Options for Bethesda’s Purple Line station hinge on talks with movie theater owner -- Gazette.Net


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There are two ways the proposed Purple Line station in downtown Bethesda can be built, county and state officials told residents Tuesday night as they outlined options for the $2.2 billion light rail project designed to link Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Montgomery County and Maryland Transit Administration officials were on hand at an open house at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Service Center to discuss the new plans, which have not been finalized. The Purple Line’s western terminus station is slated to be built at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street, below the building that now houses the Regal Bethesda 10 movie theater.

Under one scenario, the county persuades the owner of the Apex building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. to vacate the property for four or five years. The building could then be razed before the station is constructed. In exchange for allowing that, the owner could be given denser zoning when it was time to rebuild. The owner also could sell the property with that higher density zoning designation.

The second option, which is less preferable to the county, would entail working around — and under — the building if the owner refused to vacate the property.

The Maryland Transit Administration has said it needs to know the status of the property by the end of the year.

The owner, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, has been in discussions with the county, which is a change from earlier this year, when the parties were not communicating.

“They’re starting to look at redevelopment options,” said Donald Tusing, an engineer with Rummel Klepper & Kahl of Baltimore. The engineering and construction company has won an eight-year, $60 million contract from the state transit agency to build the station.

Building the station with the Apex building still standing would mean a narrower passenger platform on a curve, which can cause problems, said David Anspacher, a planner coordinator with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. By demolishing the Apex building, a wider platform could be constructed, which would be safer for passengers to walk on, and the tracks could be straight.

Because the Metro Red Line runs beneath Wisconsin Avenue, the Purple Line station entrance also would be a place for passengers to board the Red Line, Tusing said. A full eight-car train will span the 600 feet from the corner of Elm and Wisconsin to the existing Red Line Metro station, allowing passengers to enter at either station.

“The goal is to have seamless transfer,” Tusing said. Fares on the Purple Line will be equivalent to Metro fares, he said, and passengers will be able to use Metro’s SmarTrip cards.

If all goes as planned, preliminary construction could begin as early as the fall of 2014, with the major work starting in the winter of 2015.

Also on display at Tuesday’s meeting were three options for the nearby Capital Crescent Trail. One version was above ground, one had a slight tunnel and was 14 feet wide, and the third had a longer tunnel and was 16 feet wide. Residents have been asked to submit comments about which version they prefer, Tusing said.

Two more open houses are scheduled to be held: from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, both at the regional services center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda.

ablum@gazette.net