T&E Committee picks plan “B” (or “E”)

The Montgomery County Council T&E Committee took up the difficult issue of rebuilding and completing the Capital Crescent Trail with with Purple Line for the second time at its worksession on the CIP budget today. The Committee voted by 3-0 to accept the recommendation from MTA and the Council staff that the cost and risk of keeping the trail in the Bethesda Tunnel by stacking the trail over the top of the Purple Line was too high. The T&E Committee members appeared to be at least as concerned with the high construction risk as with the $50.1M estimated cost. Representatives from MCDOT testified that they had reviewed the MTA report, and concluded that MTA was not overstating the high risk that the Apex building would be destabilized by the digging needed to place the trail over the top of the Purple Line in the tunnel.

The T&E Committee accepted the staff recommendation to program trail construction at the funding level that is shown in the meeting packet. The total estimated baseline cost of rebuilding the CCT along the alternative surface route across Wisconsin Avenue and completing the CCT into Silver Spring is $48.1M. Of that, staff recommended that only $27.6M be programmed into the FY13-18 CIP. This is the amount needed to rebuild the CCT in the Georgetown Branch Corridor alongside the Purple LIne from Bethesda to Lyttonsville, with construction to begin in 2016 to coincide with the estimated Purple Line schedule. The remainder, to build the CCT down the CSX corridor from Lyttonsville into downtown Silver Spring, would be deferred until FY19-20, to complete the trail by 2020. The section of trail along the CSX corridor will be on the opposite side of the CSX tracks as the Purple Line, and its construction can begin later because it does not need to be as closely coordinated with Purple Line construction as in the Georgetown Branch corridor.

Council Staff Director Glen Orlin pointed out that although this level of funding assumes the trail would be built following the MTA “Alternative B” plan using the surface route along Bethesda Avenue/Willow Lane/Elm Street Park, this level of funding would also support building the trail through the tunnel following the several alternative plans that would leave the trail in the tunnel, either if the width of the Purple Line is restricted in the tunnel by single-tracking or if the Purple Line does not enter the tunnel. In particular the “Alternative E” that would have the Purple Line platform under the Apex Building but use a single track or gauntlet track in the tunnel has not been entirely ruled out.

Bruce Johnston, MCDOT Division of Transportation Engineering, testified that MCDOT had not yet fully accepted the MTA conclusion that singe-tracking the Purple Line in the tunnel would have an unacceptible impact on the ability to maintain the six-minute headways the system needed. In particular, MCDOT wants a more complete showing from MTA of why they believe a 5 minute “dwell time” will be required at the Bethesda platform to make train schedule adjustments.

Summing up, the T&E budget recommendation means that keeping the trail in the tunnel by “Alternative A”, over the top of the Purple Line, is being ruled out as too risky. “Alternative B”, taking the trail across Wisconsin Ave. on an at-grade alternative route, is being budgeted. However several other options that would build the trail through the tunnel, especially “Alternative E” that would use a single-track, are not precluded by today’s budget recommendation.

Other lesser recommendations from the T&E Committee today:

  • No to having lighting along the entire trail. Yes to “spot lighting” where needed such as at trail access points.
  • No to emergency call boxes along the trail. Many trail users carry cell phones that serve that purpose.
  • Yes to enhanced landscaping between the trail and the neighborhoods. Landscaping between the trail and the Purple Line tracks is being budgeted elsewhere, as a Purple Line expense.

The T&E Committee budget recommendations will now go to the full Council for final reconciliation this spring. The Council usually gives much weight to committee recommendations, but the budget may change before final adoption by the full Council.

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