Category Archives: purple line

Purple Line ROD Signed

From Purple Line Now:

The MTA just announced that the Record of Decision for the Purple Line has been signed. Formal announcement to follow next week.

As the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) website explains, the Record of Decision is:

The final approval of an Environmental Impact Statement which will be issued by Federal Transit Administration. It is a public document that explains the reasons for a project decision and summarizes any mitigation measures that will be incorporated in the project. Obtaining the ROD is the last step in the NEPA process. After a ROD is received, permits and right-of-way can be acquired.

Can SNCF Derail the Purple and Red Lines?

Maryland wants to create a public-private partnership (P3) to build and operate the Purple Line. Keolis North America, 70% owned by La Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF) is one of the finalists selected by the State.

Keolis’s proposal has run into trouble because of SNCF’s role in transporting Jews from France to Nazi death camps. Lea Lieberman who lost her father in the Holocaust gave moving testimony yesterday to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee yesterday:

When the Nazis occupied Paris, my parents fled to Vichy France. Subsequently, the Gestapo arrested my father and left my mother to tend to a three year old child alone. . . .

Shortly after his arrest in Vichy France, he was taken to Drancy (the notorious holding camp in the outskirts of Paris) and subsequently shipped to Sobibor concentration camp via the French National Railroad, where he was murdered. . . .

Three days ago, a representative for SNCF, the French National Railroad, shirked any moral or legal responsibility by stating and I am paraphrasing, we were an occupied country, the trains were operated under Nazi command, there was nothing we could do except to obey our Nazi occupiers.

Ironically, this is similar to what the German soldiers stated in the Nuremburg trials after the War. Following orders is not a moral excuse to murder. I find that prototypical statement of helplessness to be even in and of itself. SNCF was complicit with the Nazi regime in the murder of innocent Jews, including my father. Indeed, it has been reported that the company has acknowledged guilt in France and paid out for than $6 billion in reparations, but only to French citizens and certain deportees.

Holocaust Survivor Leo Bretholz vociferously disputed SNCF’s rationale that it had no choice but to obey he occupiers in a commentary in the Baltimore Sun:

SNCF carried out its transports with precision, cruelty and deception. On each convoy, we were packed into 20 cattle cars, 50 people each. For the entire multi-day trip, we were given only one piece of triangular cheese, one stale piece of bread and no water. There was hardly room to stand or sit, and in the middle of the train was a single bucket to relieve ourselves. . . .

I even have a copy of an invoice SNCF sent the French government, seeking payment for the services it provided. They pursued payment on this after the liberation of Paris, after the Nazis were gone. They even charged interest for late payments. This was not coercion, this was business.

SNCF was not coerced into using cattle cars. It was not coerced into sending bills after the war. It was not coerced into serving no water on the trains. Had SNCF resisted, the number of those killed from France would have been greatly reduced. Had SNCF not imposed horrific conditions on its trains, many additional lives could have been saved.

Instead of taking responsibility for its actions during the past 70-plus years, the company has spent millions of dollars on a lobbying and public relations campaign to rewrite history and avoid accountability for its pivotal role in one of history’s greatest atrocities.

Leo Bretholz died earlier this month before he could testify on the bill.

Regardless of one’s views on SNCF’s guilt, one need not wrestle with SNCF’s excuse of having to comply with the Nazi German occupiers for the simple reason that SNCF has already admitted guilt and paid reparations in France.

If that’s the case in France, it ought to be the case in Maryland. There is something deeply grotesque about a willingness to pay lobbyists to avoid accountability here when it has already admitted liability in its home country.

In response to SNCF’s refusal to pay reparations to American survivors of the Holocaust, Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-43, Baltimore City) and Del. Kirill Reznick (D-39, Montgomery) have filed legislation to require SNCF to pay reparations if it wants to bid for the project.

The bill has been complicated by claims that any interference with the bidding process could derail federal funding. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) sent a letter to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) stating that the bills “raise legal concerns regarding the ability of MTA to comply with federal full and open competition requirements” and thus “jeopardize federal funding” for the Purple and the Red Line.

MTA and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) have unsurprisingly lobbied hard against the bills. However, the letter from FTA was unusually artful and carefully couched to avoid any firm determination of the impact of the bills on federal funding.

Presumably, the State of Maryland could request a more definitive answer from FTA. Is the Obama Administration really not going to fund transportation projects because the State wants to use its leverage from this $6 billion contract–one of the largest it has ever awarded–to aid Holocaust victims?

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) has testified in favor of the bill. And some legislators have stated that they feel more strongly about the principle than the $900 million in funding recommended by FTA. As the Washington Post reported:

“We want the Purple Line, but is this the price we pay — to do business with these guys?” Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery) said Thursday after a Budget and Taxation Committee hearing. “Maybe if that’s the case, maybe we can’t build it.”

Others feel differently. Del. Kirill Reznick is willing to modify his legislation to avoid the loss of federal funds.

It’s in SNCF’s power to resolve this issue and bid for the project. Doing so would bring honor to SNCF and to France.

Up and Down Week for the Purple Line

The Purple Line received some good news the other day when the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recommended both the Purple Line and Red Line for a full funding grant agreement. Both are included in President Obama’s budget with $100 million budgeted for the Purple Line.

The president’s proposal is a long way from a final budget–if Congress can even agree on a budget in this election year. But it is a step forward for the Purple Line, as federal funding is vital to the planned light-rail line. Proponents of the project are understandably pleased with this announcement.

The next day, however, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) revealed that Purple Line costs had risen yet again to $2.37 billion, as this graph from the Washington Post demonstrates:

PL Costs

The latest increase amounts to $126 million. MTA Project Development Head Henry Kay explained:

the initial $1.2 billion estimate in 2001 probably was based on broad assumptions, such as the average cost per mile for rail construction nationally. As the state has refined the Purple Line design, he said, engineers have found more “challenges” that add costs. . . .

“The [cost estimate] number at that time [in 2001] would have been based on lines on a map,” Kay said.

About 30 percent of the project has been designed, he said, enough to form more precise cost projections.

The excuse that cost estimates have risen because the earlier estimates were only rough estimates is suspicious if only because cost estimates have always increased. They never decline. If the estimates are unbiased, the errors shouldn’t be off only in one direction.

The State also doesn’t mention that Maryland foots the entire bill for every increase. FTA has recommended $900 million in funding. That amount will not increase and may decline. So the amount that the State is on the hook for the project just increased from $1.34 billion to $1.47 billion–a 10% increase.

And that means $126 million less for all other transportation projects in the State of Maryland. It also means that Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties will receive less for other projects since more funds dedicated to this part of the State will have to go to pay for the Purple Line.

One might expect further cost increases if only because Parsons Brinckerhoff is involved. This is the same firm that engineered the botched and way over budget Silver Spring Transit Center. The Center is supposed to accommodate the new Purple Line.

Henry Kay says he has “a high level of confidence” that the new cost estimates are accurate. If so, that would be good news for the State and the future of the Purple Line project.

Moving Forward with RTS in Montgomery

RTSMap

Proposed Rapid Transit System Map

Montgomery County has adopted plans for a bus rapid transit system (RTS) of nearly 96 miles. This system includes not only the long planned Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) of 15 miles but a separately planned system of nearly 81 miles.

Proposed and pushed relentlessly by at-large Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich, the plan to add 81 miles is the most ambitious effort to expand public transit in the area since Metro. While other jurisdictions, including DC and Alexandria, are ahead of Montgomery in moving ahead with RTS, Montgomery’s is the most extensive network.

The above schematic map shows the proposed routes as well as the planned light-rail Purple Line and CCT. The map produced by Communities for Transit, an RTS advocacy group, uses the familiar Metro system design, which makes it look attractive but also misleadingly suggests that RTS is heavy rail like Metro. It’s not. Repeat: map looks like Metro; system is not Metro.

On the other hand, I understand the drive by proponents to avoid the word “bus.” In the DC area, people associate the buses with Metrobuses–the slowest still moving form of transportation ever invented. Drivers perceive buses as barely moving hulks to avoid and to pass. Though RTS is not heavy rail, it is also definitely not Metrobus.

RTS buses move much faster and are much nicer, more analogous to light or heavy rail cars. These buses are also designed to approach platforms at level–again like Metro or light rail–so there is no climbing up or down.

Greater speed than conventional buses is achieved because RTS buses usually travel in their own dedicated lanes. There can be two lanes on either side of the street along the curb or two in the median. Alternatively, in tighter areas, there may just be one lane that switches direction. Buses traveling in the direction of heavy traffic use the dedicated lane while buses going in the other direction travel with regular traffic.

In some areas with little room, the buses may have to travel in regular traffic in both directions. However, even in these areas, RTS buses can go faster than regular buses because they communicate to hold the traffic lights so that they can make the lights if they are close to the light but it’s about to change.

People often wonder why we don’t just expand Metro, like the delayed Silver Line in Virginia, or build light rail, like the planned Purple Line, instead. They reason is cost. RTS is far cheaper than either of these methods. This item from the Communities for Transit presentation caught my eye:

SLC BRT

In Salt Lake City, light rail would have been ten times as expensive as the RTS alternative. The price difference means that Montgomery can get far more bang for the buck with RTS. Indeed, the CCT was originally planned as a light rail but is now expected to be a bus rapid transit system, so that it is financially feasible.

The low cost is critical because, even with the Governor’s successful  drive to take measures to expand Maryland’s transportation fund, there is not nearly enough money for all of the State’s transportation priorities from roads and Baltimore’s Red Line to MARC and Metro (those elevators. . . ).

One of the most appealing aspects of RTS is the potential, and it remains just potential, to help weaken the battles between civic groups and developers. Developers want greater density while civics worry about the impact on infrastructure, especially the increased traffic.

The Montgomery RTS plan allows more growth to occur in the context of a system designed to address heightened traffic and also to spread development, along with its benefits and problems, around a much larger area rather than one or two nodes. It recognizes that Montgomery remains a spread out suburban area even as we develop multiple new urban centers.

According to Communities for Transit, RTS does produce additional investment:

Cleveland

And growth needs to occur to provide jobs and income, as well as to pay the taxes to regenerate our aging infrastructure and expand it. The key is to invest the public transit money wisely.

Chevy Chase Town Council Meeting

In addition to writing this blog, I am one of the five members of the Town of Chevy Chase’s Town Council and the current Town Treasurer. The following is an unofficial summary of our meeting last Wednesday.

Executive Session

The Town Council met in closed session from 5:30-7pm to discuss (1) potential litigation as it relates to the Purple Line, (2) an Open Meetings Act complaint, and (3) a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request.

Purple Line

Mayor Pat Burda made remarks on the Town’s actions regarding the Purple Line. Here is part of her statement:

I was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “the Town is not lobbying Congress.” The statement, which I attempted to clarify before it reached the printed Sunday Post, referred specifically to an inquiry about lobbying the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  I also said that it would be foolish to try to lobby Congress to defund the project given Senator Mikulski’s position as Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

To fully set the record straight, the Town is speaking to Members of Congress to raise the same concerns we raised with the Maryland Transportation Administration about the proposed Purple Line project.  It is our hope that through this effort of educating decision makers about the currently proposed Purple Line, that the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) will carefully consider all of the facts before them.

The Council was not ready to take action at this meeting, but plans on holding a special meeting next week at which it may take action. This meeting will be announced in advance and open to the public. All members of the Council thanked the Mayor for the incredible amount of time she has spent and hard work she has done on this issue.

Undergrounding Utilities—PEPCO Preliminary Cost Estimate

The Town received a letter from PEPCO dated February 6 which gave their preliminary estimate to bury the power lines in the town as:

 $50 million, not including undergrounding telecommunication lines, any upgrade work required by the customer, or installation of new street lights. Costs incurred by each customer would range from $5000 to $15,000 for meter box upgrades, burying services wires and internal electrical upgrades, if needed.

PEPCO has promised to provide a more detailed cost per mile estimate to the Town within two weeks that:

will consider actual Town street mileage of 9.94 miles (versus 10 miles) as well as physical conditions in the field, including Town street width, as it impacts excavation around other utilities and traffic control, and the number and location of existing public and private trees and landscaping.

PEPCO will also provide a price quote on the cost to the Town for PEPCO:

to perform a one line schematic and conduit schematic and conduit schematic in order to further refine the ‘costs per mile’ estimate.

The letter also reaffirmed that PEPCO will not help to pay for undergrounding the Town’s power lines:

As PEPCO officials indicated at the Town’s public meeting on December 5, 2013, the Town would be responsible for all costs associated with undergrounding electrical lines in the Town.

New Power Reliability Task Force

As we continue to explore the cost and benefits of undergrounding power lines, the Town needs to consider other options designed to address the very real concerns and frustrations of Town residents with the reliability of power service in the Town.

During the course of meetings on this topic, a number of residents with real knowledge and expertise on this topic offered innovative or alternative ideas. For example, some suggested that we should explore getting PEPCO to improve the robustness of the network by making it possible to shift electricity from one feeder to another when the power goes out. Another has suggested that the Town create a town-wide micro grid using large-scale fuel cells.

As a result, I proposed that the Mayor appoint a Task Force of residents to explore alternative reliability strategies. The Task Force could work with PEPCO and also make a proposal to the Town Council for outside expertise that would enable them to conduct their work more effectively. I was pleased that the Town Council approved the proposal unanimously.

I encourage anyone interested in participating in the Task Force to email the Mayor at townoffice@townofchevychase.org along with information about the expertise that you would bring to the Task Force.

Town Election Procedures

The Town Council voted 4-1 (with Councilmember Bickerman voting against) to adopt the Staff Proposal for the conduct of runoff Town elections in the event of tie. The runoff elections would occur in a similar manner to regular elections. Residents would be notified of the runoff via postcard and other Town communication methods. Over a 20-day period, residents could go vote in the Town Office or request a ballot via email which would be delivered to their home.

The Town Council decided 4-1 (with Councilmember Strom voting against) to not notify residents in the Forecast which incumbents will file to seek reelection.

Despite the division on the votes, most members of the Council did not feel especially strongly about either issue and were happy to reach a reasonable conclusion on both matters.

Meadow Lane Preliminary Landscaping Plan

The Council reviewed the preliminary plan for the public right-of-way along the former Li property on Meadow Lane. The Council agreed 4-0 (with Councilmember Bickerman abstaining) to move forward with the proposal. Councilmember Al Lang expressed that he felt it important to proceed with taking care of this matter and enhancing the pedestrian walkway and the right of way, as a plan along these lines was part of the promise by the Town to residents when the property was subdivided. The Council also expressed to the neighboring resident who attended the meeting that we would be happy to work with her on the nature of the plantings adjoining her property. The proposal is not designed or intended to facilitate public use of the private properties adjacent to the public right-of-way. If anything, the plan should have the opposite effect.

Early Adjournment

After quickly approving the minutes and the financial report, the Council adjourned at 8:30 as snow had already begun to fall.