Council asks Leggett to save the CCT extension

September 13th, 2013

The Montgomery County Council T&E Committee has responded to the serious threat to the future CCT that I described here in my previous post, i.e. the Purple Line FEIS plan to dump the CCT extension onto streets in Silver Spring if CSXT refuses to grant r.o.w. for the trail.

The T&E Committee has sent a memorandum to County Executive Ike Leggett urging action. The memo says in part:

We believe we absolutely must do everything we can to work with CSXT toward completing this section of the trail: the FEIS makes it clear it is up to Montgomery County to do so. The current signed bike route through local streets crosses a significant number of intersections and would greatly reduce the trail’s value to pedestrians and bicyclists. On any kind of permanent basis, this is simply unacceptable.

In the meantime, at least one alternative to the route currently planned does exist, using available right of way on Fourth Avenue. Council staff is familiar with this alternative and agrees that it deserves serious exploration. We urge you to work with MTA to give this and any other possible alternatives serious consideration.

The memorandum is online at Alignment Memo, a pdf.

We owe a big Thank You! to T&E Chairman Roger Berliner, committee members Hans Riemer and Nancy Floreen, and District 5 Councilmember Valerie Ervin for reacting so quickly to try to set the county on the right course.

Sept. 14 Update: Councilmember Leventhal did not have the opportunity to sign the memo because he is not on the T&E Committee. He has emailed me, cc’d to MCDOT, expressing his strong support for the memo and for completing the CCT.

The ball is in the court of Ike Leggett and the MCDOT. The MTA Purple Line will follow the guidance MCDOT gives on the CCT design, but MCDOT must step up and take the ball now.

Giving up on the CCT too easily

September 8th, 2013

(A version of this is also posted on Greater greater Washington)

The Purple Line Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is out.

The Maryland Transit Administration released the Purple Line FEIS on Sept. 6. Comments will be collected and provided to the FTA, which will then issue a Record of Decision on whether to move the project toward further design development and the right-of-way acquisition process. The 10 Chapter FEIS and information on how to comment is on the Purple Line website: FEIS Document.

Profile of Purple Line and CCT, by MTA as shown in the FEIS
(Source: FEIS Document)

Most of the material in the FEIS follows closely to the issues and concerns we have followed over the years of public meetings, hearings and open houses. But the FEIS raises a major issue about the completion of the CCT into Silver Spring that has not drawn much attention before.

The FEIS has finishing the CCT contingent on CSXT cooperation.

The FEIS describes the plan to complete the CCT into Silver Spring on the preferred trail alignment along the east side of the CSXT corridor.

Planned route of the extended CCT with the
Purple Line “Preferred Alternative”

(Source: FEIS Document)

The preferred alignment will require acquiring CSXT r.o.w. for the trail at several locations. CSXT has a general policy to not allow its r.o.w. to be used for trails, but MTA sent CSXT a letter last November requesting that they make an exception for this project. It is hoped that The State of Maryland can succeed in getting an exception for a Purple Line joint transit/trail project, where a local government seeking an exception for a trail alone would not. But CSXT has still not granted the exception to date.

MTA addresses the CSXT trail r.o.w. issue in the FEIS at Chapter 2 – Alternatives Considered, p. 2-24 (emphasis mine):

“…At the junction with the CSXT Metropolitan Subdivision, the County’s current plan calls for the permanent Capital Crescent Trail to continue on the north side of the CSXT corridor to the SSTC. The Preferred Alternative as shown in the FEIS includes completing the Capital Crescent Trail in CSXT right-of-way in accordance with the County’s plan. The completion of the trail along the CSXT corridor, however, is contingent on agreement between Montgomery County and CSXT on the use of their property on the north side of the CSXT tracks for the trail. If agreement is not reached by the time the Purple Line construction occurs, MTA would construct the trail from Bethesda to Talbot Avenue. From Talbot Avenue to Silver Spring an interim signed bike route on local streets would be used...”

As the FEIS is written, the MTA and State of Maryland appear ready to give up on working with Montgomery County to complete the CCT into downtown Silver Spring if it cannot get CSXT r.o.w. for the trail. This could be devastating to the trail and trail network. There would be no off-road trail connection to downtown Silver Spring, no continuous off-road trail between Silver Spring and Bethesda, no complete off-road MetBranch/CCT “bicycle beltway”. The off-road CCT extension that has been promised in every Georgetown Branch Trolley and Purple Line Light-Rail concept study and planning document for more than two decades would be no more than a broken promise.

The FEIS overlooks the possibility of a good off-road CCT on a “Plan B” alignment.

The FEIS presents a false choice: either get CSXT cooperation for the preferred trail alignment entirely in the corridor, or give up on building any off-road trail and dump the CCT onto local streets at Talbot Avenue. But it is possible to complete an all off-road CCT into downtown Silver Spring without CSXT cooperation. A “Plan B” trail would be as safe and nearly as direct as the trail would be on the preferred alignment, and could be less expensive to build.

The key to understanding “Plan B” is to know that the majority of the preferred trail alignment along the CSXT corridor is already within publicly owned r.o.w., or immediately adjacent to publicly owned r.o.w. This can be seen in the aerial map of the corridor that MTA has shown at its most recent open houses, and is online at CSX Corridor to Silver Spring Transit Center (a large pdf). The aerial map shows that at the north end of this CSXT corridor it is possible to bring the CCT down 4th Avenue and behind the Woodside Mews townhouses to Lyttonsville Road, entirely outside of CSXT r.o.w., if the trail alignment were shifted just a few feet east into the 4th Avenue r.o.w. from the CSXT r.o.w.

To the south of the corridor, the planned CCT alignment is already within the publicly owned 3rd Avenue r.o.w. continuous from 16th Street to Fenwick Place. There is other private and public r.o.w. that can be used for the trail from Fenwick Lane to the Metro Plaza Building at Colesville Road. The trail does appear to need to be in a small amount of CSXT r.o.w. at Metro Plaza, but the Purple Line will be crossing over the CSXT track to be directly above the CCT and the trail is planned to be supported on structure shared with the Purple Line at this location so it is unlikely CSXT would invoke its “no r.o.w. for a trail alone” policy here.

A “Plan B” off-road trail route can bypass the CSXT r.o.w. by using Lyttonsville Road and 16th Street.

A “Plan B” off-road CCT can bypass CSXT r.o.w.

A trail route along Lyttonsville Road and 16th Street would be only a few hundred feet longer than the preferred route in the CSXT r.o.w. It can be more inviting – more visible and accessible over most of its length. In contrast the preferred CCT route in the CSXT r.o.w. would be relatively isolated behind the Park Sutten building, and built between a high retaining wall and a CSXT crash wall. The cost to build the bypass route should be lower than the cost of the preferred trail route, because less retaining wall would be needed and the CSXT crash wall would be eliminated.

Looking down Lyttonsville Road from the Woodside Mews Townhomes toward 16th Street.

Lyttonsville Road is extra-wide, and can easily have a “road diet” width reduction to free the space needed for an off-road CCT while still leaving room for traffic lanes and on-street parking. The trail can go on the west-side shoulder of 16th Street to the CSXT corridor, as shown in the sketch above, then go under the 16th Street Bridge in the same manner as the preferred trail alignment. This would give us the much desired grade-separated crossing under 16th Street, but will require “taking” approx. 12′ of r.o.w. from the Park Sutton Condominiums to supplement the existing r.o.w. on the west side 16th Street shoulder. It might also require getting just a few feet of r.o.w. from CSXT on the west shoulder of the 16th Street Bridge, although the drawings are not clear on this. The 16th Street Bridge must be rebuilt for the Purple Line, so the state must engage CSXT in r.o.w. and construction issues at this location regardless of the trail.

If CSXT or Park Sutton r.o.w. difficulties were to block this trail route on the west side of 16th Street, then we can still make a bypass work. Another option is to cross 16th Street at a new light at Lyttonsville Road, then go down the east side of 16th Street to the CSXT. This would stay well clear of any CSXT r.o.w. at the 16th Street Bridge, and would require little or no additional r.o.w. along 16th Street. An at-grade trail crossing of 16th Street would be much safer at Lyttonsville Road than the existing on-road trail crossing at Second Avenue, because this crossing would be shorter, would have very little turning traffic, and could use the wide median for a “safety refuge”.

“Plan B” has already won community support.

I would love to take credit for discovering this CSXT bypass route, but it is so obvious that anyone can see it. And besides, it is a key part of the off-road “interim” trail planned years ago and described in the M-NCPPC report “Facility Plan for the Capital Cresent & Metropolitan Branch Trails”, approved by the Planning Board January 2001 and available online on the CCCT website at CCT Archives. It was developed and supported by a team of representatives from the nearby communities, trail user groups, planning staff at M-NCPPC, and the professional trail design group Lardner and Klein. This Interim CCT was recommended to be built at a time when the single-track Georgetown Branch trolley, proposed to run from Bethesda to Silver Spring, had fallen by the wayside and with no clear successor in sight. Investment in a “long term interim trail” made sense when transit appeared to be going nowhere soon. But shortly after this study was approved the movement for transit came to life again as the Purple Line. The “long term” part of “interim trail” went away, and with it the support for spending millions to build it.

M-NCPPC trail planner David Anspacher has recently begun to examine the “Plan B” bypass concept. He has circulated this and other alternative CCT route ideas among M-NCPPC staff for comments, and has asked trail design consultants Toole Design to include this in an evaluation of CCT alternatives they are doing for M-NCPPC. This work becomes ever more important as CSXT continues to withhold cooperation on trail r.o.w. issues.

We need to act to keep “Plan B” alive as a feasible option.

The FEIS presents a depressing false choice: We either complete the preferred alignment CCT into Silver Spring with CSXT cooperation for the trail r.o.w., or else we just give up and dump the CCT onto local roads. If we allow MTA to give up so easily on the CCT, then this could be self fulfilling. The “Plan B” version of the trail could be blocked from being built with the Purple Line if MTA proceeds to build the Purple Line with no consideration for compatibility with a possible “Plan B” trail.

What we can do:

1 – Submit comments on the Purple Line FEIS that respond to the “false choice” that is presented for completing the CCT. Point out there are options for an off-road CCT that bypasses the CSXT r.o.w. should CSXT refuse to cooperate on the trail. Ask MTA to commit to designing and building the best feasible off-road CCT extension into downtown Silver Spring, in coordination with Montgomery County, consistant with the promises it has made to the community for over two decades. Comments can be submitted online at FEIS Comment Form or by sending an email to FEIS@purplelinemd.com with “FEIS COMMENT” as the subject heading.

2 – Contact the Montgomery County Executive, Council, and Planning Board and let them know there are options for completing a good off-road CCT that do not require CSXT r.o.w. Ask them to accelerate study of “Plan B” options, to be ready in case the preferred CCT alignment is blocked by CSXT refusal to grant r.o.w. for the trail. Tell them that we expect them to keep the promises they have given to us for many years to complete the CCT, and this trail is much too important for them to give up so easily.

Wellness and the Purple Line/CCT

March 2nd, 2013

The Purple Line/CCT project is nearing completion of its Preliminary Design Phase. On March February 28 MTA Purple Line staff and M-NCPPC planners briefed the Montgomery County Planning Board on the current status of several remaining design issues. Much of the briefing presented issues already presented at the recent MTA Neighborhood Work Groups, but there were some new renderings of the Silver Spring station, and also a new (at least to me) discusion of the Silver Spring Green Trail. The briefing is available at M-NCPPC 02/28/2013 Purple Line Briefing (PDF). Uncertainty still hung over the future of the project at the briefing because of the continued failure of the state legislature to address adequate funding for the state Transportation Trust Fund.

Written testimony was submitted to the Planning Board from a Bethesda resident and “Friends of the Trail” advocate Mary Rivkin requesting a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) be conducted by MTA. From the testimony submitted:

Need for Health Impact Assessment (HIA). While the requirement for an EIS is well understood, the equally pertinent HIA is not yet equally considered. The CDC points out that a “major benefit—is that it brings public health issues to the attention of persons who make decisions about areas that fall outside traditional public health arenas, such as transportation land use.” When we consider that the de facto park offers many health benefits to residents, changing the park to train tracks with a little trail running alongside should entail a formal analysis of the health impacts of the project. …

The full public testimony is on the record here (PDF), see the second of the two letters submitted.

Ms. Rivkin requests a full assessment of the health impacts of the transportation project, but her comments address only the issues associated with the Georgetown Branch Trail in her immediate neighborhood and are biased against the Purple Line. If an HIA assessment is done it would follow CDC Health Impact Assessment Toolkit guidelines which support the CDC Transportation Recommendations. Those CDC recommendations strongly support using transportation design to improve public health, including expanding public transit, promoting “active transportation” with transit, and healthy community design with access to affordable transportation. Further, an HIA would measure health impacts of the Purple Line on neighborhoods over the entire 16-mile project length, not just the Bethesda neighborhood that is of focus of concern to Ms. Rivkin.

One does not need to be a health science professional to get a good sense of whether an HIA would support Ms. Rivkin’s opposition to the Purple Line. I take a brief look here at several of the major issues, grouped in catagories roughly similar to those suggested by CDC guidelines and Ms. Rivkin’s request:

  • The health benefit from trail use
  • The health benefit from transit “active transportation”
  • Trail safety and neighborhood connectivity
  • Tree cover, and public access to green space

I only look at the Bethesda-Silver Spring area, but that is enough to get the gist of what an HIA of the entire project would find.

1 – The health benefit from trail use:

The public health benefit of getting people more active to combat obesity and other disorders is well known, and I’ll not belabor the issue here. Trail users will enjoy Lenny Bernsteins’ observations on how the Capital Crescent Trail supports physical activities of walking, running and cycling, which appeared in the Wellness section of the Washington Post on this February 26: In praise of a reliable workout buddy. Mr. Bernstein withholds judgement about whether the changes to the CCT east of Bethesda (a.k.a. Georgetown Branch Trail) that the Purple Line will bring would be for good or bad.

More people will benefit from physical activity on the trail if the Purple Line/CCT is built as proposed than benefit from the trail as it exists today. This is often counter-intuitive to Bethesda residents like Ms. Rivkin, but strong evidence for this can be found in the 2006 CCCT Trail Traffic Survey:


Trail use at Elm Street Park is less than 1/2 the trail use at Bethesda Avenue only a few hundred feet to the west. And trail use near the eastern end of the trail, at the Grubb Road access, is barely more than 1/10 that at Bethesda Avenue. Clearly the Georgetown Branch Trail east of Bethesda is very underused compared to the CCT. This data led to this major conclusion in the trail traffic survey report (emphasis mine):
“Trail use at Grubb Road peaks at 80 uses/hr on weekends, and the projected weekly use is 2500+. This is a very respectable use compared to many local neighborhood trails, but falls far short of the potential the CCT has to be a regional trail connecting downtown Bethesda with downtown Silver Spring. The stark contrast between observed trail use at Grubb Road and elsewhere on the CCT invites a public discussion about what is needed to complete the CCT to better serve Silver Spring and its neighborhoods.”

The major reason that the Georgetown Branch Trail is underused is shown here:


East terminus of the off-road Georgetown Branch Trail,
in an industrial park at Lyttonsville

The off-road Georgetown Branch Trail ends ubruptly over 1-1/2 miles from downtown Silver Spring, in an obscure industrial park at Stewart Avenue. The trail continues from there into Silver Spring in traffic as an on-road bicycle route, with many turns, numerous stop signs and traffic signals, and with at-grade crossings of several busy highways including two six-lane state highways.

Another reason for the Geogetown Branch Trail being underused is pictured here:


Georgetown Branch Trail near Stewart Avenue

While some trail users, mostly joggers, like the crushed stone trail surface on the Georgetown Branch off-road section, many find that the uneven and often muddy conditions are not good for cycling. It is also not well suited for the mobility impaired who need walkers or wheelchairs, or for parents with baby strollers.

The length of the Georgetown Branch Trail east of Rock Creek, from Rock Creek to downtown Silver Spring, is equal to the length of the trail west of Rock Creek, from Rock Creek to downtown Bethesda. The population of Silver Spring and its neighborhoods is comparible to that of Bethesda. The business and employment activities of the two urban centers are about equal. Both have very active transit centers. If the CCT (a.k.a. Georgetown Branch Trail) were to be extended as a paved, good quality off-road trail into downtown Silver Spring, then the number of people with easy access to the off-road trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring would be approximately doubled from what it is today. The completed trail would have about twice the number of useful destinations for all users than does the existing incomplete trail. Important regional trail connections with the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Silver Spring Green Trail would be completed.

The Purple Line will change the nature of the trail in Chevy Chase, to have less shade and less of the character of a park. But for every trail user who might stop using the trail as often because it feels less like a park in Chevy Chase, there would be several new trail users happy to use the trail because it is would be more accessible from their home in Silver Spring or would better reach a Silver Spring destination.

2 – The health benefit from rail transit “active transportation”:

It is easy to focus only on biking and walking on the trail when we look at getting people to be more physically active in their daily lives. But using transit instead of driving a car has been shown by numerous studies to bring very substantial health benefits from more physical activity. Here are just two:

  • Science Daily described a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the RAND Corporation. The study found that construction of a light-rail system (LRT) resulted in increased physical activity (walking) and subsequent weight loss by people served by the LRT.

    “Using two surveys, one collecting data prior to the completion of an LRT in Charlotte, North Carolina, the second after completion, investigators found that using light rail for commuting was associated with reductions in body mass index (BMI) over time. Specifically, LRT reduced BMI by an average of 1.18 kg/m2 compared to non-LRT users in the same area over a 12-18 month follow-up period. This is equivalent to a relative weight loss of 6.45 lbs for a person who is 5′5. LRT users were also 81% less likely to become obese over time.”

  • The CDC Health Impact Assessment Toolkit lists several studies of active transportation under “Resources”. The first study cited is from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:
    Besser, L. M. and A. L. Dannenberg (2005). “Walking to public transit: steps to help meet physical activity recommendations.” Am J Prev Med 29(4): 273-280.

    This national study found that Americans obtain daily bouts of physical activity by walking to and from transit. The median amount of time spent in commuting to transit on foot is 19 minutes, but people of lower socio-economic status and minorities walked further to transit stops. Rail users walked further than bus commuters.

    The CDC clearly recognizes the important benefit that walking to transit can bring to public health, and highlights it in its HIA toolkit. Its CDC Transportation Fact Sheet (PDF) lists expanding public transportation among its major recommendations for improving public health through good transportation policy.

We can draw a point of comparison on the potential public health benefit from walking to transit with the benefit on the existing Georgetown Branch Trail from walking and biking. An early MTA estimate of the transit use at the Bethesda Purple Line platform is 11,500 boardings each day, from MTA Purple Line station ridership table (PDF). Since approx. 4/5 of future Purple Line riders are estimated to convert from riding buses, I’ll be conservative and not count that 4/5 even though the studies show users will walk further to rail transit stations than to bus stops. This still leaves us with 2,300 “new” transit riders boarding at the Bethesda Purple Line station each day, or approx. 16,100 each week. And this is only counting boardings, i.e. those who leave the station and travel east, and not those who are alighting, i.e. those who arrive on the Purple Line from stations to the east. Even under these extremely conservative assumptions, the estimated 16,000+ people getting a health benefit from walking to Purple Line transit at Bethesda will exceed the number of people who now use the Georgetown Branch Trail for walking or biking, 10,000+ weekly as counted at Elm Street Park. And this point of comparison is only for the Bethesda station. When you consider that the Purple Line is projected to have 69,500 daily boardings at 22 stations, it is clear the public health benefit of the 16 mile long Purple Line for active transportation will eclipse that realized today by walkers and cyclists on the 3 mile long off-road Georgetown Branch Trail.

An HIA will show that a Georgetown Branch Trail that will be completed into Silver Spring with the Purple Line would serve more walkers and cyclists than does today’s badly underused trail. It will also easily show that the number of transit users who will get a significant active transportation health benefit by using the Purple Line would eclipse the number of trail users. The public health implication is clear – to increase physical activity benefits for the largest number of people, building the Purple Line/CCT project is a far better choice than would be “no build”.

3 – Trail safety and neighborhood connectivity.

Ms. Rivkin’s request for a full HIA of the Purple Line asserts that building the Purple Line on top of the existing trail will make the trail less safe, and will destroy safe pedestrian connectivity between neighborhoods. But the request only mentions neighborhoods and street crossings in Chevy Chase. The request makes little mention of neighborhoods along 1/2 of the length of the Georgetown Branch Trail, the part that lies east of Jones Mill Road.

The existing Georgetown Branch Trail looks like this in Silver Spring neighborhoods:
Georgetown Branch Trail crossing of 16th Street

Georgetown Branch Trail crossing of 16th Street

The Georgetown Branch Trail is now only an on-road cycling route through the neighborhoods of Lyttonsville, Rosemary Hills, North Woodside, Woodside and the Silver Spring Urban District. These neighborhoods are separated from each other by the CSX railroad tracks, the 16th Street six-lane State Highway (pictured above), Spring Street, and Colesville Road which is yet another six-lane State Highway.


Neighborhoods are divided by six-lane highways and a railroad.
(The existing on-road Georgetown Branch “trail” is the green line.)
Source: www.cctrail.org

The Purple Line/CCT project proposes to build a completely off-road, 12′ wide shared use trail, with grade-separated bridges and underpasses of the railroad tracks and all major roadways, complete into the Silver Spring Transit Center. This is far from being the “little trail” Ms. Rivkin describes in her request.

The trail in the Chevy Chase neighborhoods would be rebuilt to maintain the connectivity between Chevy Chase neighborhoods similar to what they enjoy now. The loss of the grade-separated crossing of Wisconsin Avenue would be compensated for by new grade-separated crossings of Connecticut Avenue and Jones Mill Road. Trail users would be separated from transit tracks by a landscaped buffer and fence throughout the length of the trail. There is extensive experience nationwide with Rails-with-Trails, and they have been shown to be very safe.

A systematic survey of trail safety and neighborhood connectivity issues would conclude that building the Purple Line and extending the CCT into Silver Spring would improve trail safety and neighborhood connectivity.

4 – Tree cover, and public access to green space

Opponents of the Purple Line make the claim that Montgomery County has declared the lower county area to be deficient of parks and green space. To remedy that, they ask that the Georgetown Branch Corridor be declared a park, and that transit uses be excluded.

It may be true that parts of lower Montgomery County are deficient of parks for uses such as ballfields, dog parks and play lots. But lower Montgomery County has a higher percentage of tree cover now than does the rest of the county:


Existing tree cover density in Montgomery County
(click on the image for the full map with legend)
Source: A report on Montgomery County’s
existing and possible tree cover

The project that produced the map above applied the USDA Forest Service’s TC assessment protocols to Montgomery County. The analysis was conducted based on year 2009 data by the University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Laboratory.

The Chevy Chase Lake sector plan has a more detailed map of the tree cover at the central section of the off-road Georgetown Branch Trail:


Existing tree cover in the Chevy Chase Lake area
source: Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan – Appendix 8, Environment (PDF)

The Chevy Chase Lake sector now has a tree cover of 52%. The source document for the sketch above states that the desired minimum tree cover is 30%. The source document notes that the majority of tree cover in this sector is from the Coquelin Run stream valley. As can be seen by the separation distance between Coquelin Run and the Georgetown Branch Corridor, the Coquelin Run tree cover would not be impacted by changes in the Georgetown Branch corridor. It is also evident that the residential areas throughout the sector contribute significant amounts to the total tree cover in this area.

The tree cover along the Georgetown Branch is evident in the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan map above, but a significant proportion of that is from adjacent private properties. A significant number of trees will also remain within the 100′ wide r.o.w. in the Chevy Chase Lake sector after Purple Line construction since the expected limit of construction is only 60′ wide. There will be some restoration of green space within that 60′ as small trees and large shrubs from the project’s landscaping become established.

The most important contribution of tree cover in this area is not from the Georgetown Branch corridor, nor from Coquelin Run. It is from Rock Creek Park. The Rock Creek Stream Valley Unit #2, the portion of Rock Creek Park between Connecticut Avenue and East-West Highway, has 277 acres, most of it in deep woodland. See the Rock Creek SVU2 map (PDF). This dwarfs the patchy, thin line of tree cover that is contributed by the approx. 17 acres along the Georgetown Branch corridor.

Public access to park land is an issue to be considered. It is argued that children in Chevy Chase will lose easy access to green space if the Purple Line were to displace the existing trail. But children who live in Rosemary Hills, Lyttonsville, and the Silver Spring urban district live in areas that need access to green space at least as much as those from Chevy Chase neighborhoods. For them, Rock Creek Park is now relatively inaccessible. Completion of the Capital Crescent Trail through their neighborhoods together with completion of the trail ramp between the CCT and the Rock Creek Trail will give them safe off-road access to a regional park.

Proposed CCT connection to Rock Creek Trail
Source: MTA Lyttonsville Area Map

The loss of any tree will be felt by trail users if it is a tree that provides shade. But a fair assessment of tree cover within the Purple Line/CCT service area will show that the loss of tree cover from Purple Line construction would have a very minimal impact on the total tree cover in lower Montgomery County. Access to Rock Creek Park will be greatly improved for neighborhoods east of the park.

Do we need yet another big study?

The strong contribution that good public transit and urban trails can bring to public health by increasing physical activity is well recognized by the CDC in its CDC Health Impact Assessment Toolkit and CDC Transportation Recommendations. Clearly any Purple Line/CCT HIA performed under CDC guidelines would return a report that favors the project. So why would “Save the Trail” advocates push for an HIA this late?

Opponents of a project will often ask for more study, regardless of how late it is in the project development or how many studies have come before. If refused, than the opponents will assert that the project is being rushed forward without “due process”. If the study is done and the result favors the project, then the opponents will ignore the results. They will have harmed the project’s chances to succeed by adding more cost and delay.

The Purple Line/CCT project has undergone a thorough design and review process. It must comply with a comprehensive and demanding study and reporting process set by the US DOT to compete for federal funding. The process includes a very comprehensive EIS, and a rigorous public review proceedure. An HIA is not required for this project.

We do not need this obstruction and delay – we do not need the HIA.

Is the Future CCT headed for gridlock?

January 18th, 2013

Preliminary Engineering by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) for the Purple Line and Future CCT is nearing completion. MTA has begun its second round of neighborhood work group meetings to present the next level of design to the public. Purple Line/CCT design features were presented for the Bethesda Station area on December 18, 2012 and for the Lyttonsville and Woodside Station areas on January 16, 2013. The most recent powerpoint presentations, sketches and maps for those areas are available now at the MTA website.

A sample of the information available at the MTA website for neighborhood work groups Bethesda, Lyttonsville and Woodside:

Purple Line and CCT bridges over Rock Creek
Proposed Purple Line and CCT bridges over Rock Creek
(source: MTA at www.purplelinemd.com)

Partial map of Future CCT at Rock Creek
The future Purple Line and CCT alignment at Rock Creek
(see MTA Lyttonsville Map for a more complete view)

The new MTA drawings show some changes from prior CCT plans, including:
1) The new 5-7′ wide sidewalk alignment through the Bethesda Tunnel, with the main trail shunted to the surface route (surface route not shown – that is under design by MCDOT),
2) The north-side location for the switchback connection to the Rock Creek Trail,
3) A new underpass alignment under the Purple Line tracks that is closer to the Rock Creek bridges,
4) A trail bridge over the CSX tracks that is further north from the Rosemary Hills Elementary School, and
5) A new, grade separated crossing under the east end of a proposed new Talbot Avenue Bridge.
These changes reflect some difficult trade-offs, but by-and-large can result in a high quality off-road trail from the center of Bethesda into the center of Silver Spring. While the decision to take the trail out of the Bethesda Tunnel and across Wisconsin Avenue at-grade has been a disappointment, the trail would have only one other at-grade crossing between Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring (at relatively quiet Stewart Avenue in Lyttonsville). At-grade crossings at three state highways (Connecticut Ave., 16th Street, and Colesville Road) on today’s Georgetown Branch Trail would be eliminated.

All of this planning is in serious danger of going onto the shelf, with no progress for building either the Purple Line or for completing the CCT for many years to come!. The facts:

  • All funding for Purple Line planning ends in 2014, and there is no funding available for construction to begin.
  • To avoid a shut-down of work, the state must submit an application for a “Record of Decision” to the FTA this summer to get federal construction funding. The application must include a credible financial plan to show how the state will meet its proposed 50% share of the construction costs.
  • The state transportation trust fund has been depleted and the state has no money to start any new highway, bridge or transit projects. The state cannot submit a credible financial plan for its share of the Purple Line unless a serious transportation funding package is approved by the state legislature now that will restore the Transportation Trust Fund in the immediate future.

The impact of the uncertainty in state funding for Purple Line upon completion of the CCT is already showing – with the recent accouncement that funding to build the CCT is being delayed: See Montgomery County projects tied to Purple Line delayed

If the governor and state assembly do not act in this legislative session, it will likely be many years before the transportation funding issue is addressed again in any substantial way. Next year is an election year and little will get done that involves political courage. The Purple Line will lose its place in line for federal construction funding. It could be many years before the project can be revived, and much of the design work will then need to be updated.

If the Purple Line project stalls, progress on completing and paving the Future CCT between Bethesda and Georgetown will also stop. We will not get the right-of-way in the CSX corridor that is crucial to completing the trail.

There is no alternative trail alignment for an off-road trail into downtown Silver Spring that does not require using CSX right-of-way in several places. But CSX has a strong general policy of not allowing any trail uses within its right-of-way. Purple Line project manager Mike Madden confirmed in an email exchange with me on November 26, 2012 that MTA had sent Purple Line plans to CSX for comment last fall, and CSX had responded in a letter to MTA to indicate it would not grant right-of-way for any trail use. MTA responded in turn with a letter to CSX to request that an exception be made for the state Purple Line/CCT project. Mike Madden told me at the 16 January Lyttonsville/Woodside neighborhood work group meeting that CSX has not yet responded to this request.

CSX right-of-way needed at 16th Street Bridge
The grade-separated trail crossing under the 16th Street Bridge
is one of several places where CSX right-of-way is critical
(source: MTA at www.purplelinemd.com)

The state has considerable leverage it can use to bring CSX to the negotiating table regarding right-of-way for the Purple Line and CCT. CSX has many business interests statewide that are before the state for consideration, including requests for increasing its freight infrastructure capacity along its Brunswick Line. CSX cannot easily brush the state request for CCT right-of-way aside so long as the state makes the CCT an integral part of its high priority Purple Line project. But if the Purple Line project stalls, CSX right-of-way negotiations with the state will stop. Montgomery County has no leverage to bring CSX to the negotiating table for a trail-only project.

Paving the existing Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Lyttonsville will also likely remain gridlocked without the Purple Line, for several reasons:
1) The county council will be extremely reluctant to approve funding to pave the existing trail so long as there is any hope that the trail will be torn up and rebuilt for shared use of the corridor with transit in the not-to-distant future. Transit use has always been proposed for this corridor since the county bought it in 1988 – in fact the corridor would never have been purchased by the county if not for this future shared transit/trail use. Even if the Purple Line stalls, the need for better rapid transit between Silver Spring and Bethesda will only continue to grow. Neither East-West Highway nor Jones Bridge Road can be expanded to have the dedicated transit lanes that are essential for “rapid” transit on these congested roads, at any reasonable cost and impact. This Georgetown Branch transportation corridor will continue to be the only, and obvious, choice for better east-west rapid transit, whether as light-rail or as Bus Rapid Transit. Trail supporters cannot reasonably expect that this corridor will be surrendered to them for exclusive trail use if the Purple Line stalls.
2) Transit supporters will vigorously oppose placing anything in the Georgetown Branch corridor that may make it politically more difficult to advance transit in the future. I believe some limited trail development is worthwhile and should proceed in this corridor – I was in the lead in advocating for opening the Rock Creek Trestle in 2003. But I cannot dispute that “Save the Trail” advocates have used “we got here first” to build opposition to transit in the corridor, with no regard to the fact that the trail would not exist today if not for the promise of future shared transit and trail use.
3) There will be significant oppositon to paving the trail from local neighorhoods and other users. Pam Browning, past president of “Save the Trail”, was on record in opposition to paving the trail unless it is done without replacing the existing gravel path and without cutting any trees. Those conditions are, of course, impossible to meet. There are many other local residents, joggers, and recreational cyclists who would like to see the Interim CCT stay as it is – uncrowded and natural. They fear paving will open the CCT to speeding cyclists.

Trail users should be very concerned that the Purple Line is in danger of stalling because the state Transportation Trust Fund is running on empty. If the project stalls then completing and paving the future CCT will stall along with it. If that prospect bothers you and you live in Maryland, then now is the time to contact your Maryland State Representatives and urge them to fix the Transportation Trust Fund.

Sidewalk through tunnel is likely

June 13th, 2012

WABA Board Member Jim Titus reports in a post at WashCycle that MTA has announced they are finding it possible and cost effective to build a 5 foot wide sidewalk through the Bethesda Tunnel alongside the Purple Line.

This is welcome news. This sidewalk could provide an alternative to crossing Wisconsin Avenue at-grade for pedestrians using the CCT. It also will provide easy access to the Purple Line platform and the new South Metro Station Entrance for many transit users. The sidewalk will be too narrow and too heavily used by pedestrians for safe use by cyclists.

Jim Titus reports that MTA expects the county to bear the cost of this sidewalk, as part of the county’s agreement to pay for the CCT. But the county is already commited to spending several million dollars to build a full width trail separated from motor vehicle lanes, down Bethesda Avenue and Willow Lane as an alternative CCT route to the Bethesda Tunnel.

It is unfair for MTA to consider this proposed 5 foot sidewalk as only a part of the trail, and not as an integral part of the Bethesda Purple Line station. There will be more people using the Purple Line platform every day than now use the trail in an entire week. We can expect the majority of users of this proposed 5 foot sidewalk to be transit users accessing the Purple Line platform and the new South Bethesda Metro Entrance from the many residences, schools and businesses on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue. Providing access to the Purple Line platform should be a responsibility of MTA, and MTA should not be demanding that scarce trail funds be used for this purpose.

MTA shows latest plans for Silver Spring

May 30th, 2012

MTA held a Silver Spring Station area meeting this evening at the Silver Spring Civic Center, and showed several concept drawings of the most recent design plans for the Purple Line and CCT at the Silver Spring transit station. A snapshot of one of the drawings has just been posted by Chris Gillis, of Councilmember George Leventhal’s staff, as a PLN twitter pic. As Chris indicated in the twitter comment, there is a lot going on there, but it looks like it will all work.

(5/31/2012 update: The MTA has posted its drawings and presentation at www.purplelinemd.com.)

The major change from past MTA renderings is that the Purple Line and the Trail are both higher than previously shown. MTA has raised the proposed Purple Line platform and tracks to be at a fourth level. The CCT would be on an areal structure passing through the station at the third level, while the MARC and Metro Red Line platforms would remain on the second level as they are now. Having the Purple Line at a higher elevation makes it possible to use vertical separation to manage potential conflicts between the trail users and the pedestrian traffic to the MARC and Purple Line platforms. The new arrangement puts the trail on a different level than the train platforms.

The trail would will hold straight and to a 12+ foot width through the station, but there would be a sharp turn at the south end of the station where the CCT would meet the MetBranch Trail. MTA and M-NCPPC planners are aware this is a problem and are trying to work out a more gradual curve alignment, but space is very constrained in that area as the MetBranch Trail and the new “Ripifant” Street Road must both pass under the Purple Line tracks there where the tracks turn to the east.

I will post more on this design in a few days, after the MTA has posted better images of their concept drawings on their website.

Inaction in Annapolis threatens CCT.

May 25th, 2012

The Montgomery County Council made a full commitment to completing the Capital Crescent Trail into Silver Spring with the formal endorsement of the Capital Budget last Thursday, May 24, as reported by the Gazette at Capital Budget includes money for Bethesda Metro Station and by many other newspapers and blogs. The approved FY13-18 CIP budget included $27.6M to rebuild the CCT with the Purple Line from Bethesda to Lyttonsville, with another approx. $20M pledged by the Council to finish the CCT into downtown Silver Spring by FY20.

I contributed an article to the CCCT Spring Newsletter that outlines what changes this funding can bring to the CCT. From that article:

The T&E Committee did vote to program $27.6M in the FY13-18 CIP budget to rebuild the CCT alongside the Purple Line as a 12 foot wide paved trail from Bethesda to the CSX corridor at Lyttonsville. This included the estimated cost for a new trail bridge over Connecticut Avenue, a trail underpass at Jones Mill Road, and an off-road connection between the CCT and the Rock Creek Trail at Rock Creek Park. Funding is included for some limited trail lighting at the Purple Line stations and major trail access points, and for enhanced landscaping (plantings) between the CCT and the adjacent neighborhoods. (Funding for landscaping between the CCT and the Purple Line tracks is being included in the separate MTA Purple Line budget.)

The Council vote was designed to have the Montgomery County CIP budget match up with the state’s proposed Purple Line budget, to coordinate trail construction with Purple Line construction. The Council intends to program the funds to build the CCT extension down the CSX corridor into downtown Silver Spring in the next FY15-20 CIP budget, to complete the Trail into Silver Spring in 2020. This would be the same year the Purple Line is planned for completion.

The County Council has made a strong commitment to the CCT during an especially difficult budget year by standing up and commiting nearly $50M to the trail. I have been waiting for many years for the CCT to be completed beyond Chevy Chase through my Woodside neighborhood into downtown Silver Spring. I thank the Council for making this commitment.

But the CCT schedule is matched up with the Purple Line schedule. It now appears our legislature at Annapolis is undercutting the Purple Line by inaction, and with it the CCT – see Purple Line funding uncertain with failure of Maryland gas tax hike. If the state legislature fails to “man up” and take on the issue of finding a stable funding source soon for the Transportation Trust Fund, then both the Purple Line and the CCT will be very significantly delayed.

I’ve outlined elsewhere on this website at (Future) Capital Crescent Trail why completing the CCT is so intertwined with the Purple Line. It is not possible to separate the CCT from the Purple Line project and to complete it into Silver Spring ahead of the Purple Line without changing the CCT to be on a very badly compromised route. To further show that is true, I repeat the challenge I’ve made to the “Save the Trail” advocates many times: If you can find a credible plan to finish the trail as a quality off-road trail without the Purple Line, then please share that plan with the rest of us. If you don’t have a plan you will share, then we can only conclude you have no credible plan to finish the trail.

The CCT may be getting stalled by inaction at Annapolis, but things are looking a little better for the connecting Metropolitan Branch Trail. The County Council also approved the restoration of approx. $12M in the CIP budget for design and construction of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The impass between MCDOT and Montgomery Preservation Inc. (MPI) over the proposed alignment of the Metropolitan Branch Trail through the historic B&O Train Station property still remains unresolved. But this restoration of funding allows the MCDOT to continue to work this issue, and MCDOT, MPI, WABA and CSX have met recently to explore options. Hopefully we can report some forward movement on the MetBranch soon.

New Lyttonsville West plans for the CCT bear watching

March 20th, 2012

The MTA briefed its new plans for the Purple Line in the Lyttonsville area at a March 14 neighborhood meeting. The Gazette summarized the plans at Residents pleased with revised Lyttonsville Purple Line plans. I think trail users can be pleased with the plans, but with one important issue that bears watching closely as the design is refined – that is the proposed trail underpass near the Grubb Road/Terrace Drive access path.

The MTA has made the March 14 presentation materials available on its website at work sessions – Lyttonsville Area. The presentation includes this map of the new CCT alignment:

The CCT is on the neighborhood (south) side of the Purple Line
(click on the map for a larger view)
(source: MTA work sessions – Lyttonsville Area)

A larger areal map of the proposed new arrangement is at Map of Refined Lyttonsville Alignment. It shows details much better than the map above.

Overall I like the new proposed trail alignment better than the previous one that I had reported on here last fall. This new plan returns the trail to the neighborhood (south) side of the Purple Line project, for easier access to the trail from the neighborhood. This trail access is most improved in the area of Kansas Avenue and of Talbot Avenue at the east end of the Lyttonsville neighborhood, where the prior plan had the trail cut off from the neighborhood by the Purple Line tracks.

The new plan does have some drawbacks, however. One is that it will have the trail cross Stewart Avenue at-grade. While traffic there will be light and safety can be managed, it is nonetheless a loss from the previous plan that would have realigned Stewart Avenue there and would have given a grade-separated trail crossing.

Proposed location of CCT underpass near Grubb Road
(source: MTA Map of Refined Lyttonsville Alignment)

But the biggest concern I have with the new plan is at the western end of this area study – near the Grubb Road/Terrace Drive access path. The new plan proposes to keep the trail on the north side of the Purple Line from the west, then cross under the Purple Line tracks to the south side in an underpass just to the west of the Grubb Road/Terrace Road access path. MTA asserted at the March 14 meeting that their studies were showing the previous plan, to bring the trail under the Purple Line at the Rock Creek bridges, was proving to be creating too much difficulty and expense for the bridge designs. MTA has decided it will be easier to keep the trail on the north side of the Purple Line across Rock Creek and Rock Creek Park and to make the crossing with an underpass at this new point farther to the east.

I think MTA will be forced to reconsider this new plan for a trail underpass, because the existing terrain in this area will not support an underpass. The Purple Line will need to stay low as it climbs up from its Rock Creek bridge. The old B&O railbed (and the existing Interim Trail) are in a cut at the Grubb Road access for this reason. The Purple Line will not likely be elevated much higher than the existing old railbed is here, because that would force the Purple Line to climb too steeply from the Rock Creek crossing. But the trail cannot easily stay at an elevation that is even lower than the Purple Line, to cross in an underpass here, without being in a very deep cut, or in a long tunnel. Either will be very undesirable.

We need to watch this proposed trail crossing very closely as it evolves. I think as MTA gets into the design process, MTA will find that it needs another location, likely to the west, where the trail crossing will not have to go to war with the existing terrain.

T&E Committee picks plan “B” (or “E”)

March 8th, 2012

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.

Tunnel expectations

March 4th, 2012

The local news media is reporting on the Montgomery County Council’s reaction to the recent assessment from MTA that keeping the CCT in the Bethesda tunnel will carry very high cost and risk. The Gazette has one of the best reports at Underground Capital Crescent Trail crossing would cost $51 million. The Gazette article gives these reactions from two of the Councilmembers on the T&E Committee:

“I think it is a very serious change from what all of us had expected when we conceived of the trail going through the tunnel,” said Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1). ….

and:

Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large), a member of the transportation committee, said the county made a commitment to keeping the trail inside the tunnel, and she stands by that commitment.

“The crossing at Wisconsin Avenue is incredibly dangerous,” she said. “This conversation has been consistent over the years that the trail would be protected at all costs. There is a cost, that’s true, but one that the county will have to face.”

Contrary to what we have come to expect in recent years, there was no expectation promise at the start that the trail would remain in the tunnel. The first Master Plan showed uncertainty whether it was feasible to do so, at any cost. The 1990 Georgetown Branch Trolley Master Plan is available online at www.montgomeryplanning.org. This Master Plan does emphasize the goal of keeping the trail in the tunnel. It illustrates how this might be done by this sketch at page 52:

Sketch of double track trolley in the Bethesda Tunnel

Note the 1990 Master Plan shows the trolley as
double track through the Bethesda Tunnel

But the sketch above is given in the Master Plan as an aspiration, not as an expectation. From the text that comes with the sketch, .p. 51-53 (emphasis mine) :

“In order for hikers, bikers and trolley patrons to safely and conveniently use both the trolley platform and the hiker/biker trail within the Bethesda Station, the Plan recommends that the station design should include an extension of a concourse through the platform area in order to provide adequate trail width and safety. An illustration of this concept is shown in Figure 21. Further study of both the physical and operational elements is necessary during the design phase of the trolley/trail to determine the feasibility of the recommendation.

It is interesting to read the 1990 Master Plan, because the trolley described in the Master Plan is very different from the way the Georgetown Branch Trolley concept is usually described today. Purple Line opponents often assert that the Georgetown Branch Trolley was promised to be an entirely single-track trolley that would have a minimal impact on neighborhoods and the trail. But the 1990 Master Plan shows a trolley with characteristices that are very different from that nostalgic vision, including:

  • Very significant double track sections, including at all five stations. Nearly 30% of the “single-track” trolley was planned to be double-track from the start, including at some of the most constrained areas along the corridor such as through the length of the Bethesda tunnel.
  • Projected headways of 6 minutes, the same as for the Purple Line.
  • Travel times between Silver Spring and Bethesda of 9-10 minutes, compared to 8 1/2 minutes for the Purple Line.
  • Track/trail typical profiles that show trail separation distances from the near track that are very similar to that of the Purple Line.
  • Preservation of right-of-way for possible future conversion of all single-track sections to double-track, if required by future growth in ridership.

Assertions that the Georgetown Branch Trolley had been promised to be a slow, occasional neighborhood trolley running quietly through this corridor are bogus.

I can recall going to Purple Line meetings years ago and hearing the MTA present the concept for keeping the trail in the tunnel. MTA would regularly warn that although the concept might be feasible, we would not know for certain until more detailed measurements had been taken in the tunnel and the design studies had advanced beyond the early concept stage. Keeping the trail in the tunnel was usually presented as an aspiration, not as a clear and certain promise.

But as time passed, there was a shift in the way the tunnel design concept was presented. I first took note of it when MTA briefed the concept of the trail in the tunnel to the County Council on October 21, 2008. The MTA appeared to me to be less tentative about the feasibility of the concept than it had been in the past. See the concept sketch from that briefing below:

Source: MTA briefing to County Council, Oct. 21, 2008

On Sept. 13, 2010 the MTA briefed the CCCT and guests on the CCT with the Purple Line. Maybe I only heard what I wanted to hear, but again I do not recall that the MTA was tentative about keeping the trail in the tunnel at that meeting. The MTA presented details on a switchback ramp concept to elevate the trail over the Purple Line, and I posted my view that this ramp would be very unattractive to trail users at Bethesda tunnel west. But I hardly questioned whether the underlying concept of stacking the trail over the Purple Line in the tunnel was feasible.

New images of the Bethesda Tunnel began to appear that showed an attractive trail over the Purple Line. I posted one of the images at Bethesda tunnel, revisited:

A conceptual drawing of the Bethesda Purple Line platforms.
(the future CCT deck is shown overhead, at the upper right)
Source: Transitway Planning Update of 10/14/10 (pdf)

The MTA began to distribute the brochure Fast Facts about the Purple Line & the Capital Crescent Trail” which makes this unqualified statement:

The trail will continue through the Bethesda tunnel

The trail will continue through the existing Bethesda tunnel as well as having a surface route on Elm Street (which is to be constructed by Montgomery County).

There was a strong aspiration at the start, over 20 years ago, that the CCT would remain in the tunnel with the Purple Line. But it was not an expectation. We all knew there were many uncertainties. But that aspiration has evolved over time to became an expectation. MTA must take much of the responsibility for that – its presentations and materials should have continued to prominently reflect the uncertaintly associated with digging under the APEX building, until their measurements and analysis could more clearly show what was realistic.

We all can share the disappointment and frustration of learning so late that the cost and risk of keeping the trail in the tunnel is so high, regardless of whether we support or oppose the Purple Line. In hindsight, I think we all got caught up in wishful thinking. I do not believe there was any intent at MTA to mislead, but they have handled the expectations badly.

Now we must take a deep breath, calm down, and make some hard decisions.