Mote Leaving, Chancellor Kirwan Responds, Regents Meeting and A New Purple Push

“I’m not going to kill the campus to get the Purple Line” ~ Dr. CD Mote, President of UMD, 5/13/2010

“When he’s convinced that something is good for the university, [Mote] latches on to it,” Farvardin said. “If this is what you call stubborn, then that’s stubborn.”

Back in February we did our retrospective on Dr. CD Mote’s 12-year tenure as UMD President. Last week the Diamondback had an excellent take on Mote’s presidency (“The Visionary“) which similarly praised him for taking UMD out of academic obscurity, but brought up criticisms from groups like RTCP related to transportation planning and Smart Growth:

Perhaps no group knows this better than smart-development advocates, who have been left baffled and angered by Mote’s deeply held contrarian positions. Mote continued to push for a connector road between the university and I-95 when city and Prince George’s County officials had zero interest in the proposal. And his administration continues to rail against near-universal support of a Campus Drive alignment for the Purple Line.

From our retrospective:

When it comes to planning, gut instincts and shooting from the hip rarely lead to favorable planning outcomes. More often than not Mote’s stubbornness resulted in the further deterioration of the surrounding community. Rather than embracing the university’s shared destiny with College Park, Mote ran from it. He sought to build a bubble around the campus, alienated local leaders and consistently pursued the university’s narrow interest instead of its shared future with College Park.

CampusDriveFence_013With the presidential search in full swing and Mote packing his bags and leaving College Park this August, RTCP feels it’s time for 21st century campus leadership on transportation policy and a bold new direction. We’re tired of the UMD administration sidelining transit and talking about the Purple Line as if it will be a freight train coming through campus. That’s why, in this time of transition, RTCP has worked with student leaders and other area advocacy groups to take the fight to keep transit (and the Purple Line) on Campus Drive beyond the UMD administration and to the Board of Regents. Our May 12th letter to Brit Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, was specifically timed to come before a presentation by the Maryland Transit Administration’s Purple Line Planning team to the Board of Regents on May 17th. The letter echoed other correspondences approved and sent by the Prince George’s County Council and College Park City Council demanding that Campus Drive be left open to buses and that UMD take into account the realities of the Purple Line Planning Process.

Kirwan responded to our letter and other groups with this message just before MTA’s presentation:

Thank you for your email regarding the Purple Line and the University of Maryland College Park campus (UMCP). As I hope you know, the University System of Maryland (USM) and UMCP are in strong support of having the Purple Line coming through the campus. We all believe that it is imperative to increase transit options for students, faculty, staff and visitors to get to and from the UMCP campus as well as the University of Maryland, University College (UMUC) campus.

The only question is the location of the routes. The two under consideration are no more than 100 yards apart and each would have the same number of stops on the campus with access to the UMUC campus, the middle of the UMCP campus and the planned UMCP East Campus. Thus, either would serve as an attractive and convenient mass transportation alternative for traveling to the campus.  The Board of Regents has not yet taken a position on which is the better route.  Due to the fact that the University and the State have made very significant investments in Education, Science and Research facilities already on the UMCP campus we must look very carefully at all of the issues involved in the alignment of the Purple Line on campus such as the effects on very sensitive and expensive scientific equipment in these buildings caused by vibration and electromagnetic discharge of a light rail system, as well as maximization of ridership, convenience of users, and pedestrian safety.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to hear presentations from the campus and from the Maryland Department of Transportation and will use this meeting to evaluate all of the issues surrounding the different alignments in order to determine which route it believes serves the purpose of the Purple Line and the campus the best.

The Board of Regents and UMD administration must acknowledge that an at-grade Campus Drive alignment is the only achievable Purple Line route across campus. MTA has studied 6 different routes across campus over the past 10 years. UMD administrations (and their consultant Clarke Construction) claim that a tunnel would cost $42 million, but MTA estimates such a tunnel would cost more than twice as much. Either way, given Federal Transit Administration cost-effectiveness standards, continued UMD advocacy for a tunnel under campus is tantamount to a rejection of the entire 16-mile Purple Line project. Dr. Mote’s advocacy for a tunnel is based on unfounded fears of light rail and a fundamental misunderstanding of a technology that operates successfully at-grade in research, academic and pedestrian settings around the world. A post-MTA presentation response is currently being crafted and other political strategies formulated. We’ll also post the MTA presentation to the Board of Regents shortly.