Town of Chevy Chase Calls For Purple Line Do Over

Purple Line rendering via MTACiting rising cost estimates, the Town of Chevy Chase on Monday called for the Maryland Transit Administration to look again at alternatives to its preferred route for the Purple Line.

The Town has long been opposed to the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). The 16-mile route from Bethesda to New Carrollton would run part of the light rail system behind Town of Chevy Chase homes on the existing Georgetown Branch Trail.

In its comments to the MTA on the state’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, the Town said the “skyrocketing” in cost estimates since 2007 means the state should start the route selection process over. The MTA chose the route in 2009 in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

It hopes to start construction on the estimated $2.1 billion system in 2015, but a number of critical steps remain.

“A DEIS with flawed cost information, and a subsequent project selection based upon flawed (cost) information, can only be repaired at the draft level rather than in a final environmental impact statement since the FEIS only compared the selected project with a ‘no build option,’” Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda said in a statement.

The MTA estimated the project would cost $1 billion in 2007 and $1.5 billion in 2009.

The Town’s comments, which include detailed critiques of the FEIS technical reports, say the state never adequately evaluated the bus rapid transit option for the project. The Town also says the FEIS should be required to name specific properties where trees will be lost.

In his comments, Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) raised a number of specific noise, vibration and tree loss concerns from specific communities including the Town. Berliner has been a Purple Line supporter and said his support remains because, “on balance the Purple Line is in the larger public interest.”

“That said, I was and remain keenly aware that communities I represent are being asked to make a very large sacrifice.,” Berliner wrote. “They mourn the loss of the bucolic trail they love, the peace and quiet of their neighborhoods, and for those living immediately adjacent to the route, they are rightly concerned about the daily impacts on their homes and lives.”

Among issues Berliner addressed:

  • Vibration impacts to several properties where the vibration level will exceed maximum federal standards. Unlike the sounds walls the MTA has promised to mitigate noise, the FEIS does not require or specify vibration mitigation.
  • Overhead wires. Berliner writes that he is against the use of overhead wires to power the light rail, because the wires would mean the loss of at least some tree canopy. He suggests battery-powered cars.
  • Tree replacement. Berliner says the state’s requirement of replacing lost trees on a one-to-one basis is flawed and will not mean a tree canopy equal to what exists today. Berliner suggests a three-to-one reforestation policy similar to the one the county recently mandated for home teardown projects.

The Town also questioned the public-private partnership aspect of the Purple Line project, which has still yet to be approved.

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