Official Break Ground on Long-Awaited Purple Line Project; Construction Immediately Starts

After more than two decades of planning and debate, Gov. Larry Hogan and other officials broke ground on Purple Line light-rail construction Monday morning.

The event in New Carollton featured hundreds of supporters and local officials who have fought for the controversial project in various ways.

Hogan and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao participated in a ceremonial signing of the project’s federal full funding grant agreement. The signed grant will enable the state to access the $900 million in federal funds proposed for the project—including $325 million already appropriated for it.

During the ceremony, Hogan promised that construction would start right away—and it did. After the speakers were done, Hogan got in an excavator and used it to tear down a building to make way for the project. Construction is also expected to start right away along other parts of the route.

The 16.2-mile rail line is project to be completed in 2022. It will stretch along an east-west route from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County and include 21 stations—10 in Montgomery and 11 in Prince George’s.

The groundbreaking marks somewhat of an end to the legal delays over the light-rail line. The court case brought by Town of Chevy Chase residents and Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail prevented the federal agreement from being signed last August after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon vacated the project’s federal approval. Earlier this year, Leon ordered a new environmental analysis to determine how Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues would affect Purple Line ridership.

The state appealed his rulings to the federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. The appeals court has already reinstated the project’s federal approval, which allowed the state to secure the grant agreement and move forward with construction.

The court has set an expedited scheduled to determine whether the new analysis based on Metro’s issues is needed. It’s expected to rule on the issue as soon as October.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn both said they think the court will side in favor of proceeding with the project.

Rahn told Hogan during the ceremony: “The Purple Line is going to be your legacy to Maryland.”

Officials estimate the Purple Line will cost $2 billion to construct and $5.6 billion over the 36-year contract with the state’s private team of finance and construction companies Purple Line Transit Partners. The team is responsible for building, operating and maintaining the light-rail line over the next three decades.

The light-rail line is expected to have about 70,000 daily riders by 2040. Once completed, it will connect work centers in the two counties with residential communities along the route. It will also connect the two ends of the horseshoe-shaped Red Line to give transit riders a new option to get from Bethesda to Silver Spring without having to pass through downtown D.C.

The line is designed to give people in southern Maryland an alternative to traveling on often-congested roadways such as the Capital Beltway and East West Highway. It’s also a key part of the long-term economic development plans for the two counties where it’s being built. Montgomery County has rewritten zoning plans such as in the Chevy Chase Lake and Lyttonsville areas where new Purple Line stations are planned to allow for sizable new mixed-use developments.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer first pitched a transit project on the former CSX rail right-of-way in southern Montgomery County in 1989 and it was further developed by Gov. Parris Glendening. In the mid-2000s, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich studied whether to turn it into a bus route. After beating Ehrlich in 2006, Gov. Martin O’Malley fought for the light-rail line and budgeted $900 million in state funds for the project in 2013.

Since then, the line has overcome opposition from  Columbia Country Club and the Town of Chevy Chase. The light-rail line will run through both the town and the club along the current site of the Georgetown Branch Trail.

The trains are scheduled to travel at 7.5-minute intervals and will mostly run in dedicated lanes. For 1.2 miles along Wayne Avenue, Paint Branch Parkway and Ellin Road in the Silver Spring area, the trains will travel in mixed traffic.

Montgomery County budgeted $204 million to fund three Purple Line-related projects—the south entrance elevators to the Bethesda Metro station, a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail along the line and the Silver Spring Green Trail. The new 12-foot wide paved Capital Crescent Trail is planned to extend from Elm Street in Bethesda to Silver Spring. Purple Line Transit Partners will build it.



As featured in Bethesda Magazine