Montgomery County politicians were talking a blue streak about the Purple Line again this week, as the County Council attempted to end -- once and for all -- discussion of the long-debated attempt to link Bethesda and Silver Spring by rail.
It may have been the last of the debate, at least in Rockville. The council voted 7 to 2 to reaffirm its support for the so-called Inner Purple Line, the plan that runs a trolley along 4.4 miles of track, traversing popular local trails and cutting behind pricey homes in Chevy Chase.
Now the debate moves to Annapolis, where trolley supporters will launch an all-out lobbying effort aimed at the single vote they need to have a shot at federal transportation funding: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).
Ehrlich has said repeatedly that he will not budge on his opposition to the trolley, but backers are planning a massive campaign, led by the Washington Board of Trade and other business groups, to appeal to Ehrlich on the matter.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said he believes that effort is destined to fail.
"At this point if we get anything it's going to be the Corridor Cities Transitway," a project that routes light-rail trains north along Interstate 270. "I'm disappointed. Unless Governor Ehrlich changes his mind, which I don't see, the Purple Line is not going to happen. I think the council made a real mistake."
Duncan had offered the latest alternative to the trolley, a plan the council routed directly to the nearest ashcan. He had offered to move away from his long-favored Outer Purple Line route, to a version that is mostly inside the Beltway and uses Metro's heavy rail to link the Red Line Silver Spring station to the Medical Center station, just north of Bethesda.
The plan was the subject of a lively, three-hour debate in the council chambers, during which George Leventhal (D-At Large) subjected Metro planners, who had designed the new route at Duncan's request, to a fierce cross-examination. He challenged everything from the plan's cost to the homeland security implications of routing the train near the National Institutes of Health.
Leventhal questioned whether efforts to find an alternative were attempts to satisfy monied interests in Chevy Chase. Is it fair, he asked, to deprive people in Silver Spring, "some of whom clean the homes of the folks who live in Chevy Chase" the ability to get across the county easily?
Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) said he had profound disagreements with the oratorical flourishes of his colleagues, then offered a poetic flourish of his own.
"What we get" with the trolley, he said, "is a streetcar named disaster, an above-ground, cheap and dirty beast that threatens our communities."
A Conflict of Interest? Even as council members debated the issue, there was fallout from last week's 3-to-2 vote by the Montgomery County Planning Board that brought the Purple Line question back before them in the first place. The board sided against Duncan's plan, and in favor of the trolley.
Some supporters of Duncan's proposal questioned whether Planning Board member John M. Robinson, who sided against the Duncan plan, should have recused himself from the vote. Robinson lives in Rock Creek Hills, about two blocks from the spot where Duncan wanted heavy-rail trains to run.
Robinson dismisses that suggestion of impropriety. He said he disclosed to the board that he lives near the Duncan route, but said his house is separated from the tracks on which the rail cars would travel by hundreds of yards of woods. He said no one on the board objected to his contribution on the issue. His vote, he said, was cast entirely on the merits of the proposals.