One of the ongoing challenges with the Purple Line light rail project in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. is the need to make its complex environmental impact statements easy for the public to understand.
It is a task that fell to WSP USA, which was responsible for the writing and editing of both the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the $2.4 billion light rail line.
“Environmental documents are often impenetrable tangles of technical jargon; so making the FEIS comprehensible to the general public was one of our principal goals,” said Monica Meade, supervising planner, Purple Line public involvement, and planning manager. “We used graphics and layout to explain the concepts in clear language.”
The effort has paid huge dividends, both in the progress of the project, and now with a 2015 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for excellence in environmental document preparation in the environmental impact statement (EIS) category.
The award was presented to Maryland Transit Partners, a joint venture of WSP, AECOM and RK&K, which serves as program management consultant to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).
“The Purple Line EIS exemplifies best practices for a well-managed environmental documentation process,” according to an FTA statement, calling it an “effective and practical environmental document.”
In addition, the FTA said that the review committee was particularly impressed with the presentation of information, “including the use of reader-friendly language, graphics and tables, while successfully resolving complicated environmental issues.”
The Purple Line project involves the insertion of a light rail network into densely developed inner-ring suburbs. Because of this, the project has required a substantial public outreach program and extensive coordination with local jurisdictions and key stakeholders. The alignment traverses a wide range of land uses, from established residential communities to robust commercial areas.
“This project has been carefully designed to minimize environmental impacts, both to the natural environment and to the communities through which it will travel,” Meade said.
Since the project was initiated in 2003, the project team has work closely with local residents and stakeholders to understand issues from their perspective, identify potential impacts, and develop plans that avoid impacts that may require mitigation down the road.
“The extensive work with the local communities has resulted in a design that is responsive to community concerns, and as a result has garnered strong public and political support,” Meade said.
The MTA’s Purple Line is a planned 16-mile, 21-station light rail line in the northern Washington D.C. suburbs, extending from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Maryland. It will provide the first circumferential rail transit line connecting to the existing Metrorail radial system, providing light rail access to key business districts and activity centers, the University of Maryland, four branches of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority system, and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
“The Washington Metro system, like most transit systems, is a radial system designed to get passengers into and out of downtown,” Meade said. “But as land uses have changed and more jobs are now located in the suburbs, there is a growing market for suburb-to-suburb travel. The Purple Line will serve that market, and will also provide access to the Metro system for the people who live in the ‘wedges’ between the Metro lines.”
WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff has held key roles since the project’s initiation, particularly for planning, travel forecasting, public involvement, and most recently, the public-private partnership (P3) procurement process. The Purple Line is the first P3 transportation project in Maryland.
When completed, the Purple Line is expected to provide significant travel time savings. In one segment of the corridor, a bus trip that would take 40 minutes during peak traffic hours would take an estimated nine minutes on the Purple Line.
The project is currently in the midst of the procurement process. A request for proposals was issued in 2014, and P3 proposals were submitted in November 2015. Selection of a P3 concessionaire is expected in early 2016.
The FTA recognition is the second award presented in 2015 to the Purple Line project. In February, the design team for was honored with the 2014 Maryland Quality Initiative Planning Award.
“This is a great project that will be a real asset to the region,” Meade said. “The Maryland Transit Administration has been a great client to work for, and I look forward to the day I can ride the Purple Line.”