Single-tracking Purple Line no longer considered
Councilman secures language that could eliminate overhead wires
A single-tracked Purple Line would result in delays and escalating costs for the planned Metro rail, according to Montgomery County Council members who agreed Tuesday to drop an 18-month examination of single-tracking for the light rail service.
Single-tracking the light rail line between Bethesda and Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase was considered as a way of retaining more of the tree cover in the right-of-way.
Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac the most vocal advocate for single-tracking conceded in a meeting Thursday that a single track's cost and its failure to preserve the environment of a popular recreation trail were too much for him to ignore.
The single-tracking issue was addressed, along with several other Purple Line specifics, during a work session Tuesday on the $1.6-billion light rail line. The council is expected to vote on the plan July 27, Council President Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said.
The Purple Line's plan includes double-tracking along the project's entire length from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George's County.
A proposal discussed by the council Tuesday would ensure the community near a possible Purple Line station would maintain its current zoning.
Residents near the potential light rail station on Wayne Avenue at Dale Drive east of Silver Spring have been concerned the station could be the impetus for changing the zoning in their single-family neighborhood.
A proposal introduced by Council Vice President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) and Councilmember George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park on Tuesday would ensure that if a station is built, the neighborhood's zoning could not be altered.
The proposal only would protect the area surrounding the Wayne Avenue station because Leventhal said zoning in other areas, such as Long Branch, will be changed when the light rail stations are in place.
Leventhal said the council has not committed to building a Wayne Avenue station now, but that one could be built in the future.
On the single-tracking issue, Berliner, who voted with the rest of the council to approve the project in January 2009, had argued that he hoped more of the existing tree canopy around the Purple Line could be saved and the impacts on the community would be reduced by having one track between downtown Bethesda and the proposed station on Connecticut Avenue.
Earlier this month, he said Maryland Transit Administration officials had not proved to him the costs to the system outweigh the benefits of single-tracking to his constituents.
Purple Line construction would eliminate the tree canopy Berliner hoped to preserve, whether the project consisted of one track or two, Berliner said he had been told. A portion of the Purple Line is slated to run alongside the Georgetown Branch of the Capital Crescent Trail. While the impact to train timetables might only be a minute along their routes, Berliner said it would impact the cost-efficiency used by the Federal Transit Administration to determine its funding for the project. Ridership would be affected, he said.
The FTA is reviewing the Purple Line light rail, which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) approved in August.
In remarks before the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment committee Thursday, MTA's Mike Madden, project manager for the Purple Line, said unlike the Bethesda-Chevy Chase section of the line, much of the light rail runs in the street along with regular traffic, creating opportunities for delays.
"The single-track portion would compound that," Madden said.
Berliner successfully pushed to insert language into the project plan that would eliminate overhead wires from the Purple Line and require planners to pick another power source, unless that alternative power source "costs too much" or is unreliable, he said. The MTA is scheduled to report on the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of such an alternative source in a year.
The short-term future for the trees is bleak, Berliner said, but in the long-term, the tree canopy could come back if it did not have to deal with the wires, which the MTA has proposed. He said he wanted the experience along the Capital Crescent Trail to match MTA drawings.
Staff Writer Erin Cunningham contributed to this report.