Purple Line progress report: Montgomery Co. Council members push for adjacent trail to open early

There are no promises that the Purple Line light rail project won’t run into future delays, but progress is being made on the Maryland light rail system, which is scheduled to open in fall 2026.

At a briefing Tuesday before the Montgomery County Council, a top state official on the project was asked by Council President Gabe Albornoz if there are any concerns about delays.

“Our challenges are as simple in some cases as concrete pipe, which is still having half- to full-year delays,” said Matthew Pollock, who serves as Purple Line executive director for the Maryland Transit Administration.

The supply chain issues, Pollack said, aren’t the only possible stumbling blocks to progress on the 16-mile light rail line.

“In the early stages, ramping up is quite OK,” he told the council, referring to hiring. “It still remains to be seen whether the full workforce is going to be available.”

Council member Tom Hucker — whose district includes Silver Spring, where a number of construction sites along the Purple Line route are located — said it has been “dispiriting” for residents to see long delays in the construction process.

Hucker said he’s pleased to see work pick up again, but he told the panel of representatives from the Purple Line project that there are still “real problems every single day,” ticking off locations along the route.

During a recent walk along the Purple Line route near the intersection of Wayne Avenue and Sligo Creek Parkway, Hucker said, it was good to see that flaggers had been staffed to help drivers navigate the area. But for pedestrians, he said, “It was hard to even to figure out whether we were supposed to go to the left or the right, which sidewalk was open or closed.”

He added that where a sidewalk was open, there was no crosswalk available.

Council member Andrew Friedson said prior subcontractors had indicated that the Capital Crescent Trail, which parallels the Purple Line from Bethesda to Silver Spring, could be open to the public a year before the light rail opens.

“We are unable to make any commitments as far as opening it early,” Pollack said in response to Friedson.

Glenn Orlin, a senior analyst for the Montgomery County Council, said sections of the trail would still be part of a staging area, and that ongoing construction would create safety concerns for trail use by cyclists and pedestrians.

“I am going to strongly urge you to find any and all opportunities” to reopen the trail prior to the planned fall 2026 opening, Friedson said.

He explained that for many residents, “the trail is just as important and would be used just as much — if not more — than the train itself.”

Since it was first announced, the plan to create a light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton has seen extensive delays and costs swelled from a projected $5.6 billion to $9.3 billion.

A call to pump the brakes on Thrive 2050

Montgomery County Council members also heard from the consultants they hired to look into Thrive 2050, the master plan that will serve as the county’s blueprint for future development.

In the county’s morning session, Jordan Xantus, of Nspiregreen, the firm hired to examine the county’s outreach to communities, said that residents — especially those in underserved communities — can get “planning fatigue.”

Xantus explained that getting participation from people who feel shut out of the planning process can lead to apathy.

“They’ve been told over and over again, and they don’t see it,” he said, adding that it can seem to those residents that the planning process is the “same song and dance.”

Council member Nancy Navarro, who led the effort to have the county examine issues through an equity lens, said that too often in the past, residents would be seen as members of “hard-to-reach groups,” and she pushed back against that notion.

“It’s not like they’re hard to reach,” she said. “It’s whether we want to reach them.”

Council member Craig Rice agreed that making sure that all voices are heard means decision-makers — including council members like himself — will have to be open to “hearing things that we don’t want to hear.”

Thrive Montgomery 2050 was approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board in 2021, and the County Council has been holding a number of hearings and listening sessions related to the sweeping planning document.

In a statement on Tuesday’s session before the council, the Planning Board expressed its appreciation for the work done by the consultants from Nspiregreen.

The board was “very pleased that the consultant’s report included feedback that was very supportive of the many recommendations in the draft plan of Thrive Montgomery 2050,” Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson said.

The board, he said, is “ready to continue to work through any issues that require further exploration” in future council work sessions.

The council president, Albornoz, said that there would be future sessions before a vote by the full council.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but this is obviously a critical document,” Albornoz added.

Not everyone’s on board with the plan for the council to take a vote before November. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich issued a memo Monday urging the council to reject the plan to allow for “more outreach to BIPOC and low-income residents.”

In that memo, Elrich wrote, “The many recommendations in the Report addressing racial equity and social justice (RESJ) should be given full consideration.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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