Purple Line planners move on to details

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011; 9:27 PM

Ed Dabolt hopes any Purple Line station near his Hyattsville neighborhood will be modern and inviting. Chevy Chase residents want a bridge to allow children, joggers and cyclists to safely cross a Purple Line's tracks, and the University of Maryland is pushing for a train tunnel beneath its College Park campus.

As the Maryland Transit Administration analyzes a Purple Line light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, the focus is narrowing from the larger vision to the nitty-gritty details: where, exactly, stations should be, what kind of landscaping and sound walls should buffer nearby residents, and how pedestrians and vehicles should cross train tracks.

Negotiations are well underway on the project's two most controversial details: how trains would travel through the University of Maryland campus and along the Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring. This month, the MTA also will begin holding work sessions with residents along the 16-mile route to examine the trains' impacts and how they might be reduced.

Even those who welcome transit in their communities say they want to help determine how a Purple Line would operate.

"We want the look and feel of the thing to be high-class," said Dabolt, a board member of the West Lanham Hills Citizens Association.

A Purple Line remains years away. The project first must win highly competitive federal money for half of its estimated $1.68 billion in construction costs. Maryland leaders also will have to prove to the Federal Transit Administration that the state can afford to build and operate a new rail line, even as it has slashed its transportation budgets and will have to help pay to repair the aging Metrorail system.

Michael D. Madden, the state's Purple Line study project manager, said he's "very confident" the project will be deemed eligible for federal funding. Federal transit planners and their consultants will examine the accuracy of the state's ridership and cost estimates, as well as how the state plans to design, build and operate the line. Madden said he expects a decision in March. Congress would then have to appropriate the money.

Finalizing the route

Purple Line trains would run along local streets, primarily in their own lanes, through densely developed areas. The east-west route is designed to connect Metrorail's Red and Orange lines outside the District, provide a more reliable alternative to buses and spur redevelopment in aging inner suburbs.

The most vocal opposition comes from the town of Chevy Chase and Columbia Country Club. Both have objected to trains running along the wooded Georgetown Branch Trail, which follows the town's border and cuts through the club's golf course. Opponents say the route would require cutting thousands of mature trees along the popular path.

State planners have said they need the trail route, which Montgomery County bought from CSX in 1988 for a transit line, to move trains most efficiently between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Chevy Chase town council member Pat Burda said residents worry that school children and trail users could get hit by trains while crossing the tracks near Lynn Drive. Current state plans call for an at-grade crossing. Burda said residents want a pedestrian bridge.

Burda said the town, which has opposed the trail route for years, hasn't decided yet whether it will challenge the transit proposal in court.

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