Thursday, January 15, 2009

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.

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