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MTA: Purple Line Means Faster Travel Times, Less Traffic Congestion

The Maryland Transit Administration held an open house to talk Purple Line. Some area residents are excited about the light rail; others are skeptical about the promises.

Imagine a 20-minute travel time from Takoma Park to Riverdale Park; 30 minutes from the Silver Spring Public Library to College Park Metro; and 12 minutes from Riverdale Park to the University of Maryland.

That’s what the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is promising with a light rail that would wind from Bethesda to New Carrollton, cutting through and stopping in College Park and the University of Maryland.

On Tuesday, the first of a series of open houses to talk about the Purple Line was held at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union, convened by the MTA. Attendees listened to presentations, watched films, and were treated to snacks and beverages inside an atrium with maps and charts propped up on display easels.

“I think it would be marvelous for students to have an easier route to go to campus,” said Tina Slater, president of Action Committee for Transit (ACT), a citizens’ group backing the Purple Line. “I’d use it to go between Silver Spring and Bethesda. And I’d love to use it to go to the university for cultural events.”

ACT, the Purple Line Now coalition, and Prince George's Advocates for Community-based Transit co-sponsored a press conference in conjunction with the open house. State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20), Delegate Susan Lee (D-Dist. 16), College Park Mayor , and representatives of the university administration and student government all called for more state revenues to fund the rail project. They praised a 15-cents-per-gallon gas-tax increase, which a panel created by Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly had proposed last month.

“I’m very happy to hear the senators talking about a gas-tax increase to help fund transit,” Slater said, arguing that more transit would mean less traffic congestion. “Drivers should want to subsidize transit. You don’t want all those transit riders stepping off transit and joining you on the road.”  

Not everyone present was so sure that the Purple Line would cut traffic. Jim Roy, a Chevy Chase resident, noted that the projected travel time from Bethesda to New Carrollton is 55 minutes; he said he could travel the same route faster by riding the existing Metro system.

“I think a lot of people who use cars will continue to use cars,” Roy said.

Roy is further concerned that Maryland can barely afford the annual subsidies that will be required to maintain the line. And, he’d rather see those funds invested in more buses or expanded roadways.  

“We currently can’t fix our own roads. We have much better things to spend it on,” he said. “I’m a business owner. We always have to look at cost-benefit.”

But Rose Colby, a College Park resident, is optimistic based on her own visits to Minneapolis, Portland, and other cities that have invested in more mass transit. Those cities enjoy less traffic gridlock, she said.   

“I’ve seen it work in other cities. It definitely seems to cut down the number of drivers on the road,” Colby said.

She does wish the Purple Line had launched much sooner, though. Construction is not expected to start until 2015, and completion will not be until 2020.  

“I have daughter who is 15. I tell myself, ‘on the bright side, when she’s 20, she can ride it,’” Colby said.  

The line might even take some buses off the road, or some buses could be re-routed to other under-served areas, said Mike Madden, MTA’s project manager for the Purple Line project. He said the rail could replace 250 of the 750 buses that now run through the University of Maryland daily.

Three more open houses are coming up: at the in Chevy Chase on Wednesday; the in Silver Spring on Nov. 7; and Beacon Heights Elementary School in Riverdale on Nov. 10.

Editor's Note: Jim Roy contacted Patch to clarify his statement. Roy says the travel time between Bethesda and New Carrollton is faster using the existing Metro rail than it would be using the Purple Line.

Christian James November 02, 2011 at 06:22 PM
I don't see how the travel times you cite are significant improvements over existing public transportation travel times. And it is certainly longer than car travel.
CP Resident November 02, 2011 at 06:23 PM
How about this: Imagine a 13-minute travel time between Takoma Park and Riverdale Park! A 17-minute travel time between Silver Spring Public Library and the College Park Metro Station! 6 minutes from Riverdale Park to UMD! All of these can be done today in a car, without spending billions of dollars and waiting 10 years! Buses may take longer, but they are an existing and affordable option.
Jim Roy November 02, 2011 at 09:02 PM
Please note that I was slightly misquoted. I said that our current metro system would get passengers from New Carrollton 4 minutes faster than the proposted Purple Line I had not done research on driving travel times. I did say that the majority of east west drivers will continue to drive. Many of the projected riders will come off of other forms of mass transit. The purple line has been, and would, be a terrible waste of our money. Jim Roy.
Jim Roy November 03, 2011 at 12:17 AM
I neglected to include the other end point on the trip in my statment above. A current trip using existing metro (including the time to change trains) from New Carrollton to Bethesda is exactly 52 minutes according to WMATA.com. The proposed light rail system is 55 minutes according to the meeting last night or 56 according to the state's website.

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