Chevy Chase plans to hire expert to help fight Purple Line route -- Gazette.Net


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The Town of Chevy Chase says it won’t be railroaded into believing plans are set for the Purple Line project.

Despite state and local officials talking as if the Purple Line is a done deal, the resolve to fight the route of the 16.2-mile light-rail system, which would cut through some backyards in the town, was strong at a town council meeting on Wednesday.

“This is a political issue; it’s a lobbying issue; it’s a PR issue — a more clever legal issue than we’ve ever fought before,” said Al Lang, a town councilman.

The council decided to hire a technical expert to help understand the voluminous environmental study, available online at http://www.purplelinemd.com/en/studies-reports/feis-document, released by the Maryland Transit Administration last week. There was also discussion of engaging lawyers, lobbyists and public relations professionals to help with the fight, but no move was taken.

The council decided to reach out to Sam Schwartz Engineering, whose consultants had done similar work analyzing reports for the town in the past, and determine a ballpark figure for analyzing the $2.2 billion light rail’s environmental impact study.

Council members were particularly upset about not getting an at-grade crossing on Lynn Drive, which the town had lobbied for during the past few years. Currently, many Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students cross the Capital Crescent Trail at Lynn Drive. About 232 people cross the trail every day, according to the Maryland Transit Administration.

Initially, the MTA’s conceptual design included the at-grade crossing. It was to be the only at-grade pedestrian crossing on the Purple Line between Bethesda and Lyttonsville that was not at a light rail station. That idea was dropped after the state cited safety reasons, according to documents. A pedestrian overpass was also ruled out as was an underground tunnel because state engineers feared flooding problems.

That left two choices, neither of which town leaders were happy with. Both include raising the trains over the trail and creating a pedestrian underpass, and would necessitate taking private property from homeowners on Lynn Drive.

“None of the alternatives are workable or acceptable,” said Councilman David Lublin.

Mayor Patricia Burda, and others, said they had been told in the past that there would be no property losses in Chevy Chase, but that the alternatives offered by the state to the at-grade crossing contradicted that.

“We are basically not going to have a crossing at Lynn Drive,” Burda said. She said she had requested that the state extend the comment period on the study from 30 days to 90 days.

But others on the council said the time for commenting and letter-writing had passed, and it was time to take more serious action.

“You gotta think out of the box. We gotta be creative,” said John Bickerman, the newest member of the council. “As a practical matter, no one is going to read these comments.”

The way to defeat the project is through delay tactics, Bickerman said.

“I think we go after the process of land acquisition and condemnation,” he said. “Stall that process so that the state can’t acquire land.”

The council agreed to find out by the end of Friday whether not commenting publicly would jeopardize any future legal standing.

Read more stories about the project and view an interactive map.

ablum@gazette.net