GAITHERSBURG, Md. – The Purple Line is a hugely controversial concept that divides Marylanders fairly strongly, and I must admit I am one of them; not having a car all to my own, I don’t have a choice but to be invested. For those unfamiliar with the notion, Washington D.C.’s Metro service runs a number of above and below ground commuter lines, including the east-west running Orange and Blue Lines, the north-south Yellow and Green Lines, and the u-shaped Red Line, my usual commute of choice. The Red Line takes residents of Gaithersburg, Rockville, and Bethesda to Washington D.C. and on to Tacoma Park, Wheaton, and Glenmont, and vice-versa.
Where’s the trouble? If you look at this map, it becomes somewhat clear that there’s a gap in the heavily populated Montgomery and Prince George’s County suburban Maryland neighborhoods, a gap whereby commuters on one side of the county find it necessary to pay a costly fare followed by a lengthy ride through DC to reach places the other side of the county. The road system isn’t much help as I-495 is often overly congested, though a toll-road is being constructed (the Intercounty Connector). The Purple Line would bridge that gap between Bethesda, Silver Spring, Tacoma Park, College Park, Riverdale, and New Carollton and would run within the Beltway, just south of I-495.
Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is in support of the Purple Line. He is joined by the Washington Post, the Sierra Club, and both the Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils. In opposition are many residents in Chevy Chase, Republican candidate for Governor, former Governor Robert Ehrlich, the Columbia Country Club, and some residents concerned the expansion will cause irreparable damage to the Capital Crescent Trail.
The light rail line would be above ground and is competing for federal funds. However, Ehlich feels it would be too costly to run the line and is proposing that as an alternative a rapid bus system could be put in place.
A lot, but certainly not all, of the debate centers around the concept of carbon emissions. There’s also a concern that too many trees will be cut down. For my part, I am concerned about both, but I also have a real worry that we aren’t accommodating regional growth intelligently by opposing the Purple Line.
While building projects have slowed in the area and the boom isn’t what it once was, DC and its suburbs still attract job-seekers, and those newly employed must go to work, send their kids to school, and get on the highway. I’ve personally reached the point in which I just accept that as a person without a car, there’s a certain amount of commuting I am forced to do. I own a bike, and I’m fit enough to run, but at times a bus or a Metro ride on the now infamously unsafe and poorly run Red Line are at times necessities.
I would be most at ease if I knew that Metro were fully funded and profitable enough to properly service the existing track. That said, I recognize the real need to link the loop in smarter ways. I see the proposed bus plan as a band-aid solution, one that will not help the region grow intelligently. However things shake out though, I think it’s clear that for those of us who want to get around the region better and not be trapped in our cars all day, a viable solution must begin to be implemented, and soon.
Washington Post, “Washington, D.C., Metro System Map”
Blair Lee, “The Truth Hurts” The Gazette