With the Maryland Transit Administration hoping to start construction on the 16-mile light rail in 2015 and key decisions on federal funding and a private concessionaire partner expected earlier than that, the Chevy Chase-based “Save the Trail” group has adopted a “Now or Never” campaign.
The nonprofit (known officially as the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail) is against building part of the Purple Line on the Georgetown Branch extension of the Capital Crescent Trail from downtown Bethesda, through Chevy Chase. Despite promises that the Purple Line would include a rebuilt and improved trail to connect to Silver Spring, some in Chevy Chase say construction of the two-track light rail will mean the loss of trees and nature that can’t be replaced.
The annual 5K, which went along part of the trail and ended in Elm Street Park, is the group’s main event and a fundraiser that brings in about $2,000. About 300 people participated in the race on Saturday. It might have been the last one.
“That is a potential reality,” said Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt. “It’s at a point where we have to reach some decision makers.”
Bhatt and the FCCT asked for and received a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase. Part of it went to funding the race and $10,000 of it will go to a study of shrimp-like endangered critters thought to be in the creeks near the proposed Purple Line route.
Opponents of the Purple Line are pointing to the MTA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, which didn’t include a study of the endangered species, as a leading reason why the planning process needs to slow down, or a new route needs to be selected.
“Why does a volunteer nonprofit have to raise money to do the job that the state government and the federal government should be doing?” Bhatt said.
John Fitzgerald, an environmental lawyer who has provided much of the scientific expertise for the group, said it’s common knowledge that the species likely lives or can live in portions of Rock Creek and Coquelin Run in the path or near the Purple Line.
The focus Saturday was on the trail’s “natural beauty,” a space Purple Line opponents claim will be ruined forever if the light rail is built.
Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda and District 18 Del. Al Carr stood with Bhatt on Saturday to relay that message to race participants.
The Federal Transit Administration issued a Record of Decision on the project in March — essentially approving the MTA’s environmental statement and allowing the state to start buying up right of way.
Despite the apparent momentum and political support from most area elected officials, Burda told participants the fight against the Purple Line is not over.