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Save The Trail Activists To Embark On ‘Now Or Never’ Campaign Against Purple Line

By Aaron Kraut

Friday - 4/11/2014, 3:25pm  ET

Save The Trail 5K, via Friends of the Capital Crescent TrailActivists against building the Purple Line on the Capital Crescent Trail are pursuing a “Now or Never” campaign to highlight environmental effects they say the federal government didn’t consider in its recent Record of Decision.

The Record of Decision, which the Federal Transit Administration issued in March, cements the Maryland Transit Administration’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the 16-mile light rail from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail group, long opposed to the selected Purple Line route on the trail through Chevy Chase, is looking to fund a $10,000 environmental study by researchers at American University. The group submitted a request to the Town of Chevy Chase for a $15,000 donation that would also go toward updating its website and its annual 5K race on the trail this May.

“There’s a clear urgency to it. I would imagine that in the grand scheme of things, the amount of money that we’re asking for is nowhere near what the Purple Line contingent has spent,” said Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt. “We’re asking for this money to get some information out there and to find out some information as well.”

The group is one of a few in Chevy Chase that has concerns about the Purple Line’s effects on the forested area around the trail and small aquatic species in the area’s creeks.

Bhatt said the MTA’s FEIS and FTA’s Record of Decision didn’t adequately address those concerns.

“It’s an independent study. There are issues that we feel were not thoroughly vetted or thoroughly addressed in the [Record of Decision],” Bhatt said. “Somebody has to do that.”

The Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the selected alignment of the Purple Line, will consider the $15,000 donation request in a May public hearing.

In February, the Town Council voted to fund a controversial $350,000 contract with a group of legal firms to lobby against the light rail system and fight for mitigation measures.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail is also pursuing its own fundraising campaign.

With the Record of Decision, the MTA can start condemning properties outlined in the FEIS and make its final pitch for $900 million in federal funding. The project is estimated to cost a total of $2.37 billion. The MTA hopes to select a private concessionaire to help build and operate the system later this year and start construction in late 2015.

More than 5,000 people have signed the “Save the Trail” group’s petition against putting the Purple Line on the trail. But with the key federal decision now in the books, Bhatt acknowledged a reconsideration of the plan will be an uphill climb.

“We have a lot of supporters that are in the Town. The Town is clearly going to be affected by the Purple Line,” Bhatt said. “We are asking for the money to give ourselves an opportunity to educate the public on the issues that we feel haven’t been expressed as loudly as the Purple Line contingent has expressed their views.”

Photo via Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail