Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.
WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most traveled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail. . . .
WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.
We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.
When the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) moved to change the proposed trail crossing at Connecticut Ave. from grade separated to at-grade, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) went ballistic and sent out an action alert demanding the restoration of the grade separated crossing.
Understandably. Having to wait for a long light slows down a bike trip and grade separated crossings are safer. WABA’s fast action worked and MCDOT backed down fast.
However, the County Council with the backing of the County Executive has now moved to eliminate the grade separated crossing under Wisconsin Ave. While they’ve expressed interest in this issue in the past, WABA has said not a peep about this major change.
Very strange since the current tunnel provides an excellent grade separated crossing under Wisconsin (and there isn’t currently one now at Connecticut). MTA had repeatedly promised that a narrow tunnel would continue to exist before pulling that promise once key decision points has passed.
More recently, Montgomery County officials got strongly behind a proposal to revive the tunnel in conjunction with redevelopment of the Apex Building. But they have now pulled their support–after the crucial Democratic primary.
The failure to redevelop means a much less promising Purple Line station, as well as less development above the station. For bicyclists, it will mean a very tricky crossing at-grade crossing at Wisconsin Ave. with bikers needing to watch out for cars and many pedestrians–more than now as 24,000 trips are projected to begin or to end at the new station.
Equally crucial for bicyclists, there will now be no bike storage facility adjacent to the Capital Crescent Trail without the redevelopment of the Apex Building. Of course, the change should also result in a more difficult transfer from bike to light rail or Metro–something you would think should interest WABA and its constituency. Neither should be positive for Purple Line ridership.
But WABA has said nothing, abandoning the bicyclist interests they aver to represent. WABA did not return repeated calls for their thoughts on the change of plans.
From the Washington Post (h/t Center Maryland):
The estimated cost to rebuild a popular running and bike trail along a proposed light-rail Purple Line between Bethesda and Silver Spring has almost doubled, to about $95 million, Montgomery County officials said Thursday.
The projected $45 million increase comes after Montgomery County officials have promised for years that a trail would remain, even after trains began running through what many now consider to be a wooded oasis in the heavily developed Maryland suburbs.
Fortunately, both proponents and opponents of the Purple Line agree that past promises to include the running and bike trail alongside the trains must remain in the final plan, as do County officials:
Gary Erenrich, a special assistant to the director of Montgomery County’s Transportation Department, said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) will update his six-year capital budget proposal to reflect the higher figures.
“We’re assuming the whole trail will be built,” Erenrich said.
Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), whose district includes the trail, said its reconstruction remains “inseparable” from the Purple Line project.
“People have appreciated for some time that we have a deal here,” Berliner said.