CSXT reverses. It is time for “Plan B”

June 6 2014 Update: CSXT right-of-way is still in play.

My call below to bring forward “Plan B” may turn out to have been premature. Gary Erenrich of MCDOT reports that MCDOT and MTA have recently had very promising discussions with CSXT on the issue, and CSXT now appears to be open to making a deal that would allow the trail to be built on or very near the baseline alignment. CSXT has become more friendly to the idea now that they have learned more about the plans. The deal is still not done, but MCDOT hopes to be able to announce an agreement soon.

March 30, 2014 post:

Plans for completing the CCT with the Purple Line have received a serious setback. CSXT has apparently reversed its position, and is now refusing to grant any right-of-way for the trail between Talbot Avenue and downtown Silver Spring.

I had reported last fall that MTA appeared to be well on its way to negotiating trail right-of-way with CSXT, at Purple Line nears agreement with CSXT on the Trail. MTA had received a letter from CSXT indicating that it would grant right-of-way if a 50′ standoff requirement could be met, and MTA was confident it could meet this requirement. Everything appeared on-track for completing the CCT into downtown Silver Spring as long planned.

CCT plans now appear to be up in the air again. Gary Erenrich, MCDOT’s Purple Line project coordinator, broke the news at the 20 March 2014 Planning Board Purple Line/CCT mandatory referral. Mr. Erenrich announced that CSXT was now refusing to grant right-of-way to MTA for the CCT, MCDOT was now responsible for any further negotiations with CSXT for trail right-of-way, and that as things stand now the CCT would end at Talbot Avenue as an off-road trail. I have since had an email exchange with Mr. Erenrich, and he has clarified that MTA received a letter from CSXT mid-January stating they would not grant any CSXT right-of-way for a trail alone, and that MCDOT was now evaluating the physical feasibility and the cost of alternative trail alignments. Mr. Erenrich expects their preliminary evaluation of the alternatives to be completed in a month or so.

At issue is an approximate 1300′ of the planned CCT alignment behind the Park Sutton Condominium Building. The CCT can still be extended with the Purple Line to Talbot Avenue, where the trail will cross the CSX tracks on a new Talbot Avenue Bridge. There is non-CSXT right-of-way
that can be used for the trail from the Talbot Avenue Bridge to Lyttonsville Road. County owned Third Avenue right-of-way will be used from 16th Street south to Colesville Road. But a significant bypass of CSXT property will be needed behind the Park Sutton building if CSXT refuses to grant trail right-of-way there.

It is time for “Plan B”!


The master plan trail alignment at Park Sutton (in green)
and an alternate “Plan B” alignment (in red).

Fortunately there is a good alternative trail alignment that can avoid CSXT property behind the Park Sutton building, shown above. This alternative would go around the front of Park Sutton by using Lyttonsville Road and 16th Street. Lyttonsville Road is overbuilt, and that extra wide road right-of-way can accomodate a full width trail with no need to ‘take’ private property. A trail along the west side of 16th Street will require either taking a strip of right-of-way from the Park Sutton Condominium Association, or putting 16th Street on a “road diet” and closing a southbound lane of the roadway for trail and sidewalk use.

Toole Design Group has done a preliminary assessment of these and other alignment alternatives that were developed by M-NCPPC, and they reported their conclusions at Assessment of Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues Along the Purple Line Corridor (pp. 27-29). Toole Design Group assesses the bypass route to be less desirable than the more direct alignment in the CSXT right-of-way, and urges trail planners to make every effort to continue working with CSXT to achieve this alignment. Toole cites the bypass route’s longer distance and a roadway and parking lot crossing as deficiencies that make the bypass less desirable. But missing from the evaluation is any consideration of elevation changes along the alternative routes, and that is a MAJOR omission which, in my view, invalidates the Toole rankings!

The terrain behind the Park Sutton building is challenging for building a trail. Even if CSXT reverses itself yet again and agrees to grant right-of-way, the trail will be required to maintain a 50′ standoff from the railroad tracks vs. the 25′ standoff that had been assumed in the earlier master plan alignment. That additional standoff will push the trail down the side of the railroad berm, to be at or near the very low elevation of the Park Sutton parking lot. Take a “walk about” in this area and you quickly realize that if the trail drops to the parking lot elevation, then the trail must rise 30-40′ in elevation in a short distance to rise out of the parking lot to the 16th Street Bridge at its south end. Extensive and expensive switchback or elevated structures will be needed to manage the trail elevation change along this alignment. In contrast, the total trail elevation change along the bypass option alignment would be much less because this alignment skirts around the low elevation of the parking lot. Most trail users would much prefer the much gentler grades along the bypass option alignment, even if there is an additional distance of 500′ and a crossing of a driving lot entrance and driveway. The bypass alignment also has the significant advantage of being less isolated, with more “eyes on the trail” and more escape opportunities, for better perceived and real safety.

Toole correctly recognizes in their alternatives assessment that the 1300′ section behind Park Sutton is not the only area where trail planners will need to work with CSXT. There are other small areas where CSXT right-of-way or construction easements will be wanted. (At Talbot Avenue, under the 16th Street Bridge, and at Colesville Road come to mind.) MTA and MCDOT should continue to make every effort to engage CSXT in discussion of trail issues. But in my view, opting for “Plan B” now at Park Sutton can take the major 1300′ long sticking point off the table in CSX negotiations. That can improve the chances of getting CSXT cooperation on the remaining much smaller pieces. Any remaining pieces could be portrayed as not significantly challenging the overall CSXT corporate policy of no right-of-way for trails.

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