Montgomery County this week announced it will put together a formal group to communicate issues to the Maryland Transit Administration as it builds the Purple Line.
The announcement, in a letter from County Executive Isiah Leggett (see PDF below), comes as the MTA made public the Federal Transit Administration’s Record of Decision (ROD) on its proposal for the 16-mile, $2.37 billion light rail system that will run from New Carrollton, through Silver Spring and Chevy Chase to its western terminus in Bethesda.
The ROD makes legally binding any mitigation promised by the MTA in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), a document some communities have said was lacking specific solutions to potential tree loss, noise, vibration and other impacts.
That spurred the creation late last year of the Coalition of Purple Line Neighborhoods (COPLN), a group of neighborhood and civic associations representing Coquelin Run, Chevy Chase/Edgevale, East Bethesda, Kentbury Drive, Chevy Chase Hills, The Hamlets, Seven Oaks/Evanswood, North Woodside, Rosemary Hills, Lyttonsville, Park Hills and Sligo Branview, plus the Town of Chevy Chase.
Phil MacWilliams, president of the Coquelin Run Citizens Association in Chevy Chase, said the group got together to present a more united front in mitigation requests of the MTA.
“We’re all civic associations who have been following the Purple Line for years. All of us, or most of us submitted comments to the FEIS, but we sort of did that independently,” MacWilliams said. “A couple of us sent out emails and it just snowballed. Within a week or so, we had our coalition.”
Earlier this month, Councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) and Cherri Branson (Silver Spring) asked County Executive Isiah Leggett to create a formal task force including COPLN members that would deal with DOT, MTA and the MTA’s yet-to-be picked private concessionaire during the final design, construction and initial operation of the Purple Line.
On Tuesday, Leggett came back with word that the county will put together the Purple Line Advisory Group, or PLAG, to be made up of members of COPLN, businesses along the Purple Line route and members of pro-Purple Line groups Purple Line NOW and the Action Committee for Transit.
“I am confident that the County, MTA and PLAG will similarly be able to collaborate on mutually beneficial resolutions that are compatible with neighborhoods and business owners without introducing delay for this vitally important transportation project,” Leggett wrote.
MacWilliams said he appreciated Leggett’s recognition of “how much work still needs to take place.” But he said he’s wary of how increasing the amount of people in the advisory group might limit the ability of individual neighborhoods to deal with MTA on specific mitigation issues.
“The downside is that this advisory group is so much larger than I think we had anticipated,” MacWilliams said. “All these residential communities have very specific concerns in very specific places. I like that we’ll have a formal process, hopefully with regular meetings. But once you bring into the fold such a wide array of interests and objectives, I’m concerned the process is going to be just so unwieldy to the point that nothing gets accomplished.”
Issues in Chevy Chase include noise and vibration from the light rail for homes that back up to the route. Many are also concerned with the loss of trees that would come with Purple Line construction and any affects construction and operation would have on streams in Coquelin Run and Rock Creek Park.
Residents also want minimal to no disruption of existing places where the Georgetown Branch Trail crosses over roads.
The Town of Chevy Chase, officially against the Purple Line as proposed, hired a legal team and could file a lawsuit. Others, such as the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, have threatened legal action.
In a summary of “Commitments and Mitigation Measures” included in the ROD, the MTA will provide a minimum four-foot noise wall or retaining wall near homes from the Bethesda Station to Jones Mill Road.
Other commitments are more broad and some will require specific studies prior to construction, which the MTA hopes will come in late 2015.
The commitments in the ROD include a more detailed study of vibration impacts: Based on measurements from a spot at 4320 East-West Highway, two homes in Bethesda will experience vibration effects over the Federal Transit Administration’s criteria during construction of the project.
The MTA will also coordinate with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources regarding a heron colony in Coquelin Run:
During construction and in accordance with the U. S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, MTA will minimize potential impacts to migratory birds and forest interior dwelling species using time of year construction restrictions (April-August) for forest clearing operations.
The ROD also commits the MTA to a Business Impact Minimization Plan during construction to maintain access to businesses near the route as best as possible.
The ROD gives the MTA clearance to begin buying right-of-way and condemning properties along the route. Most businesses affected in Montgomery County are in Silver Spring, but three Bethesda businesses — the Newtown Auto Body Shop, Design in a Day studio and Maloney Design Build — will be displaced along Montgomery Avenue and East-West Highway.
Map via Maryland Transit Administration