Campus Drive Purple Line Alignment Forum Update

On Monday the 24th Rethink College Park co-sponsored a public forum on the Purple Line Campus Drive alignment.

Joanna Calabrese [Director of Environmental Affairs, Student Government Association] kicked off the event.

Councilman Eric Olson acknowledged the value of student government as a consistent advocate for the Purple Line, and for a routing that takes light rail to the heart of the campus. He emphasized that there is unanimous support for the Purple Line among county council members. He pointed out that even the arguably hapless transportation planners of Northern Virginia came together to recognize the value of metro expansion for business and for the community.

Tom Hucker [Democrat, District 20, Montgomery County] from the Purple Line Legislative Caucus, who represents a district in Silver Spring pointed out that the Maryland population is expected to grow by 1 million (20%) in the next 20 years, increasing the need for pedestrian-friendly, public transportation-oriented communities. He stressed that most anybody would now agree that the location of the College Park Green Line station was ill-conceived. It should have been located more centrally. He emphasized that communities all along the Purple Line route have been consistently reminded that tunneling will drive up costs and jeopardize the federal funding, without which the Purple Line project could never get off the ground.

Mike Madden from MTA gave a 20-minute presentation (see PDF of PPT) similar to the one that he gave a week ago to the UM Board of Regents. He reviewed many well-known points about the potential value of the Purple Line. He emphasized that MTA and the university have similar goals in terms of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Mr. Madden went on to explain that the Purple Line is already in the federal “new starts” pipeline. MTA has met with Federal Transit Administration, who is in the process of starting to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the project, making sure that “everything is ready to go”. At this point uncertainties will only stall this process. They are beginning a 2-year Preliminary Engineering phase, which is the last stage before the more detailed design phase. He pointed out that 5 stations will serve the university (UMUC, Student Union, East Campus, Metro, M-Square), and that these will directly connect the university to many important local centers, to MARC, Amtrak, and to BWI Airport. It would also reduce the amount of traffic on campus.

University officials outlined their concerns which deal with how the campus drive alignment impacts (i) research, (ii) pedestrians, (iii) aesthetics. Madden explained how they have addressed each of these concerns in detail. MTA has evaluated 6 alignments, conducted detailed traffic and pedestrian studies. They have also explored different tunnel alignments.

  • The Preinkert Drive surface alignment “creates a new motorized transportation corridor through the most historic part of campus”. Unsafe due to limited sight distances in some locations, for pedestrians and operators, e.g., in two tight turns around South Campus Dining. There are restricted pedestrian areas, and many retaining walls would be needed, as high as 14′ high, in places where cutting is needed in order to negotiate the topography. This would also create barriers to pedestrian crossings. (REPORT from MTA)
  • The university recently requested that MTA evaluate a Preinkert Tunnel alignment. This would increase the cost and reduce the competitiveness of the project. MTA estimated a cost of $96 million, compared to $45 million for the Campus Drive alignment.
  • The university’s most recent proposal is called the Morrill Quad Tunnel Alignment, which appears to be a cut-and-cover proposal. It would require a 3-year construction project. It would preclude the construction of 3 planned buildings in the university’s master plan. Mike Madden suggested that this would entail the demolition of Morrill Hall. Prof. Steve Rolston of the Dept of Physics objected that the university never intended to sanction demolition of Morrill Hall.

Madden then repeated the often discussed benefits of the Campus Drive alignment.

Prof Drew Baden, Chair of the Dept of Physics, argued that that the university had offered to foot the additional cost, but it was pointed out that this does not impact FTA’s calculation of cost effectiveness which is based on total cost, regardless of funding source. There was also discussion of the potential Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) of the overhead wire,  and geomagnetic perturbation of a large steel mass on laboratory experiments. Madden argued that EMI can be successfully mitigated, either at the current source, i.e., in the wire itself, or through shielding at the affected labs. MTA has proposed two measures:

  1. Mitigation at the source through a “high-low” power supply; (see THIS report from MTA)
  2. Active cancellation or shielding for the relevant labs.

MTA goes on to argue that there’s nothing within 450ft of the proposed route which is where the 0.001 Gauss level of magnetic field strength is achieved. MTA agreed to set up an escrow fund against future needs, and establish a monitoring program. In addition MTA has agreed to limit train speeds to 15mph on campus, which addresses both safety and EMI.

Jim Rosapepe (senator from College Park) specifically asked if the university has provided details about information on affected buildings. Madden says “no”; others say “yes”; Steve Rolston argued that the concern is with future uses.  However based on the campus master plan, However, based on the Campus Master Plan the impacts of the Campus Drive routing on future science buildings of the Campus Drive routing appear no worse than for other routings.

Here were a few stats given out by MTA as well.

  • The Purple Line will take 7,000 cars off the road in College Park alone.
  • 13.7 miles on surface.
  • 0.7 miles in tunnel – due to grade
  • 1.9 miles on aerial structure – to cross congested intersection
  • 21 stations.
  • Capital costs $1.517 billion (2009 dollars)
  • Ridership (2030): 65,000 daily trips.
  • Taking 19,200 cars off the road.
  • Locally preferred alternative selected by the governor in August ’09

All in all a very informative and productive forum.