Archive for the ‘Talbot Ave. bridge’ Category

Purple Line nears agreement with CSXT on the Trail.

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Oct. 18 update: Proposed trail design at Talbot Avenue needs to be reworked.

M-NCPPC has recently released a “Peer Review” of the CCT design that Toole Design Group performed, available online at Peer Review of Trail Projects. Toole Design Group examined the drawing of the proposed trail alignment along Talbot Avenue more closely than I had, and found the effective trail width is only 6′ there. While the trail is a nominal 10′ wide, there is no buffer, fence or shy space between the trail and the Talbot Ave. curb, and there is no buffer or shy space between the trail and fence on the CSXT side. This fails to meet current design guidelines and best practices. Toole recommends the design be completely redone in this area.

I had found the design to be acceptible in my post below. My bad – I had not examined the drawings closely enough. The devil is in the details, and the details stink in the MCDOT design.

The release of the Purple Line FEIS for public comment last month brought attention to a serious problem that threatened the Capital Crescent Trail – the difficulty of reaching agreement with CSXT for right-of-way to complete the trail into downtown Silver Spring. As reported here at Giving up on the CCT too easily, language in the FEIS dealt with the issue badly by stating that if agreement is not reached the trail would be dumped onto local streets and would not be completed as an off-road trail. Early this month we received word from Purple Line project manager Mike Madden that a recent CSXT policy change on trails?! would allow the Purple Line to go forward with its plans to complete the CCT.

We are learning more about how the plans are moving forward. On Friday, Oct. 4 the MTA Purple Line design team and MCDOT engineers had a monthly design working group meeting, and MTA shared its most recent letter from CSXT. The CSXT letter was dated Sept. 3, 2013 and answered an MTA letter of Oct. 23, 2012 about CSXT’s concerns. The CSXT letter states:

“The main concern we have is the proposed construction of the Trail on CSX property and the distance shown to the CSX live track. The minimum distance accepted for any trail on CSX property is 50 feet from the centerline of the near track.”

MTA shared more recent design drawings and described how the Purple Line project hopes to meet this CSXT requirement at the design working group meeting. A summary follows.

At Talbot Avenue: change the bridge

MTA is realigning the Trail in the vicinity of Talbot Avenue and 4th Avenue to avoid using any CSXT r.o.w., since CSXT r.o.w. is not wide enough to maintain a 50 foot offset in that area. The trail will be routed onto a new bridge over the railroad tracks to do this. Drawings dated August 1, 2013 show the new bridge location to be about where the existing historic one-lane bridge is today.

The bridge proposed to replace the existing Talbot Ave. bridge.
(click on the image for a wider view)

The proposed new trail alignment on this new bridge would be about equal in quality to a trail alignment over a trail bridge near Lanier Drive as previously proposed. The trail will cross the CSX tracks on the new vehicle bridge alongside two lanes of traffic, instead of on a separate trail bridge. Because the trail is shifted from CSX property onto the 4th Ave. r.o.w. on the north/east side, the trail will have to cross the bridge traffic lanes at the end of the new bridge. But motor vehicle traffic will be light and can be calmed by a “all way” stop much as bridge traffic is today, so there need not be a heavy impact on trail safety or convenience. The long trail ramp that had been planned along Talbot Avenue to the trail bridge is gone, since the new alignment will allow the trail to follow the more gentle grade of Talbot Avenue to get the elevation needed for the cross-over on the new motor vehicle bridge. The new alignment will allow direct access from the trail to Lanier Drive. Overall the new proposed trail alignment compares well with the old in this area.

The historic Talbot Avenue Bridge

I gave a brief summary of the history and local importance of the Talbot Ave. Bridge at 90 years and counting. Local passions will likely be aroused by any proposal to remove this bridge. But MCDOT engineers have previously expressed concerns about the feasibility of modifying this bridge to accommodate the Purple Line. In particular, it is doubtful that state and federal funds can be used to rebuild the historic bridge since it so badly fails to meet current bridge design and safety standards. I doubt that the Trail is the primary driver forcing the replacement of this bridge – the trail could likely be accommodated by a new trail bridge that would avoid CXST r.o.w. if built adjacent to the historic bridge. Trail supporters should try to avoid taking sides if another bridge fight breaks out between neighborhoods.

At Park Sutton: increase the trail offset

The Trail can use 4th Ave. r.o.w. south from the Talbot Ave. Bridge to the Woodside Mews townhomes. MTA is proposing to move the trail a few feet at Woodside Mews to be entirely outside of CSXT r.o.w. until it reaches Lyttonsville Road. That will put the trail a little closer to the curb of the Woodside Mews parking lot and there may be calls for stronger measures to provide privacy and noise screening between the trail and the townhomes. But the impact of this move appears to be reasonable.

The Trail is planned to be inside CSXT r.o.w. for the 1300′ section between Lyttonsville Road and the 16th Street Bridge, behind the Park Sutton Condominiums. The CSXT r.o.w. is very wide there, and MTA has indicated it is revising plans to increase the planned trail offset in this section to meet the CSXT 50 foot offset requirement.

The planned trail alignment at Park Sutton (in green)
and an alternate “Plan B” alignment (in red).

Trail supporters need to watch how this alignment shift might impact the trail elevation in this area. The most recent elevation drawings for the trail show that the trail drops 36 feet from the high point at the Talbot Ave. Bridge to a low point adjacent to the Park Sutton parking lot, then rises 20 feet from the parking lot to the 16th Street highway bridge. The maximum grade is 4.5%, within recommended design allowable for a trail. That is a substantial elevation change. Shifting the alignment further from the CSXT active track should not be allowed to cause even more elevation change. MTA may need to use elevated trail structure in the vicinity of the Park Sutton parking to improve the trail elevation.

The alternate “Plan B” trail alignment shown above should be kept in mind by MTA and MCDOT Purple Line planners. While it now appears that an alternate alignment will not be needed, it is good to have an alternate in the event an unforseen issue blocks completing a trail r.o.w. agreement with CSXT.

The proposed trail alignment enters county owned 3rd Avenue r.o.w. after passing under the 16th Street Bridge, and remains within county owned r.o.w. until it reaches the Metro Plaza at Colesville Road. No changes in the proposed trail alignment are needed in this section to meet CSXT requirements.

At Metro Plaza: the Trail is supported by Purple Line structure

The Sept. 3, 2013 CSXT letter and attached responses to MTA plans did not raise any objections to the proposed trail alignment on elevated structure in the Metro Plaza and Silver Spring Transit Center area. CSXT did request more information on the placement of the Purple Line elevated structure support piers and the design of the train crash barriers that would protect the piers.

Proposed Trail alignment at Metro Plaza
(source: MTA Purple Line website)

I think that CSXT is not applying its 50′ offset requirement for trails at Metro Plaza and Colesville Road because the CCT is integrated into the Purple Line support structures and is not a “trail alone” in this area.

Seventeen years, and still waiting!

The off-road interim CCT was built on the Georgetown Branch r.o.w. in Bethesda/Chevy Chase neighborhoods in 1996. Downtown Silver Spring and Silver Spring neighborhoods are still waiting for any off-road CCT seventeen years later. The Purple Line design team has a clear path now to complete its plans to build the CCT into Silver Spring along the CSXT corridor as long promised. It is time to complete the plans, and to start building!

Is the Future CCT headed for gridlock?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Preliminary Engineering by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) for the Purple Line and Future CCT is nearing completion. MTA has begun its second round of neighborhood work group meetings to present the next level of design to the public. Purple Line/CCT design features were presented for the Bethesda Station area on December 18, 2012 and for the Lyttonsville and Woodside Station areas on January 16, 2013. The most recent powerpoint presentations, sketches and maps for those areas are available now at the MTA website.

A sample of the information available at the MTA website for neighborhood work groups Bethesda, Lyttonsville and Woodside:

Purple Line and CCT bridges over Rock Creek
Proposed Purple Line and CCT bridges over Rock Creek
(source: MTA at

Partial map of Future CCT at Rock Creek
The future Purple Line and CCT alignment at Rock Creek
(see MTA Lyttonsville Map for a more complete view)

The new MTA drawings show some changes from prior CCT plans, including:
1) The new 5-7′ wide sidewalk alignment through the Bethesda Tunnel, with the main trail shunted to the surface route (surface route not shown – that is under design by MCDOT),
2) The north-side location for the switchback connection to the Rock Creek Trail,
3) A new underpass alignment under the Purple Line tracks that is closer to the Rock Creek bridges,
4) A trail bridge over the CSX tracks that is further north from the Rosemary Hills Elementary School, and
5) A new, grade separated crossing under the east end of a proposed new Talbot Avenue Bridge.
These changes reflect some difficult trade-offs, but by-and-large can result in a high quality off-road trail from the center of Bethesda into the center of Silver Spring. While the decision to take the trail out of the Bethesda Tunnel and across Wisconsin Avenue at-grade has been a disappointment, the trail would have only one other at-grade crossing between Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring (at relatively quiet Stewart Avenue in Lyttonsville). At-grade crossings at three state highways (Connecticut Ave., 16th Street, and Colesville Road) on today’s Georgetown Branch Trail would be eliminated.

All of this planning is in serious danger of going onto the shelf, with no progress for building either the Purple Line or for completing the CCT for many years to come!. The facts:

  • All funding for Purple Line planning ends in 2014, and there is no funding available for construction to begin.
  • To avoid a shut-down of work, the state must submit an application for a “Record of Decision” to the FTA this summer to get federal construction funding. The application must include a credible financial plan to show how the state will meet its proposed 50% share of the construction costs.
  • The state transportation trust fund has been depleted and the state has no money to start any new highway, bridge or transit projects. The state cannot submit a credible financial plan for its share of the Purple Line unless a serious transportation funding package is approved by the state legislature now that will restore the Transportation Trust Fund in the immediate future.

The impact of the uncertainty in state funding for Purple Line upon completion of the CCT is already showing – with the recent accouncement that funding to build the CCT is being delayed: See Montgomery County projects tied to Purple Line delayed

If the governor and state assembly do not act in this legislative session, it will likely be many years before the transportation funding issue is addressed again in any substantial way. Next year is an election year and little will get done that involves political courage. The Purple Line will lose its place in line for federal construction funding. It could be many years before the project can be revived, and much of the design work will then need to be updated.

If the Purple Line project stalls, progress on completing and paving the Future CCT between Bethesda and Georgetown will also stop. We will not get the right-of-way in the CSX corridor that is crucial to completing the trail.

There is no alternative trail alignment for an off-road trail into downtown Silver Spring that does not require using CSX right-of-way in several places. But CSX has a strong general policy of not allowing any trail uses within its right-of-way. Purple Line project manager Mike Madden confirmed in an email exchange with me on November 26, 2012 that MTA had sent Purple Line plans to CSX for comment last fall, and CSX had responded in a letter to MTA to indicate it would not grant right-of-way for any trail use. MTA responded in turn with a letter to CSX to request that an exception be made for the state Purple Line/CCT project. Mike Madden told me at the 16 January Lyttonsville/Woodside neighborhood work group meeting that CSX has not yet responded to this request.

CSX right-of-way needed at 16th Street Bridge
The grade-separated trail crossing under the 16th Street Bridge
is one of several places where CSX right-of-way is critical
(source: MTA at

The state has considerable leverage it can use to bring CSX to the negotiating table regarding right-of-way for the Purple Line and CCT. CSX has many business interests statewide that are before the state for consideration, including requests for increasing its freight infrastructure capacity along its Brunswick Line. CSX cannot easily brush the state request for CCT right-of-way aside so long as the state makes the CCT an integral part of its high priority Purple Line project. But if the Purple Line project stalls, CSX right-of-way negotiations with the state will stop. Montgomery County has no leverage to bring CSX to the negotiating table for a trail-only project.

Paving the existing Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Lyttonsville will also likely remain gridlocked without the Purple Line, for several reasons:
1) The county council will be extremely reluctant to approve funding to pave the existing trail so long as there is any hope that the trail will be torn up and rebuilt for shared use of the corridor with transit in the not-to-distant future. Transit use has always been proposed for this corridor since the county bought it in 1988 – in fact the corridor would never have been purchased by the county if not for this future shared transit/trail use. Even if the Purple Line stalls, the need for better rapid transit between Silver Spring and Bethesda will only continue to grow. Neither East-West Highway nor Jones Bridge Road can be expanded to have the dedicated transit lanes that are essential for “rapid” transit on these congested roads, at any reasonable cost and impact. This Georgetown Branch transportation corridor will continue to be the only, and obvious, choice for better east-west rapid transit, whether as light-rail or as Bus Rapid Transit. Trail supporters cannot reasonably expect that this corridor will be surrendered to them for exclusive trail use if the Purple Line stalls.
2) Transit supporters will vigorously oppose placing anything in the Georgetown Branch corridor that may make it politically more difficult to advance transit in the future. I believe some limited trail development is worthwhile and should proceed in this corridor – I was in the lead in advocating for opening the Rock Creek Trestle in 2003. But I cannot dispute that “Save the Trail” advocates have used “we got here first” to build opposition to transit in the corridor, with no regard to the fact that the trail would not exist today if not for the promise of future shared transit and trail use.
3) There will be significant oppositon to paving the trail from local neighorhoods and other users. Pam Browning, past president of “Save the Trail”, was on record in opposition to paving the trail unless it is done without replacing the existing gravel path and without cutting any trees. Those conditions are, of course, impossible to meet. There are many other local residents, joggers, and recreational cyclists who would like to see the Interim CCT stay as it is – uncrowded and natural. They fear paving will open the CCT to speeding cyclists.

Trail users should be very concerned that the Purple Line is in danger of stalling because the state Transportation Trust Fund is running on empty. If the project stalls then completing and paving the future CCT will stall along with it. If that prospect bothers you and you live in Maryland, then now is the time to contact your Maryland State Representatives and urge them to fix the Transportation Trust Fund.

Keeping it in balance at Lyttonsville

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The MTA returned to Lyttonsville for a neighborhood meeting on Oct. 3, to follow-up on questions raised during the Sept. 13 Lyttonsville neighborhood work group meeting. As reported in the Gazette at Silver Spring residents question Purple Line redesign, some local residents remain very unhappy about the MTA proposal to “flip” the CCT to the north side of the project and to move the maintenance facility to the east side of Lyttonsville Place. Residents expressed strong views that this proposed change was a major “supersizing” of the storage yards and maintenance facility from anything that they had been shown before, and many felt the neighborhood had been blindsided at the Sept. 13 meeting with this major change. The two major concerns of local residents about the future CCT appear to be that the proposed flip would cause the loss of shade along the trail and would make access to the trail more difficult.

I saw little at this second meeting that would change my first assessment of the new plans for the CCT at Lyttonsville. I feel that the Lyttonsville Civic Association representatives and neighbors are greatly overstating the significance of the changes the MTA is proposing. The CCT can work well in this area with the new proposed alignment, provided proper attention is given to several key design issues. In particular, the new proposal should be tweeked to keep more green buffer along the trail and to improve the local access routes.

Warning: This is a long post. If you would rather not get into the neighborhood issues, then skip down to the discussion of the CCT green buffer and local access issues.

The scope and size: Not greatly increased from before.

Numerous speakers at the meeting complained bitterly that the MTA was greatly expanding the scope of the project at Lyttonsville with little prior notice. Claims were made that this was the first time MTA had shown that the project would take all of the area between the Georgetown Branch Trail corridor and Brookville Road. It was even asserted by one speaker that the plans for double tracking and running transit vehicles on headways as short as 6 minutes in the Lyttonsville area were new. These assertions, though certainly heartfelt, simply do not line up well with the public record. MTA has posted links to the presentation material for the two meetings on its website at Lyttonsville station area work group. The MTA presentation given at this second meeting addressed the history of the project, and is available as a pdf file at Oct. 3, 2011 MTA Presentation.

One can find from the history that the transit alignment was described clearly as being double tracked at Lyttonsville, and running as frequently as 6 minute headways, as early as 1990. (See, for example, the pdf file 1990 Georgetown Branch Master Plan, p. 44, for specification of double tracking along the northern side of Lyttonsville neighborhood.) The maintenance facility has grown considerably from that shown in the 1990 plan, but it was shown nearly three years ago, in this sketch presented at the Nov. 2008 public hearing, that the maintenance facility would require taking many of the businesses on the south side of Brookville Road from Lyttonsville Place to Stewart Avenue:

Lyttonsville Station as presented at the Nov. 2008 Public Hearing
(source: Oct. 3, 2011 MTA Presentation)

The Oct. 3 MTA Presentation also showed drawings that had been presented to the community in Feb. and Oct. of 2009 where all of the businesses on Brookville Road to Stewart Ave. would be impacted except one (the Counter Intelligence showroom) at the Stewart Avenue corner. Claims being made by the neighborhood that the project suddenly grew dramatically with the plan shown at the September 13 meeting don’t hold up.

Neighborhood disturbance: Little worse than what is there now.

The changes from that earlier LPA plan and the new plan do not much change the total scale, but they do change relative positions substantially. Those changes are:
1) The location of the trail, Purple Line tracks, and storage tracks are flipped, mostly with little change to the overall project footprint, to put the trail and Purple Line tracks on the north side of the project further from the Lyttonsville neighborhood.
2) The maintenance building is moved to be east of the Lyttonsville Place Bridge and closer to the Claridge House.
3) A 200 car, two level parking garage is new to the project, to be built south of the maintenance building, and
4) Stewart Avenue will be realigned with a new bridge over the Purple Line, bringing the project closer to the homes at the end of Albert Stewart Lane.

The MTA pdf file Design Option Roll Map shows the location of these features. MTA also presented the following sketch to show relative locations at the Claridge House:

The maintenance building and parking garage near the Claridge House
(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The MTA presentation makes several important points about the impacts of these changes on the neighborhood:
1) The noisiest and most active part of the system is the main Purple Line tracks and station, and they have been moved to be substantially farther from the Lyttonsville neighborhood.
2) The maintenance building is expected to be relatively quiet since work is performed inside. The storage tracks may be noisier with activity from shuttling vehicles back and forth. Switching the maintenance building location with the storage track location can help reduce the noise near the Claridge House from the prior plan.
3) The new configuration allows through movements on the storage tracks, which should reduce the amount of shuttling needed to access the vehicles.

Many residents at the meeting appeared to be very skeptical of the MTA claims that the new configuration would not seriously degrade their neighborhood. But I think an obvious fact was largely ignored by the neighbors during the discussion – that while the Lyttonsville residential area is very attractive, the area between the north side of the residences and Brookville Road is a noisy dump, and could hardly be made worse by the Purple Line. One only needs to walk around the area and listen to realize this is true. I especially encourage those who think they already know the area to do this. People who live in an area quickly become deaf to the constant noises that are in the background, and need to consciously listen to experience it as it really is.

I offer the following two Google Map views as a poor substitute for a walking tour:

View Larger Map
Behind the Claridge House, where the two level
parking garage is planned.

On my two most recent visits to the area above, a heavy front-end loader was busy moving materials in the landscaping yard near the Claridge House swimming pool. The engine noise and backing signal noise it was generating easily exceeded anything that would come from a light-rail vehicle.

View Larger Map
Looking toward the back yards of homes on
Albert Stewart Lane from Stewart Avenue

I regularly see a forklift noisily working in the Serra Stone staging yard immediately behind the homes seen in the view above. Stewart Avenue serves dozens of businesses, and there are nearly 200 parking spaces and vehicle loading spaces associated with those businesses. This draws considerable heavy truck and delivery vehicle traffic in addition to the automobile traffic. I am not convinced that removing the Serra Stone yard for the Stewart Avenue realignment, and adding automobile traffic from 200 Purple Line employees coming to the new parking garage, will have a heavy impact on the homes in this area compared to what is there now.

Shade on the CCT: Little difference from the prior plan, a green buffer should be added to either plan.

Several neighbors commented at the Oct. 3 meeting that the new Purple Line plan left the CCT with no shade through the Lyttonsville Station area. The trail would be adjacent to Brookville Road, and the MTA plan shows no green buffer at all between the trail and either Brookville Road on one side and the Purple Line tracks on the other side.

This is a big issue, but it is not a new problem that results from the “flip” from the previous plan. Close inspection of the previous plan, shown in the pdf file LPA Roll Map, reveals that the previous plan also left the CCT without shade through this area. The future CCT is pushed south from the current location of the Interim Trail, pushing into the industrial yards and eliminating the thin line of trees there now. The CCT would be left with no buffer from the treeless industrial yards. This issue must be addressed, regardless of whether the plan is flipped or not.

Trail supporters need to press MTA and other decision makers to provide some green space alongside the CCT in this area to preserve the trail experience. The Impact Comparison map suggests how this can be done:

MTA Impact Comparison map
(Click on the image for the full map.)

The map above shows the areas as shaded in green where the proposed “flip” would reduce the impact from the previous plan. There is considerable green area on the south side of the Purple Line project adjacent to the WSSC facility, west of Lyttonsville Place. I propose that area be reclaimed for the project, to expand the total width of the project to enable the storage tracks and Purple Line tracks to be shifted south by 10-15′. This shift would create space for a 10-15′ wide planted buffer along the CCT at the north side.

Expanding the project on the east side of Lyttonsville Place to also create room for a planted buffer there will have more impact on the properties along the south side, but nonetheless this should be seriously considered. The new “flip” plan has moved the Purple Line tracks farther from the Lyttonsville neighborhood than before – we can move the tracks 10-15′ south and still have the main line tracks be farther from the neighborhood than in the prior plan. In my view having the mass of tracks and trail be softened by adding a green strip with trees beside the trail would more than compensate the view from the neighborhood for having a slightly wider total project. And the experience for both the trail user and transit user will be greatly improved with small trees and green space alongside.

This is important – we need to get more green space into the design, and we can do so if we make it a priority.

Local CCT access: Give attention to the four bridges.

Residents of Lyttonsville are understandably concerned that moving the CCT to be alongside Brookville Road will make access to the CCT more difficult for them. But there is a trade-off here, since those working at the Army Walter Reed Annex and the businesses in the industrial park will find it easier to reach the CCT. If the MTA goes forward with the new plan, the design should incorporate upgrades to all four bridges crossing over the Purple Line so that Lyttonsville residents have the best local access to the trail possible under the circumstances.

At Grubb Road: The MTA drawing for the new plan shows that access to the trail from Grubb Road/Terrace Drive to the CCT will be by a new pedestrian bridge over the Purple Line where the access trail to the Interim Trail is now. But the plan also shows a long switchback ramp on the south side of the Purple Line to gain the elevation needed for the bridge to clear the Purple Line. I believe this switchback is not needed, and that a cursory inspection of the area by MTA will confirm that little more is needed here than a short ramp.

The old Brookville Pike crossed over the B&O Railroad tracks at this location for many years. The crossing is shown in the 1918 Right-of-Way and Track Map of the Southern Metropolitan Railroad Company, and the map has an annotation that the Mont. Co. Council authorized the removal of the bridge in 1967. The western abutment to that bridge is still in place and can be seen from the Interim CCT.

The eastern abutment to the Brookville Pike Bridge,
across the Interim CCT from the Grubb Road access path.

Brookville Pike worked with the existing grade in the area to get enough elevation to clear the railroad – it used no switchback. When the Grubb Road access path to the Interim Trail was built in 1996, the western bridge abutment had to be removed so the path could be cut into the hill to get down to the railroad grade. There is no need for a switchback here for a new pedestrian bridge if we use the existing elevations in the area effectively.

At Lyttonsville Place: Under the new plan, anyone wanting to reach the CCT or Purple Line Station from the Claridge House area will need to use a rebuilt Lyttonsville Place Bridge. Traffic on the roadway is heavy and fast. It will be essential that the new bridge have a generous pedestrian and bicycling path with a physical barrier separating it from the roadway. I would suggest at least a 5′ sidewalk and adjacent 8′ bicycle path on the east side of the bridge. This pathway should extend the full length of Lyttonsville Place to Michigan Avenue.

At Stewart Avenue: As for the Lyttonsville Place Bridge, the new Stewart Avenue Bridge will be an essential crossing for area residents to reach the CCT and Purple Line Station. It will also need a strong pedestrian/bicycle path on its west side. The path should extend down Stewart Avenue to Kansas Avenue.

At Talbot Avenue: Under the new plan, local access to the CCT that had been planned at the end of Kansas Avenue and Michigan Avenue will be lost. Lyttonsville residents who want to go east on the CCT from the general area of Rosemary Hills Elementary School will want to access the CCT via. Talbot Avenue and the Talbot Avenue Bridge. This access would be important even under the old plan, because pedestrians will strongly resist walking north to a Michigan Avenue access point if they intend to go south on the CCT.

The Talbot Avenue Bridge is planned to be extended at its west end to accommodate the Purple Line, but to remain with the same center span structure in the same location. Little can be done to improve pedestrian access on the narrow bridge itself. But motor vehicle traffic patterns to the bridge are not expected to change, and the tight curves and stop signs slow motor vehicles so that the bridge works reasonably well now to carry the existing Georgetown Branch Trail traffic. We can live with the bridge much as it is for local trail access, the future CCT through traffic will not be using the bridge.

But more can be done to improve the one block of Talbot Avenue that leads up to the bridge. Motor vehicle traffic is faster and more intimidating on Talbot Avenue than on the bridge. A sidewalk should be planned along the west side of Talbot Avenue from Lanier Drive to the stop sign at the end of the bridge.

The CCT can work with the proposed new alignment.

I regret that this post is so long, but there are many issues to consider in this new MTA Purple Line plan. I believe that when everything is considered, there are fair trade-offs. The CCT can work about equally well under either an alignment on the north side or south side of the Purple Line in the Lyttonsville area – provided good attention is paid to the trail and local access as the design progresses. The MTA has made a reasonable case that the proposed change will make the Purple Line work better. Trail users and the community should give the MTA proposal fair consideration.

CCT Crossing of CSX

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Cross posted at

The MTA announced at the County Council Purple Line Master Plan work sessions last July that plans for the future trail crossing of CSX at Talbot Ave. had changed. A Google map of Talbot Avenue and the CSX tracks is below.

View Larger Map

The previous plan was for the future CCT to go between Talbot Avenue and the back side of Rosemary Hills Elementary School, and to cross the CSX tracks on a new trail bridge a few feet south of the historic Talbot Avenue Bridge. But Montgomery County Public Schools strongly requested that the trail cross the CSX tracks north of the school. The MCPS was concerned that if the trail were to pass immediately behind the school, it would require a high retaining wall that would badly impact the school.

Behind Rosemary Hills Elementary School

The MCPS has a valid concern. The school sidewalk behind the school is already pinched between the existing retaining wall for Talbot Avenue and the wall of the school building, and is heavily used by students and staff. A higher retaining wall there would be oppressive.

MTA announced to the Council at the July worksessions that they had developed a new plan that would have the trail cross to the other side of the CSX tracks before it reached the back of the school. The trail would be elevated on a ramp alongside Talbot Avenue and would cross the CSX tracks to the Hanover Street/4th Ave. area. Talbot Avenue would be shifted a few feet to the west and part of Talbot Ave. would become one-way. Additional right-of-way would be taken from five private homes along Talbot Ave. MTA did not present much detail at the Council worksessions.

The Sept. 13 briefing to CCCT provided more detail on the new plan. Parts of the MTA Plan and Profile drawings for that area are shown below.

Trail ramp between CSX tracks and Talbot Ave.
(click on image for a larger scale image)
Source: MTA Plan and Profile – Trail, Sept. 2010

Trail bridge over CSX tracks to 4th Ave.
(click on image for a larger scale image)
Source: MTA Plan and Profile – Trail, Sept. 2010

The first of the two plan views above shows the location of the new trail ramp between Talbot Ave. and the CSX tracks, from Michigan Ave. to Lanier Drive. That drawing also shows the additional right-of-way that must be taken from the five homes between Michigan Ave. and Lanier Drive to allow Talbot Ave. to be shifted to the west.

The next drawing shows the location of the new trail bridge across the CSX tracks, from the intersection of Talbot Avenue and Lanier Drive on the west side (Rosemary Hills side) to the corner of Hanover Street and 4th Ave. on the east side (North Woodside side). It also shows the trail alignment along 4th Ave. The trail will cross Talbot Avenue at the end of the single-lane Talbot Ave. Bridge.

The major drawback to this plan for trail users, compared to the old plan, is the new trail ramp. The ramp will be about 500′ long and will have a 5% grade to elevate the trail for the bridge over the CSX tracks. This total elevation is about the same as required in the old plan to cross CSX, but the old plan followed the grade of Talbot Avenue for a longer distance to beyond the Talbot Ave. Bridge to gain the elevation needed, for a gentler grade. The new ramp also separates the trail from the end of Lanier Drive, so local trail traffic going to/from Lanier Drive will have to follow a detour to access the ramp. Overall I consider the new plan to be acceptible for trail users – it is a reasonable compromise to spare the school from a severe impact.

I have heard some concerns about safety on the trail along 4th Ave. at the crossing at end of the Talbot Ave. Bridge. I don’t think that is a serious issue. That three-way intersection has an all-way stop. Motor vehicle traffic has to take turns on the one-lane bridge, creating regular gaps in traffic flow when trail users can cross the road. The old plan called for the trail to have two at-grade roadway crossings on the west side of the CSX tracks: Michigan Ave. at the corner with Talbot Ave.; and also Lanier Drive at Talbot Ave. These at-grade crossings would have been no better than we will now have at the end of the Talbot Ave. Bridge.

There was some discussion at the CCCT meeting about the impact this new plan will have on the five homes that will lose parts of their yards. It can be seen from the first of the two drawings above that the three homes on Talbot Avenue closest to Lanier Drive would only be slightly impacted, because of the orientation of the homes on their lots and the minimal amount of property to be taken. The two homes nearest to Michigan Ave. would be impacted more heavily and should be given significant compensation for the “taking”. Converting Talbot Ave. from two-way to one-way on this block would be a minor inconvenience. Lanier Drive/Pennsylvania Ave. is a good alternative route for the little through traffic that now uses this street.

Trail users need to go to the MTA meetings! I’ve touched on some of the major trail features of the newest Purple Line/CCT plan in this blog series. Many other design issues came up at the Sept. 13 CCCT meeting: details of access paths and crossings all along the trail; questions about retaining walls and fences between rail, trail, and neighborhoods; adequacy of the sound barriers; trail access at the transit stations, etc. These “details” will be important to the quality of the trail. MTA will be holding public “work sessions” on different aspects of the Purple Line design – including work sessions focused on different parts of the trail. It is important that trail users attend. MTA needs our perspective. Contact MTA at to be put on their list to receive meeting announcements.

Council work session details CCT plans

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Update: On July 27 the Council approved the Purple Line Functional Master Plan by a unanimous vote with little discussion. The plan stands as described below.

July 15, 2010

The Montgomery County Council T&E Committee took up the proposed Purple Line Functional Master Plan on July 15. In general, the Committee followed the guidance given by the analysis in the staff packet. I’ll touch on some of the high points here, and add some information that arose from the Committee discussion with the MTA project staff that was not in the staff packet.

The Committee agreed with the recommendation to not have a single-track section in Chevy Chase. There was a long discussion on this issue and the decision was difficult for Committee members, but in the end the Committee agreed that even a short single-track section would harm the operational capabilities of the system too much. I have posted earlier at Off track on one track why a single-track section would have little, if any, benefit to the Trail.

The Committee agreed to Master Plan language that MTA should use wireless technology as much as is practical to minimize the interference of overhead wires with restoring the tree canopy after construction. MTA agreed some promising technologies are being studied, and this might be feasible for short sections in a few more years.

The Committee endorsed the plan to hold the trail on the north side of the tracks through the Chevy Chase and East Bethesda neighborhoods. As for the discussion of single-track, this was a difficult decision for the Council Members. But in the end they agreed with the MTA finding that this would allow for a trail with better vertical separation. I have posted earlier at Flipping the trail south on why the trail is better on the north side overall.

The Committee did welcome news that MTA and the Town of Chevy Chase were having continuing discussions on how to make the at-grade crossing at Lynn Drive safe, and also were having discussions on possibly building a local neighborhood trail along the south side of the transitway between the Lynn Drive path and Elm Street Park.

The Committee agreed to strengthen language on the trail width – to make the 12’ width the standard wherever possible, instead of having a 10’ width be the standard with 12’ only listed as desirable. Councilmember Leventhal shared that the County is negotiating with the Columbia Country Club for an agreement that would have the Club drop its opposition to the Purple Line in exchange for shifting the Purple Line alignment shift a few feet north at the Club, to minimize the impact on the greens on the south side. A 10′ trail width through the Club may be a part of that agreement. My own view is that if 2′ is a deal breaker, surely there is another place to find 2′, say by reducing the width of the planted buffer between trail and rail. We need all of the trail width we can get!

July 16 update: Councilmember Leventhal has received clarification from Mike Madden of MTA that the trail width is NOT a sticking point in negotiations with the Club, and the Trail can be a consistent 12′ width through this area.

Committee discussions with MTA showed that the newest plans have two alignment shifts for the future Trail from that shown in previous plans:
1) The trail will shift from the north side of the tracks to the south side of the tracks at Rock Creek, instead of just west of Jones Mill Road. MTA did not present any sketches showing how the trail would shift sides, but I’m guessing that the Trail would cross from north to south underneath the Purple Line transit bridge span right at Rock Creek. A sketch of the older plan is at Access to a real park and shows the trail bridge could clear beneath the transit bridge at Rock Creek. In my opinion, this can be an improvement over the older plan if designed right – it eliminates the need for an up and over crossing west of Jones Mill Road for less elevation change on the CCT, while still giving good access to the Rock Creek Trail.
2) The Trail will cross over CSX west of the Rosemary Hills Elementary School, instead of just east of the Talbot Avenue Bridge.. This change is believed necessary to avoid increasing the height of the retaining wall that is close behind the school now. This change requires taking several feet from the yards of five homes along Talbot Ave. between Michigan Ave. and Lanier Drive, and making Talbot Ave. one-way on this block. I consider this as roughly an even trade-off for the Trail if done right – it eliminates at-grade crossings of Michigan Ave. and Lanier Drive, but creates an at-grade crossing at the east end of the Talbot Ave. Bridge.

map of new CSX crossing location

The approximate location of the new
proposed trail crossing of CSX.
See the gmap-pedometer interactive map.

The Committee supported new access points for the Trail. The most significant new access might be by building a new access trail along a stream valley that leads into Coquelin Run, from Jones Bridge to Jones Mill Road. Depending upon the length of the access trail, new access can be: 1) just from Jones Bridge Road at Manor Drive; 2) or also from the east end of Chevy Chase Lake Drive; 3) or also from Jones Mill Road near East-West Highway. As the staff packet notes, this is a new idea and it is much too early to know if this will have acceptable environmental and neighborhood impacts. I hope this access trail can be built – it would give good access from many homes in this area.

map of Coquelin access trail

The approximate location of a new access path
in the Coquelin stream valley.
See the gmap-pedometer interactive map.

MTA now estimates the cost of rebuilding/completing the CCT alongside the Purple Line at $65M for a 10’ wide trail. Much of that cost is in the cost of structures such as retaining walls to keep the trail higher than the rail, and the cost of lowering the railbed in the Bethesda Tunnel to make room for the trail to be overhead. Cost for a 12’ wide trail will be higher. By prior agreement between the County and MTA the cost to build the Trail is to come from sources other than transit funding, so as not to burden the Purple Line proposal with the cost of the trail when the Purple Line competes at FTA against other projects. But as Council members pointed out to MTA staff, this does not mean that all of the cost of the Trail must come from County funding. Other state funding sources such as Transportation Enhancement funds can be used. The County also intends to negotiate with MTA on how the cost sharing is determined where trail and transit share structures and grading. The County will also press MTA for full credit for the County contribution of the right-of-way when the final cost share between County and State is negotiated.

I believe the MTA may be taking a too restrictive view of Trail use in calculating cost sharing. In many places the Trail will be a major pathway for transit users to reach the Purple Line stations from the neighborhoods, and where significant numbers of trail users are really transit users the cost of the trail should be proportionately assigned as a necessary part of the transit system. Scarce County funds for trails should not be used to build the Purple Line’s pedestrian access system – that part of the cost is a legitimate transit budget item. MTA may be viewing the trail as a separate system, instead of seeing it as an integral and necessary part of the Purple Line system.

Overall I think the T&E Committee reached thoughtful, even courageous, decisions. The Master Plan now goes to the full Council at a July 20 work session. After the Council has approved the plan, it returns to the M-NCPPC for final confirmation. Most of the ‘heavy lifting’ is done now, I doubt that any major changes will come on the path to final confirmation.

Rails, trails and Georgetown Junction

Friday, September 25th, 2009

milepost 0.0 on Talbot Ave.(Future) Capital Crescent Trail milepost 0.0 stands alongside Talbot Avenue in Rosemary Hills, near the Rosemary Hills Elementary School. The CSX railroad Metropolitan Branch rail line runs in a cut on the other side of the milepost. There is nothing within sight of milepost 0.0 that remotely looks like the Capital Crescent off road trail.

The (Future) Capital Crescent Trail milepost 0.31 stands five blocks to the west of milepost 0.0 at an obscure trailhead on the south side of Stewart Avenue near Brookville Road, in an industrial park. The off road interim CCT to Bethesda begins there. So why does the off road trail begin at milepost 0.31 and not at milepost 0.0?

trailhead at Stewart Ave.

The Interim CCT trailhead and milepost 0.31 at Stewart Ave.

There are three points of interest to the rail and trail history in this area:
1) Where the off road Interim CCT begins, at Stewart Ave,
2) Where the portion of the Georgetown Branch corridor that is owned by Montgomery County begins, and
3) Where the Georgetown Branch corridor begins at “Georgetown Junction”.

map of Georgetown Branch at east end

1) Interim CCT begins; 2) County owned part of the r.o.w. begins, and
3) Georgetown Junction, where the Georgetown Branch corridor begins.
(Click on this image for a larger view.)

The existing off road Interim CCT begins at Stewart Avenue because that is the most eastern point in the Georgetown Branch corridor that the County owns and that has public street access, shown at 1) in the image above. The County owns the corridor right-of-way to a point about 450 feet east of Stewart Avenue, shown at 2) above. But that point is at a dead end behind several small business warehouses. The Georgetown Branch rail corridor continues another 1200 feet beyond where the County owned section ends, around a curve behind the industrial area and then alongside the west side of the Metropolitan Branch railroad corridor to Talbot Avenue and “Georgetown Junction”, shown at 3) above. The old railroad spur to Georgetown enters the Metropolitan Branch rail corridor at Georgetown Junction, and switches into the west side main line track under the Talbot Avenue Bridge. The (Future) CCT milepost 0.0 is located precisely at Georgetown Junction. Note: I am using the 1918 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company Right-of-Way and Track Map drawings, annotated in 1988 to list the portion purchased by Montgomery County in that year, as a source.

Georgetown Junction

The Georgetown Branch rail corridor begins at “Georgetown Junction”, which can be seen looking north from the Talbot Avenue Bridge. Talbot Avenue and milepost 0.0 are behind the tree line on the left.

The CSX Railroad still owns that last 1200 feet of the Georgetown Branch corridor to Georgetown Junction. CSX would not sell that portion to Mont. Co. in 1988 because CSX wanted to keep rail spur access to the few businesses at Brookville Road. Now trees grow in the spur track there. Failure to get that 1200 feet of right-of-way has forced the trail to go on road at Stewart Avenue, then follow four different streets with four turns (hence the “Bermuda Triangle of the trail”) just to get to Talbot Avenue, see the route at Mapping the essential link. This problem will go away when the State of Maryland buys additional right-of-way from CSX for the Purple Line light rail and trail.

The Coalition for the CCT chose Georgetown Junction as the start point for the trail mile marker system because of its historic significance. That creates a problem in the PIHTHS category (i.e. “Problems I Hope to Have Soon”). What will we do for mileposts along the new trail section when the CCT is completed along the Metropolitan Branch rail corridor into downtown Silver Spring? We can follow the existing system and use numbers less than 0.0. We would then have milepost -0.5 at Woodside, milepost -1.0 near the Colesville Road trail bridge, and milepost -1.1 at the CCT trailhead in the transit center, where the trail will meet the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I can deal with negative numbers, even imaginary numbers and complex numbers, since I minored in mathematics in college. But I think others will object.

Any thoughts on the future mile marker problem?

Talbot Ave. Bridge open?

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The Talbot Avenue Bridge is open to motor vehicle traffic again.

At 9 a.m. today the bridge was open to all traffic. All “bridge closed” signs and barriers were gone. Automobiles were using the bridge. A CSX flagman (or flagperson) was on the bridge and signaling by radio to an approaching freight train that it was all clear of bridge repair activity.

The CSX flagperson watches one of “her” trains pass below
the Talbot Avenue Bridge.

The CSX flagperson did not look like she had anything to do. There was no bridge repair crew around and no sign that any more repair work was planned. But the CSX flagperson said the bridge was only “unofficially” open.

At 1 p.m. the flagperson was still on site and looking bored. Maybe someone at Montgomery County DOT needs to declare the bridge opening “official” so CSX can release its flagperson. ….On second thought, having the flagperson stay on might be a good idea. No one is going to try to burn the bridge down again while she is there.

More Talbot Ave. Bridge trouble

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Why can’t we all just get along?

I had posted on Nov. 9 at here we go again that it looked like the Talbot Avenue Bridge repairs could be finished in a few days, and that a petition was being circulated in North Woodside to keep the bridge closed to motor vehicle traffic. But yesterday, Nov. 12, crews were welding steel and shoring up the embankment below the bridge, and workmen said they would be there for a few more weeks.

A quick Google search turned up the following notice from Montgomery County DOT:


Google also turns up this conversation with Rosemary Hills residents on the WAMU website about the vandalism, and the news that WAMU has assigned a reporter to investigate the controversy over keeping the bridge closed.

Here we go again!

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

The Talbot Avenue Bridge has been closed since May for repairs. Apparently Montgomery County has finally received the permits from CSX that were needed to work on the bridge. Work crews have been busy on the bridge last week, and the bridge appears to be almost ready to re-open to vehicle traffic.

But now residents of North Woodside are circulating a petition to ask that the bridge remain closed permanently to all vehicle traffic. We have seen this all before, as I reported here. And the outcome will likely be the same as before – a bitter fight between neighborhoods until a grown-up steps in again and says “enough – the bridge will stay open.”

I would like to see the new trail bridge built soon near the Talbot Ave. Bridge as planned with the Purple Line (or even before the Purple Line). I hate to see the neighborhood try to drag the trail into the middle of their fight to turn their neighborhood into a cul-de-sac yet again.

Talbot Ave. Bridge repairs

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

The Talbot Avenue Bridge has remained closed to motor vehicle traffic since May 28. It has remained open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Montgomery County DOT found damaged boards in the bridge deck during a May 28 inspection, and immediately closed the bridge to motor vehicle traffic for emergency repairs. At first the repair was expected to require several weeks. But MC DOT found that the repair would require timbers of an unusual size, and the timbers would need to be ordered. MC DOT announced in a June 23 press release that the repair work would require about two weeks after the timbers have been received, and all work should be completed by September.

September is barely two weeks away and there is still no sign that MC DOT has the timbers needed to begin the repair work. I am happy to wait longer – it is nice to be able to cycle across the bridge without having to take turns with motor vehicles. But the closure to motor vehicles is a serious inconvenience to residents who need the bridge for local access.

Update: “Joe of Rosemary Hills” has an email from MC DOT that says NOVEMBER – see his comment below.