Further Delays for the Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail

Purple Line and trail bridge over rock creek (Image by Maryland Transit Administration)

In May, Maryland’s Purple Line project received some bad news which further delays construction of the 16-mile light rail project and jeopardizes major improvements for bicycling in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

On May 22, 2017, US Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled that the State of Maryland and the Federal Transit Administration must complete a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before proceeding with construction of the Purple Line light rail transit project. The SEIS would address the issues the Judge found with regards to the future projected ridership on the Purple Line. The plaintiffs argued that future ridership would not be as large as modeled and thus not support building the transit project because its ridership depends in part on people transferring to or Metrorail. Metrorail ridership has declined in recent years from delayed maintenance and extended system closures for repairs. The Judge ruled the State of Maryland needs to reevaluate the ridership projections before the transit project can move forward. The Judge also ruled on May 30 that the other environmental issues raised by the lawsuit seeking to block the project were without merit.

The ruling means major construction on the 16-mile line connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s counties remains on hold until the lawsuit filed by Purple Line opponents is resolved. The State of Maryland has already appealed the ruling and there is still hope that a timely ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals could reverse Judge Leon and allow the project to proceed.

The Purple Line is Great for Trails

WABA has enthusiastically supported the Purple Line for many years because it will vastly improve the trail connections between Bethesda and Silver Spring and along much of the transit corridor in Prince George’s County. The Georgetown Branch Trail, upon which the Purple Line will be built,  is an unpaved and incomplete trail that runs from the Bethesda central business district across Rock Creek to Stewart Avenue, still 1.5 miles outside of downtown Silver Spring. The trail crosses major roads, like Connecticut Ave and Jones Mill Rd, at grade which creates difficult and hazardous crossings for trail users. As part of the Purple Line project, the trail will see some major improvements.

The Purple Line project will finally complete the vision of a Capital Crescent Trail directly linking downtown Silver Spring to Bethesda to Georgetown. Alongside the rail line, the trail will be upgraded from a rutted gravel path to a paved 12 foot wide asphalt path with lighting and new neighborhood connections. New bridges and underpasses will take the trail across Connecticut Avenue, Jones Mill Road, and Colesville Rd to avoid cars on busy streets altogether.  At the Silver Spring Transit Center, the trail will connect directly to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which will soon extend south 8 miles to Union Station in DC.

Without the Purple Line, the Georgetown Branch Trail will remain unimproved, disconnected from the regional trail network, and most useful only to the its immediate neighbors. WABA will continue to follow developments relating to this vital transportation project in Maryland. To help when it counts most, sign up for WABA advocacy alerts here and read Purple Line Now’s blog coverage of this ongoing legal process here.

UPDATE!

In early July, a federal appeals court reinstated the Purple Line’s environmental approval while the appeal is decided. This decision allows the Maryland Transit Administration to restart construction activities on the 16 mile transit and trail project. The final hurdle is securing a full funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration for $900 million in federal funds. For more, read the Washington Post’s coverage.