(Future) Capital Crescent Trail
Silver Spring waits for the Capital Crescent Trail.
The Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) has been completed as a paved asphalt trail for seven miles, from Georgetown to Bethesda. The Trail follows an abandoned B&O railbed, and has gentle grades and only a few at-grade roadway crossings. It follows a tree lined corridor through a tunnel and over four bridges, and offers beautiful views of the Potomac River. The CCT between Georgetown and Bethesda is often crowded with cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers, and walkers. It is not unusual to see over 500 users/hr. on the CCT during evenings and weekends.
The CCT has a temporary extension, called the Interim CCT, that has been built with a crushed stone surface along the B&O railbed for three miles from Bethesda to Lyttonsville. A restored railroad trestle gives an easy crossing of the Rock Creek Stream Valley near its eastern end. The Interim CCT ends abruptly in an obscure industrial park, over one mile from downtown Silver Spring. The on-road Georgetown Branch Trail must be used to reach downtown Silver Spring and most Silver Spring neighborhoods from the end of the off-road Interim CCT.
Map source: www.cctrail.org
The Georgetown Branch Trail has many at-grade roadway crossings, two of them six-lane state highways with heavy turning traffic. This on-road bike route serves for cyclists comfortable riding in traffic, but few others will use it. A CCCT traffic survey found that traffic on the Interim CCT east of the Rock Creek Trestle is only a small fraction of that on the CCT between Bethesda and Georgetown.
Completing the CCT to downtown Silver Spring is crucial to have an off-road trail connection between the urban centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring, and for making the CCT available to Silver Spring neighborhoods. Completing the CCT is also crucial to link the off-road trails on the western side of the county with the off-road trails on the eastern side of the County (Rock Creek Trail, CCT, North Bethesda Trail to the west; Metropolitan Branch Trail, Silver Spring Green Trail, Sligo Creek Trail to the east).
Failure to complete the CCT into Silver Spring as a good off-road trail would be devastating to the planned trail network in lower Montgomery County.
The Future: Off-road and safe into Silver Spring
the future of the CCT east of Bethesda is tied to the future of the Purple Line light-rail. If the Purple Line project goes forward, then the CCT can likely be completed alongside transit as an off-road trail with grade separated crossings of all major roadways in Silver Spring. The trail can connect seamlessly in the new Sarbanes Transit Center to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. If the Purple Line project is not built, then only a very badly compromised alternate route can be built.
The CCT “final mile” into Silver Spring must be along the CSX Corridor, and the Purple Line is needed to make it happen. Only an alignment along the CSX railroad corridor will support an off-road trail with grade-separated crossings of the busy streets in Silver Spring. No other alignment can make a direct connection to the Metropolitan Branch Trail in the Sarbanes Transit Center.
Montgomery County and the State of Maryland have committed to building the Capital Crescent Trail as an integral part of the Purple Line light-rail project. CSX Railroad owns or controls right-of-way that is critical for both the Purple Line and the trail. The MTA concept for the Purple Line aligns the Purple Line tracks alongside the west side of the CSX tracks. The CCT will be aligned along the east side and must use CSX owned or controlled right-of-way at several critical choke points – at the Woodside Mews parking lot, under the 16th Street bridge, and at Metro Plaza at Colesville Road.
CSX is negotiating right-of-way and operating issues for the Purple Line project with the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). CSX has a long-standing corporate policy of not selling any right-of-way for a trail alone, but MTA has asked CSX to make an exception to its “no trail” policy for the joint Purple Line transit/trail project and CSX has agreed provided a 50′ setback is provided between the trail and the near CSX track. MTA has stated that it can adjust its design to meet this requirement. It is unlikely that CSX would make this exception to its “no trail” policy for a county stand-alone trail project. The Purple Line is our best hope for completing the CCT into downtown Silver Spring as a good quality off-road trail.
Aerial views of the planned transit/trail alignment at key points in the CSX corridor are available at www.purplelinemd.com.
Transit and Trail can share the corridor.
Neighborhood groups centered in Chevy Chase and opposed to the Purple Line have wrapped themselves with the “Save the Trail” banner. The Purple Line opponents claim that rail will be incompatible with the trail. But the Purple Line design concept and the experience with many rails-with-trails around the country refute their claims.
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reports there are already more than 200 trails alongside or within the right-of-way of active rail lines nationwide. More trails with rails are being built every year. Their study of 61 of these trails showed that they are attractive and safe. Their safety study, and other information on trails with rails, is online at their “Trail Building Toolbox”.
The Purple Line CCT design concept provides a 12′ wide paved trail in the Georgetown Branch corridor with good separation from transit. A wide planted buffer and a fence will be between the trail and transit. The CCT will be rebuilt on the north side of transit between Bethesda and Jones Mill Road so the trail will be higher than the transit tracks in most places. Modern light-rail cars like those of Portland will be used, and can run so quietly that bells are needed to warn pedestrians when they approach stations or crossings.
Trees will remain in the corridor in the many areas where the r.o.w. is greater than needed for transit, and can combine with the planted buffer between the trail and tracks to give a feeling of being in a green space. If “grass tracks” are used, as the Montgomery County Council and Executive are requesting, then ironically the only part of the corridor that will not be green will be the pavement of the trail itself.
The Georgetown Branch Corridor was purchased for over ten million dollars in large part for potential transit use, and shared transit-trail use would benefit the largest number of people. MTA ridership estimates predict that six times as many people will use the Purple Line in one day than now use the trail east of Bethesda in one week. Use of the trail will increase if rebuilt with the Purple Line because it will be paved, will be extended through more neighborhoods into downtown Silver Spring, and will be connected to the off-road trails east of Rock Creek.
Bruce Adams, who supported purchasing the Georgetown Branch right-of-way and creating the trail while on the Montgomery County Council, observed: “The Capital Crescent Trail is a regional jewel, but it would not exist today had the council not voted in 1988 to purchase the right-of-way for the rail line”, and “For trail supporters to attempt to block the rail line by arguing that it will destroy the trail is just not playing fair.” (February 6, 2003 letter to Montgomery Gazette).
(Future) CCT and Purple Line project status:
The MTA Alternatives Analysis/Prelimary Environmental Impact Statement (AA/DEIS) was released in October, 2008. The Executives and County Councils of both Montgomery and Prince George’s County recommended the light rail alternative be selected, and Governor O’Malley selected the light rail as the “Locally Preferred Alternative” in August of 2009. The MTA completed the Final Environmental Impact Statement in Nov. 2013. Construction can begin as early as 2015 if funding is approved by the Federal Transit Administration.
The Purple Line AA/DEIS is at www.purplelinemd.com. See the website www.purplelinenow.org and the Sierra Club 2005 Newsletter for more on the transportation and environmental issues from a regional perspective.
Jan. 27, 2012