John Midlen has actively opposed light rail on the Georgetown Branch/Capital Crescent Trail since the 90′s, almost since the time the Purple Line was first considered.
On Monday, before Governor Martin O’Malley arrived at the Bethesda Metro station to announce a funding plan that makes the transit system seem more likely than ever, Midlen said he still is hopeful it will never be built.
“We’ve yet to see any federal funds or any commitment of federal funds and I think when the feds look at it and get it fully before them, they will see the flaws that have been built in,” Midlen said. “Absolutely, there’s still a chance it won’t be built.”
He was one of about two dozen Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail activists who attended Monday’s event. One yelled “save the trail,” in between speeches. But her voice was faint compared to the momentum the 16-mile light rail system now has — thanks to new state funding from a gas tax bill passed in this year’s General Assembly that will generate $4.4 billion for transportation projects.
About $400 million of that state money will go to the estimated $2.2 billion Purple Line, which will include a rebuilt and paved biker and walker trail alongside the rails. Transit, bike and other Trail activists say that’s a good thing and the only way to complete the Georgetown Branch Trail connection to Silver Spring.
They also argue the Trail, along a former railroad, was set aside for a new transit system long ago when the county agreed to purchase the land.
But Trail supporters say putting the Purple Line along the Trail means destroying 20 acres of irreplaceable park land inside the Capital Beltway.
“I saw a mock-up of how big the rail is supposed to be and it’s ridiculous. We really need the nature,” said Mary Rivkin, a Bethesda resident and member of Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail.
Many in Chevy Chase remain opposed to the Purple Line, though that opposition has seemingly died down as the state moves closer to its planned construction start date in 2015. The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking about $900 million in federal funding for the project.
In April, Town of Chevy Chase Council candidate John Bickerman said the Town should consider hiring a political consultant to lobby against the Purple Line in front of the Federal Transit Administration. He won, unseating a longtime Council incumbent.
Rivkin, who joined the anti-Purple Line cause in 2009, said she also still thinks there’s a chance it won’t be built.
“They’ve been saying it’s going to happen for four years,” Rivkin said. “I’m optimistic.”