Purple Line: A 2020 vision -- Gazette.Net


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The Purple Line has been on the books in Maryland for decades, but as 2020 looms, Purple Line planners and Montgomery County residents are hammering out the nitty-gritty details of exactly what this $2.2 billion light rail line will look like.

The 16-mile line, which will link Bethesda with New Carrollton, will cross parts of both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, linking up with Metro stops and MARC train stations.

The $2.2 billion price tag is to be divided among federal, state and local governments. The U.S. and Maryland governments each are expected to contribute about $900 million, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are expected to provide the remainder, said Leif Dormsjo, Maryland’s deputy secretary for transportation.

State officials recently announced that $680 million was earmarked from the recently raised fuel tax for the project.

The state also is pursuing a public-private partnership to help defray its costs. Besides being responsible for designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the project, the private partner also will help finance a portion of the construction, according to the Purple Line website.

Construction, set to begin in 2015, is expected to last five years.

As a light-rail system, the train would be slower than Metro trains, said Michael D. Madden, manager of the Maryland Transit Administration’s Purple Line project. Traveling at posted roadway speeds and carrying fewer people per train, the Purple Line would be mostly above ground, he said.

A light rail is an electric rail train powered by overhead wires. Its tracks are safe to walk across because no power runs through the rails.

Madden said that while the project has very broad support, his team has worked to lessen the concerns of communities along the route. Those concerns include how the rail line will affect hike-and-bike trails, as well as the impact it will have on houses and businesses.

In its current design, 113 properties along the route of the 21-station line will have to be demolished for the project.

The transit agency said it will negotiate with property owners to offer a price based on fair market value, although several business owners have expressed doubt that there will be enough money to help them move and start over. Owners unwilling to sell will find themselves in court, fighting the state’s efforts to take their property through eminent domain, Purple Line strategic outreach coordinator Teri Moss said.

Those who feel they have been or will be injured by the project, or who feel they are being discriminated against, can file a complaint under the Civil Rights Act with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development or the state transit agency’s Equal Opportunity Section, according to the agency.

Contractors will decide the details of when Purple Line work will begin along the route, but the state ultimately will own and manage the rail line, Madden said.

The Federal Transit Administration is expected to issue the “record of decision” this fall, which will allow construction to begin on the Purple Line, he said.

“Once that’s issued, we are then able to begin negotiating the acquisition of property,” Madden said, adding that his agency already is starting to bring onboard independent appraisers.

Because these areas often will require full relocation of residents and businesses, Madden said his team plans to start the process as soon as October and into early 2014.

The state plans to provide services to affected homeowners and tenants, including relocation counselors, replacement housing assistance payments of up to $45,000 for homeowners, moving expense reimbursements, higher mortgage interest-rate reimbursements and business re-establishment allowances of up to $60,000, Madden said.

Property values within a quarter- to half-mile of the Purple Line stations will “most likely” rise, Madden said. During the housing downturn, he said, houses near mass transit systems, especially light and heavy rail, maintained their value better than other houses.

However, he said, there is no guarantee.

The new light rail is about improved connections — from one Metro line to another, one activity center to another and connections to employment hubs, he said.

“It certainly has the potential to spur a lot of good things,” Madden said.

Staff writers Agnes Blum and Marlena Chertock contributed to this report.