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by Aaron Kraut — April 10, 2015 at 9:05 am 2,079 74 Comments

Rendering of Purple Line vehicle heading to Bethesda, Image via Maryland Transit Administration

A group of Purple Line opponents from Chevy Chase has expanded its lawsuit against the federal government after unsuccessful attempts to find endangered critters in local streams.

John Fitzgerald, Christine Real de Azua and the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail on Thursday filed an amendment to their lawsuit from last summer that claims state transit officials mischaracterized the Purple Line’s stormwater runoff impact, refused to do a separate health impact study and used proprietary information for ridership estimates — something the group says is forbidden by federal regulations.

The broadened lawsuit also says the light rail, which would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, wouldn’t address top traffic priorities because Montgomery County’s 10 most congested intersections are all on north-to-south roads.

The original lawsuit, filed against the Federal Transit Authority, Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of the Interior, focused more specifically on the environmental impact of the light rail on two species of amphipods — small, shrimp-like critters thought to live in creeks near the Purple Line’s route.

A team of researchers hired by the group and funded in part by the Town of Chevy Chase said in January it didn’t find the two species, one which is endangered and the other which is a candidate for the federal endangered list.

“As we make clear today, the Purple Line is ‘not as advertised,'” Fitzgerald said in a press release. “We have found a pattern of systematic tilting of the analysis towards a predetermined outcome, which we believe will not withstand the scrutiny of the law and which no amount of Purple Line PR can paper over.”

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by Aaron Kraut — April 9, 2015 at 2:25 pm 292 2 Comments

Metro Red Line, Flickr photo by ChrisDag

Metro on Monday will return to computer-driven trains on the Red Line, almost six years after a fatal crash that spurred upgrades and many weekends of track work.

The transit agency announced the move Thursday.

Deputy General Manager Rob Troup called it “a significant safety milestone for Metro.”

At first, only eight-car trains will run in automatic mode. Six-car trains will return to automatic train operation after a software upgrade for the existing fleet. Train operators will continue to ride in the cab of each train and must open and close doors and make announcements.

Since the automatic train operation malfunction that led to the 2009 crash, Metro has put in years of work on signal upgrades, independent testing and other requirements of National Safety Transportation Board recommendations.

After the crash, which killed nine people, NTSB officials said Metro had a lax safety culture.

All trains went to manual mode, meaning train operators were driving. That led to jerkier rides and some delays.

Metro said Thursday that automatic mode will mean acceleration, deceleration and stopping will be under computer control, “resulting in consistent ride quality and improved efficiency across the line.”

Metro’s five other rail lines have track-circuit replacement projects that are still ongoing. Metro expects to return them to automatic train operation in late 2017.

Flickr photo by ChrisDag

by Aaron Kraut — April 7, 2015 at 3:30 pm 875 19 Comments

Metro Transit Police look over the escalators at the Bethesda Metro station on Tuesday Metro riders line up for a shuttle to Medical Center. The Bethesda station was closed just before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday

Updated Wednesday – The power surge that hit the region on Tuesday led to an escalator malfunction at the Bethesda Metro station, which closed the station for almost six hours.

The transit system tweeted out that the station would be closed just before 3:30 p.m. Because one of the three long escalators into the station is closed permanently for a replacement project, Metro said it must close the entire station if just one of the two others malfunctioned.

The escalator was finally fixed a little bit after 9 p.m. and the station was re-opened.

Metro said a little after 5 p.m. that technicians on-scene determined the escalator outage was caused by the earlier regional power surge. Metro hoped to have a new “speed sensor” installed on the escalator and the station back open by 6 p.m.

Metro warned customers the station might need to be closed with little or no warning if problems arose with the working escalators during the escalator replacement project. The project will likely last at least another two years.

Metro provided shuttle buses at the station to run to Medical Center. Trains bypassed the station and Metro advised customers to use Medical Center as an alternate.

by Aaron Kraut — April 7, 2015 at 2:10 pm 0

Cedar Lane construction at Rockville PikeRide On Route 34 will return to full service Wednesday after a months-long detour due to a Bethesda intersection project.

The 34 bus, which operates between Friendship Heights and Aspen Hill with stops in Wheaton, Kensington and Bethesda, will again be able to travel both ways on Cedar Lane.

Montgomery County BRAC Coordinator Phil Alperson said the State Highway Administration coordinated with Ride On to relocate construction barriers at the Cedar Lane and Rockville Pike intersection. The relocation will allow the 34 bus to turn onto eastbound Cedar Lane toward Kensington.

Since last summer, the bus was only able to travel toward Friendship Heights on Cedar Lane and was detouring onto Jones Bridge Road when heading toward Kensington, Wheaton and Aspen Hill.

The SHA closed Cedar Lane east of Rockville Pike for two months last summer in order to build a stream culvert under the road.

by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm 4 Comments

Metro on Thursday released two safety videos telling riders what to do in case of a smoke or fire emergency on a train or in a station.

The videos, which come in 90-second and three-minute versions, come after January’s deadly incident in D.C, when a woman died after smoke spread through a stopped Metro car.

“In the wake of the January 12 incident, customers indicated that they wanted additional information about what to do in an emergency and that they trust Metro Transit Police to deliver that message,” Metro announced.

Bethesda Metro StationThe video covers when and how to evacuate a rail car, how to use on-board safety features such as the intercoms and how to identify and avoid the electrified third rail.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board found that the smoke in the January incident near the L’Enfant Plaza station likely came from an arcing insulator — when water or other debris makes contact with the third rail.

Arcing insulators are common on the Red Line in Bethesda, where tunnel leaking issues have Metro officials planning a 14 weekend shutdown of the stretch next year.

At a Council committee hearing in January, MCFRS Acting Chief Scott Goldstein said firefighters have responded to 62 emergency situations in Metro stations over the last three years, the vast majority of which had to do with reported or actual arcing insulators.

At a Council committee hearing on Tuesday, Metro officials said they didn’t know how long it would take to evacuate the Bethesda Metro station, but that it would probably take longer than the National Fire Protection Association’s standard of six minutes.

Video via Metro

by Aaron Kraut — March 24, 2015 at 2:30 pm 1,201 29 Comments

Norman Augustine, photo via Wikimedia/Paul E. AlersA powerful voice on Maryland’s business climate has weighed in with Gov. Larry Hogan in favor of the Purple Line.

Norman Augustine, the retired CEO of Bethesda aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin, sent a letter to Hogan last week asking the governor to move forward with the 16-mile, $2.4 billion light rail project from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

State transportation officials and private contractors are looking for ways to make the project cheaper. Hogan is expected to make a decision on whether to proceed with the project in mid-May.

“Given the considerable effort that has been undertaken to define a route that is as least disruptive to landowners as possible, I would encourage your support of this undertaking,” Augustine wrote.

Augustine is the chair of the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission, put together by State House leaders. The group, commonly referred to as the Augustine Commission, came out with an interim report in February that included 10 findings and 32 recommendations.

A recommendation on the Purple Line was not among them. Hogan praised the group’s work and the bipartisan effort Annapolis lawmakers had started to address some of its ideas.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 10, 2015 at 12:05 pm 408 11 Comments

Purple Line and Red Line supporters gather on Monday in Annapolis to tout the project, via betterDCregion

Purple Line supporters were out in full force Monday night in Annapolis, something Purple Line opponents say means “they know the project is in trouble.”

More than 150 residents, business leaders and elected officials took part in “Transit Night” in the state’s capital, a few months before Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to decide whether to move forward with the long-debated 16-mile light rail from New Carrollton to Bethesda.

The elected officials included County Executive Isiah Leggett, Councilmembers George Leventhal and Roger Berliner, local Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Marc Korman and District 16 State Sen. Susan Lee.

The advocates continued to make the economic development argument that became the talking point of choice when Hogan — a Republican who campaigned on improving the state’s business climate — upset Purple Line supporter Anthony Brown in November.

“We probably have somewhere in the neighborhood of 85,000 to 100,000 jobs in the pipeline in Montgomery County,” Leggett said, “and what is tied to all of that is transportation, and most specifically transit. There is no ‘Plan B’ for the Purple Line. Any backup is a mild substitute and we all will suffer.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 6, 2015 at 4:20 pm 421 11 Comments

County Councilmember Roger Berliner (file photo) County Executive Isiah Leggett at a bus rapid transit event in August 2014

Councilmember Roger Berliner says a new, more transit-focused director for the county’s Department of Transportation could be the key to realizing Montgomery’s bus rapid transit dreams.

County Executive Isiah Leggett disagrees.

“It is naive to think that appointing a new DOT director means that he or she will wave a magic wand and state and federal funding for the county’s future transit needs will magically appear,” Leggett said Friday. “The issue is additional funding.”

In a newsletter sent to email subscribers this week, Berliner said Leggett’s much-criticized attempt to create an Independent Transit Authority was the wrong step for trying to find that funding.

“What we need most of all at this moment in time is to find a Director of our Department of Transportation that is a nationally recognized transit expert,” Berliner wrote. “We have not had that at DOT, and we absolutely need it. Instead of working around a road centric culture, let’s change the culture.”

Veteran MCDOT administrator Al Roshdieh is serving as acting director of the department after former director Art Holmes retired late last year.

“If our procurement process threatens our transit goals, as it stifles almost everything else, then it is just one more reason to roll up our sleeves and reform our procurement process,” Berliner wrote. “If we do those things, and our transit leader tells us several years from now that we can’t accomplish our goals using traditional approaches, that we have met our public engagement responsibilities, and that we need an alternative structure, that will be the time to have a serious public conversation about an ITA.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 1:40 pm 928 24 Comments

Rendering of Purple Line vehicle heading to Bethesda, Image via Maryland Transit Administration

A group of Purple Line supporters plan to protest a Monday night debate of the 16-mile light rail.

Members of the Action Committee for Transit will hold a rally in front of the AFI Cultural Center in Silver Spring, where a think tank called the Maryland Public Policy Institute is hosting “a nonpartisan debate on the proposed Purple Line and its alternatives.”

But ACT lashed out at the Policy Institute (MPPI) for including “anti-transit propagandist” Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Cato Institute who will argue against the project. Rich Parson, a lobbyist and vice chair of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, will argue for the Purple Line.

ACT also criticized the $45 ticket price for the event.

“Given these biases and the $45 ticket, debating transit at an MPPI sponsored event is like playing football with the New England Patriots — and asking the Patriots to bring the football,” read an ACT press release.

Acting Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn was scheduled to attend the event and give opening remarks. But MPPI President Christopher Summers said Rahn had to back out because of his ongoing nomination process in Annapolis.

ACT members said they pressured Rahn to back out because of MPPI’s slant in opposition of the project. Rahn, Gov. Larry Hogan’s pick to take over as transportation chief, is reviewing the Purple Line for more cost efficient options.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 10:00 am 692 31 Comments

Bus Rapid Transit vehicle and station in Eugene, Oregon, via MCDOT

County Executive Isiah Leggett on Saturday made clear his intention to fund a bus rapid transit system for Montgomery County despite a failed recent attempt at creating an independent transit authority to do so.

Leggett spoke about the county’s hopes for a Rapid Transit System (RTS) on Saturday morning at the kick-off meeting for citizens advisory boards that will advise transportation planners designing five RTS corridors, including on Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue.

The county’s RTS, made possible by a master plan approved in 2013, would provide “rapid” bus service all-day and on weekends throughout the heavily-traveled corridor with dedicated, bus-only lanes and a series of new stations.

Five RTS corridors under study that will have corridor advisory committees“The beneficiaries of what we are doing will be people long, long down the line, children and grandchildren, for years to come,” Leggett told an audience of about 150 at the meeting. “But it would be sad for us, a few years from now, to still be simply talking about this process and not to have had the opportunity to move forward in some fashion.”

The proposed countywide system of 10 corridors and more than 80 miles could cost anywhere from $800 million to $1.5 billion to build. RTS Development Manager Joana Conklin said the county’s examination of a Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue corridor should produce cost estimates, phasing plans and ridership studies by the summer of 2016.

The Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue corridor — for now labeled 355 South — would run from the Rockville Metro station to the Bethesda Metro station. Because there’s little to no room to widen the road, the corridor could require changing existing mixed-traffic lanes to bus-only lanes.

That’s a prospect that faced plenty of pushback during the master plan process in 2013.

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by Aaron Kraut — February 24, 2015 at 3:00 pm 273 9 Comments

Bethesda Metro station (file photo)Add three Montgomery County Council members to those against another Metro fare increase.

Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and Tom Hucker — the members who make up the Council’s Transportation Committee — on Tuesday urged the WMATA Board of Directors to ditch the idea of a 10-cent fare increase and service reductions.

The Board of Directors is set to meet Thursday to consider putting the fare increase up for public comment. The Board won’t decide until May whether to go through with the increase, which would start in July. It would be the second straight year Metro imposed a fare increase. It typically tries to avoid increasing fares two years in a row.

“Our region needs to do everything in its power to get people out of their cars, not give them good excuses to get in them,” wrote Berliner, Floreen and Hucker. “Regrettably, we believe that at the staff budget proposal threatens to create a ‘death spiral.’ If fares increase even further and service deteriorates, fewer people will opt to ride Metro. Lower ridership in turn will inevitably translate into further service cuts, fare increases and even lower ridership. This is most assuredly not a sustainable path forward.”

The Council members suggest WMATA should lean more heavily on dedicated funding from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. They cited Metro’s 66 percent farebox recovery rate, the highest in the country.

“As a result of this firebox recover rate, fares are already too high and budgets are extremely sensitive to corresponding dips in ridership.”

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by Aaron Kraut — February 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm 338 7 Comments

Metro says the weekend escalator work that closed the Bethesda Metro station was a success and the first of three escalator replacements is about 60 percent done.

Metro closed the station on Saturday and Sunday in order to install a new escalator truss for one of the three, 212-foot long entrance escalators going from the bus bay to the mezzanine level.

The escalators are the second longest in the Western Hemisphere, behind only the escalators at the Wheaton Metro station. The replacement project started in October and is expected to last at least another two years.

Metro will keep two escalators operating at the station at all times.

On Monday, Metro said the installation of the first new escalator truss was successful, but the work isn’t done yet:

Working in four 12-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday, crews used gantries to move and position large sections of escalator truss that were delivered to Bethesda by flatbed trucks. The crews then aligned and mechanically fastened the sections and positioned the unit’s two motors, each the size of a small car.

In the coming weeks, crews will install the new escalator’s steps, handrails and lighting, and connect the motors.

While the station was closed, Metro ran free shuttle buses between the Bethesda and Medical Center stations.

The first four months of the project were dedicated to demolishing and removing the first original escalator. Metro says it hopes the new escalator will start working this summer.

Then, Metro will restart the process on the next old escalator.

Video/Photos via Metro

by Aaron Kraut — February 19, 2015 at 9:25 am 403 6 Comments

Escalator replacement project closes one escalator in October at Bethesda Metro

Metro will close its Bethesda station this weekend in order to perform some heavy-duty construction work on one of the station’s three escalators.

Word of the closure spread last week. On Wednesday, Metro detailed why the move is necessary.

As part of its lengthy escalator replacement project, Metro needs 52 consecutive hours to install a new motor and truss for the first of the three escalators to be replaced. Large gantry cranes will move and position nine sections of the new truss, or frame, for the 212-foot long escalator that’s been closed since October.

Crews will put two motors about the size of a small car in the escalator pit to replace “the outdated six-motor configuration that powered the original escalator.”

Bethesda Metro station escalators, Flickr photo by ehpienMetro said crews need the station closed in order to safely install, align and mechanically fasten the new escalator truss sections.

To accommodate the closure, Metro will run free shuttle buses between the Bethesda and Medical Center stations every 5 to 10 minutes. Red Line trains will bypass the Bethesda station in both directions. Metro said passengers traveling to or from the Bethesda station to add about 15 minutes to their travel time.

It will take about 42 weeks to complete the replacement of each of the three long escalators, a process that includes demolition, construction, installation and testing. Metro decided to replace one escalator at a time in order to keep the station functioning as best as possible.

The other two escalator replacements will also require weekend closures for similar work.

The Bethesda escalators — the second longest in the Western Hemisphere — are more than 30-year-old and “have exceeded their useful life,” Metro said.

Flickr photo by ehpien

by Aaron Kraut — February 10, 2015 at 10:00 am 378 1 Comment

Escalator replacement project closes one escalator in October at Bethesda Metro

Metro will close the Bethesda station on Saturday, Feb. 21 and Sunday, Feb. 22 for its ongoing escalator replacement project.

The transit system will provide shuttle service to Red Line riders between the Bethesda and Medical Center stations.

The lengthy escalator replacement process started in October and is expected to take at least another two years. Metro must replace each of the three bus bay-to-mezzanine escalators at the station. 

Because of the design of the Bethesda station and the length of the escalators (at 106 feet, the escalators are the second longest in the Western Hemisphere, behind the ones at Wheaton) Metro officials have said it will be a long and complicated process.

The replacement work will happen one escalator at a time.

by Aaron Kraut — February 4, 2015 at 1:30 pm 268 2 Comments

Marc Korman, District 16 delegate, in a campaign photo taken near the Bethesda Metro station, via Marc KormanA local delegate to Annapolis wants to quantify just how important Metro is to Maryland commuters.

District 16 Del. Marc Korman introduced a bill that would get the Maryland Department of Transportation to work with WMATA on a detailed ridership study. That study would detail how many Metro riders come from different jurisdictions in Maryland, how Maryland riders get to Metro and where Maryland Metro riders are going.

In a regular email newsletter, Korman said the bill was “important because Maryland sends approximately $450 million in operating and capital funds to WMATA and we must gain a better idea of how critical the system is to the whole state and not just Montgomery and Prince George’s County.”

Korman, who won his first term in Annapolis in November, ran on a platform that included creating a dedicated funding source for the transit system.

He has almost 40 co-sponsors on the bill, most from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, but some from elsewhere in the state.

Photo via Marc Korman

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