`Purple' rail line sought for D.C.

Governor backs plan to link New Carrollton, Bethesda by 2012

October 30, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Stepping up his efforts to ease traffic congestion and curb sprawl in the Washington suburbs, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced yesterday that he will push for a new light-rail line connecting Bethesda and New Carrollton.

The $1.2 billion Metro system route - dubbed the "purple line" - would directly link Montgomery and Prince George's counties, eliminating the need for rail commuters to travel through downtown Washington to go from one suburb to the other.

"We all know what the [Capital] Beltway looks like in the morning," Glendening said at a news conference in Takoma Park, the site of one of the proposed stops. "The purple line will rescue these commuters from gridlock, get them out of traffic and give them a convenient, easy way to travel."

The 14.1-mile purple line, scheduled to open by 2012, would be Glendening's top priority for new Washington-area transportation for the coming year, and his administration will seek federal funding for it in the next federal transportation spending bill in 2003.

Glendening said the new Metro line - which would run mostly above ground - would help low-income workers who are forced to rely on slower, crowded buses. It would be a key part of the governor's Smart Growth agenda, which is intended to revitalize older suburban neighborhoods.

The light-rail purple line would connect existing red, green and orange line Metro stations in Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton, and add stops in Chevy Chase, West Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley, Riverdale and two on the University of Maryland, College Park campus.

"This says we'll invest in our oldest, first suburbs and make them thrive," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the environmental group 1,000 Friends of Maryland. "These communities have been overlooked for the last 30 or 40 years, and they will be a place people will want to reinvest in."

Glendening's decision cuts short an alternative purple-line proposal for Montgomery and Prince George's that would have run outside Interstate 495, essentially adding more mass transit to outer-Beltway communities.

He made his announcement a day before a divided Montgomery County Council was scheduled to recommend one of the two alternatives, and the timing was sharply criticized by supporters of the outer line.

"Governor Glendening has spoken for Montgomery County - without hearing from its residents - and is recommending a course of action that chooses today's needs over the needs of our future," Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said in a statement.

Though state officials have not laid out the complete route for the new inner rail line, it is expected to pass through the golf course of Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, whose well-heeled members are likely to oppose it.

Supporters of the outer line had hoped that it would fuel expansion in the high-growth areas outside the Beltway. Glendening has blocked another transportation proposal for those areas, the Intercounty Connector, an east-west highway intended to connect Montgomery and Prince George's.

The outer line would have been mostly below ground and far more expensive, about $4 billion compared with $1.2 billion for the inner route.

"A vote for the outer line is a vote to tell commuters to sit in traffic for 20 years, because it's so expensive it would never be built," said Ben Ross, president of the Action Committee for Transit.

State officials project little difference in new ridership, with about 71,000 daily rides for the inner line and 79,000 rides for the outer line.

"By building the inner line, people don't have to drive to and from the Metro station," said Len Foxwell, director of Washington area transit planning for the Maryland Transit Administration. "People can live near the Metro station. ... This will help take cars off the road."

Blair Ewing, president of the Montgomery County Council, praised Glendening's decision and said he believes the council will back it in a vote today.

"We need to support our investment of millions of dollars in state and local funding for Silver Spring redevelopment," Ewing said at the news conference.

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