follows Path of Discord

The Montgomery planning board and County Council are to begin considering their recommendation to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in January. State officials said O'Malley will decide early next year which Purple Line route and mode -- busway or light rail -- to enter into the national competition for critical federal funding.

One of the most watched aspects of the governor's decision will be whether he chooses Montgomery's master plan alignment, which would follow the Georgetown Branch Trail. State transit officials have said that the trail and transit line could coexist safely, as they do in many cities, with a landscaped buffer between transit vehicles and trail users.

Maryland planners have said they won't know how many trees would be cut until they do more analysis. Opponents of the trail route said previous studies have found that thousands of mature trees would be lost.

But supporters of the master plan alignment point to the path's history as abandoned railroad tracks, which the county bought in 1988 to preserve for a possible trolley line between Bethesda and Silver Spring. The county turned the right of way into a trail until such a line could be built.

Montgomery County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) told state officials at the hearing Nov. 18 that he hears "a clear, strong and growing consensus in Montgomery County for light rail on the master plan alignment."

Not so fast, some trail advocates said. The double-tracked Purple Line, they said, is a far cry from earlier plans for a single-track trolley.

Rebuilding the trail adjacent to a busway or light rail line "is like building a sidewalk along the Beltway," state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), a Purple Line opponent, said after the hearing. "Yeah, you have a sidewalk, but who's going to use it?"

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