NO 0.5 Mile, $23 million MTA/UMD Tunnel Compromise

Despite what you may have read in the Diamondback today,  there is no campus tunnel deal in the works between UMD Administrators and the Maryland Transit Administration. According to the Diamondback:

Perhaps ending years of debate, Vice President for Administrative Affairs Ann Wylie announced at yesterday’s University Senate meeting that the MTA had suggested a compromise last month: The line would run above ground on Campus Drive until it reached the Art/Sociology building. The line would then run underground behind Tydings, Francis Scott Key and Marie Mount halls before emerging on the east side of Regents Drive by the Lee Building and continue onto East Campus.

The author didn’t reach MTA before publishing the story. Former RTCP Contributor Matt Johnson spoke with Mike Madden, MTA’s Purple Line project manager and Anne Wylie. Neither had any knowledge that there was any compromise in the works. Nothing has changed. The University still fully supports the Purple Line, but only an alignment that is not cost-effective and won’t ever be funded by the Federal Transit Administration. Their position is tantamount to a rejection of the entire 16-mile project. According to a message from Mike Madden: “We have never agreed to a tunnel option and have made it clear to UM that an underground alignment is not a viable option for the Purple Line. We have fully explained the reasons for not agreeing to a tunnel option. ”

Another interesting element of the story is when the Diamondback recounts statements made by Dr. Wylie at the same University Senate meeting yesterday:

She said she was sure putting the line down Campus Drive wasn’t feasible after examining a similar situation at the University of Minnesota. Like this university, the University of Minnesota is a major research institution that has brought an electric train onto its campus.

Also like this university, it was told similar stories that the train would stop for pedestrians and campus beauty would be preserved. The University of Minnesota now has a train running through it’s central campus with 42 inch fences on either side to shield pedestrians from its tracks. Several stop lights were placed throughout the campus to direct pedestrians and cars and its central road was closed for two years during construction.

“We can expect exactly the same thing if this is to be our fate,” she said.

Perhaps this was a misquote, but according to Matt Johnson (from Track Twenty-Nine) construction of this light rail just started, hasn’t even reached the UMinnesota campus and trains won’t operate there till 2014. RTCP thinks that must explain why there are no reported pedestrian fatalities there yet!

11 thoughts on “NO 0.5 Mile, $23 million MTA/UMD Tunnel Compromise”

  1. I’m not sure its fair to say that FTA would rule out a tunnel. The calculations for Wayne Ave show that a tunnel was a viable option and well within the cost effectiveness criteria for receiving funds for the purple line.

    Its just clear that MTA just doesn’t like tunnels for some reason (probably because if anyone outside of Bethesda got one, there would be a lot of demand asking why can’t we have it elsewhere). They did everything in their power to give the impression that a tunnel for Wayne Ave would be a bad idea and I suspect they did the same for the campus (although above ground route makes more sense there, depending on what speed they expect it to go, except probably by the SU).

  2. I’ve just started following this news lately, but can you explain why MTA is SO against an underground alignment behind Tydings, etc. like the article proposes? This seems to make sense (in every way but financially) It just seems that Campus Drive would make everything a mess. Are there really more pedestrian danger problems if it went underground at some point?

  3. I am a University Senator (representing graduate students) who was at the Senate meeting on Wednesday. Dr. Wylie presented the underground alignment as an option that the administration would bring forth to the MTA. At no point did she state that the MTA had approved of the decision. Futhermore, she did not specify whether that the university had yet shared this new proposed alignment with the MTA.

    If I recall correctly, Dr. Wylie described University of Minnesota project as under construction, not completed (though I could be mistaken about this statement).

    In my opinion, the Diamondback reporter who covered this meeting completely botched this story and their misreporting of facts has caused only confusion. It is even more disappointing that the Diamondback has not printed a correction noting the error, though the article published today goes a long way towards rectifying the mistakes in yesterday’s article.

    If any member of RTCP would like to discuss what happened at the meeting or any other aspect of the purple line, I would be glad to. While I disagree with RTCP’s position on the campus drive alignment, I strongly support this blog’s firm commitment to smart growth in College Park and the surrounding areas.

  4. Matt, I appreciate your comment and kind words. Having worked on this issue for three years, I’ve developed the position that the UMD admin has no credibility when it comes to transportation policy… especially as a result of the Purple Line. They’ve resorted to scare tactics (like 42 inch fences) and have spread so much misinformation over the years that I have trouble believing anything they say at this point. Policy is being created from the top and imposed on the staff-level planners within UMD. Everything falls on deaf ears. They are not coordinating with or listening to MTA and they’ve become a major obstacle to the entire project even though they are the biggest beneficiary of it.

    The recent bus plan is just the latest round of unilateral transportation decisions they’ve made where they haven’t brought transit planners (on or off campus) in to inform the decision making process.

    I can see why you and many other folks do not like the Campus Drive alignment. It takes a bit of a leap of faith and a thorough understanding of MTA’s proposal, sophisticated transportation modeling and mitigation strategies. There are poor examples of light rail in the region (Baltimore)… so that doesn’t help, but there are multiple examples of good light rail projects on campuses nationwide.

    Every transit professional I’ve spoken with tells me that it’s a false choice between an at-grade Campus Drive alignment and any tunnel. The choice is between Campus Drive and nothing. The Federal Government will not fund the project with a tunnel and the state will not pay for the project on its own. A UMD tunnel in any form is not cost-effective because it costs a lot of money and doesn’t appreciably change ridership.

    With EMI concerns addressed I think all that’s left is aesthetic concerns and a gut-level concern about pedestrian safety. The project will bring plenty of money in the form of streetscape enhancements to address both these problems…. Arguing against the Campus Drive alignment is tantamount to arguing against the entire purple line. Are you prepared to do that?

  5. Matt,
    Thanks for the comment. It is good to hear dissenting opinions. I’m glad that we can disagree on some issues but find common ground on others. I feel that there is always two sides to any story and it is important to try and understand a issue from all angles. If Minnesota can come to an agreement on its light rail I’m sure we can as well.

  6. Just throwing it out there, but the thing that keeps running in the back of my mind about all of this is why does the Purple Line have to run through College Park at all?

    Wouldn’t connecting to the Greenbelt Metro station serve the same purpose? Yes, it would add a short Metro ride and UM Shuttle ride to get to campus, but it still connects everything that the Purple Line is intended to connect.

  7. Scott-

    Almost no one is going to be willing to take the Purple Line to Greenbelt, wait for the Green Line train, take that to College Park, wait for the shuttle bus, and take that to campus. That would add at least 15 minutes to the trip (and probably more than that) compared to having the Purple Line stop on campus.

  8. Scott,

    One of the primary purposes of the Purple Line is to make public transportation a more attractive and user friendly option. Having people take the Purple Line to Greenbelt to then have to catch a bus to campus does not accomplish that goal. The Stamp Student Union is the main transportation and social hub on campus and East Campus has the potential of being the main social/economic hub of this city in the future.

    Having the Purple Line connect with these locations is necessary to get optimal use out of the Purple Line and to redevelopment and smart growth efforts in College Park. If East Campus is to live up to its expectations of being a place that will host a music hall, graduate student housing, and attractive commercial and retail spaces and create the downtown atmosphere this city currently lacks it will need to have easy and reliable public transportation access. Asking people to go to Greenbelt and metro back to College Park would be a terrible strategy.

    Also examine the Purple Line map at The GB metro station would actually be quite a readjustment and is not in line with the rest of the route.

  9. Various alignments were studied for several years earlier this century. I can’t think of any reason why a new five-year process would yield a different conclusion as to a preferred alignment.

  10. Rob-

    What about all the people that want to go to Greenbelt? There’s Goddard and a bunch of space agencies there. Not to mention that it’s fairly easy to get to the Dept. of Agriculture from Greenbelt Station via public transit.

    It’s not like UMD is the only place that people would want to go from suburbs to the east and west. Sure, there’s a lot of students at UMD, but admittedly, most of them are too lazy to take public transit every day. Even then, most of them live very close to campus, so they wouldn’t take the purple line. Most of the staff drives too. I don’t understand why the purple line must stop on the UMD campus.

  11. Portland State University has a light-rail track that runs right through campus at grade. It does not appear to do harm to any of the students and it ties in with all the other excellent public transportation systems in Portland.

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