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COLLEGE PARK — The CEO of the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) and community leaders gathered in College Park to give an update on the construction of the train and the impacts on the community with residents at the College Park City Hall on Jan. 10.
The meeting was hosted by Purple Line NOW, a nonprofit organization advocating for the completion of the Purple Line for the last 16 years.
It included brief presentations by College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, PLTP CEO Fred Craig, Senior Policy Advisor for the County Executive Bradley Frome, Assistant Director of Sustainability at the UMD Department of Transportation Anna McLaughlin and Associate Vice President for Facilities Management for UMUC George Trujillo followed by a question and answer session.
Throughout the meeting, the speakers spoke on the impacts that the Purple Line would have on the city of College Park, and Prince George’s County as a whole during and after it is built, the impact on UMD and UMUC and gave an overall update of where they are in the construction process.
Although the bulk of the meeting centered around development in Prince George’s County, Purple Line NOW President Ralph Bennett emphasized at the beginning of the meeting and the importance of this project being a bi-county effort between Montgomery and Prince George’s County’s.
Craig addressed the construction delays due to lawsuits that have set the Purple Line a year behind schedule. These delays have cost $125 million and have set the opening date to February 2023 instead of March 2022, but Craig emphasized the effort being made to stay on a timeline.
During his presentation, he gave an update on the project itself showing those in the meeting precisely what is happening at this point, things that can cause delays such as excessive rain and efforts to minimize noise and vibration and he explained what needs to be done going forward.
“These projects, the magnitude that this is, have a vision for people that they go through the planning process, and then they think about the end when the project is running and everything is done,” Craig said. “People forget about how hard it is to get from the vision to the reality.”
Cheryl Cort attended the meeting and said such a detailed account of the project gave her a greater appreciation for all of the progress made so far and the challenges throughout the project.
“It was interesting seeing what a massive undertaking it is and the challenges and opportunities for the economy,” she said.
Wojahn highlighted a number of opportunities and challenges that the project would bring to College Park where four stations along the 16-mile Purple Line will be located which, along with the Riverdale Park station, will be a part of a free corridor for UMD students.
He emphasized the opportunity for development around the city that will be made easily accessible by the Purple Line, as well as transportation which will become important because, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governance, in the next 20 years the city is expecting an extra 1.5 million people to move in.
On top of that, the Purple Line will also allow College Park to create a cohesive identity as a city, Wojahn said.
However, a large undertaking such as the Purple Line brings in its own set of headaches and Wojahn did not shy away from the challenges that College Park will see in the coming years.
In addition to the Purple Line construction, College Park also must deal with the State Highway Administration’s work on Baltimore Avenue.
To compensate, the city will be working on ways to minimize the disruption, such as working on Campus Drive during the summer when fewer people use it, and ensuring that bus lines move smoother when they have to go through residential neighborhoods.
Additionally, there were concerns about housing affordability and the affordability of real estate for our businesses, but Wojahn said the city will work to make sure that businesses can stay open and functioning during the time of the construction and beyond.
“To me the Purple Line is all about helping us forge a greater community here in College Park,” Wojahn said. “One thing that we’re going to have to be diligent about in the years to come is making sure that we work with our residents and our neighborhoods to maintain that cohesiveness.
“Change always brings disruption to a community and as we see this change come, I’m looking forward to working with our neighborhoods to make sure the disruption is minimal and that we really work to bring and harness the benefits that the Purple Line has to offer.”
As far as the positions the Purple Line will bring to the county once it is complete, Frome said it will allow the county to take advantage of new opportunities such as economic development, expanding bus services, allow for more development around transit areas especially with the new Zoning Ordinance and make the county a magnet for investment.
It will also reflect the long-term goals of transportation such as the regional connectivity between Prince George’s County, especially UMD, to Montgomery County and the economic growth that comes with such a partnership, as well as the opportunities it will bring to everyday people, especially those who may not have a car or other means of transportation.
“Accessible transit is a human right,” Frome said.
“Not everybody can afford a car, not everybody has that luxury but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to participate in educational opportunities, in occupational opportunities and going from one place to another with their children and that’s what transit means, let’s be honest. And having that as a government and as a society, we have an obligation to provide.”
Trujillo spoke briefly about the importance of connecting UMUC to the College Park through the Purple Line to allow students at the secluded online university access to the campus. McLaughlin said that the Purple Line will allow UMD to continue to move towards sustainable transportation and reduce the impact of the schools shrinking parking options.
“I thought this was a good overview,” said Rose Greene-Colby who lives in College Park. “I really appreciated hearing about the specifics on dealing with the delays, which I’m not really that concerned about because delays happen in construction, but also hearing about what some of the different community issues are. I think I was aware of some of them, but I had not heard anyone address them for a while.”