The first phase of the Purple Line is in Maryland from Bethesda to New Carrollton, with intermediate stops in Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Langley Park, Riverdale, and the University of Maryland. Another important connection could tie Alexandria with National Harbor, Oxon Hill, and Branch Avenue in Prince George’s County. To date, Virginia officials have failed to pursue the Purple Line, which would connect Springfield, Annandale, Merrifield, and Tysons with Montgomery County. Recently, Fairfax officials met with their counterparts in Montgomery to discuss transit connections at the American Legion Bridge and they are also studying new transit networks for the county.
Why Does the Purple Line Matter?
The Purple Line offers a fast and high quality public transit alternative for suburb-to-suburb travelers. It would take cars off local roads and the Beltway, relieve the burden of traffic congestion, and help curb greenhouse gas emissions. Even conservative estimates for Purple Line ridership demonstrate strong demand for the line.
Transit-oriented development near new Purple Line rail stations would promote the revitalization of inner-suburban neighborhoods. By focusing development in inner-Beltway communities through a connected network of high quality transit stations, we can anchor our older communities, enhance property values, and bring new housing and business opportunities to underserved parts of the region. A high quality light rail line will foster job growth in Silver Spring and Prince George’s County, connect workers to jobs in Bethesda and the Red Line Corridor, and reduce traffic growth.
While the new high quality transit connection is a great opportunity for communities along the route, it can also pose challenges by pushing up housing and commercial space price that could lead to displacement. We are working with a variety of stakeholders in Langley Park, which will host two new Purple Line stations, to ensure that investment in the community benefits existing residents and small businesses.
Latest on the Purple Line
In March 2014, the Federal Transit Administration issued a Record of Decision for the Purple Line, basically approving the 16-mile light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. It’s one of the last pieces needed to build the line, which is scheduled to break ground next year and open in 2020.
FTA’s decision means Maryland can start purchasing right-of-way to build the $2.37 billion Purple Line, and makes it eligible for federal funding. President Obama recently included it in his 2015 budget, which Congress will have to approve later this year.
With state funding in place and an ongoing search for a private partner in the works, nearly all of the money needed has been secured. As a sign of how likely the Purple Line is to get built, the Planning Board is meeting today to make detailed recommendations about how it should interact with surrounding neighborhoods, like what materials to use for retaining walls.
Purple Line and the Capital Crescent Trail
The Capital Crescent Trail is an off-road trail used by walkers, joggers, and bikers that runs from Georgetown to Lyttonsville, MD. Much has been made of the intersection of the trail and the Purple Line in Bethesda, where the trail currently runs through a tunnel beneath Wisconsin Avenue. Plans for the Purple Line also call for the light rail line to run through the tunnel.
This is a very difficult issue. Realigning the trail out of the tunnel is a loss, but the costs of having both the trail and the light rail line in the tunnel appear to be very high and could add to the risk facing funding for the Purple Line. Given the trade-offs, we accept the proposed at-grade alternate route for the trail.
At the same time, there are important gains for a continuous trail with the Purple Line project: an approximately 1.5 mile stretch from Lyttonsville to downtown Silver Spring is incomplete and remains on-road, and there are seven at-grade crossings of streets at traffic lights east of the Bethesda Tunnel, including on multi-lane, busy streets such as Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street. The rebuilt trail along the Purple Line would replace all 1.5 miles of the on-road route with a completely off-road trail into downtown Silver Spring. All seven at-grade crossings at lights would be replaced by the rail line and trail tunneling under or bridging over these busy roadways. Prospects for ever completing the trail and removing these at-grade crossings are poor unless the Purple Line is built as planned.
CSG’s Participation in the Maryland Purple Line NOW! Campaign
The Coalition for Smarter Growth works actively with regional partners to coordinate advocacy campaigns that support sustainable development patterns. Our involvement in the Purple Line NOW! coalition at a critical point in the study process helped to rally residents’ support at hearings, submit public comments, and sign onto petitions. We have testified in strong support of the Purple Line before state and local decision makers, citing all of the economic, social, and environmental benefits.
The Maryland Transit Administration is completing the required studies of the project. To follow the progress of the Purple Line and to receive action alerts on how you can support it, please sign up for our action alerts, and we will make it easy for you to contact your elected officials.
For more information on the Purple Line, visit purplelinenow.com.