ANNAPOLIS – On one end of the debate over a new Purple Line is Xiomara Cruz, 26, mother of three from Langley Park. Her husband works a construction job seven days a week. She works as a dishwasher at a Gaithersburg restaurant, waking at 4:30 a.m. to catch three buses to reach work by 7.
“Sometimes I still arrive late because of traffic,” said Cruz, an immigrant from El Salvador, who does not speak English.
At the other end is Bernard Berne, who lives in Arlington, Va. He rides the subway to Shady Grove Metro station, then his bike another mile to the Food and Drug Administration’s office building in Rockville. His commute is an hour and a half.
In a few years, Berne’s office will be in White Oak, where he and some 6,000 other FDA employees will commute without the assistance of public transportation.
“Buses don’t run very often out there. Everyone is going to be driving. Once the FDA moves there, even more development will come. The whole thing doesn’t make any sense,” said Berne, an FDA medical officer.
What doesn’t make sense to Berne is Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s plans for an “inner” Purple Line, running from Bethesda to New Carrollton with a stop in Langley Park, Cruz’s neighborhood. Berne had hoped support would swing toward the “outer” line option, which would stop in White Oak.
The two stories highlight the push-and-pull politics of whether the plan to build the line will aid those in need now or those who will be in need later.
Cruz and Berne both depend on public transportation, but the reality is that the inner line is cheaper — $1 billion for a light-rail line vs. $4 billion for Berne’s subway line.
The Purple Line project, if it receives federal funding, will not be completed until 2012.
The inner line also adheres to Glendening’s Smart Growth Initiative, encouraging growth in developed areas and discouraging it in more rural parts of the state. The new light rail system within the Beltway, Glendening said, would “provide transit to those who need transit the most.”
The outer line is not without its powerful political backers, chief among them Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, who declined to comment for this article.
In a written statement, Duncan said he favors placing the line where he believes future growth in the county will be. By building the line outside the Beltway and connecting Rock Spring Park to Grosvenor, Wheaton, White Oak and the like, it will allow for better prospects for future expansion to Virginia along the Beltway.
Duncan’s version of the line would relieve some of the traffic congestion in the White Oak area that is projected to increase.
Rock Spring Park and White Oak are areas with strong business sectors that are expected to grow in coming years, boosted by the expected completion of the FDA’s White Oak headquarters in November 2002.
That should trigger other economic development, Duncan said. In addition, the Rock Spring area is expected to add about 6,500 new jobs and 1,250 new homes, according to Duncan.
Duncan’s support for the outer line gets strong criticism in his own county, particularly from Langley Park.
“(Duncan) needs to open his eyes to realize it is very important to this community that we get this stop,” said Galo Correa, senior executive of Hispanics United of Maryland, a Hispanic service group. “He does not realize the great necessity of something other than buses.”
Most Hispanics in Langley Park are unable to obtain a driver’s license because of their immigrant status and cannot afford car insurance, Correa said. They are forced to rely on public transportation, he said.
The community of 16,000 on the Prince George’s County border, is more than 50 percent Hispanic, according to the 2000 Census.
If the Langley Park stop comes to fruition, it will open up a lot of job opportunities for people who cannot now reach them, said Michelle Escobar, coordinator of women’s programs at Casa de Maryland, another Hispanic service group.
“It took one woman, whom we are helping, two hours to reach a four-hour job,” Escobar said. “It would be easier for people to accept jobs where they don’t have to just take buses.”
Montgomery County Councilman Howard Denis, one of Duncan’s few allies on the council, voted in favor of the outer line. The rest of the council did not agree, voting for Glendening’s version, 7 to 2.
Accusations that support for the outer line is racist are “totally bogus,” Denis said. Northern Montgomery County also holds a growing Hispanic population.
“I don’t see any connection or relevance. It is totally out of left field,” he said. “What about poor people and Hispanics in the upper part of Montgomery County? To bring in (the plight of Hispanics in Langley Park) is way, way off base.”
While Denis agrees with Duncan, he understands unity among county and state officials is necessary if progress is to be made. The project is to be funded by federal dollars, and in light of the events on Sept. 11, Denis said other priorities will probably take precedence.
“It is going to be tough to get any money unless we are together on this one.”