For urban observers, it’s a rare opportunity to watch a major urban planning mistake being made before your eyes. We can only wonder “what were they thinking?” years later, when the project is complete and communities are left with the builder’s errors: dead-end highways, blank walls, and train stations far from where commuters need to go.
Although its construction is years away, today a debate is raging in College Park that will determine where the Purple Line light rail link between New Carrollton and Bethesda will run on campus. (Detailed route) For years, state planners with the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) have discussed running the line through the heart of campus, where hundreds of university shuttles and other buses run daily, discharging their passengers in front of the Student Union just steps from the major campus buildings. This Campus Drive alignment maximized access to campus as well as passing through campus efficiently.
High level university administrators, led by University President Dr. Dan Mote, have been less enthusiastic. Just before a MTA briefing in College Park on the project and after months of silence, Mote broke his silence. He declared in an op-ed in the student paper in October that the university would support the project—on the condition it would be routed on an alternate alignment at the north end of campus along a road called Stadium Drive shown in orange above. At the MTA briefing, state officials argued they thought Campus Drive was the best location for the line, presenting these renderings as well as a variety of data about what the effect of the line would be.
Since then, the student paper has published three student editorials, one a half by myself, supporting the Campus Drive alignment as well as a staff editorial critiquing Mote’s proposal. Meanwhile, on Rethink College Park we have broken down the various proposals in gritty detail with over 100 community comments in the past two weeks, and launched a Facebook group dedicated to the issue.
Nonetheless, administrators are pressing on in their quest for a circuitous northern route that gives the transit engineers headaches. Last week Mote spoke to the undergraduate student government about his plan, and this week bringing their case to the university’s Faculty Senate. The debate will continue on campus Friday as the Graduate Student Government will consider a resolution supporting the Campus Drive alignment. State planners will return to College Park in December to present the results of their study of alternate routes for the trains on campus. According to the current project schedule, the state hopes to finalize the route by next spring, to use to apply next year for federal funds for the project.
Will the Purple Line eventually have a stop in front of the student union, as pictured in the MTA image below? For now, it’s unclear, and the conversation continues on campus in advance of the next MTA meeting. Care to join a Facebook group?