(Future) Capital Crescent Trail

Silver Spring waits for the Capital Crescent Trail.

View of the Potomac River from the CCTThe Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) has been completed as a paved asphalt trail for seven miles, from Georgetown to Bethesda. The Trail follows an abandoned B&O railbed, and has gentle grades and only a few at-grade roadway crossings. It follows a tree lined corridor through a tunnel and over four bridges, and offers beautiful views of the Potomac River. The CCT between Georgetown and Bethesda is often crowded with cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers, and walkers. It is not unusual to see over 500 users/hr. on the CCT during evenings and weekends.

The CCT has a temporary extension, called the Interim CCT, that has been built with a crushed stone surface along the B&O railbed for three miles from Bethesda to Lyttonsville. A restored railroad trestle gives an easy crossing of the Rock Creek Stream Valley near its eastern end. The Interim CCT ends abruptly in an obscure industrial park, over one mile from downtown Silver Spring. The on-road Georgetown Branch Trail must be used to reach downtown Silver Spring and most Silver Spring neighborhoods from the end of the off-road Interim CCT.

Map of the Future CCT

The on-road Georgetown Branch Trail is shown in green.
Map source: www.cctrail.org

The Georgetown Branch Trail has many at-grade roadway crossings, two of them six-lane state highways with heavy turning traffic. This on-road bike route serves for cyclists comfortable riding in traffic, but few others will use it. A CCCT traffic survey found that traffic on the Interim CCT east of the Rock Creek Trestle is only a small fraction of that on the CCT between Bethesda and Georgetown.

Georgetown Branch Trail crossing of 16th Street

Georgetown Branch Trail crossing of 16th Street

Completing the CCT to downtown Silver Spring is crucial to have an off-road trail connection between the urban centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring, and for making the CCT available to Silver Spring neighborhoods. Completing the CCT is also crucial to link the off-road trails on the western side of the county with the off-road trails on the eastern side of the County (Rock Creek Trail, CCT, North Bethesda Trail to the west; Metropolitan Branch Trail, Silver Spring Green Trail, Sligo Creek Trail to the east).

Failure to complete the CCT into Silver Spring as a good off-road trail would be devastating to the planned trail network in lower Montgomery County.

The Future: Off-road and safe into Silver Spring

The future of the CCT east of Bethesda is tied to the future of the Purple Line light-rail. The CCT will be completed into Silver Spring as an off-road trail, with grade separated crossings of major roadways, when the Purple Line is constructed. The trail is planned to connect directly to the Metropolitan Branch Trail at the new Sarbanes Transit Center in downtown Silver Spring.

CSX corridor to Silver SpringMontgomery County and the State of Maryland have committed to completing the Capital Crescent Trail as an integral part of the Purple Line light-rail project. The existing off-road Georgetown Branch Trail from Bethesda to Lyttonsville will be rebuilt as a 12′ wide paved CCT alongside the Purple Line. The trail will be extended alongside the Purple LIne through Lyttonsville to Talbot Avenue in Rosemary Hills. The CCT will cross the CSX tracks on a new Talbot Avenue Bridge, then will continue along the east side of the CSX corridor into downtown Silver Spring. The Purple Line will continue into Silver Spring along the west side of the CSX tracks.

CSXT has a long-standing corporate policy of not selling any right-of-way for a trail alone, as the CCT will be between Talbot Avenue and downtown Silver Spring. MTA attempted to negotiate right-of-way for the trail to continue beyond Talbot Avenue, but learned in Jan. 2014 that CSXT would not grant MTA an exception. Montgomery County DOT (MCDOT) now has the responsibility to negotiate with CSXT for any right-of-way needed for that “final mile”. The trail can use county owned Third Avenue right-of-way adjacent to the CSX corridor for much of this, but there is a 1300′ long section behind the Park Sutton Condominiums where a significant trail alignment bypass may be required if CSXT continues to not cooperate. MCDOT and M-NCPPC staff are exploring bypass alternatives, including an all off-road CCT alignment around the front of the Park Sutton Condominiums that would only add 500′ to the total trail length.

After the CCT is extended with the Purple Line, the trail will be full-width, paved and off-road continuous from downtown Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring. The trail will have grade separated crossings of major roads including Connecticut Avenue, Jones Bridge Road, 16th Street and Colesville Road. Silver Spring neighborhoods will have good access to a first class regional trail at last, after waiting for over 20 years.

Transit and Trail can share the corridor.

Neighborhood groups centered in Chevy Chase and opposed to the Purple Line have wrapped themselves with the “Save the Trail” banner. The Purple Line opponents claim that rail will be incompatible with the trail. But the Purple Line design concept and the experience with many rails-with-trails around the country refute their claims.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reports there are already more than 200 trails alongside or within the right-of-way of active rail lines nationwide. More trails with rails are being built every year. Their study of 61 of these trails showed that they are attractive and safe. Their safety study, and other information on trails with rails, is online at their “Trail Building Toolbox”.

The Purple Line CCT design concept provides a 12′ wide paved trail in the Georgetown Branch corridor with good separation from transit. A wide planted buffer and a fence will be between the trail and transit. The CCT will be rebuilt on the north side of transit between Bethesda and Jones Mill Road so the trail will be higher than the transit tracks in most places. Modern light-rail cars like those of Portland will be used, and can run so quietly that bells are needed to warn pedestrians when they approach stations or crossings.

Trees will remain in the corridor in the many areas where the r.o.w. is greater than needed for transit, and can combine with the planted buffer between the trail and tracks to give a feeling of being in a green space. If “grass tracks” are used, as the Montgomery County Council and Executive are requesting, then ironically the only part of the corridor that will not be green will be the pavement of the trail itself.

transit on grass tracks in Freiburg

Light rail on grass tracks in Freiburg

The Georgetown Branch Corridor was purchased for over ten million dollars in large part for potential transit use, and shared transit-trail use would benefit the largest number of people. MTA ridership estimates predict that six times as many people will use the Purple Line in one day than now use the trail east of Bethesda in one week. Use of the trail will increase if rebuilt with the Purple Line because it will be paved, will be extended through more neighborhoods into downtown Silver Spring, and will be connected to the off-road trails east of Rock Creek.

Bruce Adams, who supported purchasing the Georgetown Branch right-of-way and creating the trail while on the Montgomery County Council, observed: “The Capital Crescent Trail is a regional jewel, but it would not exist today had the council not voted in 1988 to purchase the right-of-way for the rail line”, and “For trail supporters to attempt to block the rail line by arguing that it will destroy the trail is just not playing fair.” (February 6, 2003 letter to Montgomery Gazette).

(Future) CCT and Purple Line project status:

The design of the Purple Line/CCT is approx. 30% complete. The MTA completed the Purple Line Final Environmental Impact Statement in Nov. 2013 and received a Record of Decision (ROD) in March, 2014. This means that the project now has federal approval to begin acquiring right of way, and is eligible for federal funding. Construction can begin as early as 2015 if a full funding agreement can be reached with the Federal Transit Administration.

More information on the Purple Line funding/construction status and the Record of Decision and is at www.purplelinemd.com. See the website www.purplelinenow.org for more on the compatibility of the Purple Line and CCT.

Updated March, 2014

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