U-Md. reopens Campus Drive, will decide in 2011 whether to close road permanently

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2010

The University of Maryland has reopened Campus Drive to all vehicles after an eight-week summer experiment that turned the College Park campus's primary road into a pedestrian mall.

University officials said the road will remain open to traffic while they analyze data collected during the pilot study, including whether the closure had any impact on bus ridership. A decision on whether to close Campus Drive to all or most traffic long term will be made in 2011, university officials said. Maryland transit officials are following the issue closely because any long-term closure could interfere with state plans to run Purple Line light rail trains along Campus Drive.

Turning Campus Drive into a pedestrian-friendly mall free of all or most traffic has been part of the university's master plan since 1991, university officials said. To test that plan, they said, private vehicles and most buses were rerouted north of campus between June 19 and Aug. 13.

Dave Cosner, assistant director of operations and maintenance, said a decision about whether to close the road to traffic long-term will be based on data collected this summer -- during the first four weeks, when private vehicles were banned but buses were allowed, as well as during the second four weeks, when most buses also were rerouted.

Beyond everyday university life, the state of Campus Drive is key to the Maryland Transit Administration's plans to build a 16-mile Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. Planners say the trains would provide a faster and more reliable transit alternative to buses, would connect Maryland's ends of Metro's Red, Green and Orange lines and would spur redevelopment in older inner-Beltway communities.

The state's preferred Purple Line route would run trains along Campus Drive above ground, and the university would be a major stop along the line.

Some who opposed the experiment of closing Campus Drive said they believed it was an attempt to complicate the plans for the Purple Line. University officials have objected to the proposed route along Campus Drive, saying trains would be dangerous to pedestrians and that electromagnetic interference could affect sensitive scientific experiments in nearby buildings.

Michael D. Madden, the state's project manager on the Purple Line study, said transit planners have found ways to build light rail systems safely on university campuses. He said state and university officials continue to discuss the route.

"We still feel Campus Drive is the best alignment to serve the university," Madden said. "It goes right to the heart of the campus where the most people are."

Cosner said a decision about whether to close Campus Drive long-term would be made separately from any Purple Line discussions. Plans to turn Campus Drive into a pedestrian mall, he said, "certainly predate the Purple Line."

State officials are seeking federal money to pay for at least half of the Purple Line's estimated $1.68 billion construction costs. If funded, construction could begin in 2013 and take three to five years to complete, state officials said.

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