Purple Line (Maryland)
The Purple Line is a 16.2-mile (26.1 km) light rail line under construction to link the Maryland suburbs of Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrollton, all in the Washington metropolitan area. The line will allow riders to move between the Maryland branches of the Red, Green, and Orange lines of the Washington Metro without needing to ride into central Washington, D.C., and will also offer transfers to all three lines of the MARC commuter rail system. The project is administered by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).
Purple Line Transit Partners, a consortium led by Fluor Enterprises, will design and build the Purple Line, and subsequently operate and maintain it for 36 years. Construction began in late 2016, with service projected to begin in 2022.
Throughout the decades-long planning process, the project had been dogged by resistance, particularly from inhabitants of the upscale community of Chevy Chase, and during the administration of Governor Bob Ehrlich there were plans to build a bus rapid transit line dubbed the Bi-County Transitway instead. Legal attempts to thwart the line continued even after construction had begun; but in December 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Purple Line construction could continue, effectively ending the legal battle over the rail project.
Early studies, public debate, design
The Purple Line started out as one project but the name was transferred to another. It was first conceived in 1994 by John J. Corley Jr., an architect with Harry Weese Associates, which designed Washington's Metro System. It was proposed as a multibillion-dollar Metro line around the 64-mile (103 km) Capital Beltway. This would have served as a "ring" line, connecting suburb to suburb, as compared to the lines of the existing Metro system, which radiate from Washington. (See Rapid transit#Network topologies.) In 1998, the Beltway Purple Line got considerable political support from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and then-Governor Parris Glendening, but then as a $10 billion, 30-mile (48 km) line from National Harbor to Montgomery Mall.
In 1987, CSX had expressed a desire to abandon the Georgetown Branch rail line and leaders in Maryland immediately began to consider adapting it for transit and a trail. Montgomery County purchased its portion of the railroad right-of-way from CSX in 1988. Eventually this became known as the "Inner Purple Line" to distinguish it from the originally-conceived Purple Line. By 2001, the idea of a Beltway Metro line had been abandoned as too costly and the name was attached to the Bethesda to New Carrollton line.
Robert Flanagan, the Maryland State Secretary of Transportation under Governor Robert Ehrlich, merged the Purple Line with another transportation project, Georgetown Branch Light Rail Transit (GBLRT). The GBLRT was proposed as a light rail transit line from Silver Spring westward, following the former Georgetown Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (now a short CSX siding and the Capital Crescent Trail) to Bethesda.
Both Governor Ehrlich and Secretary Flanagan introduced an alternative mode – bus rapid transit – that might have been utilized in lieu of light rail transit. To reflect this possibility, the administration changed the name of the project to the "Bi-County Transitway" in March 2003. Another reason that "the Purple Line" was discouraged by the Ehrlich administration was that its associations with the other color-oriented names of the Washington Metro system (which consists of heavy rail) might lead the public to expect a heavy rail option. The new name did not catch on, however, as several media outlets and most citizens continued to refer to the project as the Purple Line. As a result, Governor Martin O'Malley and Secretary of Transportation John Porcari opted to revert to "Purple Line" in 2007.
In January 2008, the O'Malley administration allocated $100 million within a six-year capital budget to complete design documents for state approval and funding of the Purple Line. In May 2008, it was reported that the Purple Line could handle about 68,000 daily trips.
A draft environmental impact study was issued on October 20, 2008. On December 22, 2008, Montgomery County planners endorsed building a light rail line rather than a bus line. On January 15, 2009, the county planning board also endorsed the light rail option, and County Executive Isiah Leggett has also expressed support. On October 21, 2009, members of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the Purple Line light rail project for inclusion into the region's Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan.
Planners intend to utilize existing Metrorail stations and for the Purple Line to accept WMATA's SmarTrip farecard. Metro's 2008 annual report asks readers to imagine that in 2030 the Purple Line will be integrated with WMATA's existing transit system.
The proposed project prompted support and opposition in the community:
Support for Purple Line
- Purple Line Now is a non-profit specifically dedicated to advocating for the inside the beltway light rail Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton integrated with a hiker/biker trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring.
- The Action Committee for Transit is a community group that supports the Purple Line.
- The Washington Post published an editorial in 2008 in support of the Purple Line light rail option.
- The Montgomery County Council and Prince George's County Council voted unanimously in favor of the light rail option for the Purple Line in January 2009.
- Maryland state officials (including Governor Martin O'Malley, D-MD) are also strong Purple Line advocates. State officials say that a Purple Line, which would run primarily above ground, "would provide better east-west transit service, particularly for lower-income workers who can't afford cars."
- The development firm Chevy Chase Land Co. is a strong proponent of the construction of the Purple Line. The website for the pro-Purple umbrella group Purple Line NOW! lists Edward Asher as a member of its board of directors. The Washington Post indicates that the development firm would "no doubt profit from property it owns near at least one of the proposed stations."
- The Sierra Club advocates a larger-scale rail system to parallel the Capital Beltway and link all existing Metro lines at their peripheries. This environmental group advocates rail transit over car use because carbon emissions are a major risk factor for global warming.
- Some student leaders (the Student Government Association and Graduate Student Government) at the University of Maryland support transit alternatives to campus.
- On January 27, 2009, the Montgomery County Council voted to support the light rail option. Governor O'Malley announced his own approval on August 4, 2009.
- The vice president of trail development for the Rails to Trails conservancy has gone on record citing rail-trail combinations around the country and arguing that with proper design, the trail-purple-line combination can be "among the best in the nation." 
- Members of the Facebook group New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens were "irrationally excited for the forthcoming Maryland purple line."
Support for bus
- A 2008 study by Sam Schwartz Engineering for the Town of Chevy Chase supported bus rapid transit using an alternate Jones Bridge Road alignment. The Chevy Chase study expressed concerns about the expected ridership numbers, carbon footprint, interruptions in recreation pathways, and the cost of bus and light rail proposals by the MTA involving a Capital Crescent Trail alignment. Although a Jones Bridge Road alignment was also proposed by the MTA, the study noted that features typical of bus rapid transit that were missing from the MTA proposal.
Opposition to rail
- A not for profit local organization, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, has been collecting signatures on a petition opposing the MTA's Purple Line proposals since 2003 and filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia in 2014 asserting failure by the Federal Transit Administration to comply with Federal environmental laws in initially approving a grant to help build the Purple Line. The organization's website explains that the MTA's light rail and bus rapid transit proposals will have significant environmental and safety impacts on the Capital Crescent Trail. Alternatives suggested by the organization's website included the Jones Bridge Road alignment for bus rapid transit recommended by the Chevy Chase study. Save the Trail Petition prefers alternatives, however, noting that a Jones Bridge Road alignment would also have some impact on the trail.
- A leading opponent of the Purple Line was the Columbia Country Club, a golf course with land that occupies both sides of the planned route between Bethesda and Silver Spring. Newly elected leaders of the Club signed an agreement not to oppose the Purple Line if its route were adjusted by 12 feet.
- Opponents in the Town of Chevy Chase cited the town's study of bus rapid transit alternatives. The study estimated a cost of less than $1 billion for a bus rapid transit system, compared with an estimated cost of $1.8 billion for light rail. A 2011 news report placed the cost of the rail line at US$1.93 billion.
- Residents around the Dale Wayne stop are concerned that doubling the size of the road, along with the county's "smart growth" policy around transit stops, will encourage commercial development in a residential neighborhood. Their concerns have also questioned whether the 1,427 daily boardings anticipated by the MTA by 2030 is a realistic figure for the Dale station.
Governor Larry Hogan opposed the Purple Line project while campaigning in 2014 but approved it in June 2015. At the same time, Hogan cancelled its sister project, the Baltimore Red Line, citing excessive costs. Hogan reduced the state's contribution to the project from $700 million to $168 million, with the savings reallocated toward increased highway construction. The budget shortfall is expected to be covered by increased funds from Prince George's and Montgomery counties, as well as lower operational costs due to longer headways.
On March 2, 2016, Hogan announced that the state has chosen a team of private companies to build, operate and maintain a light-rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs for $3.3 billion over 36 years. Under the winning bid – proposed by the team Purple Line Transit Partners and led by construction giant Fluor Corporation – the six-year construction project began later that year, and the 16-mile line is expected to be open for service by spring 2022.
On April 6, 2016, the Maryland Board of Public Works — made up of Hogan, State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, and State Comptroller Peter Franchot — unanimously approved the contract, as expected. The $5.6 billion contract is 876 pages long and, according to The Washington Post is "believed to be the most expensive government contract ever in Maryland" and "one of the largest public-private partnerships on a U.S. transportation project" ever. The contract approval allows the Maryland Transit Administration to finalize $900 million in federal construction grants.
In August 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon found that the Maryland Transit Administration and the Federal Transit Administration did not study whether Metro's maintenance issues and ridership decline would affect the Purple Line. Judge Leon decided to vacate the Purple Line's federal approval. A federal funding agreement cannot be signed without the reinstatement of the environmental approval, and Maryland has said it cannot afford to build the Purple Line without sufficient federal funding. On August 21, 2017, despite the ongoing court case over the environmental analysis, $900 million of federal funding was granted for the light rail project. On December 19, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the Purple Line, specifically stating that declining ridership on the Washington Metro system does not require Maryland to complete a new environmental study for the Purple Line. This federal appeals court ruling allowed for construction to continue and effectively ended the three-year legal battle surrounding the 16-mile light-rail line project.
Route and station locations
- Bethesda (Metro Red Line)
- Silver Spring (Metro Red Line, MARC Brunswick Line)
- College Park (Metro Green Line, MARC Camden Line)
- New Carrollton (Metro Orange Line, MARC Penn Line, Amtrak Northeast Regional, Amtrak Vermonter)
The following stations are part of the "Locally Preferred Alternative" route approved by Governor Martin O'Malley on August 9, 2009:
- Bethesda station
- Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase
- Lyttonsville Road in Silver Spring
- 16th Street in Silver Spring
- Silver Spring Metro station
- Silver Spring Library, Fenton Street
- Dale Drive in Silver Spring (proposed to be built after initial construction)
- Manchester Road in Silver Spring
- Arliss Street in Silver Spring
- Gilbert Street in Takoma Park
- Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center
- Riggs Road
- University of Maryland, west campus / Adelphi Road in Hyattsville
- University of Maryland, campus center
- University of Maryland, east campus / U.S. Route 1 in College Park
- College Park Metro station
- River Road in Riverdale Park
- Kenilworth Avenue in Riverdale Park
- Riverdale Road in Riverdale
- Annapolis Road near Landover Hills
- New Carrollton station
Potential further expansion
Although the majority of discussions about the Purple Line describe the project as a 16-mile east-west line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, there have been several proposals to expand the line further into Maryland or to mirror the Capital Beltway as a loop around the entire Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The Sierra Club has argued for a Purple Line that would "encircle Washington, D.C." and "connect existing suburban metro lines." Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony G. Brown, while campaigning in 2006, similarly stated that he'd "like to see the Purple Line go from Bethesda to across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge," adding, "Let's swing that boy all the way around" (a reference to having the Purple Line circle through Virginia and back to the line's point of origin in Bethesda).
An advocacy group known as "The Inner Purple Line Campaign" has stated that the Purple Line could be extended westward to Tysons Corner and eastward to Largo, and that it could eventually cross the new Wilson Bridge from Suitland through Oxon Hill to Alexandria, eventually forming a rail line that encircles the city. The reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-495's southern crossing over the Potomac River) provides capacity for the bridge to carry a heavy or light rail line. Suggested stops along this proposed Purple Line expansion include:
- Largo Town Center
- Branch Avenue
- Oxon Hill (potentially near Rosecroft Raceway, at which Metro has at times had plans to build a stop since 1980)
- National Harbor
- Alexandria, potentially the King Street–Old Town Metro station
- Dunn Loring
- Tysons Corner
Light rail vehicles are being constructed by CAF USA at their Elmira, New York facility. Vehicles are 143 feet (44 m) long and can carry up to 431 passengers. Cars are planned to enter the testing phase of operation in 2020.
- Silver Line (Washington Metro), whose Phase I opened in 2014, and whose Phase II is scheduled to open in 2020.
- Talbot Avenue bridge
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Route map: Google