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.
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.
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.