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In 1989, the Montgomery County Council voted to build a segment of the Purple Line—a metropolitan rail-loop concept first proposed and named by City Paper almost 20 years ago—between Silver Spring and Bethesda. Since then, advocates of the rail line have expanded their vision to include a link that extends eastward as far as New Carrollton, connecting to the Orange and Green Lines as well as the eastern leg of the Red. And with Metrorail inching toward Dulles, a westward link to Tysons Corner would also be very useful.
Such ambitious ideas look a little silly, however, in the face of the fact that no progress has been made toward building the simple Bethesda/Silver Spring light-rail line the Montgomery County Council endorsed 17 years ago.
Now the council has an opportunity to take a small step toward its 1989 commitment. On May 9, the council will vote on a proposal to build a south entrance to the Bethesda Metro station. This addition, located at Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street, would be a elevator-only portal (as at Forest Glen and the south entrance to Friendship Heights). Its construction would reduce crowding at the north entrance and improve access to the recently developed shopping district along Woodmont Avenue, home to such draws as the Bethesda Row cinema. Action Committee for Transit, which advocates expanding public transportation in Montgomery County, estimates that the new entrance would attract 700 additional daily trips at Bethesda Metro by 2030.
That’s without the second piece of the project: the Purple Line. The proposed south entrance, estimated to cost $50 million, would also include an interchange with the light-rail line, which would be underground in Bethesda but run on the surface most of the way to Silver Spring, using the abandoned Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad. (This corridor is currently used by a gravel bicycle path.)
The Bethesda Metro station was built with knockout panels so that a south entrance could be added without major demolition, and Metro has done the preliminary design studies for the new portal. If the county voted to provide the funding, construction could begin in less than two years.
Building the Bethesda Metro south entrance doesn’t guarantee that the Purple Line will ever materialize, but it takes a step in that direction. Short-sighted local planners (especially in D.C.) seem intent on precluding even the possibility of extending the area’s rail transit system, but planning for more rail is only reasonable. (After all, the price of gasoline won’t always be an affordable $3 a gallon.) If we can’t have a full Purple—or extended Yellow or auxiliary Orange—Line, at least let’s build the knockout panels and transfer stations that make expansion possible in a more rational future.