CHEVY CHASE — The citizen group Purple Line NOW hosted a forum on July 25 to provide the community with information on the progress of the new light rail system currently under construction.
The Purple Line will be a 16-mile light rail system that connects Bethesda to New Carrollton, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). The line will have 21 stations along its route.
The trains will run from east to west and provide other modes of transportation to get from Montgomery County to Prince George’s County.
Light rail systems differ slightly from heavy rail systems or Metrorail in that light rail typically runs above ground on an electric structure called a catenary system. The electric systems that help the trains move typically run above the train tracks, on aerial structures. Light rail is often used alongside mixed-use roads, which allow the trains to be placed on or near existing streets and run alongside cars.
In comparison, Metrorail trains must use a third rail to operate and run in their own designated spaces.
The Purple Line is expected to connect with the Metro system, providing further access to the Red, Green and Orange lines, depending on the station. The new line will also connect with bus routes, MARC and Amtrak.
According to Montgomery County Planning, the Purple Line has been under study since 1992.
Purple Line NOW is a coalition of individuals, businesses and neighborhood groups that advocate for building the Purple Line, according to the organization. In existence for 16 years, Purple Line NOW advocates through engagement opportunities, such as press conferences and community forums, along with soliciting support from local officials and testifying at hearings.
“Our mission is to ensure the completion of the light rail Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, integrated with a hiker and biker trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring,” they wrote.
“When the chips were down, we reached out to the governor, testified at the General Assembly and co-hosted a transit night for delegates and state senators in Annapolis. When a lawsuit stalled the project for months, Purple Line NOW hosted a press conference that attracted many media outlets, Congressman Jamie Raskin and other elected officials who passionately demanded action to get the Purple Line moving again.”
The forum included a panel of speakers and a question-and-answer portion. The panel was comprised of local elected officials, along with representatives from MDOT and the Montgomery County Planning Board.
Peter van der Waart serves on the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) Board, which is led by three public-private partnership (P3) developers and equity investors. Van der Waart gave the attendees updates on the project’s construction.
“Earlier this year, only five miles of the 16-mile route were under construction; now we can say that it’s double that: 10 miles of the 16 are currently under construction,” van der Waart said.
He also noted that elevator shafts and tunnels are currently under construction.
While the Purple Line is under construction, portions of the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) presently are unavailable to pedestrians and bikers, he said.
“The Capital Crescent Trail is being designed by PLTP but with a lot of input from Montgomery County, and the county will ultimately own and maintain the trail,” van der Waart said. “(PLTP) recently met with Councilmember Andrew Friedson to discuss how we can get to the finish line on this, and it’s our intent to open the trail as soon as possible.”
Van der Waart noted safety concerns to explain why the CCT will be closed for an extended period of time.
“You can imagine that construction (that is) on or directly adjacent to the trail, and if it’s not safe for the public, or our construction workers we simply can’t open it until later,” he said.
He also noted that opening the CCT is not directly tied to the completion date of the Purple Line; instead, the trail could reopen slightly before or slightly after the new rail system is completed. But, he said, it will all depend on safety considerations.
Anne Stevens of Silver Spring attended the forum to learn more about when the CCT will reopen.
“We live in the neighborhood near the Talbot Avenue Bridge, and they’ve taken that down; so our access points to get to different parks and riding has really been limited recently, so we’re interested in when we’ll be able to use the trail again,” she said.
She noted that since the closing of the trail, it has been harder for people who use it to commute by bike – like her husband – to get where they need to go.
The trail has detours now, which put riders on unfamiliar and often busy streets.
Despite the inconvenience of the trail being closed, Stevens said that she thinks the Purple Line will still be a good thing for Montgomery County.
“I do think the Purple Line will be useful, because we live in Silver Spring, and if you want to go from east to west you have to go all the way around (the Red Line),” she said.
Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer was also a panelist during the forum.
“I think this Purple Line is just such an example of community activism. I don’t know how many projects exist because the community brought them to life, but there’s no question that’s why this project exists,” Riemer said.
Riemer is the chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee in the Montgomery County Council. His committee has been discussing housing development options along the Purple Line route, he said.
“The new development pipeline is a huge part of creating affordable housing,” Riemer said. “There’s been a lot of talk about rent control in the Purple Line corridor, and I think a better way for us to go is supporting a pipeline of new construction and to bring in non-profit developers.”
The Purple Line is expected to open at the end of 2022, according to MDOT’s Maryland Transit Administration.