Silver Spring Residents Demand End to Nighttime Construction of Purple Line Tunnel

Group meets with state transportation secretary

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Pete Rahn meets with a resident in his office Monday

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A group of residents from Silver Spring who are upset about being woken up at night from construction of a Purple Line tunnel is demanding that Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn order an end to nighttime construction.

Since June, construction crews have been working around the clock on the tunnel below Arliss and Plymouth streets in the Long Branch  neighborhood, which will connect the future Manchester Place and Long Branch stations. When completed, the Purple Line will stretch 16 miles from Bethesda to New Carrollton and include 21 stations. Completion is expected in October 2022.

But effects of the construction have had negative side effects for residents who live nearby. The Washington Post reported Oct. 17 that a number of residents were experiencing noise and vibrations in their homes that were keeping them awake at night. One resident stayed at a hotel at the expense of Purple Line Transit Partners, the team of companies building the light-rail line, according to the Post.

Josh Tulkin, who lives on Bradford Road near the construction site, organized a group of five residents who visited Rahn in his Hanover office Monday and delivered a letter explaining their concerns about the construction noise, and what they believe is a lack of communication from the Maryland Transit Authority, as well as the Purple Line Transit Partners.

“The contractor, Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP), informed the community that this portion of tunnel boring will continue 24/7 for at least 6 more months, and the 24/7 schedule will continue until project completion (2022). Based on the limited and unreliable information that MTA has provided about the tunnel construction, we have no reason to believe that this type of construction, which wakes people up in the middle of night, will not continue until the projected project completion in 2022,” the residents wrote in the letter.

In an interview Monday, Tulkin said Rahn met with the residents, and was receptive to their concerns.

“We told him about the nighttime construction and that we were big Purple Line supporters. And he listened, and he said he thought our requests were reasonable,” he said.

Tulkin is the director of the Maryland Sierra Club, but said he organized the meeting as a private citizen and not in his capacity as the club leader. He said Rahn told them that “the buck stops here” and that he was “the person who can fix this and actually make changes.” Ultimately, Tulkin said Rahn said that he would communicate the residents’ concerns to Charles Lattuca, the MTA’s executive director for transit development and delivery.

Work is expected to continue for another six months with the tunnel scheduled to be finished in 2020.

John Undeland, a spokesman for the Purple Line Transit Partners, said in an interview earlier this month that they would be willing to consider compensating affected residents for hotel rooms “on a case by case basis.”

“It’s an alternative to try to be a good neighbor, but we recognize it’s not a perfect solution at all,” he said.

Undeland said residents are experiencing noise currently because crews are drilling and hitting bedrock. The sound of a jackhammer drilling rock, he said, is much different than if it is hitting soil. Additionally, Undeland said the construction that has been occurring recently is in the portion of the tunnel that is directly below the homes.

“It’s 40 feet [deep], so it’s a fairly shallow tunnel. You know, there’s less area to cushion the impact,” he said.

Undeland said so far only one affected resident had stayed in a hotel, which was for a few days. He didn’t expect that many residents would request to leave their homes, noting that there were no previous complaints of noise before crews started drilling through the rock. He said most of the drilling is done through soil.

Undeland said his organization has a “contingency” fund in its budget, which is meant to pay for unexpected costs. Compensation for residents who must stay in hotels for a few days is included in that fund.

“I don’t think there was an expectation that the impacts were going to be felt as much as they evidently are,” he said.

But Tulkin said staying in a hotel didn’t make sense for him and his wife, Annie, who have a 3-year-old daughter.

“Getting to a hotel is a bit of a schlep, and we only want to do it if we have to. If someone said it’s only going to be a week or two, maybe, but we’ve gotten so little information that we don’t know what to expect,” he said.

Undeland said he has empathy for the affected residents, but the transit partners are contractually required by the state to make sure the work is done in time, and doing so requires that crews work at night. Crews, he said, have been working six days per week.

“This whole question comes down to scheduling. We’re focused like a laser on meeting the schedule, and to do that it’s going to require 24-hour operations,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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