New Bethesda Metro station gains support despite Leggett opposition

Local,Maryland,Transportation,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County lawmakers want to spend $80.5 million on a new south entrance to the Bethesda Metro station, they said Monday.

The new entrance will be near the southeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street and is intended to provide Metrorail riders with access to the Purple Line, a light rail planned to run from Bethesda east to New Carrollton and scheduled to start construction in fiscal 2016.

Building the Metro entrance is a necessary step in the construction of the Purple Line station planned to be adjacent to the Metro station. By allocating the funds in the county's six-year construction budget, the council is reaffirming its commitment to the Purple Line project, members of the County Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment committee said Monday.

The committee voted 2 to 0 in favor of funding the project, with Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, abstaining.

The financial commitment will give the Purple Line a leg up in the competition for federal funding, said Council President and committee chair Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda.

"If Montgomery County sends a strong statement that this project is a priority the state will hear us, and if the state makes it a priority, the federal government will hear us," said Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large and a vocal Purple Line advocate.

County Executive Ike Leggett, however, has suggested delaying the project four years -- from its scheduled start date in fiscal 2015 to not beginning construction until fiscal 2019. He removed from his proposed six-year construction budget the $60 million dedicated to it in the last approved budget.

State officials have no idea how much the Purple Line will cost or when it will be built, said Patrick Lacefield, Leggett's spokesman. With the state budget still being debated in Annapolis, the amount of money the project will get from the state is also up in the air.

Allocating $80.5 million for the Metro entrance also means $80.5 million must be taken away from another project, Lacefield said.

The council members did not say where the funding is likely to come from.

But the proposed delay triggered an outpouring of concern from residents.

"I use that Metro station, and we desperately need another entrance because the escalators are not reliable," said Ben Ross, vice president of the Action Committee for Transit. "This is a really important move by the county."

But the Bethesda Metro's south entrance is just one part of the equation. The construction of the Capital Crescent Trail, estimated at $100 million, is also crucial to the Purple Line project and remains to be funded, Floreen said.

"That's a lot of money," she said, "but that's been our commitment."

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