Purple Line: How to grow without leaving folks behind

WASHINGTON — A forum on Saturday in Silver Spring brought together groups from Montgomery and Prince George’s County to discuss how to capitalize on the Purple Line without hurting people living or running small businesses in the area.

The light-rail line would connecting communities like Bethesda, Silver Spring, Lyttonsville, Takoma Park, Langley Park, Adelphi, College Park, Riverdale Park and New Carrollton.

Whether the project actually gets built depends on the November election. Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says he supports the Purple Line. Republican Larry Hogan says he does not support the Purple Line because it is too expensive.

The Maryland Transit Administration estimates the project will cost $2.43 billion, but the price tag is expected to go up in the future as inflation raises overall costs.

At the forum, sponsored by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition, the focus is not on whether it’ll get built, but how to make it benefit everyone when it is built.

“The MTA’s job is to build the train and deliver the train. It’s not their job to do housing and to do small business and economic development. This discussion is about going beyond the tracks,” says Gerrit Knaap, Executive Director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research at the University of Maryland.

With construction slated to begin in 2015, residents and businesses along the route are starting to think about how the project will impact them.

“Some angst has developed over what this really means for everybody’s regular life and whether your home life will be disrupted,” says Montgomery County Councilmember Cherri Branson (D-5th District).

The outgoing lawmaker represents Silver Spring, which is already developed, and other places like Langley Park, stuck between Metro’s Red and Green Lines and struggling economically.

“My constituents are worried about displacement, about gentrification. The small businesses are worried about the short-term impact from construction and the long-term impact of revitalization on their revenues. A lot of them are operating on a shoestring,” adds Branson.

Prince George’s County deals with the same issues, where communities like College Park and New Carrollton are beginning to redevelop, whereas others like Riverdale Park, Adelphi and their portion of Langley Park also struggle without Metro.

“Access to these small businesses will be an issue during construction that we need to take care of, and then it’s about growing those opportunities afterwards. In some cases, it’s giving additional training to these small businesses to cater to new clientele,” says Dannielle Glaros, who is running unopposed for Prince George’s County Councilmember Eric Olson (D-3rd District) in January.

Glaros will represent nine new Purple Line communities, with only two currently served by Metro in New Carrollton and College Park.

“The most exciting thing of the Purple Line is the ability to go to Silver Spring and as opposed to hopping in their car, they can actually get on the Purple Line. There is also the ability to connect to College Park for students or professors. But also some of our strongest employment centers are in this corridor like the IRS and future Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development in New Carrollton,” says Glaros.

However, it is just this growth that residents and small business want to make sure won’t force them out.

“It’s hard. There is no right answer, which is why you have to talk to a lot of people and put a lot of options on the table. This is a best fit exercise. There will not be an exact fit,” says Richard E. Hall, Secretary of the Maryland Office of Planning.

Branson adds that the Purple Line must benefit everyone without leaving those behind who are support and live in the communities right now.

“The discussion is about how to ensure that the Purple Line is doing what it should to bring people together with jobs and services and still protect those who might not earn a lot of money, but want to benefit from the transit without being unable to afford it,” adds Cheryl Cort, policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

If Maryland’s next Governor funds the project, then construction could begin in 2015 and passenger service in 2020.

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