UMD just released its much anticipated consultant study of Purple Line alternatives through campus. The study, produced by Hatch Mott MacDonald (HMM), a Canadian-based engineering firm, sheds light on UMD’s current feeling on a controversy that has consumed the campus for nearly four years.
We reported a couple weeks back about our cautious optimism that President Loh may be preparing for a workable resolution to the Purple Line debate. We’re still digging into the 169-page document, but its important to note up front that the document was commissioned well before Loh was tapped for his new post. Indeed, President Loh is scheduling an open forum on the alignment issue on Feb. 1. We commend him for this step. He has invited Garth Rockcastle, former dean of the UMD College of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, to speak on the benefits of the Campus Drive alignment, which Rockcastle believes in completely. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will speak as well. We are unsure who else will attend, but aside from MTA, we expect the majority to be campus administrators and staff.
Some of the items in the report are quite technical, but overall the study seems to suggest that UMD continues (at least as far as we can tell) to grasp at straws: Choosing to focus primarily on pedestrian safety and unworkable south campus alignments rather than the realistic and fundable Campus Drive alignment.
MTA’s written response towards the end of the report is quite revealing. The fact that they had a limited role in the production of this document only confirms the report’s single-purpose nature: to poke holes in the Campus Drive alignment while building the case for the report’s pre-determined conclusion. HMM ignores that a Preinkert Drive tunnel is neither prudent nor feasible…and never mentions that such an alignment is fundamentally unattainable from a funding perspective. UMD has succumbed to one of the most pervasive pitfalls in all realms of transportation and land use planning: The lure of fantasy alternatives and “visions” has thus far obscured the path to pragmatic, achievable compromise.
HMM should have at least acknowledged that Campus Drive is the most likely alternative to reach fruition. In ignoring this basic fact, UMD missed a great opportunity to suggest ways to tweak the Campus Drive alignment to make it more compatible with the pedestrian activity on campus. Pedestrian safety is a legitimate concern, but the issue can’t be adequately adressed without a true partnership between UMD and MTA.
Despite a few promising steps towards collaboration along the way, UMD long ago forfeited any real opportunity to take on a leadership role. Astoundingly, UMD’s consultants now underestimate the time and resources MTA has invested in studying various proposed alignments which UMD itself put forward. We hope that President Loh can help reverse the unconscionable course that his predecessor set and forge a new transportation future for the the state of Maryland’s flagship campus.