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Committee Recommends Routing Trail at Street Level Over Wisconsin

Keeping both the planned Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail underground too costly and risky, officials said.

A Montgomery County Council Transportation Committee Thursday recommended routing the Capital Crescent Trail at street level across Wisconsin Avenue when the planned Purple Line is built – rather than in a tunnel beneath the busy thoroughfare above the planned 16-mile light rail line.

“We cannot at this time responsibly maintain the hiker and biker trail through the tunnel,” said committee chair and Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1.) “It’s just too risky and too costly.”

The debate over whether the county should consider a $50 million measure to route the Capital Crescent trail through the tunnel along with a portion of the planned light rail line that will connect Bethesda and New Carrollton has become a contentious one.

Some residents say they have long been promised that the trail would continue to be routed through the tunnel and away from traffic once the controversial light rail line is built.

But planners with the Maryland Transit Administration said routing rail and trail through the tunnel would be not only costly, but a requiring rebuilding and reconfiguring of grade beams that hold up the Apex building.

Berliner said he reached the conclusion to recommend routing the trail across Wisconsin “reluctantly, but firmly.” He called for a task force comprised of local stakeholders and transportation officials to study a “gold standard” at-grade crossing.

“We can and will make this crossing safe,” he said.

Routing the trail across Wisconsin is estimated to cost $3.5 million --- significantly less than the $50 million required to keep both rail and trail underground.

Berliner also pushed for further study on a five-foot sidewalk that could be routed through the tunnel along the light rail.

The committee recommended allocating $49.5 million in construction funds for the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring, which includes a bridge over Connecticut Avenue, a new underpass beneath Jones Mill Road, landscaping, and lighting at “critical” points along the trail like underpasses and junctures, according to a council staff report. Of those costs, the committee is calling for $27.6 million to be included in the county’s capital spending plan for fiscal years 2013 to 2018.

Should the committee’s recommendation be approved as a part of the county’s six-year capital spending plan by the full council in May, it would mark the first time funds have been allocated for the new Capital Crescent Trail in the county’s Capital Improvements Program.

In a May 7 memo to Berliner, however, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) blasted the proposal to earmark CIP funds for both the trail and the planned south entrance to the Bethesda Metro, which planners have called “inseparable” from the construction of the Bethesda station on the Purple Line.

With funding remaining unsecured for the $1.9 billion Purple Line project, Leggett said setting aside construction costs for both projects in the current spending plan a “premature and troubling” action that could come “at the expense of projects that have been in the county’s planning and design process for years.”

The transportation committee last month recommended pushing off to coincide with Purple Line construction.

“A move in this direction would devastate many critical transportation projects necessary to address very real public safety issues, relieve congestion and provide sorely needed road maintenance throughout the county,” Leggett wrote. “It is a wrong public policy position in the extreme.”

While Leggett said he would fund both the trail and new Metro entrance at the “appropriate time,” he questioned the argument that funding the entrance project now would demonstrate the county’s commitment to the Purple Line.

“Do we want to essentially gut a major portion of our transportation CIP, and set aside a sum of more than $100 million for demonstration purposes?” he wrote.

More study is needed of an option that would single-track trains through the tunnel, according to Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). Single-tracking would allow for a full-sized trail to run underground alongside the light rail without the hefty price tag, but Maryland Transit Administration officials have ruled it would cause delays that would render the option infeasible.

Thursday, however, county transportation engineers said the option shouldn’t be taken off the table just yet.

Should funds for the Capital Crescent Trail and the new south entrance to the Bethesda Metro station be included in the CIP, or should the funds be freed up for other needed transportation projects as plans for the Purple Line gel? Tell us in the comments.

Michael Shapiro March 09, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Somehow, I feel confident that this will make traffic in Bethesda worse. Maybe a bridge, much like the bridge over River Road?
Brian Berns March 09, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I like the idea of a bridge, too, but there are a lot of big buildings right there on Wisconsin. I wonder if it's feasible.
Fletcher Jones March 09, 2012 at 02:12 PM
My question exactly. Is bridge even in consideration or feasible? It never comes up in the coverage of this issue. I want to hear more about routing at street level over Wisconsin and how that would be made safe. Footbridge seems like the logical solution.
Barry March 09, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Single track the trains and include the trail in the tunnel. Even the engineers say this should be considered.
Charles Whitehead March 09, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Here is my idea for how a long bridge would work which takes inspiration from the "skywalks" in other cities. It might also ease the problem of pedestrian crossings at Bethesda Ave and Woodmont. It might cost more than $3.5 million, but not $50 and it solves the safety issues. 1. Start the skywalk on the Crescent Trail next to Ourisman Honda. 2. Run it over the intersection of Bethesda & Woodmont. 3. Route it futuristically through or attached to the building to be construction over the empty northeast corner. 4. Continue it up the alley between the B,B,&T Bank and United Bank on Wisconsin Ave. crossing Wisconsin. 5. Continue it elevated over Elm St., and then drop it back onto the trail on the north side of Elm St. Park.
Michael Salzberg March 12, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Stop the purple line in Silver Spring where there is a major transportation hub. Upgrade the trail for more convenient and safer cycle travel to Silver Spring. Crossing Wisconisin is a dangerous idea putting the lives of everybody and particularly children at stake. Why did it take The Council and County Executive 10 years to figure out they would never fund the project as promised.

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