Archive for the ‘Metropolitan Branch Trail’ Category

Inaction in Annapolis threatens CCT.

Friday, May 25th, 2012

The Montgomery County Council made a full commitment to completing the Capital Crescent Trail into Silver Spring with the formal endorsement of the Capital Budget last Thursday, May 24, as reported by the Gazette at Capital Budget includes money for Bethesda Metro Station and by many other newspapers and blogs. The approved FY13-18 CIP budget included $27.6M to rebuild the CCT with the Purple Line from Bethesda to Lyttonsville, with another approx. $20M pledged by the Council to finish the CCT into downtown Silver Spring by FY20.

I contributed an article to the CCCT Spring Newsletter that outlines what changes this funding can bring to the CCT. From that article:

The T&E Committee did vote to program $27.6M in the FY13-18 CIP budget to rebuild the CCT alongside the Purple Line as a 12 foot wide paved trail from Bethesda to the CSX corridor at Lyttonsville. This included the estimated cost for a new trail bridge over Connecticut Avenue, a trail underpass at Jones Mill Road, and an off-road connection between the CCT and the Rock Creek Trail at Rock Creek Park. Funding is included for some limited trail lighting at the Purple Line stations and major trail access points, and for enhanced landscaping (plantings) between the CCT and the adjacent neighborhoods. (Funding for landscaping between the CCT and the Purple Line tracks is being included in the separate MTA Purple Line budget.)

The Council vote was designed to have the Montgomery County CIP budget match up with the state’s proposed Purple Line budget, to coordinate trail construction with Purple Line construction. The Council intends to program the funds to build the CCT extension down the CSX corridor into downtown Silver Spring in the next FY15-20 CIP budget, to complete the Trail into Silver Spring in 2020. This would be the same year the Purple Line is planned for completion.

The County Council has made a strong commitment to the CCT during an especially difficult budget year by standing up and commiting nearly $50M to the trail. I have been waiting for many years for the CCT to be completed beyond Chevy Chase through my Woodside neighborhood into downtown Silver Spring. I thank the Council for making this commitment.

But the CCT schedule is matched up with the Purple Line schedule. It now appears our legislature at Annapolis is undercutting the Purple Line by inaction, and with it the CCT – see Purple Line funding uncertain with failure of Maryland gas tax hike. If the state legislature fails to “man up” and take on the issue of finding a stable funding source soon for the Transportation Trust Fund, then both the Purple Line and the CCT will be very significantly delayed.

I’ve outlined elsewhere on this website at (Future) Capital Crescent Trail why completing the CCT is so intertwined with the Purple Line. It is not possible to separate the CCT from the Purple Line project and to complete it into Silver Spring ahead of the Purple Line without changing the CCT to be on a very badly compromised route. To further show that is true, I repeat the challenge I’ve made to the “Save the Trail” advocates many times: If you can find a credible plan to finish the trail as a quality off-road trail without the Purple Line, then please share that plan with the rest of us. If you don’t have a plan you will share, then we can only conclude you have no credible plan to finish the trail.

The CCT may be getting stalled by inaction at Annapolis, but things are looking a little better for the connecting Metropolitan Branch Trail. The County Council also approved the restoration of approx. $12M in the CIP budget for design and construction of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The impass between MCDOT and Montgomery Preservation Inc. (MPI) over the proposed alignment of the Metropolitan Branch Trail through the historic B&O Train Station property still remains unresolved. But this restoration of funding allows the MCDOT to continue to work this issue, and MCDOT, MPI, WABA and CSX have met recently to explore options. Hopefully we can report some forward movement on the MetBranch soon.

Help keep the MetBranch alive in Silver Spring!

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Update – The Council T&E Committee will take the MetBranch Trail funding issue up at its February 27 meeting, not February 13. This gives us more time to contact the Council.

My last two posts focused on the impass between MCDOT and Montgomery Preservation Inc. (MPI) over the proposed alignment of the Metropolitan Branch Trail through the historic B&O Train Station property. I’ve been in contact with MPI and MCDOT to try to sort out what has gone wrong. There are very conflicting versions about what the problem is. It is complicated. But there does appear to be a path toward an agreement that is still available, that will work for the benefit of both the station owners and for the trail. That will take some time, I’ll report more on that soon.

We have an immediate problem that we must address now – restoring funding for the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The County Executive has proposed that the next CIP budget have NO funds to continue any work on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Montgomery County, for fiscal reasons. But this part of this regional trail has already suffered from several episodes of foot dragging and attempts to cut its budget over the years that has significantly delayed it. Montgomery County should get on with building the trail instead of trying to delay it yet again.

Bruce Johnston, Head of MCDOT Division of Transportation Engineering, has indicated to me that the ongoing disagreement with the owners of the station museum does not prevent MCDOT from designing and building the MetBranch from the new Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Station south through the Ripley District to the station museum. A temporary at-grade crossing of Georgia Avenue could be provided there while the historic station issues are being worked out with MPI. MPI is on record in support of continued funding on its website:

We recommend at least the restoration of funds for planning and consultation with stakeholders to the budget so it can move forward during this period.

Now is the time for trail supporters to urge the County Council to restore MetBranch funding to the CIP budget. The Council T&E Committee is scheduled to take this up in one week, at its February 13 meeting at its February 27 meeting. All Councilmembers will receive an email sent to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. The T&E Committee Members are Council President Roger Berliner, Councilmember Hans Riemer, and Councilmember Nancy Floreen. Contact information for individual Councilmembers is at www.montgomerycountymd.gov.

So who is dragging their feet on the MetBranch Trail??

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

I have heard from several sources other than Councilmember Hans Riemer that the root problem with advancing the MetBranch Trail is now the issue of getting permission from Montgomery Preservation, Inc. for the Trail to cross their Silver Spring Historic B&O Station property.

But now I have received this comment to my prior post from Judy Christensen, Executive Director, MPI:

We were as shocked and surprised as anyone when we heard that the CIP funds for this project were cut from the budget. We were told that it was an interim solution for fiscal reasons and that eventually, the trail would be built. As for us announcing that we did not want the trail through our property, that is simply not true. We did not want the canopy fenced off from the station since we use it in our programs and hold a legal easement from CSX for its use and maintenance. We also did not want a bridge structure on the property. Below you will find our standard reply to inquiries, which I am going to post on our website and on the trail websites. There will be more information in the future. MPI is actively pursuing a route through the front of our land, but we need to recapture parking and hammer out liabiilty and other issues.

Here is our real announcement. Let me know if there are more questions.

MPI has NOT denied passage of the Metropolitan Branch trail through our property. This is simply not true. MPI welcomed the Metropolitan Trail as a way to showcase the historic B&O Station to trail users. Last spring DOT presented MPI with a trail alignment through our property that far better accommodates our programs, and MPI thought we were all going forth with this design. MPI asked several times to meet and address implementation issues such as the loss of parking, liability and compensation but DOT did not meet with us again.

A Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) historical easement prohibits MPI from altering or changing the B&O Station property or structures without approval from MHT. DOT knew of this in 2005, and knew the MHT had problems with the design and wanted alternatives, yet did not pursue MHT approval We were as startled as everyone else that the County Executive recommended an interim at-grade crossing and removed CIP funding from the project. MPI was assured that this was a fiscal decision and eventually the problem would have to be resolved and the trail completed. However, this does give MPI and DOT the time it needs to deal with the implementation and approval issues with the Maryland Historical Trust. We recommend the restoration of funds for planning and consultation with stakeholders to the budget so it can move forward during this period.

Judy Christensen
Executive Director, MPI
director@montgomerypreservation.org

I’m not sure what to make of all this. Is MCDOT and the County Executive using the ongoing negotiations with MPI as an excuse to continue their foot dragging on the MetBranch Trail??

Councilmember Valorie Ervin has sent a letter request to Council President and T&E Committee Chair Roger Berliner requesting a report on the status of the MetBranch Trail. That is more necessary now than ever. We all have a right to know who is the real problem here.

Off track at the historic train station.

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

The restored Silver Spring B&O Station

The future Metropolitan Branch Trail is at an impass at the historic Silver Spring B&O Station.

I recently asked Is Montgomery County abandoning the Metropolitan Branch Trail? after the County Executive submitted a FY13-18 CIP Budget that would remove all construction funding for the trail. I suggested in that post that the underlying problem was foot dragging at MCDOT. But Councilmember Hans Riemer says the main problem is that the owners of the historic B&O Station, Montgomery Preservation Inc., is now refusing to grant trail access across the station property.

If the MetBranch cannot cross the station property, then the trail is left without the ability to cross Georgia Avenue on either the 5′ wide sidewalk now on the existing CSX railroad bridge, or on the proposed new trail bridge. The trail would be forced onto a new route – crossing Georgia Avenue at-grade at the Sligo Avenue crosswalk, then following along Philadelphia Avenue and Fenton Street to yet another at-grade crossing of a busy roadway at East-West Highway. This would be a huge loss to the attractiveness and safety of the Metropolitan Branch Trail.


View Larger Map
Looking west from Sligo Avenue toward
the historic Silver Spring B&O Station.

The recent decision by Montgomery Preservation Inc. to refuse trail access runs against the widespread national experience with trail-museum partnerships and against their past promises when seeking public support for their station restoration.

Rail-Trails and historic stations are natural allies!

Rail-Trails and historic stations enjoy close working relationships throughout the country. The trails bring thousands of visitors to the stations, while the stations provide historic points of interest and rest facilities for the trail users. Examples of successful trail-station partnerships in this region:
- The Purceville historic train station on the W&OD Trail.
- The Monkton Train Station on the Torrey C. Brown Northern Central Rail-Trail, and the Hanover Junction Train Station on the Heritage Rail-Trail, which continues from the Northern Centrail Trail into York County, PA.
- The Meyersdale Station and the Cumberland Visitor Center on the Allegheny Passage Trail.

A quick Google search turns up dozens more throughout the country, including:
- Five restored stations/depots along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Katy Trail. The Katy Trail is an outstanding example of how a rail-trail can be used to educate about the history of the railroad.
- The Xenia Station that serves as a hub for five Miami Valley trails in Ohio. The Yellow Springs Station is in this trail network on the Little Miami Scenic Trail.
- The Susanville Railroad Depot on the Bizz Johnson Rail-Trail in Susanville, CA.
- The Green Cove Station and Museum on the Virginia Creeper Trail.
- The North Pemberton Railroad Station Museum and Rail-Trail in Pemberton, New Jersey.
- The Venice Train Depot on the Legacy Trail in Sarasota County, Florida.
- The Racoon Valley Trail and Depot at Redfield, Iowa.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy understands the benefit that trails and historic stations give to each other, and has been a leader in advocating to protect funding sources for preservation of historic stations, see Restoring Historical Rail Stations, Restoring Lost Service.

The Silver Spring Station restoration was funded with the promise that it would enhance the Trail.

The historic station restoration was funded by many private donors and public grants.

The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission “the Preservationsist” Spring 2008:

The Silver Spring train station was preserved and restored by the non-profit group Montgomery Preservation Inc. Following an outpouring of community support to restore the station, MPI took over the title from CSX in 1998 for $1. It eventually took $500,000, raised from private donations, a state bond bill, and grants to complete renovations. A Historic Preservation grant was used to help sponsor the renovation design.

Montgomery Preservation Inc. “sold” the public on the restoration in part by promising that the station would be a historic point of interest and a rest stop for the future Metropolitan Branch Trail. I had several discussions with Nancy Urban, then the MPI Community Coordinator, after MPI acquired the property from CSX in 1998, on how the restored station could best attract and serve trail users. Ms. Urban suggested amenities such as a water fountain and a historic display case that could entice trail users to stop and come inside to visit the station museum. MPI appeared to fully understand the value of the trail for bringing hundreds of visitors into the station. It was clearly understood that the alignment for the trail would be alongside the CSX tracks and under the station canopy.

MPI was continuing to advertise the Silver Spring Station’s contribution to the community as an amenity for the MetBranch Trail at the grand reopening of the restored station in 2002. From the MPI Station Flier prepared for the reopening:

“…The former passenger waiting room is available for community meetings and will serve as a visitor center and museum on the planned Metropolitan Branch Hiker and Biker Trail.”

MPI was still holding out the welcome mat for the future Metbranch Trail in 2003, welcoming the Metropolitan Branch Trail Coalition to use the station passenger waiting room to start its Nov. 1, 2003 MBT ride to promote the future trail.

MBT Coalition co-chair Paul Meijer addresses MetBranch supporters
at the start of the Nov. 1, 2003 MetBranch Trail ride .

MCDOT believed as recently as 2009 that they still had an agreement with MPI that the trail can pass under the canopy on the rail corridor side of the station. See the report of the MCDOT briefing of the Council T&E Committee on July 20, 2009 at State of the MetBranch Trail.

Is MPI now placing meeting space rental ahead of drawing visitors?

A principal objection from Montgomery Preservation Inc. to giving access to the Metropolitan Branch Trail is that the trail would diminish the rental value of the station as a meeting space. The MPI advertises the station waiting room and canopy space for $475 for a five hour period, see their station rental description. MPI claims that if they grant the trail the access it needs under the station canopy, then they would have a loss of rental value because exclusive use of the canopy space cannot be included in the rental package.

The canopy area on the track side of the station.

The trail must follow an alignment on the west side under the canopy so it can cross to the proposed trail bridge over Georgia Avenue without removing many of the parking spaces on the other side of the station. Parking is already limited at the station, and the station location between the CSX tracks and Georgia Avenue makes pedestrian access difficult. It is important to protect the existing parking spaces.

MPI is overlooking the value that a safe and attractive Metropolitan Branch Trail can bring to the station:

  • The trail can bring many hundreds of trail users to stop and visit the station – many who would never otherwise visit. This alone can contribute more to the central MPI mission of educating the public on the history of the railroad and the station than can any other promotional opportunity available to MPI.
  • The trail can provide badly needed pedestrian access to the station. The station is sandwiched between the CSX tracks and Georgia Avenue, cut off from easy pedestrian access from several sides. The station parking lot is small and there is little parking available on-street or in public lots nearby on the west side of Georgia Avenue. The station badly needs easier access for pedestrians, and easier access to available parking across Georgia Avenue. Having a safe and attractive pedestrian crossing of Georgia Avenue available on the MetBranch Trail bridge at the station would make the station much more accessable and inviting to the general public.
  • Renting the station for special events, such as birthday parties as advertised in the station rental description, could INCREASE if an attractive and safe MetBranch Trail is immediately adjacent. Birthday party rentals of the station would be more attractive if a safe, all off-road trail is there for a party activity. Many more families would discover the rental opportunity at the station from visits during family recreational rides on the Trail. Special events at the station could include using the station for the start or finish for organized bike rides or community walks on the Trail.

MPI is being “penny wise and pound foolish” to refuse the trail in the belief that it is protecting the station.

We will all lose if we cannot come together at the station.

If MPI holds to its rejection of the MetBranch Trail, the general public will lose this unique opportunity to have a safe, attractive and direct hiker-biker trail connecting downtown Silver Spring to Takoma Park and beyond. The proposed walking and cycling network that is so important to the revitalization of the Ripley District and Fenton Village will be gutted.

But the historic B&O station will be the biggest loser. The station owners will lose this unique opportunity to increase the number of visitors to the station museum that is central to their mission. They will also lose this opportunity to increase the attractiveness and ease of access to the station that would increase their station rental value.

Community leaders, public officials, trail advocates, and especially the donors and supporters of the B&O Station need to come together and find an agreement to get the trail-station partnership back on track.

Jan. 29 update:

Several people have requested information on who to cantact at MPI to give comments about the museum and the trail.
The names of the MPI Officers and Directors is on their website at http://www.montgomerypreservation.org/aboutMPI.html.
Their email addresses are not given, but you can email their Executive Director at:
Judy Christensen, Executive Director,
director@montgomerypreservation.org.

Is MoCo abandoning the MetBranch?

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Cycle MoCo reports that Montgomery County is requesting state funding to establish BikeShare, including at Silver Spring and Takoma Park. But at the same time the Montgomery County Executive is moving to kill the only planned trail connection between Silver Spring and Takoma Park – the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

County Executive Ike Leggett has released his proposed FY13-18 CIP budget, and his budget proposes two changes for the county’s section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail:

  • All funding for r.o.w. acquisition and construction is deleted from the CIP budget.
  • The proposed route, if it is ever built, has been thrown out of the CSX corridor and across state highways.

The previous approved FY13-16 CIP budget contained over 12M$ for trail design and for r.o.w. acquisition and construction of the section of the MetBranch from the Silver Spring Transit Center to Georgia Avenue. This section of the MetBranch was to have been completed by FY16. Under this new proposed budget there is no funding for any r.o.w. acquisition or construction through FY18.

To add insult to injury, the new proposed budget also shows that MCDOT plans to change the route of the MetBranch Trail, if it is ever built. The MCDOT plan would eliminate the grade-separated trail crossings planned for Georgia Avenue and E-W Highway and instead force the trail across both of these busy state highways at-grade.

The MCDOT proposed MetBranch route down Philadelphia Avenue.
Source: Proposed FY13-18 MetBranch CIP budget

The County Executive and MCDOT want to take the trail down Philadelphia Avenue across business driveways of the many small auto repair shops along the way, and across both Georgia Avenue and E-W Highway at-grade. This proposed trail route is not new. It has been proposed by MCDOT and rejected several times at public workshops, Planning Board hearings, and County Council proceedings over the past 10 years in favor of a route along the CSX corridor with a trail bridge over Georgia Avenue and a trail tunnel under Burlington Avenue (E-W Highway).

MCDOT proposes that the MetBranch cross Georgia Avenue
at the light at Sligo Avenue.

I’ve posted here about the foot dragging by MCDOT throughout the MetBranch project history. But this new threat to the project is breathtaking in its inconsistency with the hype we are hearing from the county. Just as Montgomery County tauts BikeShare as proof of its commitment to increase cycling in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, it proposes cutting the most important cycling and walking infrastructure in this area.

The MetBranch Trail is not quite dead in Montgomery County yet. The Montgomery County Council has overridden efforts from the County Executive and MCDOT to gut the project in the past, and will have the opportunity to do so again during the upcoming budget deliberations. But this proposed budget is the most serious threat to the MetBranch Trail that I have ever seen.

MetBranch Environmental Assessment released

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The US DOT and District DOT have issued a Draft Environmental Assessment for the Metropolitan Branch Trail on National Park Service Land. The report details several route options for completing unfinished parts of the Trail where it may pass through NPS parks. These include from the MD/DC line south through Takoma Park, and through the Fort Toten Metro station and park area.

MAP 5: ALTERNATIVES C1, C2, AND C3 – PINEY BRANCH ROAD
IN TAKOMA PARK
Source: Metropolitan Branch Trail draft Environmental Assessment

The release of this Environmental Assessment for comment is important for continuing progress on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The full report is available online as a pdf file at MetBranch_RockCreek_EA_Nov2010_Draft. There is a good summary of the report and information on how to submit comments at WashCycle.

MetBranch takes a step forward

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

May 27 Update:

Today the Montgomery County Council took a formal vote to give final approval to the FY 11 Operating Budget and FY11-16 CIP budget, see Press Release. The final approved CIP budget includes $12.1M to design Phase 1 and 2 of the MetBranch Trail, and to construct the Phase 1 section from the Silver Spring transit center to Georgia Ave., including a new trail bridge over Georgia Avenue.

The schedule in the CIP program description for the project shows three parts:
FY11-12: Complete final design
FY13-14: Negotiate agreements with property owners and acquire needed right-of-way
FY15-16: Build

Thank You! especially to District 5 Councilmember Valerie Ervin, and T&E Committee Members Roger Berliner, George Leventhal, and Nancy Floreen for inserting this funding into the CIP budget to “correct” for County Executive Leggett’s earlier omission.

May 20 Update:

The County Council tentatively approved the Operating Budget and CIP budget this afternoon. While there are many cuts in the Operating Budget, the CIP budget survived largely intact. The CIP budget relies on different funding sources than does the Operating Budget, such as long term bonds, so it is much slower to respond to a downturn in tax revenue.

The good news for advocates of the Metropolitan Branch Trail is that funding for design and construction of the Phase 1 appears to have survived the reconciliation process.

March 2, 2010:

Late Tuesday afternoon all three Montgomery County Council T&E Committee Members (Floreen, Leventhal and Berliner) voted to accept the recommendations of the Council Staff on the proposed CIP budget for the bikeways projects, including funding the design of the entire County MetBranch Trail section starting in the coming fiscal year, and land acquisition and construction of ‘phase 1′ including the bridge over Georgia Ave. The decision came late in the day so that Councilmember Valerie Ervin could attend the discussion. The staff recommendation is described more fully here.

Looking north along the path of the future
MetBranch Trail at the Silver Spring Transit Center.
The Transit Center is on track for a June 2011 completion.

This is a big step forward for the MetBranch Trail. But the project still has to survive the “reconciliation” process between now and the final vote of the nine member Council in late May. That reconciliation process must pare down the budget recommendations from all of the Council committees until the total budget is within the allowable limit. Some worthy projects will be cut. Our advocacy to the Council must continue so this much improved MetBranch funding and schedule can survive this process.

Meet the Met June 5

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

The new section of the MetBranch Trail is open.

MetBranch Trail near Rhode Island Ave.

MetBranch Trail at New York Ave. station

There will be a “Meet the Met” party on the trail on National Trails Day, Saturday June 5. Check out the details at the Rails-to-Trails Meet the Met webpage. RSVP at their webpage to join me on the community ride to the party, leaving the historic Silver Spring railroad station at 10:10 a.m.

Three minutes closer

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

RTC covers the opening ceremony for the new section of the Metbranch Trail at a long awaited ribon cutting.

The Washcycle blog finds Silver Spring is now closer to downtown D.C. by bike, at Silver Spring is three minutes closer.

Three MetBranch Trail opening dates

Friday, April 30th, 2010

The new section of the MetBranch Trail between Franklin Street and the New York Avenue Metro Station will be open for public use on Saturday, May 1.

Jim Sebastion, D.C. DOT, has issued this announcement of an official ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, May 3:

Please join us for a ribbon-cutting to open a big chunk of the Metropolitan Branch Trail!

When: Monday, May 3, at 10:45am

Where: 4th and S Streets, NE, about 5 blocks up the trail from the New York Avenue Metro Station.

This has been a long time coming, and many of you have helped us get here. Hope to see you there.

MetBranch Trail at S and 4th

MetBranch Trail at 4th and S Street N.E.

Check out the website www.metbranchtrail.com for information about the trail.

On National Trails Day Saturday, June 5 there will be bike rides to a “Grand Opening” celebration on the MetBranch Trail. Trail fans will be converging on the new section of the MetBranch Trail in the area of the Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station. WABA and Rails-to-Trails will be sponsoring rides to the event. I will be leading one of these rides from Silver Spring – leaving from the historic Silver Spring Train Station at 10:10 a.m. and following the Interim MetBranch route through Takoma Park. Save the date and watch this blog for more information as June 5 draws near.