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Funding Issues, Design Considerations with Purple Line

County planners still are determining the details of just how the Purple Line would cut across the region, but the biggest issue of all is funding.

County planning staff are slated to update the planning board about the Purple Line, Capital Crescent Trail and Silver Spring Green Trail projects at the board's meeting on Thursday at 2 p.m.

A variety of issues still remain in the Purple Line planning process: planning the rail's connections to the Red Line's east and west branches, its connections to the MARC train and the Capital Crescent Trail, its crossing over Connecticut Avenue, the landscaping along the rail—but one of the biggest issues is how it will be funded, according to a memo from county planning staff to county planning board members.

The preliminary engineering phase of the Purple Line is expected to be completed this summer, after which the Federal Transit Administration is expected to give formal federal approval of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (through what is called a Record of Decision). Then, final design would start—in the fall of 2013. Construction would begin in 2015 and service would start in 2020, the memo reported.

But this is all contingent upon funding. "A recent cost estimate for the Purple Line estimated a capital cost of $2.2 billion (year of expenditure). The project is proposed to be funded evenly by the state (50 percent) and the federal government (50 percent), but the state does not currently have a funding mechanism," according to the memo.

The current programmed funding level for the Purple Line is sufficient to complete preliminary engineering and the Final Environmental Impact Statement, and to start the property acquisition process, but that's it.

State funding for the Purple Line beyond fiscal year 2013 would be reallocated if a funding source is not identified in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly, the memo added.

Design considerations for the Purple Line, according to the memo, include (from west to east):

  • Designing the Purple Line's Bethesda station—coordinating access to the street, Red Line, Capital Crescent Trail and Purple Line.
  • Determining whether or not a tunnel crossing can be created under Wisconsin Avenue, and—if not—designing an at-grade crossing for the Capital Crescent Trail (which currently passes under Wisconsin Avenue via the tunnel through which the Purple Line is planned to run).
  • Designing a ventilation tower (required for safety purposes) on the north side of the Purple Line tracks at the Bethesda Station. The planning department recommends giving the tower an architectural treatment (such as making it look like an artistically designed landmark or having it resemble surrounding architecture) to make it blend better with its surroundings.
  • Working out a new tunnel alignment at Woodmont Plaza in Bethesda.
  • Designing a crossing of the Purple Line at Lynn Drive—an underpass is recommended by planning staff. The current path between Lynn Drive and the Capital Crescent Trail is often used by Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students.
  • Determining how the Purple Line will cross Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase Lake, and whether or not a new road (wide enough for vehicles) can be constructed to pass underneath the Purple Line a block east of Connecticut Avenue, connecting Chevy Chase Lake Drive and Manor Road. 
  • Designing the details for the Lyttonsville station area.
  • Planning out the new Silver Spring Transit Center, where the Purple Line, Red Line, MARC rail line and Capital Crescent Trail will converge. "The biggest disadvantage of the new plan appears to be the height. The Purple Line platform will be 81 feet above ground level," according to the memo.
  • Designing the Purple Line's at-grade-level passage through a tunnel cutting through the Silver Spring Library.
  • Designing the Silver Spring Green Trail to connect the Sligo Creek Trail with the Capital Crescent Trail and the Metropolitan Branch Trail at the Silver Spring Transit center, and which "will ultimately be constructed in conjunction with the Purple Line," the memo reported.
  • Accommodating parking and vehicular circulation at the Silver Spring International Middle School, located on Wayne Avenue, the median strip of which is slated for the Purple line, which would prohibit left turns into and out of the school.
  • Designing the Purple Line along Arliss Street in the Long Branch Sector.
  • Determining how access will be maintained to the Long Branch Pool and Recreational Center.
  • Planning for the street scape along the Purple Line.
  • Identifying and mitigating impacts to county parks along the Purple Line.

Read details for each issue in the memo.

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