Tunnel vision

Cross posted with edits at Greater Greater Washington

I’m sorry to be late to join the discussion about the bad news CCT costs along future Purple Line rise. There is a serious threat that the trail may be removed from the Bethesda Tunnel to reduce cost. WashCycle has opened the discussion with a good analysis of the major issues. The Montgomery County Planning Board is seriously considering removing the trail from the tunnel and several other cost reduction measures, and will be taking a walking tour of the trail to gather backbround information on Nov. 3. The M-NCPPC Capital Crescent Tour document (a pdf file) describes the walking tour agenda, and presents the detailed MTA CCT cost analysis report.

No testimony will be taken during the Nov. 3 Planning Board walking tour. The Planning Board will take the CCT cost issues up again at its Nov. 17 work session, and public testimony is expected to be taken then. Trail and cycling advocates need to sort through the cost issues and be ready to present thoughtful and convincing arguments by Nov. 17.

The early response from “Save the Trail” advocates has been a knee jerk reaction that the CCT will be destroyed if trail users are forced to use the alternative alignment that crosses Wisconsin Avenue at-grade.

Two alternative CCT routes at the Bethesda Tunnel
(source: Planning Board CCT tour agenda

I support doing everything within reason to keep the CCT in the Bethesda Tunnel, because every at-grade crossing of a busy highway takes some of the safety and convenience away from the trail that makes it so special. I made the case for keeping the trail in the tunnel when the estimated cost was $60M in a Dec. 2010 post. With the cost now approaching $100M, the case becomes harder to make and the tunnel route for the CCT is at risk.

Trail supporters have a difficult decisions to make about how to best go about fighting to keep the CCT in the Bethesda Tunnel. But making the Bethesda Tunnel our paramount issue and declaring ourselves to be opposed to the Purple Line to “Save the Trail” would be to have severe “tunnel vision”. The map, below, has been presented often in prior posts but is worth showing again .

The completed CCT will link two large urban centers and will connect to the Metropolitan Branch Trail to complete a major regional trail system.
(partial Capital Crescent Trail map from: www.cctrail.org)

If our goal is to have a regional trail, then we must remember that there is an approx. 1.5 mile long section at Silver Spring that is incomplete, and remains on-road. There are seven at-grade crossings of streets at traffic lights on the existing Georgetown Branch Trail east of the Bethesda Tunnel, including three crossings of multi-lane state highways (Connecticut Avenue, 16th Street, and Colesville Road). The rebuilt trail alongside the Purple Line would replace all 1.5 miles of on-road route with a completely off-road trail into downtown Silver Spring. All seven at-grade crossings at lights would be replaced by grade-separated crossings. Prospects for ever completing the trail and removing these seven at-grade crossings east of Bethesda are very poor without the Purple Line.

Losing the Bethesda Tunnel would be a significant loss for the CCT. We need to fight to save it. But the CCT will be more continuous and safer when rebuilt alongside the Purple Line than it is today, even if we lose the Bethesda Tunnel. Killing the Purple Line would harm the future trail much more than it would help it.

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2 Responses to “Tunnel vision”

  1. Crickey7 says:

    This would be a loss and something of a broken promise as well. An at-grade crossing will result in compromised safety and potentially lower usership. But it may still happen, so we need to offer positive input.

    The proposed surface route is the best of the alternatives. The path will need to be adequate in size for 2-way traffic. At Willow and Bethesda Ave., there will need to be signalization for the Trail since traffic turning left from Bethesda Ave will cross the route pretty much immediately. Presumably the Trail will run on the north side of Bethesda Ave, which means it must cross both Woodmont and Bethesda to rejoin the CCT. That’s how it is now, of course, but usership will increase and accordingly the safety issues involved will increase as well. We may need a separate light cycle for the diagonal trial crossing there.

  2. good, balanced assessment — many thanks!