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by Aaron Kraut — August 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm 175 0

Purple Line supporters gather at a press conference in August 2013 to announce the pursuit of a public-private partnership to build, design and operate the system (file photo)After Chevy Chase environmentalists filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to stop the Purple Line, some of the light rail system’s staunchest supporters are touting how it will help the environment.

In a statement prepared after the news of the lawsuit, Purple Line Now President Ralph Bennett said his group “is confident that this lawsuit will be found to have no merit.”

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and Chevy Chase residents John Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua say the federal government hasn’t adequately accounted for two species of amphipods – the small, shrimp-like creatures they say live in seeps along Rock Creek and Coquelin Run that would be degraded or destroyed by the Purple Line.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there’s no evidence the endangered amphipod species in question lives in the area near the proposed Purple Line route and that there’s no apparent risk to the one known habitat of an amphipod species that’s a candidate for the endangered list.

“Today’s lawsuit typifies the kind of specious claims that have characterized the history of opposition to the Purple Line,” Bennett said. “Despite the assertions of those who filed the lawsuit, the fact remains that there is no evidence that the species exists within the planned route of the Purple Line. The species is only known to exist in a few springs in the District of Columbia, a fact which was substantiated when this past spring, a search in the Montgomery County section of Rock Creek for the amphipod turned up nothing. Furthermore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency responsible for protecting endangered species and their habitats, has held that the construction of the Purple Line would have no effect on the amphipod, even if it were to exist in Montgomery County.”

That search in the spring was done by American University biologist and amphipod expert Dr. David Culver, who the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail hired with $10,000 in funding from the Town of Chevy Chase to do the surveys.

Purple Line NOW (and like-minded groups such as the Action Committee for Transit) are longtime opponents of the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line and hasn’t ruled out litigation of its own.

The $2.37 billion light rail system would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. The Maryland Transit Administration hopes to select a private concessionaire early next year to design, build and operate the system and start construction late next year. The goal is to complete the project by 2020.

Bennett goes on to say the environmental benefits of the Purple Line “far outweigh any potential harm.”

“The Purple Line is supported by countless environmental groups including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Water Action and the League of Conservation Voters,” Bennett said. “The Sierra Club even went so far as to name the Purple Line as one of the 25 best transportation projects in the United States in 2012. The Purple Line will provide tangible environmental benefits in the form of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and automobile trips, and feature sustainable design elements such as green tracks, green buffers and planter boxes to reduce stormwater runoff and heat gain.”

by Aaron Kraut — August 27, 2014 at 10:00 am 902 8 Comments

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityTwo Chevy Chase residents and the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking to stop the Purple Line because they claim the light rail would do much environmental harm.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail (FCCT), John Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua say the federal government hasn’t adequately accounted for two species of amphipods — the small, shrimp-like creatures they say live in seeps along Rock Creek and Coquelin Run that would be degraded or destroyed by the Purple Line.

The lawsuit follows a notice of intent to sue in June that was more specifically aimed at protecting the amphipod species under the Endangered Species Act.

Meagan Racey, spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the federal agencies involved and the Maryland Transit Administration met with environmentalists and some Chevy Chase residents on Aug. 11.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed its findings from last year in light of the new information from the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, which hired American University biologist Dr. David Culver to survey for amphipods this spring near the proposed Purple Line route.

But Racey said officials found no need to revaluate protections for the amphipods because there is no evidence that amphipods exist in the seeps near the Purple Line route.

“We also found from [Dr. Culver] that under nearly ideal conditions he didn’t find these species at all,” Racey said.

In a letter to the Federal Transit Administration (see PDF below) the Fish and Wildlife Service said “there are no known or suspected sites for the Hay’s Spring amphipod within the immediate vicinity of the Purple Line project.”

The Kenk’s amphipod, which is a candidate for federal listing as an endangered species, is known to live in one site about a quarter-mile south of the Purple Line route in the Coquelin Run Spring. But the Fish and Wildlife Service said the site is on a hillside about 40 feet above any groundwater that would be polluted as a result of the light rail.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the major environmental group that was a part of the notice of intent letter in June, is not listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed this week.

Center for Biological Diversity senior counsel Bill Snape said the group fully supports the lawsuit, but didn’t join “because our concerns and objections to the Purple Line are, at this point, relatively narrow, focusing exclusively on the endangered species habitat conservation issues. We are still hopeful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will wake up and do the right thing.”

The lawsuit also covers complaints about how the Purple Line would affect the aesthetic and recreational value of the Georgetown Branch Trail and a habitat of herons in Coquelin Run.

“The plaintiffs want the Federal Transit Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Secretaries of Interior and Transportation to find alternatives to the Purple Line route between Bethesda and Silver Spring, in order to protect the Rock Creek watershed that harbors the Hay’s Spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod, tiny freshwater invertebrates found nowhere else in the United States. The lawsuit says these animals’ habitat could be degraded or destroyed by construction of the railway and associated development,” according to a press release provided by Real de Azua.

The Federal Transit Administration is expected to pitch in about $900 million for the $2.37 billion system. The MTA hopes to select a private concessionaire early next year to design, build and operate the light rail and start construction late next year.

In its complaint, the group says Culver’s recent survey “found several seeps along the Purple Line route where the endangered amphipods may currently be or might be restored as part of a recovery plan. A survey of those areas is planned for the late fall when the crustaceans emerge from within their underground habitat. Several agency reports describe stormwater run off and deforestation as major threats to the survival of the endangered amphipods.”

PDF: Capital Crescent Complaint Against Purple Line

PDF: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Response To Amphipod Claims

Photo via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

by Aaron Kraut — August 26, 2014 at 7:25 am 930 8 Comments

Bethesda Metro StationMetro will take the long Labor Day weekend to fix some of the insulator issues it’s been having near the Bethesda and Medical Center Metro stations.

That means both stations won’t offer rail service from Saturday through Monday, with buses replacing trains between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor-Strathmore.

It will be the first time the stations are closed for track work since October 2012, when Metro closed the stations twice in the span of 30 days for track work. This weekend’s work will include grout pad replacement, rail ties and insulator renewal.

MCFRS has been called out to numerous reports of smoking insulator rails in the past year, including one near the Bethesda Metro station on Saturday night. There were no major delays relating to that incident and Metro crews quickly took over management of the situation.

Water leaks in the Metro tunnel below Bethesda caused a stir last year, when it was reported Metro was considering shutting down the section for a few weeks to fix the ongoing problem.

Metro officials quickly said no closure of that significance was imminent.

Metro advises passengers to add 30 minutes of additional travel time to their trips this weekend.

by Aaron Kraut — August 14, 2014 at 11:45 am 527 14 Comments

An example of an amphipod specieas, Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal MaňasPurple Line advocate and Bethesda author Ben Ross on Wednesday blasted an effort to protect the shrimp-like species that could live near the path of the planned 16-mile light rail.

In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ross said the “endangered status of this species is being cynically misused” by groups and individuals in the Town of Chevy Chase opposed to the Purple Line.

He also pointed out that Dr. David Culver, the American University biologist hired by the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, has yet to find any of the amphipod species in Purple Line-adjacent areas.

Ross wrote the letter in response to the Center for Biological Diversity, a major environmental group that late last month filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan for the Hay’s spring amphipod, the shrimp-like critter just 5-10 millimeters in length that is colorless, blind and lives most of its life underground.

In the letter, Ross wrote that “granting credence to this argument would set a dangerous precedent and undermine the entire endangered species program. If any not-in-my-backyard group that has enough money to pay for an endangered species survey can obstruct a construction project, even after the survey results are negative, legislative action to weaken the law would be likely.”

Ross, author of the recently released book “Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism,” is a longtime Action Committee for Transit member and longtime foe of the Town of Chevy Chase. The Town, which Ross referred to in the letter as “a 1200-house enclave that adjoins the light rail right-of-way,” opposes the Purple Line.

Ross argues that Culver’s own writings on the preferred habitats of the Hay’s spring amphipod prove that the endangered species could live in many other places than the Rock Creek section of Chevy Chase.

He also attacks the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition for stating that the amphipod “is known to exist” in Montgomery County, despite Culver’s studies in April turning up none of the species.

Culver has maintained that the species is likely to live in Purple Line-affected areas and is expected to resume his search for the critters in the fall.

Ross went on to write that if the Town of Chevy Chase was genuinely concerned about the amphipods, it would have enacted fertilizer restrictions:

Unfortunately, small groups of wealthy neighbors who don’t want the light rail line nearby have managed to hold this project up for 25 years. Their latest tactic is an attempt to It is supported by numerous other fabricate an endangered species issue. Regrettably, the Center for Biological Diversity hasallowed itself to be associated with this effort. The town has further demonstrated its lack of interest in protection of endangered amphipods by taking no action to control the use of lawn fertilizers by its residents. As discussed above, fertilizers are a far greater threat to these species than construction. Purple Line.

The Maryland Transit Administration hopes to select a private concessionaire to help design, build and operate the Purple Line early next year and start construction on the $2.37 billion project late next year.

PDF: Ben Ross Letter To FWS

Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal Maňas

by Aaron Kraut — August 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm 453 6 Comments

Some county officials hope the large bus situated front and center at this year’s Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.

Transit boosters, members of Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett on Monday came to see a rapid transit vehicle borrowed on its way to Denver. For the next week, the bus will be on display in front of the main entrance at the Fair in Gaithersburg.

Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Roger Berliner set out an ambitious timeframe for the buses — or rapid transit vehicles — to be zipping up and down roads such as Rockville Pike, Route 29 and through upcounty areas such as Clarksburg and Germantown.

“There is nothing more fundamental to the future of Montgomery County than making this happen and making it happen during County Executive Ike Leggett’s being county executive,” Berliner said. “The next four years, we are going to make this happen. We are going to move from planning to putting this on the ground.”

Much planning and many feasibility studies remain, but the main obstacle for now seems to be funding.

A county official said the completed, countywide system could run anywhere from $800 million to $1.5 billion to build, though the precise figures are very much unknown and the county would most likely implement the system corridor-by-corridor.

Despite that uncertainty, Leggett said a Montgomery County bus rapid transit network is closer to happening than some realize.

“We want people to see this, because I think it reflects what the future’s about,” Leggett said.

(more…)

by Aaron Kraut — August 8, 2014 at 11:05 am 844 1 Comment

Rendering of the Bethesda Metro South Entrance elevators if the Apex Building is not redeveloped, via Planning DepartmentMontgomery County is in negotiations with the pharmacists trade group that owns the Apex Building, where the county and state would like to build a Bethesda Purple Line station that would require razing and redeveloping the structure.

County Director of Economic Development Steve Silverman said the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the five-story office and retail building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., has provided the county a redevelopment proposal that involves the sale of the building to a third party.

Silverman said the negotiations are sensitive and the county “would expect to be getting back to them after we’ve consulted with the state probably shortly after Labor Day.”

The ASHP is likely looking for county money to make up for the financial losses it’s expected to take for selling and moving out of the profitable building.

David Silver, the attorney representing the ASHP in the process, didn’t return multiple requests for comment and a representative for ASHP said that staff involved in the project weren’t in the office this week.

Montgomery County would prefer the building be razed, so the Maryland Transit Administration and its private concessionaire can build a more spacious Bethesda Purple Line station in the existing Capital Crescent Trail tunnel below.

The optimal Bethesda Purple Line station would include a separate tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue for bicyclists, an elevator connection to Metro’s Red Line on the same side of Elm Street and avoid having to build Purple Line tail tracks that extend as much as 100 feet into Woodmont Plaza.

To incentivize the ASHP to raze its building, the County Council approved a “mini-master plan” that would allow a new Apex Building to be built to 250 feet, the same height as the Chevy Chase Trust buildings near the Bethesda Metro.

But an outside consultant hired by the Planning Department concluded the increased density alone would not be enough to make up for the financial hit the ASHP would take by selling the building to a developer.

The ASHP could sustain tenant relocation and construction costs of up to $25 million, according to the consultant’s report released in September 2013. The property, which includes the the Regal 10 movie theater, is profitable and serves as the ASHP’s own headquarters.

The report said $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to close the ASHP’s financial gap, but didn’t recommend a specific amount of money for the county to dole out.

Silverman said there’s been continued pressure from the MTA to come to a resolution on the Apex Building’s future. The state agency hopes to select a private concessionaire early next year to design, operate and build the 16-mile light rail with construction starting in late 2015.

“This has gone on for quite some time,” Silverman said. “It was a very complicated matter for the Apex Building owners to go through and we’re going to be wrapping up soon.”

Rendering via Montgomery County Planning Department

by Aaron Kraut — July 30, 2014 at 11:35 am 430 6 Comments

Purple Line route and station map, via Maryland Transit Administration

A week after the Town of Chevy Chase challenged its ridership estimates for the Purple Line, the Maryland Transit Administration said it stands behind its projection that the light rail will see 74,000 riders a day by 2040.

The MTA also provided the Town all of the data it used to prepare its ridership forecast, methodology reports that have been available on the project website since last year and information about how to buy the software the MTA used to compile the results.

The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the state agency for the data and said previous attempts to get the data were rebuffed by MTA because of “proprietary issues” involved with the outside engineering firm that conducted previous research.

The Town is officially opposed to the Purple Line, a section of which would run behind homes in the Town on the existing Georgetown Branch extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from a Wall Street Journal columnist, questioned if the numbers in the MTA’s final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”

“In developing the Purple Line the MTA has used nationally accepted practices for travel forecasting and we stand behind them,” read a statement from the MTA provided to BethesdaNow.com on Wednesday. “Hopefully this will demonstrate the transparency with which the MTA has operated throughout the Purple Line ridership projection process.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm that provided ridership projections for earlier Purple Line studies, projected 68,000 trips daily. The light rail will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton with stops in Chevy Chase Lake, Silver Spring, College Park and other places in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

In a press release on Tuesday announcing the official Request for Proposals for the project, MTA said estimated ridership is now 74,000 riders a day by 2040.

In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.

“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda said last week. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”

The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, where construction is scheduled to begin in late 2015 and last five years.

The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.

Via MTA

by Aaron Kraut — July 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm 421 0

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Gov. Martin O'Malley announce that the state will pursue a public-private partnership to design, build and operate the Purple Line light rail in August 2013 at the Bethesda Metro station (file photo)The Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transit Administration have released detailed requirements for the four private concessionaire teams bidding to build and operate the Purple Line light rail.

The Purple Line Request for Proposals was issued Monday and must be submitted by Jan. 9, 2015. MDOT and the MTA will then select a preferred partner out of four teams on the shortlist by March 12.

The public-private partnership — which would include helping the state design, build, finance, operate and maintain the 16-mile system — would be for a 35-year contract term.

The selected private concessionaire team would be put before the Board of Public Works for approval in spring 2015 and, if approved, construction of the Purple Line would start later in 2015.

“This is a significant milestone towards construction of the Purple Line, which will help us grow our economy, create jobs for Maryland’s workers, and strengthen communities in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties,” Lt. Gov. and Democratic governor nominee Anthony Brown said in a statement. “Building the Purple Line as a public-private partnership will allow us to continue our commitment to fiscally responsible budgeting while using the knowledge and skills of the private sector to expand our transportation infrastructure.”

Whichever private concessionaire is picked is expected to finance $500 million to $900 million of the overall $2.37 billion project.

by Aaron Kraut — July 29, 2014 at 10:05 am 701 13 Comments

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityA major environmental group on Monday petitioned the federal government to implement an endangered species recovery plan that could have major ramifications for the Purple Line light rail.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan for the Hay’s spring amphipod, a tiny shrimp-like critter just 5-10 millimeters in length that is colorless, blind and lives most of its life underground.

The organization joined the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and other Chevy Chase residents last month in threatening to sue federal government agencies that the group said didn’t adequately take into account how the Purple Line would harm and possibly destroy amphipod populations in Rock Creek.

Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director for the Center, wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exempted the amphipod from recovery efforts when it was named to the endangered list in 1982 because it was thought to exist in just one spring.

“…the Service exempted the species from recovery planning because it felt that the conservation options for the species were simply too limited for anything proactive to be done to help,” wrote Hartl.

But the amphipod has been found in four more springs in Rock Creek in the District. And according to an American University biology professor hired by the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, it’s likely to exist in three springs in a Montgomery County section of Rock Creek that would be threatened by construction of the Purple Line.

The professor, Dr. David Culver, is expected to resume his search for the critters in the fall, when they are more likely to come out from underground.

Hartl urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to initiate a recovery plan, which would involve maintaining a buffer area around each of the springs and seeps and could mean prohibiting any type of construction or increase in impervious surfaces — including a new trail.

The petition also asks the Service to take its own samples at the three Maryland sites where the Center for Biological Diversity believes the amphipod species lives.

Last week, the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and many of the same residents of Chevy Chase filed a similar notice of intent to file suit against the state of Maryland, where an additional amphipod species thought to live in the area is already identified as endangered under state law.

Photo via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

by Aaron Kraut — July 25, 2014 at 3:25 pm 162 1 Comment

Potential look for a Bus Rapid Transit vehicle in Montgomery County, via County Planning DepartmentAmong the rides, food and farm animals at this year’s Montgomery County Agricultural Fair will be a group of bus rapid transit boosters offering a look at what a future county rapid transit vehicle might look like.

The Communities for Transit, a nonprofit created to push the county toward implementing its bus rapid transit master plan, will hold court at the annual fair in Gaithersburg when it starts on Friday, Aug. 8.

Members will give out information to fair-goers about the latest details of the system — which could include a bus rapid transit corridor along Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road.

David Hauck, the group’s executive director, told a group of supporters at an event in White Flint this week that County Executive Isiah Leggett is expected to show up at the display on Aug. 12 for a press conference. He encouraged as many BRT supporters as possible to show up.

A BRT system is also planned for the Corridor Cities Transitway, meant to connect residents of Gaithersburg, Clarksburg and nearby places with the Shady Grove Metro station.

by Aaron Kraut — July 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm 197 1 Comment

A Bethesda Circulator shuttle in Woodmont Triangle (file photo)Monthly ridership on the Bethesda Circulator surpassed 30,000 trips for the first time in the history of the service in April and increased again in May.

Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, reported the numbers in a regular email to subscribers on Thursday.

The 30,484 riders in April were an 18 percent increase compared to April 2013. The 31,043 riders in May were a 10 percent increase compared to May 2013.

The free shuttle is operated by the Bethesda Urban Partnership and hits 19 stops stretching from Woodmont Triangle to Bethesda Avenue, with stops in and around the Bethesda Metro station in between.

In 2006, BUP took over operation of the Bethesda Trolley as Ride On planned to shut it down. In 2011, BUP switched out the old-school trolleys for sleek, modern Circulator buses similar to the vehicles in downtown D.C.

Expansion of the service is a possibility, according to BUP officials, though there are no imminent plans. Any expansion would of course depend on funding. BUP gets a majority of its funding through Bethesda’s Parking Lot District — the parking fees paid at Montgomery County meters in the Central Business District.

Much could depend on any new recommendations in the upcoming Bethesda Downtown Plan. The last master plan for downtown Bethesda, written in 1994, outlined the idea of a shuttle to transport people around various spots downtown.

Earlier this year, BUP put out a survey about the Circulator.

by Aaron Kraut — July 25, 2014 at 9:10 am 440 19 Comments

Kenk's amphipod, Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityA month after threatening the federal government with legal action over the Purple Line light rail, an environmental group and many of the same Chevy Chase residents have done the same to the state of Maryland.

The Center for Sustainable Economy, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, and 16 individuals including a member of the Town of Chevy Chase Council have filed a Notice of Intent to sue state agencies for what the group says is the state’s violation of its own endangered species law.

At issue again is the existence of three types of amphipods, shrimp-like creatures known to live in the area’s streams that serve as an indicator of good water quality and healthy ecosystems. The group claims the state hasn’t adequately taken into account how construction and operation of the Purple Line would harm seven springs and seeps, plus two wetland areas in the path of the project or downstream.

“While this letter is a statutorily mandated precursor to filing a lawsuit, my clients are far more interested in the development and implementation of a conservation plan for protection of the endangered amphipods and their habitat than they are in litigation,” wrote Rockville-based attorney David Brown, who’s representing the group.

The notice letter cites research from American University biology professor David Culver, who the group claims has found evidence that the shrimp-like critters live in stream areas that would be directly affected — and perhaps wiped out — by construction of the 16-mile light rail through Chevy Chase.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail hired Culver to conduct surveying for amphipods with a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Culver is scheduled to go back out to the streams in the fall to survey for the creatures.

Also in the notice letter is a second expert opinion from Dr. David Berg, a biology professor at Miami University of Ohio who specializes in freshwater invertebrates, including amphipods.

Maryland has formally listed the Hay’s Spring and Kenk’s amphipods as endangered. The Kenk’s amphipod is still only a candidate for endangered species under federal law.

Not included in the notice letter to the state (see PDF below) is the Center for Biological Diversity, a major national organization that boasts 775,000 members that is a part of the complaint against the federal government.

The Center for Biological Diversity drew criticism from some Purple Line supporters, who said they were surprised to see such a major environmental organization opposed to a major transit project.

Also on Thursday, Town of Chevy Chase resident Christine Real de Azua urged the Planning Board to let developers in Chevy Chase Lake know that they should be responsible for protecting the amphipods, or face legal action.

The Board on Thursday approved the sketch plan for a 392 apartment and townhouse units on Chevy Chase Lake Drive, on the existing site of a series of two-story garden apartments.

While environmental steps aren’t ironed out in the sketch plan stage of the approval process, Real de Azua said planners should let the developer know of the amphipod issue. Planners have already told the developer that some efforts might need to be taken to protect a local population of herons:

But additional adjustments may be needed for amphipod protection, and traditional “rip-rap” rock and wire, or other bank stabilization may destroy stream bank seeps that are amphipod habitat. In short, the appropriate steps to protect the amphipods have yet to be determined. It is therefore important that the applicant be made aware through this Sketch Plan review process that the current proposed scale and configuration of this project is subordinate to the protection of all Endangered or otherwise protected species threatened by the project, not just the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.

In the notice letter, the group said the specific locations of the at-risk seeps and springs found by Culver were redacted “out of concern for the integrity of the amphipod habitat.”

Residents part of the notice letter include Real de Azua, environmental attorney John Fitzgerald and Town of Chevy Chase Councilmember John Bickerman.

PDF: Notice of Violation – Endangered Species Act

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

by Aaron Kraut — July 23, 2014 at 12:40 pm 395 8 Comments

Rendering of the Bethesda Purple Line station, via Maryland Transit AdministrationPurple Line foes in the Town of Chevy Chase are questioning the validity of ridership estimates for the state’s light rail project and will request details of how a consultant developed the numbers.

The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Maryland Transit Administration asking for “the methodology and models used to develop ridership estimates for the proposed $2.37 billion light rail system.”

The Town, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line, said past requests to MTA for the data were refused, as the state cited “proprietary issues of the engineering firm [Parsons Brinckerhoff] that was paid to conduct the research.”

MTA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The firm projected riders on the 16-mile Purple Line would make up to 68,000 trips daily. But the Town of Chevy Chase, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, questioned if the numbers in the final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”

The Town’s press release cited O’Grady’s column, which questioned if the ridership projections were overinflated and if the state should instead pursue a bus rapid transit network near the proposed Purple Line route.

In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.

“The justification for the Purple Line light rail train is reminiscent of the wildly inaccurate process used to estimate ridership on the Intercounty Connector,” said Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda.

The Intercounty Connector, a state highway built to connect Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, has fallen short of toll revenue forecasts made in 2005, when state lawmakers voted to increase the state’s debt to build it. Those forecasts have since been revised downward.

“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Burda said. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”

The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, which in Chevy Chase would run along the existing Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.

That group recently joined with a major environmental organization in threatening the federal government with a lawsuit if it doesn’t perform more environmental studies of the area. The Federal Transit Administration endorsed the Purple Line project earlier this year when it issued its Record of Decision on the MTA’s final environmental impact statement.

The MTA hopes to pick a private concessionaire to help build and to operate the Purple Line, with construction starting in 2015.

Rendering via MTA

by Aaron Kraut — July 17, 2014 at 9:20 am 376 1 Comment

The Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group prepares to start its meeting Wednesday in Silver SpringNo fewer than 50 people filled the Great Hall at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Wednesday, a mix of civic leaders, residents, business owners, government officials and transit advocates sitting around tables set up in a large rectangular formation.

A Silver Spring resident presented a power point full of parking questions and pedestrian safety concerns related to the Purple Line’s operation in mixed traffic. A Chevy Chase resident complained that his street would become “ground zero” once Purple Line construction starts.

Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration — in charge of the proposed 16-mile light rail — sat and listened.

MTA and Montgomery County officials answered some questions, corrected some misconceptions and assuaged some fears, but to some, it’s unclear if the county-created Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group will have any affect on the broader Purple Line picture.

“It’s by nature a hard-to-get-your-arms-around situation,” said Mary Anne Hoffman, a member of the group and the chair of the Town of Chevy Chase’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group. “Our concerns are so disparate and so many that I think it’s unrealistic to expect that we’re going to walk out happy after six meetings.”

The group, known as PLIAG, was set up by County Executive Isiah Leggett in the spring in response to a request from Councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda, Chevy Chase) and Cherri Branson (Silver Spring). Berliner and Branson asked Leggett to create a formal task force that would bring officials from MTA, MCDOT and MTA’s yet-to-be picked private concessionaire to the table with a recently formed group of neighborhood and civic associations along the Purple Line route.

That group, known as the Coalition of Purple Line Neighborhoods (or COPLN) got together in December with concerns about noise, vibration, tree loss, tree replacement, pedestrian and traffic safety issues surrounding the Purple Line.

Wednesday’s meeting in Silver Spring was the group’s sixth. MTA Purple Line project manager Mike Madden and a host of county Department of Transportation officials were in the room.

The meetings so far have generally consisted of an issue paper presentation from a member of an affected community. On Wednesday, the main presentation came from Jonathan Halpern, from the Sligo Branview Community Association in Silver Spring.

Unlike in Chevy Chase, where the Purple Line is planned to almost exclusively run along an existing off-road trail, major portions of the light rail in Silver Spring are expected to run in mixed traffic.

Halpern shared concerns about residents losing street-side parking spaces, school bus stops, Purple Line users who might want to park for free in local library lots and catenary poles placed on sidewalks, among others.

Matt Stork, MTA’s main traffic engineer on the project, gave a presentation of his own that explained how Purple Line trains would operate at intersections, where fencing would go to prevent mid-block pedestrian crossings and how the agency and concessionaire would manage construction traffic.

“It’s a great opportunity to have the MTA in a room consistently but I think, let me say this, I think other groups have been more successful when they create these smaller focus groups,” said Kate Detwiler, a resident of the Edgevale neighborhood of Bethesda who presented an issue paper earlier this month.

Detwiler’s Edgevale Street home backs up to the Capital Crescent Trail and future Purple Line route. Her concerns include noise and vibration effects from the light rail for both the neighborhood and trail, to be rebuilt alongside the light rail tracks with $95 million in funding from Montgomery County.

On Wednesday, Detwiler pressed Madden to do a noise study of how the light rail would affect trail users. At issue is the location of noise walls that are now planned to go on one side of the light rail tracks and the outside boundary of the trail.

“The bottom line is it remains an open issue,” Madden said, after Detwiler pressed for a study.

“I think it is a good forum for dialog and for information, but I’m not sure when it comes to an actual product,” Detwiler said.

Many in the group are looking toward the MTA’s Request for Proposals as an indication of how much traction their input made. The MTA was scheduled to put out the RFP for private concessionaires in June. The PLIAG’s next meeting was originally set to dive into that RFP, but according to Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street, that discussion will have to wait.

“From a broader perspective, why all of us are here and how the implementation group is affecting the RFP and affecting the process, I don’t really know that it’s been that successful,” Detwiler said.

“It ain’t perfect, but it ain’t over yet either,” Hoffman said.

by Aaron Kraut — July 9, 2014 at 11:35 am 199 3 Comments

Design of the latest MTA proposal for a Lynn Drive Crossing of the Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail, via MTAAhead of its public hearing on the issue Wednesday, the Town of Chevy Chase says it now has a preliminary cost estimate from the state on an underpass crossing of the Purple Line at Lynn Drive.

The Town says it could cost $7 million to build a new Lynn Drive crossing. Some in the Town hope the Maryland Transit Administration includes the project in Purple Line plans, as the existing path serves about 230 crossings a day — including many Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students from the Town.

But the Town and the MTA have also been at odds about what a new Lynn Drive crossing should look like. The existing path isn’t an official one, meaning that users are technically trespassing on a Montgomery Avenue property each time they use it.

That and the inability to reach agreement with the Town on a new crossing, led the MTA to make the no build option its preference.

Then in June, the MTA came back to the Town’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Committee with a final attempt at a solution, but made clear the Town and potentially Montgomery County would have to pay for it.

According to a notice the Town of Chevy Chase sent Wednesday morning, the state actually might be willing to pick up part of the tab:

The best cost estimate available for all the elements of the underpass (sidewalk from Lynn Drive path, underpass itself, property acquisition for switchback connection to Montgomery Avenue and construction of switchback connection) is $7 million. This is a total cost and MTA, the County and the Town have not yet discussed cost-sharing. It is clear that the Town would have to pay for the construction easement and cost of building the sidewalk to the underpass. MTA has said it will pay for the underpass itself, for additional walls and for the structure over the underpass.

That leaves the property acquisition of a house at 4306 Montgomery Ave., which the proposal would require for construction of a switchback ramp to connect to Montgomery Avenue and a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town Council is expected to deliberate after the public hearing, which is set to start at 8:30 p.m.

It’s also possible Montgomery County could add the cost of the Lynn Drive crossing to the $95 million it has budgeted to rebuild the Capital Crescent Trail along the Purple Line tracks.

Gary Erenrich, from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, told the Mitigation Committee in June that the county might be willing to help, as the crossing project connects directly to the Trail.

Image via MTA

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