Friday, January 30, 2009

Ratified Purple Line May Revive Suburbs - Washington Post

Project Expected to Spur Development

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009; A01

The Montgomery County Council's approval yesterday of a light-rail system linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties is a milestone in the more than 20-year effort to move people more efficiently between the two suburbs and spur redevelopment of older neighborhoods, according to officials and transportation planners.

The 16-mile Purple Line would connect Bethesda and New Carrollton, and officials predicted that it would rejuvenate inner-ring suburbs that are beginning to show their post-World War II age. Some transportation experts say the east-west transit line could help transform struggling Maryland communities such as Langley Park and Riverdale Park in the same way that Metro helped bring offices, retail, restaurants and apartments to Northern Virginia's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

"It represents a case study for how suburban areas are going to remake themselves for the 21st century," said Robert Puentes, a transportation specialist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It's not just the old notion of moving people from point A to point B," Puentes said, "but about remaking those places."

Despite some skepticism from residents about the plan's price and chances of securing federal funding, Maryland transit officials say a Purple Line would give residents of job-starved areas in Prince George's a faster and more reliable alternative to the sluggish buses they now use to get to work in areas such as Bethesda, Rockville and Gaithersburg. The rail line also would run to the University of Maryland's College Park campus and link Maryland's Metro, MARC and Amtrak stations.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is expected to submit a Purple Line project to the Federal Transit Administration for funding this spring, entering the state in a fierce competition for construction money. The light-rail project has been endorsed by the Montgomery council, Prince George's council and both counties' executives and is estimated to cost $1.2 billion to build. State officials have said they can't afford that without the federal government covering at least half.

Transit advocates are optimistic that President Obama's plans to spur the economy by investing in infrastructure will mean more money for such projects. But the demand for construction money will probably continue to far outpace supply, they said.

Webb Smedley, chairman of Purple Line NOW, said the project will compete well, especially if the Obama administration considers how it would limit sprawl and serve lower-income riders.

"It really stands for itself with its ridership, travel time savings and ability to link Metro stations," Smedley said.

The local debate over the Purple Line has centered on its route -- mainly whether it would run along a popular wooded walking and biking trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring and how it would thread through some Silver Spring neighborhoods.

The endorsed proposal would run light-rail trains, which are similar to streetcars and use overhead electrical wires, primarily aboveground and along local streets, except for the four-mile trail portion. Trains would have their own lanes and run beneath or over most major intersections. It is estimated that the line would average as many as 62,600 trips a day by 2030. If the project gets federal funding, construction could begin in 2012, officials said.

Michael D. Madden, manager of the state's Purple Line study, told the Montgomery council that "pretty much all" of the trees on the Georgetown Branch Trail between downtown Bethesda and Columbia Country Club's golf course would need to be cut down. However, he said, trees could be spared in trail areas with wider right of way, such as through the country club's golf course and east toward Silver Spring.

The council voted 5 to 3 to ask Maryland transit planners to study in more detail the possibility of using a single track along parts of the trail to spare more trees. Council member Don Praisner (D-Eastern County), who recently received a colon cancer diagnosis, was absent from the meeting. Madden said his team would reconsider a single track but said such systems generally make trains slower and less reliable.

Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), whose district encompasses the trail, said he thinks a rail line can coexist with it, particularly with heavy landscaping. Berliner said Montgomery bought the trail route in the 1980s to preserve as right of way for a rail line.

Still, he said, "anything we can do to minimize the impact on the trail, I think we have an obligation to do."

Geoff Gonella, a country club board member and executive director of the Alliance for Smart Transportation, which opposes the trail route, said the council's proposal is too expensive, would increase traffic around stations that draw development and would take relatively few cars off the road.

As for the trail, Gonella said, "I don't think anyone can reasonably look at this and think the trail is going to come back."

The council also asked the state to further analyze a tunnel option beneath downtown Silver Spring and some neighborhoods to the east. Madden said that idea would require more land on Wayne Avenue, which would disrupt nearby homes and Silver Spring International Middle School.

A Purple Line would be the first major east-west transit link to directly connect spokes of the Metro system, a trip that now must be made by car or a series of slow buses. As jobs have moved from cities to fast-growing suburbs over the past 20 years, planners say, the Washington area has joined Los Angeles, Chicago and other areas seeking ways to better move commuters who need to get from their suburban homes to their suburban jobs -- all as space to build roads has diminished.

"Our urban areas are expanding and encroaching on our suburbs," said Sarah Catz, director of the Center for Urban Infrastructure at the University of California at Irvine. Without room for new roads, Catz said: "What do you do? You have to start investing in transit."

Art Guzzetti, the American Public Transportation Association's vice president for policy, said transit systems such as a Purple Line would serve demographic trends. Those include a rise in one- and two-person households, which will increase demand for the kind of high-density housing that can be built around transit stops.

"I'm not saying the American love affair with the automobile is totally over," Guzzetti said, "but the newer generation of people don't seem to need it in the same way as the previous generation did."

County Council approves Purple Line light rail - Gazette

Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

Study proposed to examine single tracking as way to preserve trail

by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer

The County Council voted unanimously in favor of the Purple Line light rail project Tuesday, but also voted to request that the state examine using only one rail track in specific areas to minimize impacts on the Capital Crescent Trail.

Proposed library pedestrian bridge subject of meeting - Gazette

Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

Talk of the Town | Jason Tomassini

Another community meeting to discuss plans for the new Silver Spring Library project will be held 7 p.m. Feb. 5 at the current library, 8901 Colesville Road.

In December, the Montgomery County Council asked the county Department of Transportation to evaluate the feasibility of a mid-block, street-level pedestrian crossing versus an overhead pedestrian bridge, both of which would connect the new library – proposed for the corner of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street – to the Wayne Avenue Garage.

Residents: Dale Drive changes a waste of money - Gazette

Planned intersection improvements at Colesville Road would make matters worse, civic association members say

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer

Residents and one county councilmember are opposed to the widening of Dale Drive near the heavily trafficked intersection of Dale Drive and Colesville Road, saying the changes would worsen conditions at the intersection and waste taxpayers' money.

Youths launch own programs for empowerment - Gazette

Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

by Jason Tomassini, Amber Parcher, Jeremy Arias and Robert Dongu | Staff Writers

On Nov. 1, a 14-year-old was gunned down on a Ride On bus in Silver Spring. Within hours, friends and classmates texting on cell phones and posting online messages emerged as a diverse army of leaders for their community of young people.

They organized a student-led vigil attended by about 200 teens who shared their grief and fears following the death of Tai Lam, a freshman at Montgomery Blair High School. They also took the first steps towards self-empowerment, strides that a few months later seem to be taking hold where similar adult- and government-led efforts have often floundered.

Civic building construction delayed by permitting - Gazette

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer

Completion of the civic building at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive will be delayed until March 2010 after the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission had to approve the relocation of a water main located at the construction site. The estimated completion date had been late fall 2009.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Silver Spring: Are You Ready to Rock? - NBC

For those hoping to have another music venue to catch live shows, the wait shouldn't be a whole lot longer.

A Montgomery County spokesperson said Monday that the new Silver Spring music hall will be arriving soon, the Silver Spring Penguin reported.

Montgomery Council Backs Light Rail for Purple Line - Washington Post

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009; 2:08 PM

The Montgomery County Council today approved a light rail system for the planned east-west transit link between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, a milestone in the more than 20-year debate over how to move people more efficiently between the two suburbs and spur redevelopment of their older neighborhoods. With the Prince George's council, Prince George's Executive Jack Johnson (D) and Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett (D) already in favor of the Purple Line project, today's unanimous recommendation to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) was the last political hurdle for the planned 16-mile link. O'Malley also has voiced support for the line, which would connect Bethesda and New Carrollton inside the Capital Beltway.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Leggett Endorses Light-Rail Plan - Washington Post

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009; B03

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett endorsed a light-rail plan for a Purple Line link between Bethesda and New Carrollton yesterday and said he had secured a promise from state officials that the county would bear no construction costs "to the extent feasible."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Neighborhoods Committee Meeting Agenda - January 26, 2009

Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board
Neighborhoods Committee Meeting Agenda
Jan. 26, 2009, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Silver Spring Regional Center
8435 Georgia Avenue

7:00 Welcome and Introductions; Updates from SSCAB
Summary of previous committee and SSCAB meetings
Budget testimony by SSCAB: Feb. 3

7:15 Community Safety Issues
Weed & Seed Program Update
Martha Waddy
Victor Salazar
Prezco’s Crime Prevention Summit Planning
Tony Hausner

7:45 Action Planning Meetings Follow-Up
Silver Spring Action: Supporting small business owners (Ana, Alev and Kusum)
Youth Action Planning: Integrating youth voices into the SSCAB and Neighborhoods Committee

8:20 Topics for Upcoming Meetings

8:30 Adjourn

Upcoming Community Meetings:

Feb. 5, 7pm – Meeting to discuss pedestrian bridge for new library (at Silver Spring Library)
Feb. 9, 7pm – SSCAB meeting (at Silver Spring Library)
Feb. 23, 7pm – Neighborhoods Committee (at Silver Spring Regional Center)

Please contact Megan Moriarty with any questions:

Silver Spring Neighbors Answer Call to Service

Over 40 neighbors came together today to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and answer President-elect ObamaŹ¼s call to service by volunteering.

All ages met at 9a in Sligo Creek Park and collected 30 plus bags of trash and other assorted items from steep slopes and cold, wet creek beds.

Afterwards, fellow neighbor Beth Lieberman hosted us all for coffee, milk and cookies.

Many thanks to everyone who braved the cold, damp environment in the volunteer spirit.

I look forward to working with you all again soon,

Anna Howle
Dale Drive

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Activists take action for the future of Silver Spring - Gazette

Residents at IMPACT meeting focus on solving community problems

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009

With changes coming in Silver Spring and across the country, the 200 residents and officials that gathered last week at a community meeting sponsored by a local nonprofit had a lot to say about what the future of Silver Spring should look like.

At budget forum, an offer to help - Gazette

Rockville man argues in favor of volunteer contributions in tough fiscal year
by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer

While community activist groups lobbied County Executive Isiah Leggett for funding at a Long Branch budget forum last week, a Rockville man took a different approach by asking what he could do to help in a tough budget year.

Dave Magill, a member of the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, which volunteers to help maintain more than 20 biking trails in area parks, asked how county volunteers could help ensure steady staffing for county programs, many of which will be facing cutbacks with a $450 million deficit in the county budget this year.

Arrests Made for Home Invasion Robbery in Silver Spring - MCPD

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Media Services Division, 240-773-5030

Detectives from the Montgomery County Police Major Crimes Division - Robbery Section arrested and charged Charleston Harris and Gilberto Sanchez-Luna for a home invasion robbery that occurred yesterday morning in Silver Spring.

Monday, January 19 at approximately 6:34 a.m., 3rd District officers responded for the report of two armed suspects robbing six victims inside an apartment in the 9300 block of Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring. Through the course of the investigation it was learned that the suspects demanded cash, but did not obtain anything. Responding officers were in the area and arrived in time to arrest the suspects as they attempted to exit the residence.

Charleston Harris, age 29, of the 800 block of Lake Shore Drive in Bowie, was charged with six counts of armed robbery and first-degree burglary. Gilberto Sanchez-Luna, age 34, of the 14400 block of Atro Dome Drive in Silver Spring, was charged with six counts of armed robbery, first-degree burglary, and second-degree assault. Both are being held without bond.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Board to examine budget priorities - Gazette

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

Board to examine budget priorities

Sufficient funding for emergency services, transportation, public safety and health and library services were among the priorities discussed Monday by the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board in preparation for a February meeting with County Executive Isiah Leggett to discuss the county's fiscal 2010 operating budget.

Unger and Vice Chairwoman Kathy Stevens will meet with Leggett (D) Feb. 3 as one of several panels to advise the county executive before his office determines next year's budget. In a year with large-scale cuts anticipated around the county, Unger and Silver Spring Regional Center Director Gary Stith urged residents to be vocal about budget concerns.

"The best thing is if you go to the county executive and tell him what you don't want to have cut because, quite frankly, everything is going to be cut," Stith said at the advisory board's monthly meeting Monday.

Board members said it was important that funding for key programs in Silver Spring is not pulled because it has been underfunded in the past in relation to its growing population.

"Cuts for Silver Spring and east county should be proportionately less than in less dense parts of the county," said board member Alan Bowser of Sligo Hills.

While economic shortfalls mean there is less money to spread around, board members noted that economic problems also increase the need for sufficient funding in certain areas.

Crime increases in difficult economic times so police funding in Silver Spring should not be cut. The use of public transportation also increases as people have financial difficulties so Silver Spring's Ride On and VanGo bus service should not be compromised, board members said.

Board member and Sligo Park Hills resident Fran Rothstein said library hours and funding should not be cut because people use the library's inexpensive services more often in tough economic times.

Before drafting a list of priorities to present to Leggett, Unger and Stevens will also get feedback from residents on the upcoming budget at a community forum 7 p.m. Thursday at the Long Branch Community Center, 8700 Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring. The meeting is the third in a five-meeting series sponsored by the County Executive's Office. Leggett is expected to host the meeting.

Planning Board approves light rail for Purple Line - Gazette

Montgomery County Council to meet next after board's 4-1 approval

by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer | Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

The Planning Board voted to approve light rail along the Capital Crescent Trail for the Purple Line Thursday afternoon by a 4-1 vote.

Montgomery County Planning Board commissioners cited the greater capacity afforded by the medium-investment light rail project and its greater advantages in developing urban areas.

The board's recommendation on the project, which would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring over 16 miles, now goes to the County Council and the Maryland Transit Administration. The council meets on the Purple Line in committee on Jan. 22 and in full session on Jan. 27.

At the conclusion of a five-hour hearing, Chairman Royce Hanson said he thought the project needed to be looked at in a 50- to 60-year time frame, and that it fit better in the area.

"It's interesting. It draws people to it. It works quite well in these environments," Hanson said. "I think the stations can be designed for both easy transfer between modes and attract people to areas."

Much of the discussion in the hearing focused on the greater capacity and subsequently less transportation congestion posed by light rail.

"I think we should plan for what we think we should need," said Vice-Chairman John Robinson.

Commissioner Jean Cryor voted for the light rail but decried the damage she thought light rail would do to the Capital Crescent Trail.

Amy Presley, the only commissioner voting against light rail, said she supported light rail on many fronts but said she simply did not think the project would be built in time to satisfy the current dire transportation needs.

"I just can't buy that it'll work as quickly as we want it to," Presley said.

Montgomery Board Endorses Light Rail for Purple Line - Washington Post

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009; 3:47 PM

The Montgomery County planning board today endorsed a light rail system for the proposed Purple Line, choosing it over a rapid bus system for the suburb-to-suburb transit link.

In its 4 to 1 vote, the panel also backed a route along a popular walking and biking trail that traverses Chevy Chase and a country club before it crosses into Silver Spring and Prince George's County.

The planning board is the county's first public agency to officially take a position on the system. Its recommendation is expected to be ratified later this month by the County Council after more than 20 years of debate on the proposed 16-mile rail line. The Prince George's County Council previously endorsed light rail.

The proposal ultimately will land on the desk of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who will have to decide whether to pitch light rail or a rapid bus system to the federal government as he seeks transportation dollars.

Montgomery planning board members said they chose the more expensive option--light rail could cost about three times the price of a rapid bus system--because over the long term, it will be a quieter system capable of carrying more passengers and would create less pollution than buses.

"I have been a skeptic of light rail, but in dense areas, I think rail has a lot of advantages," said Royce Hanson, planning board chairman.

The board also backed a staff proposal that would keep light rail at street level in Silver Spring, despite community concerns that it could clog traffic and disrupt nearby residential neighborhoods.

Jonathan Jay, an attorney and neighborhood activist from Silver Spring, said many residents prefer putting the system underground. "The discussion has completely ignored...the impact on traffic. If this could be built for a day, people would realize the folly of having long, lumbering trains through the central business district in Silver Spring."

The vote came after almost five hours of debate during which the planning board hashed out the competing benefits and disadvantages of light rail and rapid buses. Board members also worried that placing the system near the popular Georgetown Branch Trail, a segment of the Capital Crescent Trail, could harm the environment and interfere with well-established residential neighborhoods in Chevy Chase and Bethesda.

The cost to build a rapid bus system is estimated at between $386 million and $1 billion; a light-rail line would cost $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion. Still unknown is how the federal, state and county governments would split the tab.

Rail proponents say light-rail trains, powered by an overhead electrical source, would attract more passengers than a bus system. The state's study estimated that by 2030, bus rapid transit would generate as many as 58,900 daily trips while light rail would attract as many as 68,100. A light-rail line's capacity also could be increased more easily than a busway's, supporters say.

Rapid bus advocates say that those systems often resemble trams and light rail cars, and can be more nimble than light rail because routes can be more easily redesigned to accommodate population shifts. Some bus proponents also have suggested that a better route would use rapid buses along Jones Bridge Road in Bethesda, closer to the National Naval Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, and avoid the Georgetown Branch trail.

Prince George's officials have long sought a light rail system, saying it would help bring new development to that county's side of the route and improve access to jobs and shopping, while lessening commute time. The current public transportation options linking the two counties involve either long bus rides on an east-west axis or Metrorail trips that force riders to travel south into the District and north into either Prince George's or Montgomery County--trips that can take at least an hour.

Last week, the Montgomery planning board heard three hours of often-heated testimony from residents of several nearby communities, as well as from political and business leaders.

A planning staff report of more than 100 pages urged the board to endorse light rail over rapid buses, and recommended a route paralleling the popular walker-biker trail. The Prince George's planning department did not do a similarly detailed analysis of the merits of light rail and rapid buses.

Rapid bus advocates say that a decision to push for light rail actually could doom the project's chances of being built any time soon, because of its price tag. Amy Presley, the lone dissenter in today's vote, said she favors light rail but is doubtful it will be built quickly enough.

"It's not going to happen soon enough for us to see any of the benefits compared to what we could get to at half the cost with rapid buses," she said.

Two other board members, Joseph Alfandre and Jean Cryor, said they were also worried about the cost of the system and harm to the trail, but in the end decided to vote for light rail.

The Montgomery County Council could vote on a Purple Line plan as soon as Jan. 27; on Thursday, a council transportation committee will review the planning board's recommendation. O'Malley (D) will have the final say, but local officials' views are expected to carry significant weight.

Pam Browning, a Chevy Chase resident who has long opposed placing the rail line next to the trail, said opponents flooded the planning board with more than 1,000 emails and 17,000 signatures on petitions.

"They are saying 'don't put the Purple Line along the trail'," she said. "This is irreplaceable green space. This is too precious."

The opponents, she said, "are not against transit. This should be in another location or underground. It's a quality of life issue."

Montgomery County Planning Board Recommends Light Rail for Purple Line - Planning Board Press Release

January 15, 2009
Montgomery County Planning Board Recommends Light Rail for Purple Line

SILVER SPRING – After hours of testimony and consideration on the Purple Line, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted today for the public transportation project to take the form of light rail rather than bus rapid transit.

Proposed for years as a new east-west public transit route across Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the 16-mile Purple Line is proposed to run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, and provide connections to Metro at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton, as well as connect with major bus routes, the MARC train and Amtrak.

The Board will send its input to the County Council, which will take up the transit project next week. The Council will then forward its recommendation on the Montgomery County section of the Purple Line to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), which is in charge of the project.

“Our existing and future density will support light rail,” said Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson, adding that light rail has greater capacity to move passengers than bus rapid transit. Hanson added that light rail will be better for air quality, especially as electricity generation gets cleaner, and that noise levels would be less, particularly important in urban areas.

The light rail decision, which trumped bus rapid transit in a 4-1 vote, (with Commissioner Amy Presley dissenting), was the biggest consideration of a host of recommendations, including station locations, tunnels versus street level, and the future of the popular Capital Crescent Trail that runs along the line’s proposed path. The Board agreed with staff recommendations to go with a surface route along Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring and eliminate a proposed station at Wayne Avenue and Dale Drive.

Board members agreed with staff that the Capital Crescent Trail recreational path can parallel a light rail track and share an existing tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue. Planners also recommended – and the Board endorsed – that the trail be rebuilt above the train through the tunnel. The Board also specified, following staff’s recommendation, that large trees be planted as a screen between the trail and the tracks along the route.

The Board received a near-record amount of public input on the project, with close to 50 speakers and some 950 pieces of correspondence.

State transportation officials estimate that up to 63,000 passengers will ride the Purple Line daily.

# # #

Advisory group on board with light-rail - Gazette

In letter to officials, citizens panel urges closer examination of Purple Line impact in Silver Spring

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer |Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

A Silver Spring citizens group representing 18 neighborhoods are supporting construction of the Purple Line, favoring light rail for the transit line and urging project planners to more closely examine the impact of the alignment on the Silver Spring community.

The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board sent a letter Tuesday to the Maryland Transit Authority, Montgomery County Planning Board and County Executive Office with its official opinion on the Purple Line. The public comment period ends Thursday.

The 18-member board advised a six-member subcommittee responsible for drafting the letter, which cites higher ridership, shorter travel times and cleaner air as reasons for choosing the light-rail alternative over the bus rapid-transit alternatives MTA is also considering.

At the board's monthly meeting Monday, members spoke of the difficulty in reaching consensus on the Purple Line given the varying opinions coming from neighborhoods along the line.

"We weren't going to reach a consensus, this is a very divisive issue," said Darian Unger, chairman of the advisory board. "This was not easy. There was a lot of bouncing around of ideas."

Six alternatives are being considered by the MTA for the Purple Line, a 16-mile, east-west transit line between Montgomery and Prince George's counties that would incorporate Metro and MARC lines.

The conditions of those alternatives were outlined in a 251-page study released by the MTA in October, a document that the letter says is "insufficient in its treatment of the impacts of alignments on residential properties and community facilities and amenities."

Board members said the most contentious aspect of the Purple Line was the issue of a street-level light-rail alignment or an underground tunnel alignment.

"The letter was a compromise for the most part and the paragraph on tunneling was the most contentious," said board member Evan Glass of South Silver Spring.

The board said MTA did not provide enough information on how tunnel construction would affect communities.

In the MTA study, all LRT options would have a tunnel under the roadway along Wayne between Sligo Creek Parkway and Arliss Street. The most expensive LRT option would also have a tunnel beginning at the future Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center at Wayne Avenue and Colesville Road, traveling under Georgia Avenue and emerging at Wayne and Cedar Street.

However, at a public hearing in November, MTA officials said the tunnel would not be cost-effective. Advocates of the tunnel have cited increased traffic and negative environmental impacts as potential results of building the Purple Line at street level.

In its letter, the board urged the MTA to further evaluate the cost effectiveness and utility of including a tunnel in Silver Spring.

"[Tunneling could] move the Purple Line faster through congested areas and neighborhoods to reduce impacts on traffic, local communities, residential properties and facilities," the letter states.

Residents argue over Purple Line - Gazette

Planning Board scheduled to vote this week on bus or light rail
by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer

Although she spoke in favor of bus rapid transit for the Purple Line project, Town of Chevy Chase resident Pam Browning conveyed the passion of all sides at Thursday's public hearing before the Planning Board when she told commissioners, "This is a major quality of life issue."

Proponents of bus and light rail transit traded arguments about the best choice for the 16-mile project that would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton through Silver Spring, following a Planning Board staff report released last month recommending medium-investment light rail, projected to cost $1.2 billion in 2007 dollars by the Maryland Transit Administration. Medium-investment buses would cost $580 million in 2007 dollars, according to the MTA.

The board is set to vote on its preferred option for the Purple Line at 10 a.m., Thursday. It will send its recommendation to the MTA and the County Council, which will hold a committee hearing Jan. 22 and a full council meeting Jan. 27 concerning the project.

Residents and legislators speaking in favor of bus rapid transit last week emphasized the cost effectiveness of buses, the ability of a Jones Bridge Road bus route to service the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda set to open in 2011, and the damage done to the Capital Crescent Trail and surrounding green space if light rail is placed alongside it into downtown Bethesda.

"The trail would never be the same and never thrive as it does now," said State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, who also said the promise of greater development through light rail could prove to be a false hope.

Juvonnie Kinchen-Schneider, a spokeswoman for the National Naval Medical Center, the location for the future Walter Reed facility, said last week the Navy has not yet taken a position on the Purple Line, but would do so by the Jan. 14 deadline for submitting comments to the MTA.

Judith Nash of the Edgevale neighborhood between Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase said her area would lose its privacy and access to the trail if trees were cut down and light rail were built.

Town of Chevy Chase resident David Salzman said the MTA's analysis was flawed because it used data that was up to eight years old. He said buses would carry more passengers per hour adjusted for operating costs and pollute less than fossil fuel-powered rail, noting that, "Electricity is filthy."

But light rail supporter Tony Hausner of Silver Spring said light rail would move 4,000 more car users than buses to the Purple Line.

"By 2030, bus capacity will be exceeded," Hausner said, echoing the Planning Board staff report that emphasized light rail's 2,800 passenger capacity per hour on major routes as the primary factor in its favor. Passenger capacity on buses for the same locations and time would be 2,100, according to the MTA, although Planning Board staff said this figure should be lower.

Montgomery County Sierra Club Chairman David Hauck said the clear-cutting of at least six acres of mature trees to make way for the light rail would be compensated for by the greater reduction in car-miles driven and the faster travel times.

Harry Sanders of the pro-light rail Purple Line Now! group argued the importance and long-term impact of the project "must not be co-opted by the current economic situation."

Planning Board spokesman Valerie Berton said the board had received approximately 850 written comments about the Purple Line, but could not say how many supported buses or light rail. She called the number of comments "voluminous."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Planning Board's Purple Line Decision - Update

The Planning Board will meet Thursday, January 15 at 10 am to make a recommendation on the mode and alignment of the Purple Line. You can view the agenda for the Planning Board at You are more than welcome to attend the meeting, but no testimony will be taken. However, you can watch the Planning Board live at your computer by going to and clicking on January 15. This website also contains the Planning Board session from January 8.

The following is a press release that was sent out yesterday morning about the Planning Board meeting.

"Based on the keen level of interest in the Purple Line, and the dozens of people signed up to speak before the Planning Board today, Chairman Royce Hanson will recommend to fellow board members that they postpone discussion and a final recommendation until their Thursday, January 15 meeting. If the board agrees, the hearing will begin with transportation planners presenting their report, then public testimony. The board would re-open discussion of the Purple Line on January 15, but not accept additional testimony. View board agendas.

After the board crafts its recommendations, it will send its input to the County Council, which will consider the Purple Line on January 22. The Council will transmit recommendations about the segment of the transit line that runs through Montgomery County to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA)."

Summary Notes - Neighborhoods and Transportation and Pedestrian Safety Joint Committee Meeting Dec. 15, 2008

Neighborhoods and Transportation and Pedestrian Safety Joint Committee Meeting
Dec. 15, 2008 – 7:00 pm – Silver Spring Regional Services Center
Summary Notes

Participants: Dwayne Jenkins, Silver Spring Regional Services Center; Evan Glass, SSCAB; Megan Moriarty, SSCAB; Darian Unger, SSCAB; Martha Waddy, New Hampshire Estates Civic Association & Long Branch Neighborhood Initiative; Jason Tomassini, The Gazette; Jennifer Nettles, Peterson Management; Tony Hausner, Prezco; Luther Hinsley, Avery Park Community Association; Kevin Walling; Massiel Cruz; Rodney Elin, Eastern Village; Jeff Dunkel, Pedestrian Safety Coordinator, Montgomery County; Barbara Sanders; Amparo Macias, Councilmember Valerie Ervin; Councilmember Nancy Floreen; Bruce Clark, Advance Church; William Smith; Jim Zepp.

Megan Moriarty gave an update on the topics covered at the last SSCAB meeting and the Committee’s meeting after introductions.

Jeff Dunckel from the Department of Transportation responded to questions and concerns from the Committee about a lack of sidewalks due to construction at Blair Mill Rd. and East-West Highway. Jeff explained contractors have to keep sidewalks open during construction. He will investigate the situation with the County and State and follow up with Evan Glass. In the future, residents should first contact Gary Stith at the Regional Center (and copy a Councilmember!) to report problems.

He also described the scope of the County’s Pedestrian Safety Campaign noting that the first area being targeted is the intersection of Piney Branch and University. This proactive, comprehensive initiative has three main themes: education, engineering and enforcement. Bill Smith described his sidewalk mapping project, which is available at: The County is going to use this same technology to conduct safety audits.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen commented on the improvements in pedestrian safety over the last few years and that changes to the road code should also help. She recommended that any resident with a sidewalk/access problem should copy her office on any correspondence. She also discussed the County’s FY’10 tight budget process and encouraged community members to communicate with the County Executive before he submits his budget to the Council in March.

Martha Waddy distributed the Weed and Seed update report for December (see attached).

Tony Hasner reported that Prezco has begun planning for a crime summit in March. The next planning meeting will be: Dec. 16, 7:30pm. Anyone interested in participating should contact Tony.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Volunteer for the "Yes Montgomery Can! " campaign over the historic weekend of January 16-20, 2009

County Executive Ike Leggett and the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships, working in collaboration with the Montgomery Community Foundation, Manna Food Center, Jewish Community Relations Council, and other community nonprofits, invite you to participate in the "Yes Montgomery Can! " campaign over the historic weekend of January 16-20. This is our chance to answer President-Elect Obama's call for a new spirit of service and sacrifice right here at home. You can make a difference. Yes, you can!

This campaign is your opportunity to help meet the challenges that we face as a community in these difficult economic times. We need to mobilize 1,000 volunteers to knock on 50,000 doors January 17-18 and 2,500 volunteers to work on community service projects on the January 19th Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

We hope to raise $100,000 to meet a generous challenge grant to the Montgomery County Community Foundation to help those in need and to collect food to refill the shelves at the Manna Food Center.

Our highest priority right now is to recruit volunteers to go door-to-door on the weekend of Saturday January 17 and Sunday January 18 to spread the word about our campaign to help our neighbors in need. Please sign up now to volunteer at

For a full listing of ways to participate, please go to

The phone number for volunteer registration is 301-348-7367.

Please distribute this email to others you believe will want to join the campaign.

State Public School System Ranked Best in U.S. by 2 Reports - Washington Post

By Nelson Hernandez | Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009; B02

A six-year Maryland effort to spend billions of dollars more on public education has led to major performance gains that have helped make the state's schools the best in the country, according to a pair of independent reports released yesterday.

A three-year study of the Bridge to Excellence Act came as Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes the trade newspaper Education Week, announced the results of its annual survey of state school systems. In the latter report, Maryland was ranked first among the 50 states and the District. Last year, the state ranked third.

"I'm elated," Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said at an Annapolis High School event to promote the two reports. "We now have the No. 1, the best public school system in the United States of America, and we need to do our best to defend that."

The Education Week study evaluated school systems on several criteria, including accountability standards, college readiness of high school graduates, spending and equity. Virginia ranked fourth and the District last.

Maryland student performance on standardized tests, another factor in the Education Week report, has steadily improved since passage of the law. Annual state education spending is now $4.6 billion a year, up 80 percent from the 2002 level, according to the report. In addition, local governments have raised education spending 34 percent in that time.

The report by MGT of America found that "proficiency levels statewide have improved dramatically for all students," particularly in elementary schools. Elementary students cut in half the gap between where they were in 2004 and the goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading, the report said.

The MGT report found that for every additional $1,000 spent per elementary student, proficiency rates rose 4 percent. They rose 8 percent on the same measure for middle school students.

"Additional money, with strong accountability, can make a difference," Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, said in response to the two reports.

The reports provide ammunition for lawmakers and education leaders who are fighting to hold the line on school funding. With the state facing a $1.9 billion revenue shortfall next year, government leaders are under heavy pressure to slash spending.

Some cuts are likely to come from education, which represents more than a third of the state's annual budget. Last month, O'Malley's budget secretary recommended cutting almost $38 million from an initiative that sends additional education aid to Montgomery, Prince George's and other counties. Other proposals include making local jurisdictions pay for teachers' pensions.

O'Malley acknowledged that he was examining those cuts as possibilities -- he called the pensions "a huge burden that we labor under" -- but said the studies showed that money spent wasn't wasted.

"I think what this report means is that we, the people of the state of Maryland, have made a huge investment in education, and that investment is paying off," O'Malley said. Echoing the governor, banners draped in the Annapolis High auditorium proclaimed: "Maryland Public Schools -- A Great Investment!"

Much of the past six years' spending increases went toward hiring and paying new, highly qualified teachers. School systems spent $1.8 billion on raises and benefits for teachers, the MGT report said, and hired staff for more than 10,900 new positions, with 8,300 of those teaching positions.

Montgomery Faces 7.7% Increase in Major Crime - Washington Post

County Headed For Top Annual Jump in 17 Years

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009; B01

Montgomery County is on track for its largest year-over-year percentage jump in serious crime in 17 years, a trend driven by increases in home and car break-ins throughout the county, according to an analysis of data covering the first nine months of last year.

Statistics show a 7.7 percent increase compared with the same period in 2007 in "Part I" crime, a category that includes murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft. Law enforcement officials attribute the increase in part to the souring economy.

Thefts overall rose 10 percent, from 12,753 to 14,028. Thieves broke into cars and snapped up portable Global Positioning System devices, MP3 players and other items at a rate 21.4 percent higher than during the same period in 2007. Police estimate that more than one-fifth of victims of such crimes leave their car doors unlocked and that many other victims leave valuable items visible on their seats.

Burglaries, in which someone breaks into a home or building to steal, increased from 2,618 to 2,772 in the same nine months of 2007, or 5.9 percent. The biggest percentage jump, 21.1, was in the county's 5th Police District, which stretches from Germantown to more rural areas to the north and west.

Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said yesterday that he is concerned about the increases. "While not a crime of violence, home and business break-ins are serious business and can really make neighborhoods feel unsafe," he said.

Despite the increases, Montgomery is on track for a lower number of serious crimes than it had for much of the 1990s. After peaking in 1995, such crimes generally fell for the next nine years before creeping back up. Montgomery isn't expected to release statistics covering all of last year before March.

For the first nine months of last year, Montgomery also had increases in violent crimes, including a 10.1 percent jump in aggravated assaults, from 593 to 653. Homicides in the first nine months climbed from nine the year before to 13, rapes increased from 96 to 104 and robberies nudged up from 794 to 813.

In all of last year, there were 21 homicides, compared with 20 in 2007. The numbers exclude two fatal shootings by police officers last year and one the year before.

Montgomery's violent crime totals pale in comparison with those from the less populous jurisdictions to the south and east. In the first nine months of last year, the District recorded 142 homicides and 3,180 robberies, and Prince George's County had 65 homicides and 1,919 robberies in the first eight months.

Although Montgomery remains relatively safe, Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman said people shouldn't walk alone at night or wear MP3 players while jogging and should generally be alert and aware. "There are some very bad people out there who are going to pounce on an opportunity," he said.

For the first nine months of last year, Montgomery recorded 34,926 "Part II" crimes, a category that includes less serious offenses such as vandalism and disorderly conduct. That number represents a 0.2 percent drop from the same period in 2007.

Thefts were up in each of the county's six police districts in the first nine months, with the highest percentage increase -- 14.5 percent -- in the 1st District, which covers Rockville and Potomac. Thefts in the 2nd District, which includes Bethesda, climbed by the lowest amount, 4.2 percent.

Burglaries increased in all areas except the 3rd and 6th districts, which cover Silver Spring and Montgomery Village, respectively.

The 3rd District and the 4th, which covers Wheaton, accounted for 489 robberies, or 60 percent of those in the county. That represented a 19 percent jump.

Gary LaFree, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, said that when unemployment, inflation or poverty levels increase, there is at least a 70 percent chance that crime will also increase. "In general, when the economy goes down, crimes goes up," LaFree said.

Manger said the economy wouldn't cause an ordinarily law-abiding person to commit a crime. But, he said, for a certain segment of the population, crime presents a "realistic option" in tough times.

Rail Gains Momentum As Purple Line Pick - Washington Post

Officials Jumping Aboard Despite Cost Advantage Of Rapid Buses

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009; B01

Despite its substantially higher cost, light rail has emerged as the clear front-runner among Maryland officials as they prepare to choose a transit system that would link Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

After more than 20 years of debate, a 16-mile rail line is the widely popular alternative to a rapid bus system, even though light rail could cost three times as much to build and 50 percent more to maintain and operate, according to state estimates.

"It's pretty clear there's overwhelming support for light rail," said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who said he is personally undecided.

A state analysis predicted that light-rail trains and rapid buses would travel about the same speeds between some stations. But even in tight financial times, most local officials say they're willing to spend more on light rail because they believe it would better encourage the economic redevelopment they want transit to bring to communities inside the Capital Beltway.

For developers and future passengers, light rail is commonly seen as "more snazzy," while bus rapid transit is often viewed as "a second-class system," said Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), who chairs the council's transportation committee.

Although Floreen said she believes both systems can offer quality rides, "I do think for long-term permanence and reliability, light rail sends a different message to everybody. It's just a step below Metro. . . . I think we all agree on light rail. The question is: Can we get it done?"

The Montgomery Planning Board is scheduled to become the county's first public body to officially make a choice when it votes Jan. 15 on which mode to recommend to the County Councijavascript:void(0)l. The board will also vote on whether the Purple Line should run along a popular walking and bike path between Bethesda and Silver Spring. It is scheduled to hear several hours of public testimony today on its staff's preference for light rail.

Some rapid bus supporters say the intense debate over the east-west line's route has overshadowed the larger discussion of what kind of Purple Line Maryland can afford. Some bus supporters say seeking federal funding for relatively expensive light rail could doom the project's chances of being built soon.

That's because the system would compete for federal construction money against transit projects across the country. The cost to build a rapid bus system is estimated at between $386 million and $1 billion, and a light-rail line would cost $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion.

Montgomery council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) said he thinks the debate has given short shrift to a state analysis that shows that buses in their own lanes and with priority at intersections "perform virtually identically to light rail."

"If you look at the difference in ridership and the amount of money, you have to ask yourself, 'Is [light rail] worth it?' " Elrich said.

Elrich said he would join his fellow council members in voting for light rail to show unanimous support for a Purple Line. He said the rest of the Montgomery council appears to favor light rail, which the Prince George's council has endorsed.

"Everyone is afraid of losing everything after all this fight if we recommend something different from Prince George's," Elrich said.

The Purple Line is designed to allow transit riders to travel between suburbs without having to pass through the heart of Washington, as they do now on Metrorail, or ride buses in heavy traffic. Maryland transit officials want to connect population centers at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton, and link MARC, Amtrak and Metro stations. Both light-rail trains and buses would run mostly aboveground and on local streets.

Rail proponents say light-rail trains, which would be shorter and quieter than Metro trains and be powered by an overhead electrical wire, would attract more passengers than a bus system. The state's study estimated that by 2030 bus rapid transit would generate as many as 58,900 daily trips while light rail would attract as many as 68,100. A light-rail line's capacity also could be increased more easily than a busway's, supporters say.

Most important, rail supporters say, fixed tracks attract developers who want to ensure that people have a fast and permanent way to ride transit to their shops, restaurants, condominiums and office buildings. Although bus supporters tout the flexibility of routes to change as demand dictates, rail advocates say that flexibility gives developers little assurance that their buildings will remain close to transit.

Busway supporters say a bus rapid transit system would bear little resemblance to the lumbering buses to which Washingtonians are accustomed. The buses are sleeker and roomier, proponents say, and outperform traditional models by using exclusive lanes and stopping much less frequently, only at designated stations.

But some public officials, particularly in eastern Montgomery and Prince George's, say they want trains, not more buses, for the predominantly lower-income passengers a Purple Line is designed to serve most.

"In Prince George's, our public bus system has fallen short. We don't have confidence in a new bus system," said Del. Tawanna P. Gaines (D-Prince George's), chair of the House subcommittee on transportation appropriations. "I think most people think buses aren't as good."

Lower-income transit riders "should be allowed to use a system with the same quality of life" as Metrorail passengers, Gaines said.

The Prince George's and Montgomery councils are scheduled to vote on a Purple Line plan in February or early March. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will have the final say, but local officials' wishes are expected to carry significant weight, particularly because they probably will have to help pay for it.

Major changes proposed in county immigration policy - The Sentinel

By Joe Slaninka | Staff Writer

After numerous communijavascript:void(0)ty forums and meetings over the last few months, officials say they are hearing the citizens of Montgomery County about illegal immigration in the county.

A proposal, developed by Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger, asks for the approval to question suspects, arrested of violent crimes and weapons offenses, about their immigration status, a complete reversal in a county where government officials, for years, refused to do so even when neighboring jurisdictions adopted the practice.

"All public officials have been receiving questions from citizens who are asking, 'Why are persons who are in the country illegally or unlawfully allowed to remain?'" said Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman.

The proposal comes after police charged two reportedly illegal aliens for the shooting of 14-year old Blair student Tai Lam in early November, and charged another alleged illegal alien for a year-long string of home invasions that left Mary Havenstein, 63, dead in her Bethesda home.

Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) said she has expressed concern to Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who needs to approve the proposal before it can be implemented, that it could lead to racial profiling.

"What we are saying is: "Hold it. You may be going down a slippery, slippery slope,'" she said.

Brad Botwin, Director of Help Save Maryland, a group who fights to help preserve Maryland communities from illegal immigration, said the proposal "seems gang-focused" and "falls way short" of what they are calling for.

Botwin said the proposal allows police to question a suspect about their immigration status when they are charged for violent crimes such as murder, armed robbery, assault, rape or other various sex crimes. Jerman said that if an arresting officer suspects a person of being in the country illegally, the officer could ask about their immigration status, and would be required to refer the issue to federal government officials.

"We want a full background check on anyone incarcerated for violent crimes, as well as anyone pulled over for a traffic violation," Botwin said. "We want an [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent in the jails to process these people. This proposal is only good for after they find the bloody knife or gun, and by that time it is just way too late."

Police said the two suspects arrested for the murder of Tai Lam, Gilmar Romero, 20, and Hector M. Hernandez, 20, were arrested in the past, but their immigration status were overlooked.

Romero was arrested in June on a weapons charge after police said he walked down University Boulevard East in Silver Spring in the middle of the day concealing a machete. Police arrested Hernandez in October for possessing a switchblade and threatening a student at Northwood High School.

State's Attorney John McCarthy said he supports the proposal, and said it "helps public safety."

Neighboring Frederick County and Prince William County, in Virginia, both have similar laws that prevent people from living in the country unlawfully.

Last year Frederick County adopted Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows police officers to inquire anyone about their immigration status only if the person violates the law. Anyone suspected of living in the country illegally is detained until federal immigration officials are notified.

Prince William County implemented a law last year, requiring every jurisdiction's jail to alert federal authorities of every foreign-born inmate, regardless of immigration status.

Botwin said Leggett has agreed to meet with him and other members of Help Save Maryland, on Jan. 16, to discuss the issue.

"We are going in there and pounding are fists on the table," Botwin said.