The County Council’s public hearing and vote on Tuesday to approve a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail and Bethesda Metro connection to the Purple Line was nothing more than a formality.
But when it comes to the Purple Line in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, little gets by without at least some debate.
Six residents testified against the Purple Line project and funding the two items. The Council had already approved $95 million to rebuild the Trail along the Purple Line and $58 million to build a new Bethesda Metro South Entrance in the course of discussing the overall capital budget.
The only reason the projects were before the Council on Tuesday was because of the County Code — the law requires capital projects of more than $13,621,000 to be individually authorized. This, according to Council staff analyst Glenn Orlin, allows for residents to get enough signatures to put an item up for referendum.
So on Tuesday, the Council formally approved both items without debate. Not all the members of Council were even present during the actual votes. In a simultaneous press conference next door, some members were talking about a push to further decriminalize marijuana use.
That didn’t stop Bethesda historian Bill Offut from lending his two cents before the votes.
“I’ve watched the government do some interesting things in Bethesda. Some good, some bad, some indifferent, some just dumb,” Offut said.
“Our police station is so ugly, that the Madonna of the Trail moved to the other side of the Post Office so she wouldn’t have to look at the damn thing all day,” Offut said later.
He testified against the idea of the Purple Line light rail, which he labeled a streetcar, saying there wouldn’t be enough ridership between Bethesda and Silver Spring. He then said the county shouldn’t “tear down Eisinger’s Air Rights Building,” an apparent reference to the county’s hope that the across-the-street Apex Building is redeveloped to make way for a Purple Line Station.
Others at the public hearing were more focused about their concerns.
“Instead of this expedited funding, I request that the County and Council develop and pass a new bill and project that, at long last, restores and completes the Capital Crescent Trail Without the rails, as a green linear park along with its many benefits,” testified Town of Chevy Chase resident Christine Real de Azua.
“Your decision to expedite the bills before you accommodate and pay for the relocation of the Capital Crescent Trail is likely to lead to violations state and federal law and therefore you should not enact this legislation until you can ensure full compliance with the law,” testified John Fitzgerald, a Town of Chevy Chase resident leading an independent environmental study of endangered critters in streams near the Purple Line route.
“If you do not, you may ensnare the County, its funds and its bond rating in further delay, incur fines and damage awards, and cause the destruction of a price-less asset,” Fitzgerald warned.
The state and federal laws Fitzgerald referred to include environmental, forest protection and clean water acts the Maryland Transit Administration has said don’t block the project. The Federal Transit Administration signed off on that when it issued a Record of Decision.
Others testified that the light rail cars would simply be too loud to make the rebuilt Trail useful.
Aside from a little amount of planning money, none of the funding approved Tuesday will be put into action until the Purple Line is formally set to start. Orlin said it’s likely the funding would be kicked directly to the MTA, which will build the 16-mile system with a yet-to-be-determined private concessionaire.