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So Far, Mixed Feelings About Purple Line Advisory Group

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 7/17/2014, 9:20am  ET

The Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group prepares to start its meeting Wednesday in Silver SpringNo fewer than 50 people filled the Great Hall at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Wednesday, a mix of civic leaders, residents, business owners, government officials and transit advocates sitting around tables set up in a large rectangular formation.

A Silver Spring resident presented a power point full of parking questions and pedestrian safety concerns related to the Purple Line’s operation in mixed traffic. A Chevy Chase resident complained that his street would become “ground zero” once Purple Line construction starts.

Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration — in charge of the proposed 16-mile light rail — sat and listened.

MTA and Montgomery County officials answered some questions, corrected some misconceptions and assuaged some fears, but to some, it’s unclear if the county-created Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group will have any affect on the broader Purple Line picture.

“It’s by nature a hard-to-get-your-arms-around situation,” said Mary Anne Hoffman, a member of the group and the chair of the Town of Chevy Chase’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group. “Our concerns are so disparate and so many that I think it’s unrealistic to expect that we’re going to walk out happy after six meetings.”

The group, known as PLIAG, was set up by County Executive Isiah Leggett in the spring in response to a request from Councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda, Chevy Chase) and Cherri Branson (Silver Spring). Berliner and Branson asked Leggett to create a formal task force that would bring officials from MTA, MCDOT and MTA’s yet-to-be picked private concessionaire to the table with a recently formed group of neighborhood and civic associations along the Purple Line route.

That group, known as the Coalition of Purple Line Neighborhoods (or COPLN) got together in December with concerns about noise, vibration, tree loss, tree replacement, pedestrian and traffic safety issues surrounding the Purple Line.

Wednesday’s meeting in Silver Spring was the group’s sixth. MTA Purple Line project manager Mike Madden and a host of county Department of Transportation officials were in the room.

The meetings so far have generally consisted of an issue paper presentation from a member of an affected community. On Wednesday, the main presentation came from Jonathan Halpern, from the Sligo Branview Community Association in Silver Spring.

Unlike in Chevy Chase, where the Purple Line is planned to almost exclusively run along an existing off-road trail, major portions of the light rail in Silver Spring are expected to run in mixed traffic.

Halpern shared concerns about residents losing street-side parking spaces, school bus stops, Purple Line users who might want to park for free in local library lots and catenary poles placed on sidewalks, among others.

Matt Stork, MTA’s main traffic engineer on the project, gave a presentation of his own that explained how Purple Line trains would operate at intersections, where fencing would go to prevent mid-block pedestrian crossings and how the agency and concessionaire would manage construction traffic.

“It’s a great opportunity to have the MTA in a room consistently but I think, let me say this, I think other groups have been more successful when they create these smaller focus groups,” said Kate Detwiler, a resident of the Edgevale neighborhood of Bethesda who presented an issue paper earlier this month.

Detwiler’s Edgevale Street home backs up to the Capital Crescent Trail and future Purple Line route. Her concerns include noise and vibration effects from the light rail for both the neighborhood and trail, to be rebuilt alongside the light rail tracks with $95 million in funding from Montgomery County.

On Wednesday, Detwiler pressed Madden to do a noise study of how the light rail would affect trail users. At issue is the location of noise walls that are now planned to go on one side of the light rail tracks and the outside boundary of the trail.

“The bottom line is it remains an open issue,” Madden said, after Detwiler pressed for a study.

“I think it is a good forum for dialog and for information, but I’m not sure when it comes to an actual product,” Detwiler said.

Many in the group are looking toward the MTA’s Request for Proposals as an indication of how much traction their input made. The MTA was scheduled to put out the RFP for private concessionaires in June. The PLIAG’s next meeting was originally set to dive into that RFP, but according to Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street, that discussion will have to wait.

“From a broader perspective, why all of us are here and how the implementation group is affecting the RFP and affecting the process, I don’t really know that it’s been that successful,” Detwiler said.

“It ain’t perfect, but it ain’t over yet either,” Hoffman said.