In closed session yesterday, the Montgomery County Council concurred with the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett and decided not to go move forward with the funding to facilitate redevelopment of the APEX building and a much improved Purple Line stop in Bethesda.
The Council had already greatly expanded the size of the building that could be built on the spot in the hopes of enticing the owner to redevelop or to sell to a developer. However, they balked at agreement with the roughly $70 million in costs to the County to facilitate the deal and make it economically feasible.
There are three major effects of this decision:
Less Well-Designed Purple Line Station
The Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) had pressed the County to move forward with the APEX acquisition to allow construction of a well-designed Purple Line station. While the State now claims that the new station, projected to handle around 24,000 trips per day, will still be adequate, the failure to acquire the building requires major changes.
Passengers will need to cross the tracks–something MTA previously described as problematic but now says will be alright. Additionally, one of the platforms will have to be much smaller and the ease of accessibility to the system will decline. There will still be elevator banks for direct Purple to Red Line connections, though the entrances will need to be moved.
No Tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue
People wanting to continue on the much-used Capital Crescent Trail will have to make their crossing of Wisconsin Ave. at grade. Currently, there is a wide tunnel under the Air Rights Building that facilitates bike trips under Wisconsin Ave.
The original plans promised a new smaller tunnel under the Air Rights Building in tandem with the new Purple Line. This promise evaporated after the project had moved on to a later stage when it became deemed to expensive.
Hope for the tunnel reemerged with the redevelopment of the APEX building. Indeed, Montgomery County government leaders expressed greater enthusiasm for the tunnel, most recently at a publicly televised debate before the Democratic primary.
The lack of a grade separated bicycle crossing will also likely anger area bicyclists concerned not just about ease of travel but public safety. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), has predicated its strong support on grade-separated crossings of major thoroughfares along the trail.
Less Development at APEX Site
One of the major goals of the construction of the Purple Line has been to stimulate development and economic growth, crucial to expanding the County’s tax base to pay to maintain infrastructure and services.
It will be more difficult and therefore much more expensive to tear down and construct a new larger building on the APEX site after the construction of the new Purple Line stop. As a result, it may never happen. Any redevelopment would be pushed much further into the future until (if ever) it become a profitable venture.
The developers working to arrange the deal (i.e. the purchase of the building from the current owners and money need to render its redevelopment economically feasible) could come back with a better set of numbers. So maybe it will all work out.
Right now, however, the County will be left will a Purple Line stop described to me as “adequate” or “functional” at best at its critical terminus and economic engine in Bethesda. It does nothing for trust in government, due to repeated broken promises from both MTA and the County over the tunnel and the politically convenient timing of these decisions.