The announcement of the closure of Georgetown Branch trail has led to concerns about notice, duration, and the alternatives available. Purple Line NOW supports calls for quality pedestrian and bicycle detours during construction on the Georgetown Branch trail. Although closure of the trail is disruptive to users, we remind everyone that this disruption will ultimately result in a light rail connection between Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrollton, and a finally completed Capital Crescent Trail from Silver Spring to Bethesda. The expanded and improved trail will be eight feet wide and paved along its entire length. It is also important to note that the interim Capital Crescent Trail has existed for so many years because transit advocates pushed decades ago for the purchase of the right-of-way for use as BOTH a hiker-biker trail and a light rail connection.
Unfortunately, the lawsuit filed by project opponents has delayed the onset of construction by a year, which has directly resulted in an accelerated construction timeline and a host of additional complications. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the project’s approval, and the District Court determined that the environmental complaints were without merit. However, legal vindication cannot restore the lost year - nearly a sixth of the estimated project time - nor the estimated $150 million cost of the delay, which were sacrificed in a relentless stalling campaign by project opponents.
We are sympathetic to citizen complaints about the Jones Mill detour route, and Purple Line NOW supports efforts to negotiate an official route through the Town of Chevy Chase that would mitigate many of these concerns. As this is being resolved, we would highlight the efforts of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which has identified a range of preferable options immediately available to cyclists.
We have been hearing a range of questions from our members about the construction process, seeking explanation about the extent of the closure and information about when construction may affect their neighborhoods or business districts. The challenges and confusion resulting from lawsuit-induced delays also highlights the need for official mechanisms for coordinating between citizens, Maryland, and the concessionaire. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) initiated a process last year of Community Advisory Teams (CATS) that were put on hold due to the plaintiff lawsuit. We are hoping the CATS will provide a critical communication link between the project developers and the impacted communities and we wrote to the Maryland Department of Transportation before ground-breaking, urging them to convene these teams as soon as possible.
We have long anticipated that the onset of construction would bring new challenges, though in this case these were magnified by delays imposed by plaintiffs at every step of the process. Nonetheless, regardless of the source of these challenges, we intend to do our part to collect and share official statements and support the efforts of those seeking to mitigate disruptions while maximizing the benefit of this necessary east-west transit connection and completion of the hiker-biker trail network.
We want to bring you a re-cap of yesterday's amazing Purple Line groundbreaking. For those of you who weren't able to attend, here are some photos that capture the scene - you'll notice that there are a lot of smiles in these pictures! Speakers at the signing ceremony included U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Senator Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Anthony Brown, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. The ceremony was emceed by none other than Maryland's Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn.
The event began just after 10 a.m. under sunny blue skies and a cool breeze. Secretary Rahn stepped up to the microphone and exclaimed, "We did it!" Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett gave a heartfelt and poignant tribute to our founder, the late Harry Sanders, describing Harry's ability to work across political and economic lines, as an activist rather than a politician, to bring attention to the much-needed project. Congressman Brown gave a cheerful shout out and thanks to Purple Line NOW for all the work our volunteers have done over years (decades!) to see the project through.
Senator Van Hollen and Prince George's County Executive Baker extolled the virtues of the line, the teamwork that got the project to this day, and applauded all of the volunteers who made it so. Following the speeches, the Governor and Secretary Chao signed the Full Funding Grant Agreement before donning hard hats to break the ground that will begin the project.
Purple Line NOW released a statement to the press just moments ago:
SILVER SPRING, Md. - Purple Line NOW is overflowing with joy and gratitude on the day of this long-awaited groundbreaking. President Ralph Bennett said, “Today was a day of celebration as Governor Larry Hogan and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao came together to reach agreement and start construction. We are thankful to the Governor and the Secretary, who along with our Congressional Delegation, have shown that both political parties can still work together to invest in the future. County Executives Leggett and Baker and our steadfast friends on the Montgomery and Prince George’s County Council also deserve credit for their advocacy and for their respective counties’ financial contribution to the project. Likewise, the Maryland General Assembly’s work took a key step by continuing to support the project in name and funding.”
Bennett continued, “We’re also grateful for our public servants and their private sector partners: Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn, the whole Maryland and Federal Transit Administration team, and Purple Line Transit Partners who kept things moving during the delays. If we see project manager Mike Madden, we’ll get him a cup of coffee, as the project converts from planning to reality.”
Treasurer Tina Slater announced, “This is a great day and Purple Line NOW has plans to celebrate all advocates of the project in the coming weeks - we want to thank everyone that made this possible.” Tina went on to share a personal story, “I first joined Purple Line NOW when I was asked by its founder, Harry Sanders, who along with Ross Capon and many other advocates called for acquisition of the right of way between Bethesda and Silver Spring nearly three decades ago. I’d like to thank all Purple Line NOW volunteers and members of other transit advocacy organizations. It is no exaggeration to say that we would not be here without your efforts. This project has been declared dead any number of times, but the faith and perseverance of citizen support saw it through. From those that went to Annapolis to those that have told your neighbors time and again about how the Purple Line will run from Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrollton, we all share this legacy. We are so proud of all of you.”
Our attention now turns to making this the best project it can be. Stay tuned for next steps and details in the coming months. Thank you, thank you, thank you - each and every one. A great day for the Purple Line and for our community!
You may have heard the exciting news early this morning that the Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Purple Line will be signed soon!!
Purple Line NOW is brimming with anticipation that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has told Maryland officials that the Full Funding Grant Agreement for the project which was to have been signed in August 2016, will be signed next week. As always, we want to be cautious before we begin the celebrations, but rest assured, we will be back in touch as soon as the FFGA is officially signed! In the meantime, here's the scoop:
The signing of the FFGA will remove the LAST obstacle to the construction of the Purple Line by allowing Maryland to seek reimbursement from the $900 million in Federal matching funds. Purple Line NOW President Ralph Bennett elaborated, “With these assurance in hand, Maryland can move forward to start construction with far less uncertainty.”
Ralph also added that we want to “thank all elected officials who have supported the project through this difficult year and before, and all loyal supporters of the project who have worked and waited for many years to reach this day. And, we want to commend MTA and Purple Line Transit Partners for their patience and hard work to get to this point.”
Purple Line Now Vice President Greg Sanders observed, “While nothing is certain until the paper is signed, it’s safe to say that Maryland is far closer to a groundbreaking than the last time we were on the eve of a federal signing. Preparatory work proceeded while the project was held up. Even after groundbreaking, there are challenges ahead to minimize the disruption inherent in a project of this magnitude.”
Treasurer Tina Slater concluded, “Purple Line NOW looks forward to the day the trains will run, providing the mobility and benefits it promises and for which we have waited so long. In the meantime, we will work to keep supporters and the general public informed as the lawsuit concludes and as Maryland takes the next steps to connecting communities in our region.”
We'll keep you posted as the process plays out with any news for groundbreaking and celebrations, and of course, any stumbling blocks along the way. In the meantime, Purple Line NOW has partnered with the Coalition for Smarter Growth to host a Happy Hour to talk all things smart growth on August 31 from 6 pm - 7:30 pm at Bump N' Grind and you can bet we'll give you the latest news on the Purple Line project. If you can attend, send me a quick email and I'll add you to the list:
Thursday, August 31 | 6 pm - 7:30 pm
Bump N' Grind | 1200 East-West Highway, Silver Spring
Finally, despite all this good news, our work continues to make sure the project breaks ground and proceeds on the smoothest track possible. If you are able, please remember Purple Line NOW in your giving plans. We need your help as we move forward to making sure this project finally becomes a reality.
Cheers to all of us!
What to Watch for the Purple Line, 2nd Edition:
The Purple Line received a long deserved reprieve on July 19 when the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia (the “appellate court”) stayed the lower court injunction that had been holding up the project. We’ve also received other good news in the past two weeks, but the project has not yet received federal funding or broken ground. As legal language and budgetary buzzwords fly by with each new development, it can be difficult to follow how everything fits together. This series is intended to synthesize the news for advocates and fans of the project who may not be able to track every development in the papers, on PurpleLineNow.com, on facebook, or on twitter.
Will the Appellate Court Place a Stay on Judge Leon’s Injunction?
Yes! The appellate court ruled that the “State of Maryland has satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending appeal. ” In what Purple Line NOW Vice President Greg Sanders called a “joyous day,” Judge Leon’s injunction was put on hold. This action by the appellate court allows Maryland to begin construction and pursue a full funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that would provide $900 million in support over several years.
Will the Schedule for the Appeal be Expedited?
The stay is important, but it is also a temporary measure during the pendency of the appeal. Maryland has proposed an expedited schedule for the appeal, but that timetable was held up by the opponents’ stalling tactics in the District Court. Thankfully, Judge Leon threw out frivolous claims based on noise and environmental issues, clearing the way for the appeal to proceed. The appellate court is expected to set a schedule soon. If it follows Maryland’s proposed schedule, filings will be submitted over several weeks with possible oral arguments scheduled shortly thereafter.
Will the money be there?
The Trump Administration, in direct violation of infrastructure pledges during the campaign, had sought massive cuts in federal transit spending. They folded on that effort for the current fiscal year, and the omnibus compromise included specific set asides for the Purple Line. We learned on July 27th that the Senate version of the transportation funding plan for next fiscal year includes another $100 million for the Purple Line, which would bring the total authorized funding to $425 million. Thanks to Maryland’s Congressional delegation for these efforts; we’re counting on them to make sure the funding is included in the final budget.
When will the FTA sign the full funding grant agreement?
This is the largest remaining question. We were only days away from the signing ceremony nearly a year ago when the injunction came down down. FTA experts have praised the Purple Line, and the Federal government joined forces with Maryland in support of the appeal. Gov. Hogan asked Transportation Secretary Chao for support back in March and Senator Van Hollen met with the Secretary this Monday to urge support. We will keep pressing the case, noting our bipartisan support, the administration’s praise of our public-private partnership approach, and that regional business leaders and labor unions stand united behind the project.