Purple Line Loop Alternative
In late 2002 County Executive Doug Duncan introduced a new proposal for the Bethesda to Silver Spring leg of the Inner Purple Line. His plan called for a heavy rail Metro line that would go north from the Silver Spring Metro station along the CSX railroad, turn west to follow the north side of I-495 (Beltway) and then go south to connect to the western leg of the Red Line north of the Medical Center/NIH stop. With this proposal, half of the Red Line trains heading to the Shady Grove Station would be redirected onto the loop just after the Medical Center stop and run along the new tracks until they rejoined the Red Line north of Silver Spring. There would be only one new station near Connecticut Avenue and the Beltway. This proposal was designated the "Purple Line Loop" by the County Planning Board staff.
The disadvantages of this proposal were immediately obvious. The loop route would not serve Prince George's County. Because half the trains on the Red Line would turn off onto the loop, Red Line stations beyond Medical Center and Silver Spring would actually lose service. And additional problems of cost and environmental impact soon emerged.
In early 2003 the Montgomery County Planning Board staff recommended that this proposal not be carried forward. The Montgomery County Planning Board and the Montgomery County Council agreed with this position. Maryland DOT did not accept Doug Duncan’s proposal and requested state and federal funds only for light rail or bus options.
In January 2008, Purple Line opponents including Columbia Country Club president J. Paul McNamara launched a renewed campaign for the Purple Line loop. The main argument for reviving the loop is that it will serve the expanded Bethesda Naval Hospital when it merges with Walter Reed under the "BRAC" process. But analysis by the Maryland Transit Administration shows that the number of Purple Line riders added by BRAC is tiny compared to the riders traveling to downtown Bethesda who would be disadvantaged by the loop. Both a summary of this analysis and the full report are available.
Bad Idea, Bad Timing and Bad Politics
The loop proposal would have substantially more serious negative impacts on Silver Spring, Kensington, and Bethesda neighborhoods than the current Inner Purple Line trolley/trail proposal. Additionally, the Duncan loop, eliminates a number of stops that have been embraced by the communities along the rights of way and would forego a hiker-biker trail into the heart of Silver Spring.
Concerns with the Loop:
- Neighborhood impacts would probably be worse than those of the Georgetown Branch option due to the major construction required at transition points on and off the Beltway.
- Impacts on Rock Creek Park would be substantially greater than those of the current Inner Purple Line design. The alignment proposed would be constructed north of the beltway for more than 1.5 miles where the Beltway hugs the park between Chevy Chase and Kensington.
- Substantially more funds are necessary for a heavy rail line that is underground and above ground along the Beltway compared to a light rail and trail line running across property already owned by the County. The $200 million estimated increase in cost is a fantasy, it would likely be much more.
- The Connecticut Avenue station would be accessed from the off-ramp on the north side of the Beltway. Conflicts with off-ramp traffic would be hard to avoid, and the station would be nearly inaccessible to pedestrians. In contrast, the Inner Purple Line stop at Chevy Chase Lake would create a real community center next to existing shopping, and it would be accessible on foot with no need for more parking.
- Grosvenor would lose half of its current service, and White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville, and Shady Grove would lose half of their current off-peak service. All stations north of Grosvenor and Silver Spring would lose the long-promised future increase in service when turn-backs at Grosvenor and Silver Spring end.
- Impact on Beltway traffic for the three year construction period is unimaginable. It would be far more disruptive than recent bridge replacement work (and will also require additional bridge replacements or modifications).
- Connecting the loop to the Red Line in North Bethesda would probably require taking property somewhere in the Cedar lane area where the elevated beltway structure is brought down to the portal of an underground tunnel leading to Medical Center.
- Purple Line trains leaving Silver Spring would follow the Red Line tracks to Union Station, so the Purple Line would not serve Prince Georges County at all.