Thursday, January 15, 2009

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."

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