The Washington Post is reporting that University has officially dropped its long opposition to the Campus Drive alignment to the Purple Line. The debate has raged on since 2007 but in the end University officials have agreed with the steps MTA plan on taking to address their concerns.
Frank Brewer, the university’s vice president for administrative affairs, said Wednesday that the MTA had addressed those concerns.
“We wanted to make sure the university is not in MTA’s way in any way, shape or form to make the Purple Line happen,” Brewer said. “We’ve always wanted the Purple Line to come across campus. It was just a question of where.”
After meetings with university officials over the past year, the state agreed to bury part of a light rail system’s overhead electrical wiring on campus and to install equipment that would reduce electromagnetic interference in particularly sensitive nearby labs.
I wasn’t able to attend last Tuesday’s Purple Line forum, as I was happily riding a crowded Amtrak train. But the university helpfully posted a high-quality video of the event online. You can watch it here. If you don’t have 2 hours to spare, here’s what you missed:
This forum had a lot in common with similar forums in recent years. There was a large turnout—the Purple Line is something that the community feels strongly about. As usual, MTA’s preferred Campus Drive surface alignment was pitted against the latest version of the university’s preferred anything-but-Campus-Drive alignment. In this case, a new incarnation of the southern Preinkert Drive alignment that includes a tunnel that starts near the Chapel and runs under Morrill Quad. As usual, audience input was overwhelmingly skewed in favor of the Campus Drive alignment. In the discussion period 10 people spoke in favor of Campus Drive, and 3 against (a further 6 raised other issues).
There were also some clear differences. There was a wider range of voices, including former Gov. Parris Glendening, who was Prince George’s County Executive when Metro’s Green Line alignment was being disputed, and Beth Day of the Federal Transit Administration, who offered some sobering truths on what it takes to compete successfully for federal funding. The event was kicked off by new UM president Wallace Loh, who continues to give no indication that he shares Dan Mote’s very strong views on Purple Line routing. It may be no accident that the university did not make the case for the Preinkert alignment as aggressively as it has in the past. There was a presentation from HMM, the authors of the university’s not-so-neutral recent report on the competing alignments, but it was not clear whether they were representing the current university administration, or Dr. Mote’s shadow. Overall, the tone of the meeting seemed less contentious than previous meetings.
Continue reading At UM Forum, Same Issues as Usual Plague Purple Line’s Progression
“This may be the most important decision of your presidency.”
This is how new University of Maryland President Wallace Loh reports a piece of advice that he received from the federal Department of Transportation, when discussing the preferred alignment for the Purple Line. No pressure. The DOT only holds the keys to hundreds of millions of dollars in potential funding, without which the light rail project is unlikely to ever get off the ground.
Based on his remarks at a recent faculty forum, it appears that Loh is taking the Purple Line alignment very seriously. Although he has not yet recommended a specific alignment, his comments should be encouraging to many readers of this blog. According to Loh, “whether you choose Campus Drive or some other alignment is fundamentally a question of your vision for the next 50 years.” He regards the Purple Line as essential to the future of the university, the region, and the state. He expects that 20-30 years from now College Park will be a less suburban environment than it is now, fewer students will be driving cars, and fewer faculty and staff will want to drive cars, as the region becomes increasingly congested.
Interestingly, Loh reported that he compared notes with officials at Portland State University, which recently saw the opening of a TriMet MAX line that goes right to the center of its campus. It seems that the folks at PSU are quite proud of their new accessibility, and the train is so attractive to students that the university is updating its promotional materials to highlight the light rail. Loh recognizes that students increasingly want quick, sustainable access all over the region.
Loh also commented that the state’s case for federal funding for the Purple Line would be helped by a unified vision from the university and the surrounding community. Community support for the Campus Drive alignment is overwhelming. The protracted dispute between the local community and Loh’s predecessor C. Dan Mote over the choice of alignment probably would not meet the definition of “unified vision.” Loh’s official recommendation to the Chancellor and Governor is not due for a couple of months, but these signs are encouraging.
Loh offered other hints at his vision for the future of the city and the region. More details to come in a future post!