The fate of the Talbot Avenue Bridge was discussed at the Purple Line CSX/Lyttonsville/Woodside focus group meeting on March 12. MTA Project Manager Mike Madden told the group of local residents that MTA intends to disassemble and remove the old bridge during Purple Line construction, but the bridge would be reassembled at its present location after the Purple Line trackbed is completed. This is, of course, IF the old bridge can survive the process of being taken apart and then being put back together again. The new Capital Crescent Trail would have its own new bridge over the CSX/Purple Line tracks about 100 feet south of the rebuilt Talbot Avenue Bridge.
The Talbot Avenue Bridge was built in 1918. The center section was a railroad turntable bridge hauled to the site from Martinsburg and turned upside down to serve as a road bridge. It is a single lane bridge with a wood deck, and carries 1000-2000 vehicles every day.
The bridge requires frequent repairs. In 1996 the bridge was closed when it was discovered to be unsafe, and repaired. The bridge was closed again during weekday periods for about four weeks this winter to repair rust damage, and new steel braces were welded onto the existing braces to extend the bridge life for a few more years.
So why not just haul this rusting old bridge off to the junk heap, and build a new two lane bridge here? DPWT raised the issue of permanently closing the bridge when the bridge as closed as unsafe in 1996. Residents of North Woodside, mostly those living on Hanover Street and Grace Church Road, supported the idea and started a campaign to keep the bridge closed permanently except for pedestrian/cyclist traffic. They played the “Won’t someone think of the children” card, arguing that the bridge traffic endangers neighborhood children. Street hockey goals and basketball hoops started to appear along Grace Church Road and Hanover Street curbs.
But many residents in Rosemary Hills and Lyttonsville wanted the Talbot Avenue Bridge reopened as soon as possible. They argued that the bridge provided important access out of their neighborhood and they were being badly inconvenienced by the bridge closure. They pointed out that this bridge was open when the North Woodside residents bought their homes, and if North Woodside residents wanted their children to be safe they should not encourage them to play in the streets.
This debate started to develop an ugly “other side of the tracks” undertone, since the North Woodside residents lobbying to keep the bridge closed were mostly white, while the Rosemary Hills residents wanting the bridge reopened were majority black. Then County Executive Doug Duncan ended this potentially explosive debate by declaring the long term status quo would be preserved. The bridge was repaired and reopened.
Mike Madden indicated at the March 12 focus group meeting that MTA does not want to open a new neighborhood battle here, and therefore proposes to maintain the status quo by reopening the old bridge as close to its original condition as possible unless Montgomery County requests a new motor vehicle bridge.
The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) supports the recommendation of the 2001 Trail Facility Plan and of MTA that the trail should cross CSX on a new trail bridge that is separate from the existing Talbot Avenue Bridge. The old one lane bridge cannot safely carry both the existing motor vehicle traffic and also the heavy trail traffic that will come when the CCT is completed into Silver Spring. CCCT’s position will help it avoid getting into the middle of a new neighborhood fight over the motor vehicle bridge.
The CCCT and MTA are wise to avoid another neighborhood bridge dispute.