Adam Pagnucco wrote a lengthy post about how Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D-1) is upset that the County Executive is proposing single-tracking the Purple Line to accommodate the Capital Crescent Trail in the other tunnel. It is indeed less ideal.
Except that Friedson is now reaping the results of his own actions. Earlier this year, Friedson vehemently supported legislation sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) to provide corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks for developments on Metro properties.
As County Executive Marc Elrich explained in his veto message, the property tax subsidies proposed for Grosvenor-Strathmore alone cost the county over $100 million in revenue. And that’s just one project and the start of the giveaway bonanza the Council insisted upon when it overrode Elrich’s veto.
Moreover, this is likely the first step, as ideas for providing similar subsidies on private property around Metro have been bandied about by both councilmembers and the Planning Board. Yet the Council seems much happier contemplating additions than subtractions to the budget.
The Council has also been busy reducing impact tax fees that go directly into the capital budget as part of its “no developer left behind during a pandemic” program. They may call it social justice but it sure looks like a giveaway to connected, wealthy interests known for generous campaign contributions.
It’s too bad that Friedson wasn’t around during the days of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Post Office. Its members had two core beliefs: (1) stamp prices should never rise, and (2) the wages of postal workers should always go up.
I sympathize with Friedson’s desire for a two-track Purple Line and a separate tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail. I just wish someone touted so often as a financial wizard would pay greater attention to the budgetary impact of his desire to engage in tax giveaways to developers on the Council’s other priorities.
In order to save money in the county’s capital budget, the administration of County Executive Marc Elrich has asked the state to single-track the Purple Line through a tunnel in Downtown Bethesda. That has aroused concern from Council Member Andrew Friedson, whose district includes the area, and advocates for both the Purple Line and its accompanying Capital Crescent Trail.
The Purple Line, the state’s light rail project between Bethesda and New Carrollton, has long been tied to the bicycle-pedestrian path known as the Capital Crescent Trail. The state is responsible for the Purple Line, the county is responsible for the trail and the two are supposed to run in parallel for most of the way between Silver Spring and Bethesda. The old version of the trail proceeded through an existing tunnel under Downtown Bethesda to enable pedestrians and bikers to avoid crossing Wisconsin Avenue, one of the most congested roads in the county. The new trail project is supposed to contain a new tunnel while the Purple Line uses the existing tunnel to connect to the Bethesda Metro Station.
This year is different in one respect. According to the executive’s new recommended trail project: “To provide an alternative approach, the County has requested that the State consider single-tracking through the Purple Line tunnel, freeing up space for the trail at considerable cost savings.” So instead of building a new tunnel, there would only be one tunnel containing one (not two) rail tracks plus the trail.
County transportation director Chris Conklin elaborated on the executive’s position in a letter to Friedson and the county council’s Transportation and Environment Committee. Conklin wrote:
For the Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel, the Executive and MCDOT staff have been discussing options for this project with the MDOT Secretary, MDOT/MTA Administrator, and MDOT/MTA Purple Line staff. We understand that MDOT is currently evaluating the opportunity to defer installation of a second track into the Bethesda Purple Line Station. Since Bethesda is a terminal station and given the initial headways planned for the Purple Line, it may be viable to eliminate this track without impact to the operations planned for the Purple Line. Without a second track through the tunnel, it may be possible to route the Capital Crescent Trail through the existing tunnel, which would also dramatically improve the very constrained pedestrian pathway included in the Purple Line design. This alignment would be much more direct than the alignment through the Carr Properties building to the Elm Street Park. In the future, if more frequent Purple Line service is needed, the trail alignment through the Carr Properties building could be constructed so that the second track could be installed.
The County Executive’s suggestion to explore single-tracking the Purple Line in the existing tunnel in order to accommodate the new Capital Crescent Trail is highly problematic and would represent a dramatic departure from the County’s longstanding commitments to the community. To my knowledge, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has never expressed that such an arrangement is feasible. Project plans were approved long ago and construction has already started. For those reasons, and based on deep concerns that single-tracking would delay travel times and light-rail vehicle headways, I am firmly opposed to the County Executive’s proposal. Even if an abrupt change to single-tracking is possible at this late stage, it would make this critical light-rail system less functional and would fall well short of our shared commitment to reliable, high-quality public transit.
This is not the first time that Elrich has proposed single tracking the Purple Line. Back in 2009, Elrich (along with Council Member Roger Berliner, who was Friedson’s predecessor) suggested single tracking the Purple Line inside the rail right of way in Chevy Chase that was then used as the original version of the Capital Crescent Trail. Elrich was interested in single tracking to save trees along the trail. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) responded with a statement noting longer travel times, less frequent service and lower passenger capacity on single-tracked light rail lines built in San Diego, Portland, Sacramento, and Baltimore. MTA concluded:
In sum, introducing a single-track segment between Bethesda and Connecticut Avenue would significantly compromise travel time savings, service frequency, passenger carrying capacity, and the maintenance and operating reliability of the Purple Line, thereby reducing the effectiveness, efficiency, and the return on a $1.3 billion investment. The reduction in the amount of tree clearance hoped for from building a trail and single-track segment would not likely be achieved. For the many reasons stated above the MTA strongly recommends against single-tracking any portion of the Purple Line.
In fairness to Elrich, the capital budget is extremely tight and the council’s move to reduce impact taxes used to pay for capital projects was not helpful. However, Elrich’s proposal to single track the Purple Line through a tunnel is a huge change to the project that could limit its effectiveness. The state should heed input from the county council, the county’s state legislators, the public and its own transit agency (which came out against single tracking a decade ago) before deciding on its merits.
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.
WABA has really fallen down on the job
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.
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.