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Town Of Chevy Chase Wants To See Data On Purple Line Ridership Projections

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 7/23/2014, 12:40pm  ET

Rendering of the Bethesda Purple Line station, via Maryland Transit AdministrationPurple Line foes in the Town of Chevy Chase are questioning the validity of ridership estimates for the state’s light rail project and will request details of how a consultant developed the numbers.

The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Maryland Transit Administration asking for “the methodology and models used to develop ridership estimates for the proposed $2.37 billion light rail system.”

The Town, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line, said past requests to MTA for the data were refused, as the state cited “proprietary issues of the engineering firm [Parsons Brinckerhoff] that was paid to conduct the research.”

MTA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The firm projected riders on the 16-mile Purple Line would make up to 68,000 trips daily. But the Town of Chevy Chase, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, questioned if the numbers in the final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”

The Town’s press release cited O’Grady’s column, which questioned if the ridership projections were overinflated and if the state should instead pursue a bus rapid transit network near the proposed Purple Line route.

In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.

“The justification for the Purple Line light rail train is reminiscent of the wildly inaccurate process used to estimate ridership on the Intercounty Connector,” said Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda.

The Intercounty Connector, a state highway built to connect Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, has fallen short of toll revenue forecasts made in 2005, when state lawmakers voted to increase the state’s debt to build it. Those forecasts have since been revised downward.

“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Burda said. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”

The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, which in Chevy Chase would run along the existing Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.

That group recently joined with a major environmental organization in threatening the federal government with a lawsuit if it doesn’t perform more environmental studies of the area. The Federal Transit Administration endorsed the Purple Line project earlier this year when it issued its Record of Decision on the MTA’s final environmental impact statement.

The MTA hopes to pick a private concessionaire to help build and to operate the Purple Line, with construction starting in 2015.

Rendering via MTA