Bethesda Talks Purple Line, But Funding Remains Uncertain
Maryland Transit Administration officials presented the latest designs for a Bethesda Purple Line station on Tuesday night, even as funding for the project is largely uncertain. The 16-mile, east-to-west light rail that would connect Bethesda to Chevy Chase, Silver Spring and College Park has been in the planning stages since 2008. Last night's "neighborhood work group" meeting at Bethesda Elementary School was another step of that process. Residents saw MTA's latest design ideas for the station, which would be at Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue, and the light rail route that would be built on the Capital Crescent Trail. Montgomery County would fund a partial rebuild of the Trail along sections of the light rail as well as a South Metro Station entrance that would connect the Purple Line station with the Metro station below via six high speed elevators. The Purple Line is expected to cost $2.15 billion, which the state would like to split with the federal government. The Federal Transit Administration last year gave the state the go ahead to complete detailed engineering and design work. County leaders organized a state transportation summit last week to discuss options (including raising the state gas tax and finding a private partner) for increasing transportation funding. Another challenge to funding the Purple Line could come from other MTA projects. The Red Line, a light rail proposed for Baltimore that would connect the western suburbs to the downtown area and the Inner Harbor, was fast tracked for environmental review by the Federal Department of Transportation. Last week, the MTA and FTA released the Red Line's Final Environmental Impact Statement, a key document that, if approved, would allow for the final design process to begin. Purple Line project manager Mike Madden said the Red Line's progress on its Environmental Impact Statement does not put it ahead of the Purple Line for funding. "It did undergo an accelerated schedule for Federal review, the feds in fact did that. They reviewed the Red Line Final Environmental Impact Statement in what seemed like record time. So they're ahead of our schedule right now by a few months. But they still are working on their preliminary engineering plans. Their plans are at the same level as our plans," Madden said. "It had nothing to do with funding. Both the Red Line and Purple Line need funding for construction. We're on level playing fields when it comes to funding." According to a schedule outlined last night, the MTA would hold an open house about the Purple Line in spring 2013. Publication and review of its Final Environmental Impact Statement would also come in spring 2013. The FTA's Record of Decision (ROD) would come in summer 2013 which would allow for the beginning of final design plans and the start of construction in 2015. The Bethesda station would be one of the busiest, according to MTA projections. There would be 15,000 daily users at Bethesda. Madden and his team also talked about recent accommodations that have been made to the Purple Line's design in the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel that would allow for some room for pedestrians. Most of the questions directed at MTA officials dealt with how the Trail would be affected, how homes along the light rail route would be affected, what security would be like on the system and what plans there are for a crossing for Town of Chevy Chase students walking to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. The MTA will answer the questions on its website and provide its latest designs in the next few days.