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Breakfast links: Rail projects move at different speeds

Photo by The Great Photographicon on Flickr.
Streetcars fast-tracked for GA Ave: The District may reprioritize the entire Georgia Avenue streetcar line into phase 1. The move may encourage faster redevelopment of Walter Reed. (City Paper)

Residents object to rail yard: Some Montgomery residents object to the size and placement of the Purple Line rail yard proposed for Lyttonsville. (Examiner) ... Such vocal opposition may be why the feds passed over the line for expedited review. (Post)

Metro costs soar: WMATA's pension costs will jump 32% next year to compensate for poor stock market performance. Health insurance benefits are lurching forward 8% and other insurance costs will jump 5% next year due to the 2009 crash. (Examiner)

Should Fairfax control its roads?: VDOT controls all roads in counties, except in Arlington and Henrico. Fairfax supervisor John Cook wants Fairfax to control them too to improve maintenance. Chairman Sharon Bulova says Fairfax can't afford it. (Examiner)

DC's Colbert rapport: DC architect Eric Colbert is the go-to guy for condo projects. Is he the new Harry Wardman or are his designs too bland? (City Paper)

Alexandria declares parking meter holiday: The city won't charge for parking in Old Town on Black Friday. (Post) ... The move is aimed to attract shoppers, but will shoppers instead be frustrated by workers who will park on the street for hours on end?

Keep calm and party on: DC's emergency management director will host a "stay in town party" in the event of an emergency. She hopes to discourage people from clogging evacuation routes by evacuating the city all at once. (Examiner)

And...: Downtown property owners worry that protestors might get too messy. (Post) ... The WMATA board lunches on humble pie. (Examiner) ... Ray LaHood won't remain Secretary of Transportation if President Obama gets a 2nd term. (The Hill)

Have a tip or starchitect nomination for the links? Submit it here.
Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 


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"Residents object to rail yard: Some Montgomery residents object to the size and placement of the Purple Line rail yard proposed for Lyttonsville. (Examiner) ... Such vocal opposition may be why the feds passed over the line for expedited review."

Gosh darn NIMBY-ist!! What's the big deal about having a 24 hour maintenance operation in your back yard? Can't you see you're holding up progess!

by BS_Dawg on Oct 14, 2011 8:24 am • linkreport

AND Metro officially named the Silver Line the Silver Line.

by xtr657 on Oct 14, 2011 8:32 am • linkreport

"AND Metro officially named the Silver Line the Silver Line."

That seems to be about the only thing to have gone right with this project. There are some things even Metro can't screw up.

by BS_Dawg on Oct 14, 2011 8:43 am • linkreport

BS_Dawg, the Silver Line isn't a WMATA project. The Silver Line is being built by MWAA and the bickering has been about penny-wisdom and pound-foolishness from Virginia.

by Cavan on Oct 14, 2011 8:50 am • linkreport

Fairfax County does not want to control its local roads because control forces the supervisors to take responsibility for the land use decisions that cause existing roads to be overwhelmed. Today they can blame VDOT.

by tmtfairfax on Oct 14, 2011 8:50 am • linkreport

Dawg, there already is 24-hour light industrial uses on the sight of the future maintaince garage. There is little noise and the work on Purple Line rail cars will all be done indoors.

by Cavan on Oct 14, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

@ tmtfairfax; exactly. VDOT serves as a whipping boy for Fairfax supervisors.

From the article: "But Fairfax officials say they can't afford to control their own roads until the state rewrites a funding formula that classifies most of the county as suburban or rural, giving it fewer tax dollars to patch roads. Arlington receives about $16,000 per lane mile per year, while Fairfax gets around $6,000 per lane mile, according to Cook."

Fairfax has about 6000 lane miles. So they are getting about 36M a year. What they want, then is about $100M.

May I make a suggestion. We know the surchage in gas tax (for metro) in Northern Virginia raises about 30M a year. 10 cents extra --- or let's be crazy and go up a quarter -- 25 cents would raise well north of $100M in Fairfax alone.

by charlie on Oct 14, 2011 9:26 am • linkreport

Re: WMATA Executive Session hot lunches
Bravo! Keeping executives accountable to their budgets even when it involves their own perks gives me immense satisfaction, as I see in my job how much catering costs can be (and how much of a rip-off).

by Margaret on Oct 14, 2011 9:34 am • linkreport

Great, no more hot lunches. All of WMATA's budget issues have been solved!

by Alex B. on Oct 14, 2011 9:39 am • linkreport

All the Old Town parking areas with meters that I know of are 2-hour parking. That means no-one could take up the same space for hours on end. That said, I know people who work in Old Town who just move their car throughout the day amongst the unmetered 2-hour parking zones, so I don't anticipate that the 2-hour time limit would stop workers from using the spaces. It's just an inconvenience to them.

by Mario on Oct 14, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

I'll miss having LaHood as Secretary of Transportation, but I can't say I blame him for wanting to leave.

by Lucre on Oct 14, 2011 10:14 am • linkreport

Amen, Lucre. He's 65, so he has no need to explain or justify his decision. All we can do is thank him for his service and take note that the last Republican grownup is leaving DC.

by Omri on Oct 14, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

DC's emergency management director will host a "stay in town party" in the event of an emergency.

Nice PR fail. Perhaps during an earth quake staying in DC is a good idea. But I remember another emergency about 10 years ago where the advise was very strongly to LEAVE DC (and Manhattan). Odd, because the emergency was technically not in DC, but in Arlington...

by Jasper on Oct 14, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

May I make a suggestion. We know the surchage in gas tax (for metro) in Northern Virginia raises about 30M a year. 10 cents extra --- or let's be crazy and go up a quarter -- 25 cents would raise well north of $100M in Fairfax alone.

I have another suggestion. Leave the roads with VDOT and avoid raising taxes.

RE: Silver Line

I like the Silver Line name but instead of calling it the Dulles Metrorail Project, it should be called the Tysons Metrorail project. The purpose of the project isn't to get people to Dulles. The purpose is to get people to Tysons from the East and West to facilitate the transformation of Tysons into a higher value area.

by Falls Church on Oct 14, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

"Dawg, there already is 24-hour light industrial uses on the sight of the future maintaince garage. There is little noise and the work on Purple Line rail cars will all be done indoors"

Thanks for clearing that up. So if this exact garage was planned for your neighborhood, it is safe to assume that you would welcome it with open arms.

by BS_Dawg on Oct 14, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

If someone proposed a light rail maintenance facility in my neighborhood and it meant that I was also going to get a light rail station (as is the case here), I would most definitely welcome it with open arms.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 14, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

@Fallschurch; I tend to agree. There are some negatives with VDOT. I think the biggest problem is on the secondary road side. However, as I tried to point out, Fairfax could easily fund the increase through a gas sales tax.

That they don't suggests it is much easier to point at Dillon's Ghost and blame those evil people from Richmond.

by charlie on Oct 14, 2011 11:12 am • linkreport

If someone proposed a light rail maintenance facility in my neighborhood and it meant that I was also going to get a light rail station (as is the case here), I would most definitely welcome it with open arms."

Yeah sure, if you (a) were not right up against it so that you were not kept up all night by the activities (go talk to the people in Virginia who got stuck next to the new rail yard); and(b) renting. If, like most people, your wealth was tied up in your house and something like this comes along and causes the value to nosedive, you'd be one these "nimby-ists" too. No need to argue... time will prove me right.

by BS_Dawg on Oct 14, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

@purple line

according to the article this facility has been on the town master plan since 1990. How many of these people bought since then and never bothered to look at this and are now complaining about it's existence?

by jj on Oct 14, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport

"according to the article this facility has been on the town master plan since 1990. How many of these people bought since then and never bothered to look at this and are now complaining about it's existence?"

The author was quoting the MTA's description of the master plan, and did not look at the master plan himself. Take a look at the plan for yourself. Nowhere will you see anything remotely resembling the sort of facility now proposed by the MTA. Don't believe everything you read in the paper (or everything the MTA tells you about this project, for that matter). Doing so can lead to dangerous results, like actually believing the Purple Line isn't a complete boondoggle in the making.

by BS_Dawg on Oct 14, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

@ Caven - not true. What's there now are local businesses (i.e., jobs, local tax revenue and amenities). There is no 24 hour maintenance shop of any kind there.

We are an extremely modest neighborhood in comparison to the surrounding area and neighborhoods of wealth, and we live in harmony with the commercial businesses that share our neighborhood. They may not be beautiful, but they are far better than the heavy industrial facility being proposed. A rail yard would exclude any potential for future redevelopment of this prime commercial land well inside the Beltway.

We are not opposed to the purple line and we have accepted that the rail yard/maintenance shop will be built here, but it should not be built in the community as the most recent design proposes. Earlier designs put this facility on county-owned property to the west of family homes, in an area where no one lives.

We sincerely hope MTA listens to our concerns. The Purple Line should not be built to the detriment of the most vulnerable populations along its path.

by Susan B on Oct 14, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

"but will shoppers instead be frustrated by workers who will park on the street for hours on end?"

Um no.

First, many people will have off.

More importantly the people that usually drive to work already have parking places that they normally use. Parking on the street is rather pointless if you already have a garage space.

(And I know of several people that used to simply just feed the meters (when they used to have them) every few hours when they worked near City Hall)

by Kolohe on Oct 14, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

Virginia drivers pay a greater than $200 million annual subsidy to overweight trucks. These trucks cause more than $200 million in annual damage to road and bridges, but pay permit fees of less than $3 annually. Virginia should end this subsidy before it seeks higher gas taxes.

by tmtfairfax on Oct 14, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

@ tmtfairfax; true, but I'm guessing a lot are out of state trucks. How can Virginia make them pay.

But an excellent argument for federal taxiation.

by charlie on Oct 14, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport


Are you aware that this used to be a heavy rail line? Anyone who lives next door to one of those would fall all over themselves to get a light rail line, and even a maintenance facility, put in place of that.

by Crickey7 on Oct 14, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

I just want to correct some Purple Line yard inaccuracies in comments.
The most recent documents are at:

@jj, As MTA presented on Oct 3, before 2003 the 1990 planned Purple line was going to be half as long and would have required a much smaller yard in Lyttonsville. The yard size needs expanded with the line expansion to College Park in 2003. Anyone who bought their house before 2003 would have had no way of knowing this. In addition, some of the nearest residents' families have been there for several generations so, no, they had no reason to consider the Purple line in home purchase planning.

The current businesses there definitely do not make noise 24/7 like the yard is expected to do. The open yard will be used for cleaning cars and moving them around at all hours so, no, @Cavan, the noise won't be all indoors.

@Matt Johnson, if the line is built, there will be a train stop near the Walter Reed Annex whether or not there was a yard here too. The neighborhood is accepting of the yard, but that doesn't mean there aren't a range of opinions regarding design and size. It seems like most people (possibly including MTA) now agree that the current design is suboptimal. I'm particularly disturbed by the very recent addition of a 200 car employee parking garage when they're only planning to have 200 employees total over 3 shifts.

I really want the Purple Line and trail built as soon as possible. This yard debate might cause real delays. My biggest complaint is that these delays would have been completely preventable if MTA bothered to directly interact with the community and present design mock-ups during the past few years. If MTA started neighborhood yard design meetings October 2008, when the first sketch of the official yard size was produced, this could have been dealt with by now instead of a panicked redesign effort now.

by Dan on Oct 14, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

@Mario -
I used to work for a small company that had its office on King Street. The employees who would drive would regularly be moving their car during the day. Then, one day, one of them got the bright idea to wipe the chalk off his tire. The company only stayed there ~8 more months (moved to Clarendon) but he never moved his car again - he just wiped the chalk off.
I don't know if Alexandria has changed their way of marking cars or not. This was six years ago...

by Out Of Old Town on Oct 14, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

"Are you aware that this used to be a heavy rail line? Anyone who lives next door to one of those would fall all over themselves to get a light rail line, and even a maintenance facility, put in place of that."

At the next community meeting, but sure to stand up and tell everyone what a favor the MTA is doing them. Really, I dare you. I'd pay good money to be there to see that.

by BS_Dawg on Oct 14, 2011 2:59 pm • linkreport

There is a group here that has a legitimate beef. They bought after the old rail line closed and before the new plans were formulated. That's a pretty small group.

That said, Dan has some pretty valid points.

by Crickey7 on Oct 14, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

@Crickey7, The comparison to the old rail line defies a bit of understanding of history of that freight line. See:
"Even in its heyday the Georgetown Branch line was a modest one-train-a-day operation - not much more than an extended switching run. No locomotive turning facilities existed in Georgetown, so engines and cars traveling there returned to Silver Spring pointing the same way they had come."

The line was always a stub with very low traffic. Almost all service was gone by 1981 and it was completely closed by 1985. Having tracks instead of a trail in one's backyard was probably not lovely, but the train itself probably wasn't much of an inconvenience (though this was all well before my time).

The Lyttonsville industrial area used to be homes and churches in the memory of some current residents. The fact that a historically black neighborhood was one of the few county communities that was changed to industrial zoning isn't something that's taken for granted if you know local history.

by Dan on Oct 14, 2011 3:38 pm • linkreport

So there is a period of light use phasing out between 1981 and 1985. Before that a heavy rail line used twice a day (one in and one out) rumbled past houses in the area. The process of transferring ownership took another decade. The Georgetown Branch Trail did not open till 1997. By that time the Purple Line proposal was already out there.

I'm not saying this is the best thing since sliced bread for those very close to the facility. I do think the negative effects will be localized and that the area on the whole will benefit. And I also think that an argument based on the unexpected effect on home prices is totally off the mark.

by Crickey7 on Oct 14, 2011 4:08 pm • linkreport

That was 2 times a day at its peak. It was rapidly declining in use since the 1960's. Like I said, I really want the Purple line & am ok with a yard at this location, but it will have the most impact on the area since the rise of suburbia. Most of the houses were being built as the train use decline.

The MTA hasn't presented any vision how the local area will see any benefit from the yard. The yard itself will be unapproachable from the community and they don't even seem to expect it to employ any locals (given the parking garage size and the access point).
The rail stop will benefit the community, but the current yard plan will be negative or, at best, neutral. I think there would have been ways to make it a benefit, but I'm not sure they have time for that level of design anymore.

by Dan on Oct 14, 2011 4:40 pm • linkreport

@ charlie

These are all trucks that go to the Commonwealth and request a permit to carry a legal, but overweight load, on Virginia's roads and bridges. They cause more than $200 million in damage every year, but they only pay permit fees of less than $3 million. Virginia has the lowest overweight permit fees in the Mid-Atlantic.

by tmtfairfax on Oct 14, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

It never ceases to amaze me how a few loud people can often derail a project. Be it development of retail, starting a transportation project, or any major infrastructure project, it is amazing how the shrill loud voices of a few people can stop it. No wonder we can't get much done here in this country any more.

by Rain17 on Oct 15, 2011 12:58 am • linkreport

The story of the Purple Line also shows the pitfalls of the "Rails to Trails" program. Once you convert a rail line to a trail, even if you designate it to be a corridor for future transportation, putting back service will be very difficult because of the loud voices of a few people.

I have lived in this area my whole life. I remember that, when the CCT trail was first created, the understanding was that it would eventually also be used as a light-rail line or trolley. That was the original intent for it. And now you have a bunch of loud people in Chevy Chase and Bethesda who are using this excuse to stop the Purple Line.

by Rain17 on Oct 15, 2011 1:05 am • linkreport

@Tmtfairfax; so, are these the "oversized" vehcile -- such as the ones carry heavy machinery and/or pre-assembled houses -- or just overweight ones.

the question of "damage" to a road is an interesting one. Roads are usually treated as a econonic good that doesn't really depreciate until 30 years when it suddenly fails. How do we measure damage? A pothole, after all, doesn't show up in a account until is it repaired. I realize the weight scales up with damage, but calculating that damage is far tricker.

by charlie on Oct 15, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

@ charlie

There was a study by an arm of UVA that made the calculations for VDOT. The study looked at weight and not size, but I would suspect there is some correlation between oversize and overweight. I could not quickly find a link to the study, but here is an article in a trucking publication. There are also PowerPoint presentations on VDOT's website.
From what engineers tell me, automobiles and small trucks cause no damage to roads or bridges until the latter are first damaged.
The same engineers told me that the UVA study probably understated the damage caused by overweight trucks.

by tmtfairfax on Oct 15, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport


Opponents to a road project are "concerned citizens".

Opponents to a rail project are "NIMBY obstructionists who are stuck in the 1950's".

I hope that clears it up.

by ceefer66 on Oct 15, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

The Georgetown Branch was bought specifically for transit. People who buy next to it should cook in the risk that those plans might come to fruition and that a railyard might go in next to them. If not, you didn't do your homework.

Many of these complaints, especially about lost businesses, will be true whether the railyard is on the north or the south. While the parking facility might be too large, that isn't argument for moving the rail yard.

The new railyard design brings with it many improvements in operations and reductions in impact on the neighborhood.

by David C on Oct 15, 2011 10:58 pm • linkreport

@Rain17, It never ceases to amaze me how a few loud people can often derail a project"
What was amazing about the recently Purple Line meeting regarding the Lyttonsville yard & station was how few people didn't want the project at all. Pretty much everyone in the room agreed that there would be a yard at that location and wanted or at least accepted that the Purple Line would be built. There was disagreement on design & size of the yard (I'm more accepting of a larger size than others), but pretty much everyone in the room thought the proposed design was suboptimal & they could do better. Not a single person speaking at the meetings or writing on the local list-serves has been perfectly happy with the design. The design flaws go beyond a few loud people.

Like I said above, the issue was why MTA had waited so long to get detailed feedback from the yard's neighborhood. If this has happened 2 years ago, it would have been a healthy part of the design process. Now it's a source of potential delay.

@David C, There's one extra kink in the issue of lost businesses. The “Alternatives Analysis: Draft Environmental Impact Statement” that was published in September 2008 is what was presented to our elected leaders to let them decide the impacts of the bus vs rail proposals. Table 4.1-1 of that document, readable at: lists the business property displacements for each bus & rail option. In that plan, ALL possible rail options were listed as displacing 1-2 private businesses for the Lyttonsville yard. If a business owner was making plans in 2008, this would be THE document one would use to "do their homework." Based on that information, it would be very reasonable to assume a much smaller yard size. I personally understand that plans change and more displacements might be needed, but that's based on hindsight.

by Dan on Oct 15, 2011 11:17 pm • linkreport

But Dan, that document from 2008 isn't a guarantee. It was unwise to proceed as though it were - if, in fact, anyone did. Things have changed. A larger rail yard is needed. Is it your position that they can somehow get by with a smaller yard even though the line is now longer?

by David C on Oct 15, 2011 11:51 pm • linkreport

@David C,
There is an argument going around that all these people are ignorant NIMBY's. Everyone has known for years that these properties were going to be part of the yard. Anyone who bought a house or made investments in the area without knowing this weren't paying attention.

This is simply false. Everyone knew that something around a 30ft swath of land was going to be used for the actual Purple line tracks & trail for the length of the entire route. I'm not sure when that tracks+trail concept was first put on the table, but I assume it's been a while.

What would happen at the Lyttonsville yard was in much greater flux. The size and land use need would have been every different depending on the rapid bus vs rail options. Even for the rail options, the definitive impact statement, the AA:DEIS, said only 1-2 businesses would be taken for a rail project. Since this document was the one our county & state governments used understand the community impacts of each design and was a critical element in the final political decision to go for rail, it wasn't a guarantee, but it holds a whole lot more weight than a random site mock-up.

Yes people should be aware that plans change, but to assume that no one should invest in a business in the area because of the possibility that plans might change would have been incredibly damaging to the community. People needed to take the documents at hand and make intelligent decisions. In 2008, the AA: DEIS was the definitive document in hand.

It's also worth sharing one of my jaw-dropping moments at the Oct 3, 2011 meeting. Many people were asking why the yard couldn't use more of the RideOn maintenance facility land or why they couldn't even share parking better. The RideOn representative there said they had just rebuilt large sections of the bus yard right up to the potential rail yard site and didn't want anything rebuilt over that new investment. If businesses were supposed to make flexible plans regarding what land might or might not be needed, what the ---- were RideOn and the county leaders guiding RideOn thinking?

by Dan on Oct 16, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

@David C,
To answer your specific question, my position isn't that they should try to have a smaller yard now, but, if the impact is much greater than planned, they need to make every effort to minimize that impact by putting as much of the area away from residences as possible, removing elements that don't need to be south of Brookville Rd, and making the facility itself as much of an asset to the neighborhood as possible.

For example, the 60,000 sq ft 2-level parking garage (200 spaces * 300sq ft per space), could be located north of Brookville Rd or part of a shared parking facility with RideOn or Walter Reed. For making the yard a community asset, it's worth noting that most of the yard is at the bottom of the hill. Well considered placement of the building and/or a roofed yard could turn the roof of the yard into a community gathering place. A strong enough roof would have the potential to support small rent paying businesses right next to a new rail line stop.

Good urban planning is the repeated mantra of this blog. Several blocks of visually unappealing and community inaccessible land separating houses from workplaces, stores, and a major mass transit stop is not good urban planning. It might cost more up front, but I think serious discussion should be given to turning the yard into a mixed use facility with community benefits. I'm not sure what others in my community might think of this idea, but do I sound like a NIMBY to you?
I just wish this discussion was initiated by MTA in 2009 instead of now.

by Dan on Oct 16, 2011 10:57 am • linkreport

Placing a massive, heavy industrial rail yard in the residential neighborhood of Lyttonsville makes no more sense than placing it in the heart of Bethesda or Chevy Chase.

MTA gained community support for this facility since 2003 by promising one thing, then pulled a bait and switch at the 11th hour. We're exercising our right to protest this unfair maneuver through the participatory democratic process.

If the rail yard suddenly has to be bigger, they should work a little harder to figure out how to get it all in west of the neighborhood, away from residences. "NIMBY" means "Put it in someone else's back yard, but not in mine." There are options that MTA could pursue that wouldn't put it in anyone's back yard, and that's our goal. No NIMBY in that.

Another option might be to expand the PG county rail yard. Lyttonsville is well inside the beltway less than a mile from the DC line and about a quarter mile from Rock Creek Park - situated between downtown SS and downtown Bethesda. It's ludicrous for them to turn this prime commercial property into a heavy industrial rail yard.

On a side note, the community had just met with the Quakers, who bought a parcel of land abutting the designed rail yard (before we knew about the rail yard) .. they asked us what we'd like to see them do with that land. They intend to expand affordable housing, but wanted to hear the community's ideas. We told them we'd like something inviting and pleasant for PL riders and trail users to see as they pass through Lyttonsville .. a community garden, a fountain, a small orchard, a small resting place with benches.... Something to let passersby get a glimpse of our beautiful neighborhood.

An ugly industrial rail yard is NOT what we had in mind.


by Susan B. on Oct 16, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

A light rail yard is not "massive, heavy industrial..."

The site is not "prime commercial property". It is quite a ways from major roadways. Take a look at it in Google Maps, satellite view and note its current level of use. The proposed "ugly rail yard" would be much prettier than what is currently there.

The proposed rail yard in a light industrial area. It is not in anyone's "back yard". Maybe there's a "beautiful neighborhood" in Lyttonsville, but it's not within several hundred feet of this site.

by Frank IBC on Oct 16, 2011 7:01 pm • linkreport

Yes. This rail yard will be a *LIGHT* Industrial facility.

We reserve the term "heavy industrial" for things like steel mills and chemical factories.

A transit rail yard is a glorified parking lot and mechanic's shop. It's not an industrial facility by a long stretch of the imagination. (Compare something like the WMATA Brentwood/Falls Church Yards to an *actual* industrial yard if you really need an example. Purple Line facilities will actually be even smaller/quieter than the ones WMATA operates...)

It might not be the best design, but some perspective is needed, and the MTA isn't planning to build in iron smelter in anybody's backyard.

by andrew on Oct 16, 2011 10:34 pm • linkreport

You don't even have to go to Brentwood or Falls Church.

Just head up the road to Glenmont, and you can see a rail yard that is actually in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

by Frank IBC on Oct 17, 2011 4:57 am • linkreport

@ Andrew: "It might not be the best design, but some perspective is needed, and the MTA isn't planning to build in iron smelter in anybody's backyard."

Can you point me to documentation on exactly what MTA plans to do at this maintenance facility? They couldn't provide us with any details, other than to say that train cars would be "worked on" 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (which doesn't exactly exclude an "iron smelter" or worse). It might calm my fears to see what source you're basing your statements on.

The "Brookville Industrial Corridor" is part of the Lyttonsville community - family homes used to occupy every bit of the area that now houses retail stores and warehouses. If it's going to change, we want to see change for the better, in ways that will benefit the community and surrounding area. We also want to see change that will protect the future of this stable neighborhood.

by Susan B on Oct 17, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

@Susan, I'm pretty sure you were at the September 13, 2011 where they discussed this exact topic. You can view this information on slide 15 at:

In the shop building, they will do train: inspections, overhauls, & unscheduled repairs. I assume this will include some welding and maybe some grinding, but iron smelting is a bit of stretch.
In the yard, they will be moving trains at all hours of the night, sanding them, and doing the internal cleaning. I don't see this written in the presentation, but I remember them saying all body work would be done at the other facility.

Susan, While we agree that a better design is possible, it doesn't help to exaggerate the problems with the current design. It's not a heavily industrial facility and, while MTA did a poor job engaging the community for the past 2 years, the current lot size wasn't an 11th hour change.

The yard is going to be a series of tracks that are about twice as wide as the tracks entering Silver Spring Metro south of Spring street. In the current design, it will be uglier than what's currently there and uglier than @andrew's glorified parking lot, not that anyone would want a glorified parking lot in their back yard. The design can and should be improved.

by Dan on Oct 17, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Dan: I guess it's all a matter of perspective. What's there now is considered "light industrial." (autobody shop, etc). I can't imagine how anyone would consider 24/7 rail maintenance facility to be "light industrial." It's going to be a heav(ier) industrial use facility than what's there now. Anyway, you made my point for me. No one can argue with our concern about use of this maintenance yard/shop, because too few details have been shared. Apologies for not just hoping for the best.

For the community, this was an 11th hour switch in design. They presented every other change to us going back to 2002, but not the one where the rail yard grew and spanned eastward.

The neighborhood appreciates whatever level of support you feel you can offer.

by Susan B on Oct 17, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

I just wish this discussion was initiated by MTA in 2009 instead of now.

Sure. That would have been great. But it didn't happen. MTA didn't know as much in 2009 as they know now. Are you of the opinion that MTA knew they wanted to use the design they presented recently as far back as 2009? That isn't my impression. This is a process, and currently they're in the preliminary engineering phase and working on the Final Environmental Impact Statement. It would be nice if they knew exactly how things would be at the very beginning of the process. Of course, if they did, the process would be very short - what's the point of all the study if you know all the answers.

I feel like MTA has come to the community as soon as they could reasonably be expected to. I don't think they're trying a bait and switch.

by David C on Oct 17, 2011 3:23 pm • linkreport


Before you do even the preliminary engineering phase, you need to speak to stakeholders about the basic footprint of the project and what they do or do not want included there. They have been doing this for the whole line over the past couple of years. For example, I was at a May 2011 meeting where they were discussing optimal access points for the 16th St station and how site-lines will be for the neighboring community.

The Lyttonsville yard is one of the biggest single elements of the entire project and probably the largest element so close to a residential neighborhood. Why wasn't working out the basic goals for this with the neighborhood a higher priority?

You can look at the timeline of MTA presentations here.

At some point between when the AA: DEIS text was written (printed in September 2008) and a public presentation in November 2008, the yard expanded from requiring 1-2 to 11 properties.
Governor O’Malley selected the current planin August 2009. A map with a slightly smaller footprint was presented to the community in October 2009. I wasn't at that meeting so I don't know what was or was not said there.

Drafts of a much more detailed yard started appearing in April 2010 & were formally approved by the county council in September 2010.

Between that October 2009 meeting and September 2011, there was not a single presentation in the neighborhood about this revised plan. MTA didn't send anyone to the community to explain the change. They didn't send anyone to discuss what would happen at the yard. They didn't ask where/how people might want to access the station. They didn't ask about ways to adjust the footprint to minimize impact on the neighborhood. It doesn't even sound like they were speaking much to RideOn since RideOn just built new facilities at a potentially useful location for the yard.

I think it's safe to say that sometime in the past 2-3 years, they could have scheduled a few neighborhood meetings to discuss the basic design issues concerning the yard. Even if the community feedback didn't significantly change design plans, regular communication would have headed off a lot of the current problems. At least to me, another 10h of MTA time over 3 years for neighborhood meetings near one of the biggest facilities of the project doesn't sounds like an unreasonable idea. Given the hassel they're getting now, I suspect those 10h would have been time very well spent in hindsight.

by Dan on Oct 17, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

For what it's worth - I was at a trail meeting at BCC High School as recently as April 2011. There, they were not using the latest MTA maps. They were using the 2008 maps!

One of my biggest concerns at that time was the rail/trail orientation and I asked multiple times just to be sure that the the trail was still on the southern side of the rail (closest to the community). I was assured that indeed it was. The map they showed confirmed this. Come to find out, they were using the last map seen by the community (2008 version), but not MTA's latest map, which had been approved by county council and the governor as the "locally preferred alternative."

When I raised this with Mr. Madden at our recent meetings with MTA, he exclaimed that the BCC meeting was not MTA - it was the trail planners. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and no one will accept accountability.

by Susan B on Oct 17, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

OK, Dan then it looks like they did discuss it starting back in 2009 - actually in 2008. In Novemeber 2008 they had a public hearing on the design that included the larger rail yard. In February 2009, they had a community meeting that showed it as well. In October 2009 there was a Community Focus Group which presented yet a 3rd opportunity to discuss all of those items you listed. In August 2009 the LPA came out, and it too included the larger railyard.

So people had three official opportunities to weight in on the footprint. They also were free to contact MTA at any point to discuss it or to request a meeting. The footprint was not a secret. Did MTA have reason to believe that 10 hours of meeting were needed? Were people complaining about the footprint after the meetings where it was unveiled? Holding meetings when no one is complaining and nothing has changed doesn't seem useful.

This is the first chance to discuss the more recent change - flipping the trail and tracks from one side to the other. That is the thing that they only recently decided to do, which is why they're starting the dialogue now. Now is your chance to talk about all of those things you think matter. Why isn't that good enough?

I have never been to a public meeting where someone didn't ask "Why are we just now hearing about this?" You could make a decision and call a meeting 6 minutes later and someone would still ask that.

by David C on Oct 17, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

@David, Many of those meetings were about the Purple line as a whole & didn't go into the neighborhood. I'm fairly new to the neighborhood, but absolutely agree that there was a paper trail that, if sufficient people where looking at county-wide meetings & keeping track of webpages, they would have been able to learn a lot of this information and respond. That's why, others in this comment section claim a "bait-and-switch" but I won't. A lot of the information was out there. It's also why I'm not opposed to a larger footprint, but I think the current design has serious problems.

That said, there are several neighborhood organizations with a sizable group of people who attended all of the local meetings and were surprised by the Sept 2011 plans. Many were elderly and I suspect weren't traveling to random county council meetings or regularly checking websites. A sizable portion of the people living closest to the yard had no clue about the changes since 2009. It was well more than a few people expressing surprise. Some people spoke to the directly impacted business owners who didn't know their land was slated to be taken by the project. Even if I knew a lot of the plan details, that so many others didn't IS an MTA communication failure. Whether it was more neighborhood meetings or paper mailings or other forms of communication, the number of surprised people shows it wasn't enough.

A agree that it's good they're asking for feedback now and I along with others are giving it. The problem is that a lot of smart growth reporting seems to lump all design critiques into anti-Purple line sentiment & making claims that spirited feedback at this late stage is why the Purple line is behind in funding of other projects in Baltimore (i.e. the comments with the original link). Either MTA soliciting feedback with sufficient time to make changes & stay on schedule or they waited too long to solicit feedback.

by Dan on Oct 17, 2011 5:47 pm • linkreport

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