SILVER SPRING — Attendees at the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board meeting on Sept. 23 voiced their disdain for construction plans for the new Purple Line light rail system as the Purple Line’s Community Advisory Team presented updates on the plans.
The Purple Line will be a 16.2 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 another form of transportation to get from Montgomery County to Prince George’s County. As opposed to Metro trains, the new light rail system will run mostly above ground on a catenary system. The train system will run on existing roads and in mixed-driving conditions, alongside cars and bicyclists.
Construction for the new transportation system is already underway, according to Ken Prince, who works as a project construction manager on the Purple Line. He explained that 12 miles of the 16.2-mile system are actively under construction right now.
In Silver Spring, traffic detours will be put in place as construction gets underway in the area in the spring of 2020, Prince explained.
Spring Street will be closed between 16th Street and 2nd Avenue, and Bonifant Street will change from a two-directional road to one that is one way and runs eastbound, according to Prince.
Wendy Binder attended the meeting and raised concerns about gridlock and even-heavier traffic congestion on roads that are already bogged down during popular commute times.
“You’re leaving us in a bottleneck, and how are we supposed to exist?” she asked the project representatives.
Prince explained that due to the tight time frame, traffic caused by construction is unavoidable.
“My only response can be at this time is that I wish we could help (the traffic congestion), but we are in a compressed schedule where we have to have the work done in a certain time frame relative to sequences and project capacity and so on and so forth,” he said. “Traffic counts have been determined, that information has been provided to the county and all the entities that approved our plans and it’s been approved.”
Reemberto Rodriguez, who serves as the director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, weighed in, stating that it would be helpful to receive more information about how long the construction detours are expected to last. That way residents living and commuting in the area would have a better idea of how long they can expect to have even-heavier traffic day-to-day.
Binder also noted that there needs to be better communication to residents about what is planned for the area and with commuters who drive through Silver Spring to get to jobs in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia.
Residents also voiced concern over tree removal to make way for the Purple Line. Trees that would interfere with the catenary system, obstruct visibility, or might fail because of construction will all be taken down.
According to the Purple Line’s construction updates, tree clearing in Silver Spring began this month. The urban nature of the area makes it difficult to mitigate tree loss; however, efforts are being made to replant acceptable greenery along the light rail route and in other areas of the county.
Vicki Warren, who also attended the meeting, noted frustration with the way officials have approached the project. She said that what is currently being implemented does not represent the promises that had been made when officials first began planning for the project.
“(Officials have said) that the plans were presented early on, but they were not presented publicly. I got the final landscaping plan like a couple weeks ago, and I saw the trees that were going to be replanted and there weren’t any from Dale Drive almost to the Whole Foods,” she said.
Later Warren explained that some of her frustration stems from the lack of accessibility of information and transparency.
Matt Losak serves as chair of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. As the meeting wrapped up, he advised representatives from the Purple Line project and local officials to coordinate with one another and make information more accessible to residents.
“We don’t accept that the disconnect (of information) is a static condition; we are now expecting that these departments will do more to coordinate, to reach out. We know that is a heavy lift, we know the history of it, we know there is a vacuum there, but we also know that what the state does and what Washington SuburbanSanctuary Commission (WSSC) does and what Pepco does is affecting us at the local level, and we just have to have better coordination on information. It can’t be ‘not our problem because we don’t coordinate with that department; that will have to change” he said.
Another presentation from the Community Advisory Team about the Purple Line’s progressed is scheduled for Oct. 10 in Silver Spring.