Wednesday, November 26, 2008

MTA: Purple Line tunnel too costly - Gazette

Residents at public hearing show support for light-rail option

by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

State transportation officials at a public hearing Saturday told supporters of a light-rail option for the Purple Line that running the transit line through a tunnel under Wayne Avenue in east Silver Spring would be too expensive to consider.

"We did hear a lot of residents who preferred a tunnel under Wayne in east Silver Spring," said Michael D. Madden, Purple Line development chief for the Maryland Transit Administration. "We've gone out to the community to explain that … [the tunnel] would have to go very deep, and it would have to go all the way out to University Boulevard. That makes that option not cost-effective."

In the final MTA-sponsored public hearing, 69 people presented testimony Saturday, with the overwhelming majority supporting light-rail (LRT) over a bus rapid-transit (BRT) system for the 16-mile system that would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton and incorporate Metro and MARC lines.

Six alternatives are being considered by the MTA for the Purple Line. Three would use BRT and three would use LRT, which would have higher ridership and a better economic impact, according to an MTA study released in October. Each mode of transit has three different plans under consideration which vary in cost, travel time and integration with existing roadways.

The 251-page study described how each alternative would impact the community and provided estimated travel times, costs and ridership statistics. As many as six of the possible 20 stations along the Purple Line could be in the Silver Spring area between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue and Arliss Street and Piney Branch Road.

While only two speakers supported the BRT option, many LRT supporters favored running the rail system through a tunnel under Wayne Avenue in east Silver Spring. Elected officials and MTA representatives argued such a tunnel would be too expensive.

Elaine Ellis, who has lived in Silver Spring for 25 years, attended the meeting with other residents of her Seven Oaks neighborhood to support the LRT option with a tunnel under Wayne. She held a "No Train on Wayne" sign outside Falcon Hall at the meeting.

"I just don't think it makes sense to put a 180-car train running both ways down a residential street," Ellis said. "It should be run underground, I mean, Montgomery County taxpayers pay some of the highest property taxes in the country; we deserve a high-quality transit system."

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring said tunnel supporters were probably unfamiliar with government budgeting practices, and classified the tunnel as an overly costly concession for MTA.

"Anyone who understands the constraints on the federal budget system knows tunneling is not a real option," he said, explaining the light rail Purple Line would cost about $1.6 billion to run on the surface, and tunneling could push the budget over the $2 billion cut-off typically placed on federal grants.

One of two speakers who supported the BRT option, Cal Kriesberg characterized the option as cheaper and more flexible than the rail option. Buses would likely be hybrid electric, and both the BRT and LRT plans included the completion of the Capital Crescent Trail running from Silver Spring to Georgetown, important environmental points he said many LRT supporters ignore or overlook.

MTA consultant Mike Flood agreed that there was a tendency for LRT supporters to overstate the pollution impact of the BRT option.

"BRT emits pollutants from the vehicle, while there are no emissions from the LRT vehicle [but] LRT vehicle pollutants come from the power generation plants [off site]," Flood said. "Both technically should be treated similarly in terms of pollutants."

Harry Sanders of the Purple Line Now! group, and a supporter of the LRT option, said buses would likely be slower than light-rail and could not seat as many passengers as a multi-car train.

Kriesberg argued that, while buses might be slower, dedicated bus-only lanes in the BRT plan would cut down on delays and the lower cost of the BRT could free up more funds for tunnel options supported by many speakers.

Madden said the MTA would be carefully documenting and summarizing public input until the Jan. 14 deadline for public comments, including input from supporters of the bus rapid-transit option which would see dedicated bus lanes instead of an electric rail system along the route.

Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation John D. Porcari (D) and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will make their final decision sometime in February or March. Testimony will be taken through Jan. 14 and can be submitted electronically on the MTA's Web site,, by e-mail to, or by mail to MTA Director of Planning Diane Ratcliff at the MTA Office of Planning, 6 St. Paul St., 9th floor in Baltimore, MD 21202.

The Montgomery County Planning Board will hold a public hearing Jan. 8 on the Purple Line to inform its decision on a recommendation for the route and type of transit – light rail or bus rapid transit – for the Montgomery County section of the Purple Line. The board's recommendation will go to the County Council and then to MTA, which will make the final decision.

The public is welcome to speak at the hearing, although board Chairman Royce Hanson is encouraging people to send written testimony, which can be of any length, given the large number of people who may wish to be heard. Written testimony should be received by noon Jan. 2. Testimony will be limited to two hours, with each speaker receiving no more than three minutes.

Those who wish to speak must specify which segment of the Montgomery County Purple Line they wish to address – Bethesda/Chevy Chase; Silver Spring; Long Branch/Takoma/Langley; or the entire length – using the online sign-up system available in late December on the Planning Board Web site or by calling 301-495-4600.

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