The idea of tunneling the Purple Line beneath downtown Silver Spring is a tasty morsel. But members of Silver Spring’s citizens advisory board weren’t sure how hard to bite down Monday night.

At the board’s monthly meeting in Lyttonsville, members agreed to draft a letter supporting development of the mass-transit project between Bethesda and New Carrollton. The letter, they said, could give the project a lift when it competes for federal funding.

However, members disagreed on how much emphasis the letter should place on tunneling beneath the downtown area and under Wayne Avenue. While some wanted to lean hard for the sake of neighborhood concerns, others didn’t want to antagonize the process.

“We need to be very clear that we support the Purple Line,” member Marc Woodard, of Sligo Hills, told his colleagues. “But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Currently, tunneling is not an option on the state transit administration’s plate. Chalk that up to the guesstimated steep price tag. But according to board member and East Silver Spring resident Debbie Spielberg, data do exist that support a tunnel’s cost effectiveness.

“If you tunnel under Wayne Avenue, you pick up ridership numbers,” Spielberg told board members. That’s because an off-road ride wouldn’t have to sit in automobile traffic, and thus would have greater appeal to more riders, she explained.

The letter’s heavy emphasis on tunneling also could go a long way to rinse the bad taste out of some residents’ mouths. Board member Alan Bowser accused the state transit administration of not being straight up with people living in impacted neighborhoods.

“We deserved more information than they gave us,” Bowser, a Park Hills resident, said. “It didn’t seem like the transit administration’s report was objective.”

And pleas for a tunnel weren’t just NIMBY ravings either, Spielberg suggested. They were about preserving the downtown area’s urban renewal.

“The people who support the tunnel are the same people who raised a red flag over the mega-mall,” she said, referring to an earlier concept to drop the massive Mall of America and a wave pool onto Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive. “These people understand nuance.”

Still, other board members didn’t want fist pounding for a tunnel to translate into a death blow for the Purple Line. After all, if the feds catch a whiff of discontent among area residents, they could decide against funding, board member Victor Weissberg, of Montgomery Hills, said.

Instead, the board’s letter should recommend tunneling “to the extent that it’s feasible”, one faction suggested. Translation: If tunneling happens, it happens. And if not, no big whoop.

“I’d rather see the Purple Line built and understand that we all have to sacrifice, than not build it at all,” board member and East Silver Springer Kathy Stevens said.

A draft letter will be put to the vote when the board convenes again on Jan 12, 2009.

Photo of a Metro tunnel courtesy of Flickr user Chrisbb@prodigy.net.

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20 Responses to “Advisory board wrestles with prospect of Purple Line tunnel”

  1. Thayer-D says:

    I’m not sure how tunneling preserves the urban renewal effort. Of course it would be better to tunnel but it would be much better to have the Purple Line at grade than no Purple Line at all. How may presentations of succesfull urban cores with street cars do people have to see to understand it won’t be a problem. If we work with-in the possible, we could get a lot more such as pushing for rubber tires like the Paris metro. It would be significantly more quiet. We could push for nice streetcar stops etc. With the convergance of the Obama administration’s dedication to new infrastructure, I wouldn’t want some peoples well intentioned criticisms stop what is a clear win for the whole region.

  2. IHateYuppies says:

    Sorry but it’s either the tunnel or nothing. An above-ground rail network through Silver Spring will be a disaster. A disaster for property owners. A disaster for the aesthetics of the redeveloped downtown area. There is no way that you can have above-ground tracks going from Bethesda to Silver Spring because of the building densities and valuable green space.

    I am willing to cough up greater state income tax and local sales tax to fund a tunneled Purple Line if necessary. I think most people will agree to pay higher taxes so the Purple Line can come to fruition–despite the nasty recession that we are in.

    BTW…I am willing to bet the Obama infrastructure stimulus package could involve WMATA expansion efforts.

  3. marktheworld says:

    yes, tax me and i will pay. tunnel the crap out of the area and send the purple line down the trail.

  4. LuvMyHood says:

    Remember the 2006 local election when candidates pushing the Purple Line handed out all that literature with maps? You know, the ones that looked like the current-at-the-time WMATA Metrorail map, with a line in purple added? It wasn’t even cross-hatched. It looked like part of the Metrorail system. The heavy-rail Metrorail system, with its deadly Third Rail, is either separated by big fences from its surroundings, or elevated, or tunneled.
    Now the mention of a tunnel sends PL pushers into apoplexy. Geesh, what else have they distorted in their effort to muscle this thing through our small-scale middle-class and working-class neighborhoods?

  5. enga says:

    If I were a property owner whose property will not have a tunnel going directly beneath it…I might say – “yes, tax me and I will pay” but for those of us who will have the stuffing blown out of our homes (mine was built in 1936) –I am not so sure I want to jump up and shout yeah — tunnel away. I specifically asked at one of the town meetings how all the blasting and tunneling would affect the residences/buildings above….and the presenter actually laughed….and gave a non-answer. I still don’t know how my home will be affected — will there be small cracks? — will there be big cracks, will my basement suffer major damage?, how long aprox. will the process take from the moment they start tunneling until they can say amen on the section underneath my home? Can I live in my home during construction? Would I even want to live in my home during construction? The tunnel underneath my property will be at least 300′ long if they choose to cut across on Arliss to Flower….and I would like more information regarding what I will have to put up with – what sacrifices I must make to ensure that public transportation is improved in our local area.

  6. LuvMyHood says:

    enga said: “what sacrifices I must make to ensure that public transportation is improved in our local area.” Enga, you do not have to make any sacrifices. No one does. And thank you for pointing out that this plan does indeed directly threaten deeply loved, owner-occupied homes.
    One of the options MTA is studying is TSM, transportation system management. This means improving the current transit system. That is what they should have started with, instead of this wild idea of building a railroad though these small communities just because CSX decided to abandon a freight line and a developer got all excited and the proposal just grew and grew like kudzu, picking up justifications along the way.

  7. Thayer-D says:

    A lot of these communities like Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and Woodside all developed because of the railroad so I find it ironic that what made all these beloved neighborhoods viable is now demonized. I guess now that you have yours, the others can fend for them selves? I don’t think it’s loving your hood as much as loving yourself. There are sacrafices to be made for the greater good, and yes people will make money in the process, but most people understand these things. Anyway, tunneling is off the table, but was is on the table are the traffic projections in our future, and no amount of nay-saying is going to make them go away.

    Editor’s note: Play nice. — JD (Dec 11, 2008)

  8. paul_silver_spring says:

    I second the comment about “preserving urban renewal” being utter nonesense. We’re the only country in the world that DOESN’T yet have above ground rail in every major city. It’s done nothing but invigorate the urban cores or amsterdam, dublin, budapest, etc… These are all thriving cities BECAUSE they have lots of accessible transit, because they didn’t hold out for a perfect solution. And given the result in European cities, I’m not even willing to say a tunnel is a BETTER solution. Above ground rail greatly adds to the atmosphere and aesthetic of ALL of those cities – and I’m not convinced it wouldn’t do the same here.

  9. Robert says:

    I pretty much share the attitude that a tunnel would be ideal but not necessary. If there is a reason to build a tunnel, it’s so that the rail can avoid street traffic and deliver passengers faster. I don’t buy the arguments that light rail would ruin urban renewal or aesthetics at all, for the reasons already given by the other commentators.

  10. marktheworld says:

    If the PL is ever built, or a tunnel incorporated into the design, I do hope that there is no damage to anyone’s home. (Would home owner’s insurance cover any such damage? I have no idea.) If the PL is built, there is a good chance that property values will, over time, increase for homes close in to DDSS, beyond the normal rate of appreciation. The Metro premium, if you will. Being able to walk (or very short drive and park) and take the PL to Bethesda or College Park for work, will continue to make DDSS an attractive place to live, work, or open a business. Property values should reflect this attraction.

  11. Woodsider says:

    If you want to know about the damage and horrible conditions during tunnel construction, just ask anyone who lived at or near the Green Line when it was being extended. It was downright awful for several years.

    Unless the Obama administration comes up with some money, there is no way the PL will have a tunnel. Period. How many times do the politicians, engineers and financail people have to say it? The money just ain’t there. So at what point will the all-or-nothing doomsday prophets say 2/3 of a loaf is better than none?

  12. Tdiddy says:

    Repeating earlier sentiments (Thayer-D and Paul_Silver_Spring summed up my perspective nicely) tunnel or rail I don’t care start the project already.

    Where is my pro-purple line sign darnit?? I ordered it two or three months ago and nothing, need to combat the vocal anti-purple line folks, I hate seeing them all over Dale.

  13. LuvMyHood says:

    Stability, NOT ever-increasing property values, not ever-increasing population. The tax system in the USA is regressive in many ways. One is the reliance on property tax by local gvts. Local gvts. have an incentive to wipe out anything small and middle-class or working-class and replace it with something upscale that will bring in more tax revenue.
    The population of Europe is pretty stable, or at least that is what I keep reading. More equity in incomes, more access to health care, including contraception, less teenage pregnancy…
    A place that is more and more crowded, with less and less green space, where people pay more and more for housing and many keep having to move because of the high cost or because their home is demolished — this is the “greater good”?

  14. Woodside Park Bob says:

    I was recently in Baltimore when a light rail train went by. It was so noisy that I couldn’t talk to the person next to me and be heard. Part of this was normal train noise and part was screeching of steel wheels on a curve. Before this experience, I thought a tunnel would be nice but not necessarily required, but now I’m convinced that building the Purple line on the surface through residential neighborhoods with trains every few minutes would be intolerable for residents along the line. In the absence of a tunnel, the bus option would probably be much better since its noise wouldn’t destroy neighborhoods. If we want light rail, then the tunnel has become a deal-breaker for me. Even with buses, the line ought to be tunneled through downtown Silver Spring to keep the buses or trains moving despite the traffic on the surface and to keep the traffic from being made worse by the buses or trains.

  15. Thayer-D says:

    Some people east of Silver Spring don’t want the PL because they believe it will attract rich people to their neighborhood while some people west of Silver Spring don’t want the PL because they believe it will attract poor people to their neighborhood. Most people understand the rich, poor, and middle will all suffer if we don’t get an alternative to gridlock.

  16. Woodsider says:

    How can anyone compare the trains in Baltimore with the trains proposed for the Purple Line unless we truly know the models and characteristics of each.
    Without that info, the logic of saying the PL will be noisy is flawed. It’s the same as saying a 10 year old Yugo and a new Prius are both automobiles, but the Yugo makes a lot of noise so I’m not going to support buying a car for transportation.

  17. Springvale Roader says:

    We need to think long-term. A subway is the best option here. It does not destroy land, aesthetically or otherwise, nor does it disrupt the community. It poses a far smaller danger to people and animals than would a train speeding through communities and parkland. It will cause much less (if any) sound and sight pollution. Weather won’t be an issue. Perhaps, being underground, it can even travel faster.

    I know this will cost more, but short-term thinking often result in long-term headaches. Let’s do it right the first time.

  18. Corona says:

    Not trying to be sarcastic here, honestly, but does anyone out there have any cold, hard information on what people who would live above the areas that a tunnel would be constructed under would need to put up with? Would their homes be seized? Would their homes be damaged with the blasting? Would they be massively inconvenienced with the construction? Would they feel vibrations in their home when a train traveled under it? Does anyone out there know for sure that the tunnel does not “disrupt the community” and that a tunnel would be “intolerable” for some residents any more than a light rail?

    I’d like to honestly here what some of the pro-tunnel advocates have to say about these disruptions that tunnel construction and potentially tunnel PL would have on homeowners in the path of it. If the arguement for the tunnel PL would be, in the face of these, that the PL is for the “Greater Good” and/or some variation of the needs of the few cannot outweight the needs of the many, then just remember that that same arguement is the one that many of us pro-Light Rail people are using in the face of opposition to a Light Rail. It’s somewhat to use arguements that support the tunnel while ignoring that the same arguements can also support a Light Rail.

    In the big picture though, the truth is that the tunnel option continues to receive little mainstream support. It’s not being even formally considered as an option by the planners. I respect the right to support an option that isn’t being considered and I applaud those who passionately want to see a tunnel looked at. But hopefully when the dust settles, if a tunnel is 100%, emphatically, ruled out, then people will realize that the benefits of a PL that is less than ideal still outweight the negative of no PL at all.

  19. Jason says:

    It is really Selfish to build a cheap trolley-Like Light Rail through Montgomery County and PG County thinking it will benefit the people in the Sorrounding areas. Its a shame that some will fight against Maryland building New Highways, New Indoor Multi-Level Shopping Malls, and High Density Office Towers that will attract High Paying Employment. Some so-called Pro-Transit People are sooo freaking DESPERATE to shove Unreliable Mass Transportation down the Maryland Tax Payers Throats that they would Dictate that the people will Force aN Unreliable Trolley down Several Communities instead of Investing in Modernize Heavy Rail Subways like The Subway Line Virginia is Building from DC to the Middle of Loudon County.

    I can tell ya now if the County/State gets away with building that cheap Trolley-Like Light Rail (Especially along Street Level) then that Argument about Attracting Car Owners to Utalize Mass Transit will TRUELLY BE AN ULTIMATE FAILURE AND WRITTEN OFF AS INCOHERRENT BULL SH-T in which it will not ever resolve the Current Traffic Issues on the existant Roads…………..

    If Light Rails were proven as the Solution to Traffic Backups then Downtown Baltimore is the Example of a Complete Failure to attract Car Owners to Use the Light Rail during Rush Hour and All of the Football and Baseball Games because All of the Streets around the Harbor and Downtown is like a Freaking Parking Lot……..

    Editor’s note: This comment was edited for content. — JD (Dec 13, 2008)

  20. Woodside Park Bob says:

    re: “How can anyone compare the trains in Baltimore with the trains proposed for the Purple Line unless we truly know the models and characteristics of each.”

    A steel wheel on a steel rail makes noise and squeaks loudly on curves. It wasn’t the engine noise I found loud. It was the wheels on the rails. I would think that would be more or less the same regardless of the make or model of the trains.

    Can anyone seriously think a light rail train will be as quiet as buses or cars?



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