I-270-New Carrollton route favored for D.C. transit line

Two other options would extend into Va.

March 20, 2001|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

The route for a Purple Line linking the Washington suburbs has been whittled down to three options, with preference going to a light rail service that would connect Interstate 270 and New Carrollton, and stop at Bethesda, College Park and other points.

That route is cheaper than the other two routes, which would require more expensive heavy rail, like Washington's Metro subway, said Henry Kay, director of planning for the state Mass Transit Administration. It also is the only option that doesn't extend into Virginia.

"We're recommending sticking with that corridor," said Kay. The others "would require a lot of coordination with Virginia. This one allows us to proceed without their help."

One of the other two routes being studied would connect I-270 with Tysons Corner in Virginia along a route through Potomac.

The other would extend from Greenbelt, at the Branch Avenue stop of the Green Line, west across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Alexandria, Va. The three options reflect a composite of the best features among six routes that were proposed last year, Kay said.

With the demise of the proposed Intercounty Connector highway between I-270 and I-95 two years ago, a Purple Line has become the next best hope for people searching for a hassle-free way between counties and around the Capital Beltway.

The potential route has been well-received by officials in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Kay said.

"I think everybody pretty much agrees with the decision they've made so far," said Glenn Orlin, deputy staff director of the Montgomery County Council. "What we're waiting to see are more numbers. Whether the route is inside the beltway or outside. Whether they should go with heavy rail or light rail."

The aim is to create a system that would answer the travel demands of 2020.

"I don't think that very many miles of these alignments are going to be constructed within the next 10 years," Kay said.

The best prospect for something sooner might be a segment between Bethesda and Silver Spring, because more advance work has been done along that route.

Action Committee for Transit, a citizen group, hopes to add momentum today by distributing 50,000 fliers to transit riders asking that they write the governor to "put the Purple Line on a fast track."

Ben Ross, president of the group, said the route preferred by transit officials "sounds great," and he added that it makes sense to simplify the project by staying out of Virginia. "It's hard enough to get these things built," said Ross.

A growing number of companies are locating in the suburbs, leaving most workers no alternative but to drive and further clog the highways.

"The only way you can do what needs to be done is have the train line work for suburb-to-suburb commutes," Ross said. "University Park, Silver Spring, Bethesda - these places have enough density for it to work."

Planners have excluded a part of the project that would have linked New Carrollton to Suitland because studies found that demand wasn't strong enough.

"We're in the process of thinking it through right now," Kay said. "But a number of the most critical issues are still in front of us. Even though heavy rail has been the mode of choice in the region, we're trying to keep an open mind about whether it's a mode for the future. Light rail looks to be the most cost-effective option."

He said public meetings on the three proposals probably won't be held until fall.

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