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.
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.