Res­i­dents, busi­nesses, of­fi­cials lament im­pacts of Pur­ple Line project

$5.6 bil­lion light rail project is mov­ing ahead, but not with­out hard­ship for some res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers along the route

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By BRIT­TANY BRITTO Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

SIL­VER SPRING — When Gregory San­ders was a child, his fa­ther, Harry San­ders, would take him to the rail­road tracks by their Sil­ver Spring home. There, the two would walk the nearby sta­te­owned CSX trail and catch sight of a coal train as it sped off to a heat­ing plant in Ge­orge­town, on the other end of the tracks.

It was the 1980s. Both were in­fat­u­ated with the train and how fast it was. Harry San­ders, a trans­porta­tion ad­vo­cate, would think about how cool it would be to travel down­town by a faster, more con­ve­nient mode of trans­porta­tion.

Meet­ings in the San­ders’s liv­ing room fol­lowed. Gregory helped his fa­ther pass out fliers about the Pur­ple Line around Metro sta­tions around the age of 5, his mother, Bar­bara San­ders, said. Harry would at­tend con­fer­ences on pub­lic trans­porta­tion around the coun­try on his own dime. He took trans­porta­tion plan­ning cour­ses at the Univer­sity of Mary­land and vis­ited light rails and trains around the coun­try and in Europe while on va­ca­tion with his fam­ily — all to study the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Lit­tle did they know that 30 years later, Harry San­ders’ idea for bet­ter trans­porta­tion near his fam­ily’s home would blos­som into the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new­est tran­sit project, the Pur­ple Line — a 16-mile light rail sys­tem with 21 stops run­ning from Bethesda to New Car­roll­ton.

Praised for its plans to con­nect Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties, the $5.6 bil­lion light rail sys­tem will ac­com­mo­date trans­fers to the red, green and or­ange Metro lines, and will link to Am­trak and MARC trains. Con­struc­tion is set to be­gin as early as later this year, with the tran­sit line be­ing fully op­er­a­tional by spring of 2022.

“Harry San­ders was a strong ad­vo­cate for the Pur­ple Line and a true cham­pion of the ben­e­fits of an in­ter­con­nected tran­sit sys­tem,” said Sandy Ar­nette, spokes­woman for Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion. “He un­der­stood that the Pur­ple Line would im­prove mo­bil­ity for tens of thou­sands of Mary­land res­i­dents and worked tire­lessly to ad­vance this cru­cial project.”

Harry will never see any of it, much less ride the Pur­ple Line. He died of kid­ney can­cer in 2010, at the age of 63. But his fam­ily and long­time sup­port­ers are watch­ing as the long-an­tic­i­pated dream inches closer to com­ing true.

For oth­ers, how­ever, it’s a night­mare.

More than 500 prop­er­ties within Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties will be af­fected by the light rail line. Some will be af­fected tem­po­rar­ily by con­struc­tion, but for oth­ers, the state has been buy­ing out prop­er­ties and forc­ing res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers to move.

Busi­nesses in Mont­gomery County will be hit the hard­est. Nearly 50 busi­nesses with a lit­tle more than 200 em­ploy­ees are be­ing asked to re­lo­cate.

In Prince Ge­orge’s County, more than 10 busi­nesses and 40 em­ploy­ees will be dis­placed. But the big­ger im­pact in that county is on the res­i­dents, with more than 20 sin­gle fam­ily homes be­ing ac­quired by the state.

Some busi­ness own­ers have known about the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans for years and are wait­ing for the fi­nal de­ci­sions. The Mary­land Board of Pub­lic Works gave fi­nal ap­proval of the project on April 6.

Deb­o­rah Hy­man, 63, owner of the Sil­ver Spring shop Signs by To­mor­row at the Spring Cen­ter shop­ping cen­ter, said her busi­ness has been at a stand­still ever since she first re­ceived no­tice of the Pur­ple Line’s plan to ac­quire her prop­erty years ago. The state, she said, is do­ing busi­nesses own­ers a dis­ser­vice.

“We can­not de­cide to make any ren­o­va­tions to our stores ... be­cause if we choose to do that, then it could be to­mor­row that we get the let­ter that says you have six months to move,” said Hy­man, whose busi­ness has been in the strip shop­ping cen­ter mall on 16th and Spring streets for more than 20 years. “That af­fects our busi­ness be­cause my place is get­ting worn down and I’m not go­ing to put money into it if I’m go­ing to move.”

Del­mar Nel­son, op­ti­cian and owner of Crest Op­ti­cians at the Spring Cen­ter, first heard about the Pur­ple Line more than 10 years ago and said busi­ness has since slumped off. After 50 years as the owner of Crest Op­ti­cians, Nel­son is ready to re­tire.

“I’m just here mark­ing time. You can’t in­vest in a busi­ness while you’re wait­ing,” Nel­son said ear­lier this month.

Nu­mer­ous par­tial ac­qui­si­tions through­out Mont­gomery County will also make way for the con­struc­tion of 10 sta­tions in the county — two of which will al­low rid­ers to trans­fer to ex­ist­ing Metro lines, at the Bethesda and Sil­ver Spring sta­tions. More than 70 res­i­dences will have parts of their prop­er­ties af­fected — some be­ing taken, some rented, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments pro­vided by the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Con­struc­tion for one new Pur­ple Line sta­tion, Long Branch, will take place just feet away from Wan­derly Calderon’s home in Sil­ver Spring. The light rail will travel un­der­ground through a tun­nel and will sur­face across from the res­i­den­tial park­ing lot ad­ja­cent to Calderon’s home.

Res­i­dents who live in the area will en­dure con­struc­tion un­til it is com­plete. Nearby street park­ing will be taken and con­verted into a one-way street, ac­cord­ing to the tran­sit ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Calderon, a res­i­dent of Arliss Street and the pres­i­dent of the Arliss Street Town­home As­so­ci­a­tion, said trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials no­ti­fied her that a por­tion of her front yard will be taken for con­struc­tion, which could block ac­cess to her front door.

“It is go­ing to be a night­mare,” she said.

Oth­ers in the neigh­bor­hood fear the con­ges­tion the Pur­ple Line con­struc­tion could bring will be bad for busi­ness.

Car­los Perozo, pres­i­dent of the Long Branch Busi­ness League and owner of ZP Tax on Flower Av­enue, said too much traf­fic caused by con­struc­tion may turn his cus­tomers away. He also wor­ries that the Pur­ple Line will raise prop­erty and liv­ing costs, af­fect­ing a com­mu­nity com­prised of im­mi­grants and mi­nori­ties.

“We don’t want dis­place­ments. We don’t want rent to come up,” Perozo said.

Del. Ana Sol Gu­tier­rez (D-Mont­gomery) a pro­po­nent of the Pur­ple Line, said ris­ing costs are in­evitable, but it’s not a “Pur­ple Line prob­lem” — it’s a prob­lem of af­ford­able hous­ing. Lo­cal gov­ern­ments should study and look into the dif­fer­ent op­tions for peo­ple who may be priced out of the area, Gu­tier­rez said.

Wise Lamp­kin, an 84-year-old wid­ower from East Riverdale, will lose his home where he cre­ated mem­o­ries with his fam­ily for more than 20 years. The process of re­lin­quish­ing his prop­erty has been gru­el­ing, his daugh­ter Betty Lamp­kin said.

Wise Lamp­kin was hop­ing to pass his home on to his chil­dren. In­stead, he’ll sur­ren­der it to the state this year.

A re­lo­ca­tion as­sis­tance pro­gram doc­u­ment pro­vided by the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion said that the owner of a home may be el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive pay­ments to help pur­chase a re­place­ment home as well as as­sis­tance with any mov­ing costs or in­creases in mort­gage pay­ments if asked to re­lo­cate. But the emo­tional ef­fects of be­ing re­lo­cated can some­times be more de­bil­i­tat­ing than those that are fi­nan­cial.

Mindy Fullilove, a psy­chi­a­trist and pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal psy­chi­a­try at Columbia Univer­sity’s school of pub­lic health who has stud­ied the ef­fects of mov­ing and ur­ban re­newal for the past 20 years, said moves like Wise Lamp­kin’s can shake up core psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­cesses for the home­own­ers. It can trig­ger years of grief be­cause, for peo­ple like Wise Lamp­kin, a house is not just a house — it’s a way of life, Fullilove said.

“A house is lo­cated in a neigh­bor­hood and city. The peo­ple you know are con­nected to a house. All of those things are in­ter­con­nected ... In a way, when you lose a space that you lived in with a [sig­nif­i­cant other], you lose the mem­o­ries,” Fullilove said.

But the process of re­lo­ca­tion is stan­dard for ma­jor state trans­porta­tion projects like the Pur­ple Line. Many may ar­gue that these ac­qui­si­tions are sac­ri­fices made for the greater good.

“I un­der­stand that there are places that think it is not help­ing or im­prov­ing their per­sonal lives,” Bar­bara San­ders said. “They don’t think it would work, but that’s what they said about the Metro, too.”

Bar­bara San­ders and son Gregory have since fol­lowed in Harry San­ders’s foot­steps, ac­tively show­ing sup­port for the Pur­ple Line project.

“He had a vi­sion that in­spired other peo­ple, and he tried to work with com­mu­ni­ties to see how things could be worked through. That’s a piece of what I’m try­ing to do,” Bar­bara San­ders said.

She de­scribed her vi­sion­ary hus­band, who hailed from the out­skirts of Chicago, as very “Mid­west­ern, con­cil­ia­tory and laid­back.” She, on the other hand, is more feisty and con­fronta­tional, she said.

Gregory San­ders, 36, also an ad­vo­cate, said he has seen his fa­ther’s ef­forts man­i­fest into his life in many ways.

Gregory San­ders takes the MARC train ev­ery day from his home in El­li­cott City to his job at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Wash­ing­ton. He vis­its pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tems while on va­ca­tion, just as his fa­ther had, in­clud­ing in Hong Kong, Ja­pan and Egypt, and saves tran­sit passes as me­men­tos. He still re­mem­bers hand­ing out lit­er­a­ture about the Pur­ple Line at Metro stops and fes­ti­vals with his fa­ther, and walk­ing the aban­doned trails where the light rail will be.

“I don’t ever re­ally re­mem­ber him pitch­ing me on it, but I do re­mem­ber him talk­ing to other peo­ple about it,” Gregory San­ders said. “One of the traits I strive to learn from him was that he was good at talk­ing to a range of peo­ple and hear­ing them out … with­out it be­com­ing per­sonal or an­gry. That can be chal­leng­ing.”

Gregory San­ders has ad­vo­cated for the light rail project for nearly a decade with the Pur­ple Line Now ad­vo­cacy group. As the vice pres­i­dent for nearly a year, he ded­i­cates around 10 hours a week to lead­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ef­forts to see the Pur­ple Line through to its con­cep­tion via events and pro­mo­tion on so­cial me­dia. His in­volve­ment, he said, has been one of the proud­est things he has done in his life.

“It’s ridicu­lous that it takes mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions to get it done, but I still think it was all worth it,” Gregory said.

Pro­po­nents of the Pur­ple Line point to jobs, fur­ther devel­op­ment of sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties and the ex­pected de­crease in com­mute times.

Gu­tier­rez called the Pur­ple Line a “so­cial win-win” for im­mi­grant, Latino and lower so­cioe­co­nomic com­mu­ni­ties who will be able to use the light rail get to bet­ter pay­ing jobs.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­dicts that the Pur­ple Line will cre­ate more than 23,000 jobs over the six-year con­struc­tion pe­riod, and will pro­vide ac­cess to ma­jor job cen­ters, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park; down­town Sil­ver Spring; and down­town Bethesda.

The rid­er­ship is pro­jected to in­clude 74,000 rid­ers by 2040, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

State Sen. Jim Ros­apepe (D-Col­lege Park) sees the Pur­ple Line as a tremen­dous as­set to the metropoli­tan area and sees the po­ten­tial devel­op­ment as a pos­i­tive for the col­lege town.

“We want more res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ments at our Metro stop. We want more, both of­fice devel­op­ment and com­mer­cial devel­op­ment, on Route 1,” said Ros­apepe, who said that new trans­porta­tion choices would pro­vide more op­tions for the 4,000 peo­ple work­ing in the Col­lege Park area.

Four light rail sta­tions are planned for Col­lege Park, in­clud­ing the Adel­phi Rd/West Cam­pus, UM Cam­pus Cen­ter, East Cam­pus and M Square Sta­tions, con­nect­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the col­lege cam­pus with sur­round­ing ar­eas, in­clud­ing the ex­ist­ing Col­lege Park Metro sta­tion.

Ros­apepe said he sees this as a way to ease traf­fic and park­ing is­sues that sur­round ma­jor events on cam­pus, such as sports games.

New light rail sta­tions that will be built in Lan­g­ley Park and Riverdale Park will mean that work­ing peo­ple will have hugely im­proved mass tran­sit op­tions in the com­mu­nity, Ros­apepe said.

Lan­g­ley Park, home to one of the largest His­panic pop­u­la­tions in Mary­land, had a 12 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment rate in 2010, the sec­ond-high­est rate in Prince Ge­orge’s County.

By 2040, Mont­gomery County is pro­jected to have a 43 per­cent in­crease in jobs from 2010, ac­cord­ing to a 2011 re­port by the Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments. For Prince Ge­orge’s County, a 32 per­cent in­crease has been pre­dicted.

Gregory San­ders said that de­creas­ing com­mute time is a large part of es­cap­ing poverty.

“There is no way we can serve a range of peo­ple that need ac­cess to jobs with cur­rent op­tions in tran­sit, com­pared to what the Pur­ple Line can do,” Gregory San­ders said.

But most of all, Gregory San­ders ar­gues that the Pur­ple Line will make the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties stronger and more con­nected. His fa­ther fought for it for a very long time.

“He was try­ing to bring peo­ple to­gether,” Gregory San­ders said. “And trans­porta­tion does that in a very lit­eral way.”


Gregory San­ders, long time pub­lic tran­sit ad­vo­cate and the vice pres­i­dent of the Pur­ple Line Now coali­tion. Here, he stands in front of a MARC train at the Col­lege Park Metro sta­tion, which he takes ev­ery day from his home in El­li­cott City. His fa­ther,...


Harry San­ders, a trans­porta­tion en­thu­si­ast, was the first per­son to pro­pose the Pur­ple Line. He ded­i­cated more than two decades of his life to see­ing the light rail project through. Here, he rides the Metro’s Green Line to Green­belt on Dec. 11, 1993.


Harry San­ders (far left), Gregory San­ders (back cen­ter), and an Ac­tion Com­mit­tee for Tran­sit mem­ber (far right) on a small mo­tor driven rail­car on the Ge­orge­town Branch in Lyt­tonsville.

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