The Town of Chevy Chase appears to be backing off its strategy of trying to kill the Purple Line, according to comments made by Town Council members and residents at a public hearing Wednesday night.
“The frontal charge to oppose the Purple Line is not a very sensible strategy,” council member John Bickerman said at the hearing attended by about 40 people. “I don’t think we’ve been effective with the money we spent.”
Town Mayor Al Lang said the town has spent about $480,000 over the past 16 months lobbying the federal and state government against the 16-mile, $2.45 billion light-rail project.
Now a new reality seems to be setting in among the town’s leaders, who are grappling with Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to move forward with the project, albeit by significantly reducing state funding for the rail line.
Hogan’s decision caused residents to question whether proposed cuts to the project would mean the town’s requests to mitigate the impact of the Purple Line, such as noise barriers, green tracks, buried power stations and buried power lines, would no longer be included.
“When I heard the governor’s decision, I thought this is the worst possible thing that could happen,” Holly Kammerer, an Elm Street resident, said. “They’re not going to look to protect this town, they’re going to look to cut the low-hanging fruit and that’s us.”
After the public hearing, Council members made no decision Wednesday night on whether to continue efforts to kill the project, lobby for mitigation measures or take some other course.
In the state’s initial cost-cutting proposal, the green track bed was eliminated in favor of a typical gravel rail bed. Initially, the green track was proposed as a way to cut down on stormwater and to help reduce sound from the train. The state also proposed allowing extended work hours and additional lane closures to construct the rail line—both of which could affect the town during the construction phase.
However, many specific details about what may be cut from the project to save money haven’t yet been released by the state, leaving many who spoke at the hearing to wonder what else may impact the town.
Elm Street residents were particularly vocal at the hearing—their homes back up to the Capital Crescent Trail where the light-rail would run—and they may be the most affected by the trains that are now scheduled to pass every 7½ minutes.
Elm Street resident Joan Rood urged the town to keep fighting the construction of the Purple Line. “We are a wealthy town and we have the money,” she said.
“We’ve made a big investment,” Elm Street resident Julie Stanish added. “I think if we walk away, no one is going to stand up for the town’s interests.”
However, other residents urged the council to stop spending money on what they considered to be a futile effort to kill the project.
Ridge Street resident Betsy Johnson, who supports the project, said she has been embarrassed to tell people where she lives because of the money the town is spending to fight the Purple Line.
“I would support spending money on mitigation,” Johnson said. “I feel bad for Elm Street residents, but let’s face it, development is going to happen. We’ve needed east-west transit for a very long time and the Purple Line is the project, without it traffic is going to be terrible.”
Susan Blacklow of Oakridge Avenue said she has continually asked the town to stop spending its resources fighting the project. “In the end I feel like Alice in Wonderland except all in this town seem to be falling down the rabbit hole… . Please close up that rabbit hole and stop all funding against the Purple Line,” she said.
Newly elected council member Fred Cecere described the current situation in the town as a dichotomy between residents who outright oppose the Purple Line and those who want to mitigate its impact on the town.
“We are really not in a position right now to spend enough money alone to actually stop construction of the Purple Line,” Cecere said. “We haven’t been able to get one ally… . We have to decide at some point: Are we going to continue with opposition strategy, mitigation strategy or something else.”
Lang said he doesn’t believe state elected officials would consider the town’s mitigation requests if it is also lobbying to kill the project.
The council recommended suspending its August meeting, but agreed to be in touch via email or by holding an emergency meeting if measures that significantly impact the town are proposed as more details are released about the project.
In a memo sent to town residents prior to the public hearing, Lang wrote the town’s long-range planning committee will be creating an analysis of the issues surrounding the project. The analysis wasn’t ready for consideration at the public hearing Wednesday, according to Lang.
“When completed, it will be presented to Town residents for review and comment and will form the basis for the Council’s decision on how to proceed,” Lang wrote.