Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Official: Transit center would boost development

State has yet to acquire land at Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads for facility

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A state transportation official told the Takoma Park City Council on Monday that a proposed transit center and Purple Line station at the Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads could boost development in the New Hampshire Avenue corridor, but the transit center property still has not been acquired and the state may end up taking it through eminent domain.

Michael Madden, project manager for the Maryland Transit Administration, said the proposed station shows that officials are beginning to take notice of the Crossroads as an area ripe for improvement.

‘‘I see a level of investment in the community that’s never taken place,” he said. ‘‘It’s been long neglected. I think both the transit center and the Purple Line can turn those communities around, from an economic standpoint, from a design standpoint.”

State officials have proposed building the transit center on the property currently occupied by a Taco Bell at the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue. It would consolidate several existing bus stops under a protective canopy and be used as a stop on the Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile mass transit bus or light-rail line that would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

But the state is still negotiating with California-based Reliable Properties, owner of the shopping center at the location, to acquire the Taco Bell property. Lawrence Shulman, an attorney representing Reliable Properties, said Tuesday his client has raised issues about the state’s most recent appraisal given this spring and is still waiting for the state’s response. He declined to elaborate on those issues.

Madden said the state is moving along with the design process and if negotiations are not successful, ‘‘eventually it might come to condemnation or a court case.”

Ridership estimates presented by Madden show that the Purple Line could bring more than 3,000 riders to the Crossroads station each day. Varying bus or light-rail options would mean a 23- to 51-minute trip between the Crossroads and Bethesda, a 14- to 26-minute trip between the Crossroads and downtown Silver Spring, and a 10- to 19-minute trip between the Crossroads and east Silver Spring. A trip from downtown Silver Spring to the University of Maryland at College Park would range from 21 to 41 minutes. Stops in east Silver Spring would be located at Dale Drive and Wayne Avenue, Cedar Street and Wayne Avenue, and Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street.

Capital costs range from $420 million to $1.75 billion, depending on the route and whether light rail or bus transit is selected, while operating and maintenance costs range from $17.3 million to $22.8 million.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has included $100 million for the Purple Line in his 2008-2013 state transportation budget, but the project’s future rests on the approval of the Federal Transit Administration, which will decide whether to distribute federal funding. If approved, the federal government can provide up to half of the project’s funds, but the Purple Line is competing for funding with two other major state projects, Madden said.

MTA will hold public hearings on the designs in the fall and will select a locally preferred alternative to be submitted to FTA sometime in the winter. Final design is scheduled to be complete in 2011 and earliest construction could begin in 2012.

Mayor Bruce Williams said Takoma Park would benefit from an improvement in east-west transit options and hoped that the Purple Line could boost development in the Crossroads and the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring.

‘‘We [always] end up being the commuted upon, mainly in the east-west direction,” he said. ‘‘Improvements like the transit center for the bus station and the Purple Line connecting what it does would seem to be the thing to address some of our most urgent needs and some other problems.”

Budget passed

The City Council on Monday approved a $26.5 million city budget and real property tax rate of $0.605 per $100 of assessed value for fiscal 2009. The tax rate is a half-cent less than that originally proposed by City Manager Barbara Burns Matthews.

Second reading ordinances of both measures passed 4-1. Councilman Dan Robinson (Ward 3) cast dissenting votes after saying in previous meetings that he thought the budget should be reduced. Councilman Josh Wright (Ward 1) and Councilwoman Colleen Clay (Ward 2) were not present for the votes.

The budget includes funds to renovate the council chambers for use as a multipurpose auditorium, renovate the city Public Works facility on Oswego Avenue, increase the city’s purchase of wind power, repair Casa of Maryland’s day laborer trailer on Sligo Mill Road and start a city-sponsored winter basketball league.