Earlier this month, Governor Larry Hogan and other state and local officials defended the rapid start for construction on the Purple Line. However, opponents of the new light rail system gathered to protest the short public notice about the closure of the Georgetown Branch Trail on September 5 for tree removal and construction staging.
The Purple Line is a 16.2-mile light rail that will stretch from downtown Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. Construction of the Purple Line closed the Georgetown Branch Trail, which has met significant opposition from residents of Chevy Chase and the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, a hiking group.
The 3.5-mile long trail was closed only five days after the state’s private contractor on the project, Purple Line Transit Partners, announced the trail would be closed for four to five years for construction.
The project’s federal approval was revoked last year by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2014 by longstanding opponents of the light rail project. In July, the appeals court reinstated the project’s federal approval, allowing the state to secure a 900 million dollar funding agreement with the federal government and commence construction.
“I think we were delayed for over a year with a ludicrous lawsuit and we were paying millions of dollars in late penalties for not moving forward,” Hogan said when asked whether he thought the construction process was moving too rapidly. “We’re not moving too fast at all. It’s been much too slow. I would have preferred to start a year ago.”
Senator Chris Van Hollen criticized the public notification process for the project. In a letter to state Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, Van Hollen wrote, “I recognize that the delay in the commencement of construction caused by litigation has created planning and other logistical difficulties. Nonetheless, it is imperative that the state agencies and [Purple Line Transit Partners] do all they can to ensure that the affected communities are engaged and informed and that impacts are minimized.”
Winston Churchill High School senior Danyal Choudry agreed with the statement from Van Hollen. “It’s really important for the communities to be involved in the project to take away any difficulties they may have. The residents should be informed and the leaders of the project should make sure the needs of the affected communities are met.” he said.
On September 6, Purple Line opponents asked a federal judge to prohibit the Purple Line Transit Partners from cutting down trees along the Georgetown Branch Trail until September 24 while the lawsuit against the line’s construction was pending. The state responded to Leon’s request by saying doing so would cost an estimated 6.1 million dollars because it would require about a two-week shutdown for the local tree-cutting operators.
However, the state said it would wait until September 20, so Leon could rule on the broader preliminary injunction request, which was scheduled for a hearing September 19.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Bilal Choudry of Winston Churchill High School