Thursday, November 20, 2008

George Leventhal's Testimony on the Purple Line

At-large County Council Member George Leventhal is a member of the Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee and is currently serving his second term.

• Increased convenience and improved quality of life.
• Reduced commute times.
• Alternatives to the automobile. A way to get out of traffic.
• Access to jobs, shopping, entertainment and education.
• Decreased greenhouse gas emissions.
• Less dependence on imported petroleum.
• Closer links to our great research university, the University of Maryland at College Park.
• A direct connection between both branches of the Red Line, the Green Line, the Orange Line, three MARC train lines, and AMTRAK
• Protection, enhancement and completion of the Capital Crescent Trail.
• Transit-oriented economic development, smart growth and community revitalization inside the Beltway.

What other public investment now underway provides so many benefits for the citizens of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties?

We need the Purple Line now.

We need to recognize the stiff competition we will face from other parts of the country that are also seeking federal approval for transit projects. We can’t afford to take for granted that there will be a Purple Line.

Despite the options under study in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the real choice that confronts us is not between rail and bus, or between an at-grade system versus an underground system. Because the competition is so stiff, our choice is between cost-effective light rail and no transit improvement at all.

We must unify – Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, our congressional delegation, our state senators and state delegates, County Executives and County Councils. We must speak with a single voice and make it clear that we want the Purple Line.

Because if we don’t, we will end up with nothing at all.

And what would that mean? With no transit improvement, travel times between Silver Spring and Bethesda will increase from the current 20 minutes to 35 minutes by 2030. Between Bethesda and College Park, from the current 49 minutes to 81 minutes. Traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will all get worse. However, medium investment light rail will make travel times considerably better in 2030 than they are today. From Silver Spring to Bethesda, only 9 minutes. From Bethesda to College Park, only 34 minutes. With concomitant improvements in energy use and greenhouse gas reduction.

I want to thank Governor Martin O’Malley, Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, Maryland Transit Administrator Paul Wiedefeld, Project Manager Mike Madden and all the staff who have worked so hard to get us this close to realizing this vision. Mike Madden and his team have held hundreds of community meetings and listened carefully to concerns over alignments, design elements, buffering, landscaping, noise, placement of the trail and many other issues. The DEIS is much better as a result of all the input they have received, and the state’s preferred final alternative will be even better as a result of the testimony they are hearing this month. Legitimate concerns of neighborhoods and trail users are being addressed.

Even as we respond to these important, but relatively narrow, issues, we must keep the big picture in mind. We cannot allow valid concerns over details that can be relatively easily addressed to convey a message that we don’t actually support the vision that the Purple Line represents: a vision of improved mobility; a cleaner environment; invigorated, walkable communities; and a beautiful, safe hiker-biker trail. We must not permit a cacophony of disparate voices to suggest that our region doesn’t really know what it wants.

We may not have unanimity of opinion. In public policy, unanimity is very rare. But I believe there is a clear, strong and growing consensus in Montgomery County behind light rail on the Master Plan alignment. Based upon the input I have received throughout my years in community activism and elected office, I believe that my constituents overwhelmingly want the Purple Line. They want it to be light rail because they perceive that as a higher-quality commuting experience than bus transit.

With a new President taking office in January, Barack Obama, committed to federal investments in infrastructure to stimulate our lagging economy, 2009 will be an extraordinarily opportune time to ask for what we want. And the stronger consensus we have around our preferred option, the better our chances of winning federal funds.

If we ask for what we don’t want, we might get it! And if we aren’t clear about what we are asking for, we might get nothing at all.