Purple Line (Maryland)

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Purple Line
Type Light rail transit
System Maryland Transit Administration
Status Under construction
Locale Montgomery County, MD
Prince George's County, MD
Termini Bethesda (West)
New Carrollton (East)
Stations 21 (planned)[1]
Daily ridership 64,800 (2030 projection)[1]
Planned opening 2022; 5 years' time (2022) (estimated)[2]
Owner Maryland Transit Administration
Operator(s) Purple Line Transit Partners [2]
Character At-grade, elevated, and underground
Track length 16.2 mi (26.1 km)[3]
Route map
Locally Preferred Alternative
WMATA Red.svg
Connecticut Avenue
Lyttonsville Road
16th Street
Silver Spring
MARC train.svg WMATA Red.svg
Silver Spring Library, Fenton Street
Dale Drive
Manchester Place
Long Branch
Piney Branch Road
Takoma Park–Langley Park
Transit Center
Riggs Road
Adelphi Road
Campus Center
East Campus
College Park
MARC train.svg WMATA Green.svg
M Square
Riverdale Park
Beacon Heights
Annapolis Road/Glenridge
New Carrollton
MARC train.svg WMATA Orange.svg

The Purple Line, previously designated the Bi-County Transitway, is a 16.2 mi (26.1 km) light rail line[3] under construction to link the Maryland suburbs of Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrollton, all in the Washington metropolitan area.[4] The line would allow riders to move between the Red, Green, and Orange lines of the Washington Metro transportation system without needing to ride into central Washington, D.C. The project is administered by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). On October 7, 2011, the proposed light rail line received Federal Transit Administration approval to enter the detailed engineering phase, which, according to The Washington Post, is "a significant step forward in its decades-long trek toward construction."[5]

In 2016, the MTA selected the Purple Line Transit Partners, a consortium led by Fluor Enterprises, to design and build the Purple Line and to operate and maintain it for 36 years.[2][3] Construction began in late 2016, with service projected to begin in 2022,[3] though a legal challenge subsequently stalled work on the line.[6] On August 28, 2017, work resumed on the line with an official groundbreaking.[7]


Early studies, public debate, design[edit]

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 Capital Beltway.[8] In 1998, the Beltway Purple Line got considerable political support from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Governor Paris Glendening, but then as a $10 billion, 30 mile line from National Harbor to Montgomery Mall.[9]

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.[10] Eventually this became known as the "Inner Purple Line" to distinguish it from the Purple Line. By 2001, the idea of a Beltway Metro had been abandoned as too costly and the name was attached to the Bethesda to New Carrollton line.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14] In May 2008, it was reported that the Purple Line could handle about 68,000 daily trips.[15]

A draft environmental impact study was issued on October 20, 2008.[16] 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,[17] and County Executive Isiah Leggett has also expressed support.[18] 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.[19]

Planners intend to utilize existing Metrorail stations and for the Purple Line to accept WMATA's SmarTrip farecard.[20] Metro's 2008 annual report asks readers to imagine that in 2030 the Purple Line will be integrated with WMATA's existing transit system.[21][22]

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.[23]
  • The Action Committee for Transit is a community group that supports the Purple Line.[24]
  • The Washington Post published an editorial in 2008 in support of the Purple Line light rail option.[25]
  • 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.[26]
  • 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."[27]
  • 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."[27]
  • 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.[28]
  • Some student leaders (the Student Government Association and Graduate Student Government) at the University of Maryland support transit alternatives to campus.[29][30]
  • On January 27, 2009, the Montgomery County Council voted to support the light rail option.[31] Governor O'Malley announced his own approval on August 4, 2009.[1]
  • 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." [32]

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.[33]

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.[34] Alternatives suggested by the organization's website included the Jones Bridge Road alignment for bus rapid transit recommended by the Chevy Chase study.[33] Save the Trail Petition prefers alternatives, however, noting that a Jones Bridge Road alignment would also have some impact on the trail.[35]
  • 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.[36] 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.[37] A 2011 news report placed the cost of the rail line at US$1.93 billion.[38]
  • 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.[39][40]


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.[41]

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 would begin late this year, and the 16-mile line would open for service by spring 2022.[42]

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.[43] 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.[43] The contract approval allows the Maryland Transit Administration to finalize $900 million in federal construction grants.[42][43]

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.[44] Judge Leon decided to vacate the Purple Line's federal approval.[44] 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.[44][45] 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.[46]

Route and station locations[edit]

The Silver Spring Library, with the space under the overhang set aside for the future Purple Line station
Roughly geographical map of the proposed Purple Line routes including alternative alignments
Topological map of the Washington Metro system with Purple Line being an integral part

The planned rail or rapid bus line will connect the existing Metro, MARC commuter rail, and Amtrak stations at:[4]

The following stations are part of the "Locally Preferred Alternative" route approved by Governor Martin O'Malley on August 9, 2009:[47]

Potential further expansion[edit]

Although the majority of discussions about the Purple Line describe the project as a 16-mile east-west line between Bethesda and New Carrollton,[4] 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."[28] 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).[48]

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.[24] 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.[49] Suggested stops along this proposed Purple Line expansion include:[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Governor O'Malley Announces Purple Line Locally Preferred Alternative" (Press release). New Carrollton, MD: MDOT. August 4, 2009. Archived from the original on September 14, 2015. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Purple Line Contract Receives Green Light From Governor Larry Hogan". mymcmedia.org. March 2, 2016. Retrieved March 2, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d Benjamin Freed, Purple Line Construction to Start Later This Year, Washingtonian (March 2, 2016).
  4. ^ a b c "Project Overview – Maryland Purple Line". purplelinemd.com. MTA. Retrieved July 25, 2015. 
  5. ^ Wiggins, Ovetta (October 7, 2011). "Plans for Purple Line move forward in Maryland". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 8, 2011. 
  6. ^ Metcaf, Andrew (December 19, 2016). "Transit Agencies Say Metro's Woes Won't Impact Purple Line". Bethesda Magazine. Retrieved January 7, 2017. 
  7. ^ http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Beat/2017/Official-Break-Ground-on-Long-Awaited-Purple-Line-Project-Construction-Immediately-Starts/
  8. ^ Fehr, Stephen (December 18, 1994). "A Palette of Proposals for Metro". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  9. ^ "A Governor's Purple Vision". The Washington Post. October 18, 1998. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  10. ^ Mariano, Ann (June 13, 1987). "STUDY FAVORABLE TO CSX RAIL PLANS". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  11. ^ Layton, Lindsey (March 31, 2001). "Glendening Gives Pro-Metro Pep Talk". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  12. ^ "What is the Purple Line – Maryland Purple Line". purplelinemd.com. MTA. Retrieved July 25, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Project History – Maryland Purple Line". purplelinemd.com. MTA. Retrieved July 25, 2015. 
  14. ^ Davis, Janel (January 18, 2008). "O'Malley allocates $100M for Purple Line planning". The Gazette. Maryland: Post-Newsweek Media. Retrieved October 19, 2014. 
  15. ^ Shaver, Katherine (May 30, 2008). "Trips on Purple Line Rail Projected at 68,000 Daily". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 25, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Studies & Reports Maryland Purple Line". MTA. Retrieved July 25, 2015. 
  17. ^ Spivak, Miranda S. (January 16, 2009). "Montgomery Planners Back Rail". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 21, 2014. 
  18. ^ Shaver, Katherine (January 23, 2009). "Leggett Endorses Light-Rail Plan". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 21, 2014. 
  19. ^ TPB News Vol XVII Issue 4 p. 1 (November 2009). "TPB Gives Final Approval to Purple Line Project" (PDF). Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Retrieved October 21, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Public Meeting on the Purple Line" (PDF). Town of Chevy Chase, Maryland. June 6, 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 6, 2013. Retrieved October 21, 2014. 
  21. ^ "2008 Annual Report" (PDF). Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Retrieved January 21, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Metro preparing for more people to shift to transit if gasoline prices continue to skyrocket". WMATA. May 22, 2008. Retrieved June 24, 2009. 
  23. ^ "Purple Line Now: Who We Are". Purple Line Now. Retrieved October 8, 2011. 
  24. ^ a b What is the Purple Line?, The Inner Purple Line Campaign, a project of the Action Committee for Transit (ACT), retrieved December 4, 2009
  25. ^ "Full Speed Ahead". The Washington Post. November 16, 2008. Retrieved December 19, 2008. 
  26. ^ "News & Events". purplelinenow.org. Archived from the original on May 17, 2015. Retrieved January 6, 2010. 
  27. ^ a b Katherine Shaver (July 13, 2008). "Purple Line Foes Offer No Ideas, And No Names". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 4, 2009. 
  28. ^ a b "Purple Line". Sierra Club. Archived from the original on June 26, 2009. Retrieved December 4, 2009. 
  29. ^ Katherine Shaver (May 13, 2007). "Students Urge Stronger Backing of Purple Line". The Washington Post. p. C04. 
  30. ^ "Letter from student leaders to UMD President" (PDF). Retrieved June 4, 2007. 
  31. ^ Shaver, Katherine (January 23, 2009). "Leggett Endorses Light-Rail Plan". The Washington Post. p. B03. Retrieved January 26, 2009. 
  32. ^ Maynard, Patrick (June 8, 2011). "Rails to Trails VP on Purple Line". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved June 19, 2011. 
  33. ^ a b "Analysis of MTA Purple Line". Sam Schwartz Engineering. April 23, 2008. Retrieved December 1, 2009. 
  34. ^ Save the Trail
  35. ^ Save the Trail Petition: Alternatives Studies of alternatives to a Capital Crescent Trail alignment, retrieved December 2, 2009
  36. ^ Katherine Shaver (January 16, 2005). "Fortunes Shift for East-West Rail Plan". The Washington Post. p. C01. 
  37. ^ Katherine Shaver (July 7, 2008). "Chevy Chase Says Buses Beat Trains on Purple Line". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 15, 2014. 
  38. ^ Luz Lazo (September 30, 2011), "In Langley Park, Purple Line brings promise, and fears, of change", The Washington Post, retrieved November 15, 2011 
  39. ^ Jason Tomassini (May 12, 2010). "MTA pushing for additional Purple Line stop in Silver Spring". The Gazette. 
  40. ^ Purple Line study report (August 2009). "An evaluation of the merits of an LRT station at Dale Drive and Wayne Avenue" (PDF). MTA Maryland. Retrieved July 13, 2010. 
  41. ^ McCartney, Robert; Hicks, Joshua; Turque, Bill (June 25, 2015). "Hogan: Maryland will move forward on Purple Line, with counties' help". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2015. 
  42. ^ a b Shaver, Katherine (March 2, 2016). "Maryland chooses private team to build, operate light-rail Purple Line". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 6, 2016. 
  43. ^ a b c Katherine Shaver (April 6, 2016). "Maryland board approves $5.6 billion Purple Line contract". The Washington Post. 
  44. ^ a b c Metcalf, Andrew (November 29, 2016). "Purple Line Groundbreaking on Hold Until Transit Agencies Can Find Lawsuit Solution". Bethesda Magazine. 
  45. ^ Shaver, Katherine (March 16, 2017). "Federal money to build Purple Line in question under Trump budget plan". The Washington Post. 
  46. ^ Robert McCartney and Faiz Siddiqui (August 21, 2017). "Maryland to get $900-million federal full funding agreement for Purple Line". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 28, 2017. 
  47. ^ "Stations – Maryland Purple Line". purplelinemd.com. MTA. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  48. ^ Thomas Dennison and Douglas Tallman (October 4, 2006). "Brown's 'lofty' Purple Line plans draw fire from transportation officials". The Gazette. Retrieved December 4, 2009. 
  49. ^ Scott M. Kozel (February 25, 2009). "Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-495 and I-95)". Roads to the Future. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  50. ^ "Sierra Club Purple Line Map". Archived from the original on May 12, 2010. 
  51. ^ Scott M. Kozel (January 23, 2001). "Metrorail Branch Avenue Route Completion". Roads to the Future. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  52. ^ "Second Phase Of Silver Line Delayed By At Least 13 Months". April 27, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2015. 

External links[edit]

Route map: Google

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