2016 is shaping up to be an banner year for the Purple Line. The private concessionaire was announced last week, the full funding grant agreement will be signed with the federal government and, fingers crossed, the project will finally break ground. As we near these important milestones, we here at PLN wanted to facilitate a community wide discussion on the issues that we think will define this year through a series of forums we’re calling “Envisioning the Purple Line.”
Our first forum, held on February 22 in College Park, was devoted to, what else, College Park! College Park has a quarter of all the Purple Line stops and will undoubtedly be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the project. The forum brought together leaders from the university, housing industry, City of College Park, and student body to talk about the impact the Purple Line will have on the university and the greater College Park area. You may have seen WTOP’s coverage of the event, but if you didn’t, click on the link to see what you missed.
The biggest news to come out of the event was the announcement by University of Maryland officials that there will be a “fare-free zone” between the Adelphi Road/West Campus station and the M Square stop just south of the College Park Metro station. The fare free zone will enable students and faculty with a University ID to ride the Purple Line for free, not to mention reduce the time it takes to traverse the sprawling campus.
Students and university officials noted that the Purple Line will have the added benefit of freeing up shuttle buses that were formerly used to transport students from the College Park Metro station to the main campus, and vice versa. The buses can then be redeployed to new or existing bus routes, thereby spreading the operating benefit of the Purple Line to other corridors and students, who might not otherwise have a viable transit option.
Another major topic of the forum was how the Purple Line will support efforts to revitalize College Park. The conversation around redevelopment in College Park is usually centered around Baltimore Ave. (formerly Route 1), but Ken Ulman, Chief Strategy Officer for Economic Development at the university, focused attendees’ attention on another part of the city with big plans for redevelopment once the Purple Line is built, the M Square Research Park. Many people are unaware that the University has a world-class research park just outside the main campus near the College Park Metro station. M Square was even recognized by the Association of University Research Parks last year as the top university research park in the country. It currently hosts several federal agencies and a number of university programs and centers, but in the future, it will transform from a 20th century office park into a more vibrant area with new residential, retail and recreational opportunities. The Purple Line will unlock the full potential of M Square by seamlessly connecting the research centers at M Square to the academic buildings of the main campus, and in the process create a more cohesive campus.
One of the more interesting discussions to come out of the forum concerned the role the Purple Line could play in improving student access to grocery stores. Many of us take grocery shopping for granted, but it's a non-trivial concern for students at UMD, the majority of whom do not own a car. The only nearby grocery options that students have are Target Express, CVS and 7-11, which illustrates why College Park has been classified as a "food desert" by the USDA. The nearest full-service grocery store is more than two miles from campus, and it’s exceedingly difficult to reach it via transit. A representative of the Student Government Association described how most students are faced with taking a 1-hour shuttle bus ride to the grocery store or asking a friend for a ride in order to do their grocery shopping. For students who don't own a car, the Purple Line will make a simple errand like grocery shopping simple again.
Affordable housing and improving the variety of housing types rounded out the topics covered by the panel. Students voiced concerns about the already high costs of off-campus housing and the need to keep housing affordable once the Purple Line is up and running. Non-students, on the other hand, expressed hope that the Purple Line would help diversify the city’s housing stock. Most of the housing being built in College Park is geared towards students, but the panelists observed that the Purple Line could spur the development of market rate housing that is attractive to graduate students, young professionals and families who want to live near transit.
All in all, the first forum confirmed that big changes are in store for College Park. Thanks again to our panelists and sponsors for helping make this event possible. Our next forum, Understanding the Public Private Partnership - An overview of the next steps for getting the project built, will be held on April 21 at Montgomery College in Silver Spring. Maryland Transportation Secretary, Pete Rahn, will be among the speakers at this event where we’ll demystifying the P3 arrangement. Final details regarding the exact time and location of the meeting are still in the works, but be sure to save the date! You can RSVP right now (the event is free, but you must reserve your seat in advance.)
Purple Line NOW Congratulates Purple Line Transit Partners, Newly Appointed Contractor to Build the Purple Line
Silver Spring, MD - Governor Hogan today announced his approval of Purple Line Transit Partners to build, operate, and maintain the Purple Line for 30 years. The Governor also announced that the State has reduced to cost of the project by $550 million, and reduced annual availability payments by nearly 11%.
The Board of Public Works will review the proposed contract in April. If approved, the Federal Transit Administration is the next step, with a Full Funding Grant agreement, expected in July. Construction is expected to start after issuance of the agreement.
Purple Line President Ralph Bennett praised the announcement saying "This is a major milestone in the project’s development and virtually assures its completion. Congratulations to all the hardworking Maryland and county staff and leadership who have been doing the hard work of choosing between four excellent options. We are excited to hear more details and are honored to be hosting Maryland's Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn at a public forum to explain the proposal next month."
Please watch this site for more details about the April 21st forum, including a growing list of panelists.
We hope everyone has recovered from the historic blizzard our area has just endured - it was great to see transit back up and running so quickly following the record snowfall.
As we begin this eventful new year, it's important to look back to see how the previous year treated us, and so we have created a Top Ten List of Purple Line Stories for 2015, David Letterman style!
#10 - Purple Line Wins Award for Environmental Excellence
The Purple Line is receiving accolades even before a shovel hits the dirt! The project was recognized by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in 2015 for the quality of its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In selecting the Purple Line EIS as winner of the award, the FTA stated: “The Purple Line EIS exemplifies best practices for a well-managed environmental documentation process. The review committee was particularly impressed with the presentation of information, including the use of reader-friendly language, graphics and tables, while successfully resolving complicated environmental issues.”
#9 - Fight over Fences in Purple Line Right-of-way Continues
The court fight over fences that have been built in right-of-way owned by Montgomery County and preserved for the Purple Line continued to play out over the course of 2015. Since the county purchased the former B&O railroad right-of-way in 1988, a number of residents who live along the right-of-way have built or maintained structures such as fences and sheds that encroach into county-owned land. The county has allowed these structures to remain on county property while it was still unclear if the Purple Line would ever be built, but as the project finally nears the construction phase, the county has sent letters to residents informing them to remove the structures by April of 2016. And on January 22, 2016, the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, ruled that residents who were occupying the county’s right-of-way cannot claim ownership of the land, which hopefully marks the end of this saga.
#8 - Purple Line’s Projected Economic Impact Grows
A major economic impact study released in mid-2015 indicated that the Purple Line will have an even greater economic impact on the region than was originally thought in 2010. The study estimated that the Purple Line will create more than 4,000 temporary jobs during the 5-year construction period, 23,000 permanent jobs in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties after its completion, and have a six-fold economic return on the investment from the local, state, and federal governments.
#7 - Town of Chevy Chase Drops Opposition to Purple Line
In September, the Town of Chevy Chase reversed its long-standing opposition to the Purple Line project by a unanimous vote of the town council, and agreed to redirect its efforts towards a mitigation strategy that focuses on reducing potential impacts of the project on the town and its residents.
#6 - Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties Increase Financial Commitment to Purple Line
The excitement generated by the announcement that the state would be moving forward with the Purple Line was tempered when it was learned that the approval was contingent upon Montgomery and Prince George’s counties picking up a greater portion of the tab for the project in order to reduce the state’s financial exposure. Thankfully, both Montgomery and Prince George’s county stepped up to the plate by contributing between $20 to $40 million in additional funding on top of their prior commitment of $100 million dollars.
#5 - Renewed Hope for Improved Bethesda Station and Capital Crescent Trail
One of the most unexpected and positive developments of the year concerns the Bethesda station stop and the popular Capital Crescent Trail that runs through it. In November, a developer agreed in principle to purchase the Apex office building in Bethesda which sits above the planned Bethesda station and the Capital Crescent Trail, thereby potentially reopening the door to redevelopment of the property and a separate tunnel for the trail and its users. Without the redevelopment of the Apex Building, it is likely that trail users would have to cross Wisconsin Avenue at-grade at its intersection with Bethesda Avenue. The sale of the building has not been finalized, but it presents some hope that the original vision for the trail will be realized.
#4 - Bids Submitted for Purple Line Construction, but Secretary Rahn isn’t Promising a Winner
The four consortiums of private companies vying to build, operate and maintain the Purple Line submitted bids detailing how they would build the line in late November of 2015. This is an important milestone because all four teams stayed in to the end and the range of choices helps Maryland get a good value in picking a private partner. However, Sec. Rahn raised the possibility that there would be no winner, saying “We are hoping that is not the case. We won't know that until a very thorough evaluation of these proposals.” The Secretary is trying to encourage low cost bids, but delay imposes costs too as interest rates and construction costs go up. MTA is expected to announce a winning vendor in February, and if they don't, we’ll keep up the pressure to build the Purple Line, Now!
#3 - Congress Passes Landmark Transportation Bill
At the end of 2015, Congress passed a 5-year, $305 billion transportation funding bill that significantly increases the chances of the Purple Line receiving federal funding. The bill marks the first time in more than a decade that Congress has a enacted a long-term, multi-year transportation bill, meaning state and local governments can plan major projects, like the Purple Line, with the assurance that the federal dollars will be there when the time comes.
#2 - Cost Savings Measures Detailed by Hogan Administration
When the Governor gave the green light to the Purple Line in June, he also set forth several dozen cost saving measures for the project. The largest cost savings will be achieved by reducing the frequency of peak period trains from 6-minutes to 7.5 minutes, which will in turn enable the state to purchase fewer rail cars. Other measures include a reduction in the budget for public art and simplified finishes to retaining walls and station canopies. A complete list of cost savings measures can be found here: Hogan's Proposed Purple Line Changes
#1 - Governor Hogan Gives Green Light to Purple Line
The biggest news story of the year, by far, occurred on June 25 when after months of speculation, Governor Hogan signaled his intent to move forward with the Purple Line project. Since November 2014, there were questions as to whether Governor Hogan pick up where the previous administration left off and see the project through completion, or if he would scrap the project altogether. Those questions were put to rest when the Governor announced, wearing a purple tie no less, that the state would be proceeding with a more cost effective and streamlined version of the project.
We have heard buzz that groundbreaking for the Purple Line could start as early as this summer - stay tuned! We hope you have enjoyed this incredible list - what a productive year it was and looking forward to an even better 2016!
We will reschedule as soon as possible. Please repost this and let your groups know that the event has been postponed due to weather.