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Purple Line A Tough Sell To Many Affected Maryland Residents

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Michael Madden with the Maryland Transit Administration explains the proposed impact of the Purple Line on Silver Spring.
Martin Di Caro
Michael Madden with the Maryland Transit Administration explains the proposed impact of the Purple Line on Silver Spring.

On colorful maps spread out over long tables, the planned path of the 16-mile, light rail system known as the Purple Line was shown to residents and business owners at a "neighborhood work group" meeting Wednesday night.

While the maps conjure images of what might be if the $2.2 billion rail system, supported by transit advocates and real estate developers, ever gets built, to some the plans are the harbinger of personal hardship.

"I'm not happy at all," said Dario Orellana, the owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant in busy downtown Silver Spring. "We've been there for 14 years and moving is going to be really hard on us."

Orellana's is one of about a dozen businesses on 16th Street that would be displaced by the Purple Line's proposed route through Silver Spring.

Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) also explained that the planned right-of-way will absorb part of busy Bonifant Street, making it a one-way street with parallel parking on one side.

"We have to take up a good part of the street, roughly 25 to 30 feet of it, for the Purple Line to come along here," said Michael Madden, the MTA's Purple Line project manager. "We work very hard to minimize those impacts."

Orellana's lawyer said no matter how much money the state provides in compensation for moving his restaurant, he and other entrepreneurs displaced by the Purple Line will struggle to attract the same clientele to new locations.

"I am looking at the map right now and a number of these businesses will probably have to go somewhere. They are right there in the way of the line," said attorney Dmitri Chernov.

Funding still a question in Maryland

No one will have to move their businesses anywhere if state lawmakers currently in session in Annapolis fail to approve additional funding to replenish Maryland's transportation trust fund.

"This is the make or break year, so we know that we need additional revenue, the state needs additional revenue in the trust fund to actual build the Purple Line," said Madden. "So far we are optimistic, based on the discussions going on, that will happen."

Madden said the MTA is also preparing to negotiate a permanent federal funding agreement because the Purple Line has been accepted into the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program.

"We have planned and designed the project so that it meets all the federal requirements," Madden said.

A federal grant would provide matching dollars splitting the bill with the state on a 50/50 basis each year of construction, which Madden hopes will begin in 2015 and wrap up in 2020.

"We would not start the project until we know we would have the assurance of sufficient funding to complete the project," he said.

Impacts of Purple Line felt

The Purple Line may be years from carrying its first passengers, but the state is close to completing both its preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement, which are due this fall.

The 16-mile light rail system would be powered by overhead cables between Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George's County, connecting to WMATA's Red Line's east and west branches and crossing over Connecticut Avenue. Rider estimates are 74,000 per day by 2040, Madden said.

Some residents at Wednesday night's meeting, after taking in the MTA's pretty topographical maps, focused on what they viewed will be the Purple Line's negative effects on downtown Silver Spring.

"It's going to take away parking on one side of the street and on Saturdays and Sundays around here on Bonifant Street everything is packed solid," said Bob Colvin, the president of a local civic association.

Colvin was not impressed with the rail system's potential to reduce car dependency, thus mitigating the loss of road. "I think people are still going to drive. They are going to come from afar and I'm sure this Purple Line is not going to cover all venues from wherever these people come from."

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