Oct. 18 update: Proposed trail design at Talbot Avenue needs to be reworked.
M-NCPPC has recently released a “Peer Review” of the CCT design that Toole Design Group performed, available online at Peer Review of Trail Projects. Toole Design Group examined the drawing of the proposed trail alignment along Talbot Avenue more closely than I had, and found the effective trail width is only 6′ there. While the trail is a nominal 10′ wide, there is no buffer, fence or shy space between the trail and the Talbot Ave. curb, and there is no buffer or shy space between the trail and fence on the CSXT side. This fails to meet current design guidelines and best practices. Toole recommends the design be completely redone in this area.
I had found the design to be acceptible in my post below. My bad – I had not examined the drawings closely enough. The devil is in the details, and the details stink in the MCDOT design.
The release of the Purple Line FEIS for public comment last month brought attention to a serious problem that threatened the Capital Crescent Trail – the difficulty of reaching agreement with CSXT for right-of-way to complete the trail into downtown Silver Spring. As reported here at Giving up on the CCT too easily, language in the FEIS dealt with the issue badly by stating that if agreement is not reached the trail would be dumped onto local streets and would not be completed as an off-road trail. Early this month we received word from Purple Line project manager Mike Madden that a recent CSXT policy change on trails?! would allow the Purple Line to go forward with its plans to complete the CCT.
We are learning more about how the plans are moving forward. On Friday, Oct. 4 the MTA Purple Line design team and MCDOT engineers had a monthly design working group meeting, and MTA shared its most recent letter from CSXT. The CSXT letter was dated Sept. 3, 2013 and answered an MTA letter of Oct. 23, 2012 about CSXT’s concerns. The CSXT letter states:
“The main concern we have is the proposed construction of the Trail on CSX property and the distance shown to the CSX live track. The minimum distance accepted for any trail on CSX property is 50 feet from the centerline of the near track.”
MTA shared more recent design drawings and described how the Purple Line project hopes to meet this CSXT requirement at the design working group meeting. A summary follows.
At Talbot Avenue: change the bridge
MTA is realigning the Trail in the vicinity of Talbot Avenue and 4th Avenue to avoid using any CSXT r.o.w., since CSXT r.o.w. is not wide enough to maintain a 50 foot offset in that area. The trail will be routed onto a new bridge over the railroad tracks to do this. Drawings dated August 1, 2013 show the new bridge location to be about where the existing historic one-lane bridge is today.
The bridge proposed to replace the existing Talbot Ave. bridge.
(click on the image for a wider view)
The proposed new trail alignment on this new bridge would be about equal in quality to a trail alignment over a trail bridge near Lanier Drive as previously proposed. The trail will cross the CSX tracks on the new vehicle bridge alongside two lanes of traffic, instead of on a separate trail bridge. Because the trail is shifted from CSX property onto the 4th Ave. r.o.w. on the north/east side, the trail will have to cross the bridge traffic lanes at the end of the new bridge. But motor vehicle traffic will be light and can be calmed by a “all way” stop much as bridge traffic is today, so there need not be a heavy impact on trail safety or convenience. The long trail ramp that had been planned along Talbot Avenue to the trail bridge is gone, since the new alignment will allow the trail to follow the more gentle grade of Talbot Avenue to get the elevation needed for the cross-over on the new motor vehicle bridge. The new alignment will allow direct access from the trail to Lanier Drive. Overall the new proposed trail alignment compares well with the old in this area.
The historic Talbot Avenue Bridge
I gave a brief summary of the history and local importance of the Talbot Ave. Bridge at 90 years and counting. Local passions will likely be aroused by any proposal to remove this bridge. But MCDOT engineers have previously expressed concerns about the feasibility of modifying this bridge to accommodate the Purple Line. In particular, it is doubtful that state and federal funds can be used to rebuild the historic bridge since it so badly fails to meet current bridge design and safety standards. I doubt that the Trail is the primary driver forcing the replacement of this bridge – the trail could likely be accommodated by a new trail bridge that would avoid CXST r.o.w. if built adjacent to the historic bridge. Trail supporters should try to avoid taking sides if another bridge fight breaks out between neighborhoods.
At Park Sutton: increase the trail offset
The Trail can use 4th Ave. r.o.w. south from the Talbot Ave. Bridge to the Woodside Mews townhomes. MTA is proposing to move the trail a few feet at Woodside Mews to be entirely outside of CSXT r.o.w. until it reaches Lyttonsville Road. That will put the trail a little closer to the curb of the Woodside Mews parking lot and there may be calls for stronger measures to provide privacy and noise screening between the trail and the townhomes. But the impact of this move appears to be reasonable.
The Trail is planned to be inside CSXT r.o.w. for the 1300′ section between Lyttonsville Road and the 16th Street Bridge, behind the Park Sutton Condominiums. The CSXT r.o.w. is very wide there, and MTA has indicated it is revising plans to increase the planned trail offset in this section to meet the CSXT 50 foot offset requirement.
The planned trail alignment at Park Sutton (in green)
and an alternate “Plan B” alignment (in red).
Trail supporters need to watch how this alignment shift might impact the trail elevation in this area. The most recent elevation drawings for the trail show that the trail drops 36 feet from the high point at the Talbot Ave. Bridge to a low point adjacent to the Park Sutton parking lot, then rises 20 feet from the parking lot to the 16th Street highway bridge. The maximum grade is 4.5%, within recommended design allowable for a trail. That is a substantial elevation change. Shifting the alignment further from the CSXT active track should not be allowed to cause even more elevation change. MTA may need to use elevated trail structure in the vicinity of the Park Sutton parking to improve the trail elevation.
The alternate “Plan B” trail alignment shown above should be kept in mind by MTA and MCDOT Purple Line planners. While it now appears that an alternate alignment will not be needed, it is good to have an alternate in the event an unforseen issue blocks completing a trail r.o.w. agreement with CSXT.
The proposed trail alignment enters county owned 3rd Avenue r.o.w. after passing under the 16th Street Bridge, and remains within county owned r.o.w. until it reaches the Metro Plaza at Colesville Road. No changes in the proposed trail alignment are needed in this section to meet CSXT requirements.
At Metro Plaza: the Trail is supported by Purple Line structure
The Sept. 3, 2013 CSXT letter and attached responses to MTA plans did not raise any objections to the proposed trail alignment on elevated structure in the Metro Plaza and Silver Spring Transit Center area. CSXT did request more information on the placement of the Purple Line elevated structure support piers and the design of the train crash barriers that would protect the piers.
Proposed Trail alignment at Metro Plaza
(source: MTA Purple Line website)
I think that CSXT is not applying its 50′ offset requirement for trails at Metro Plaza and Colesville Road because the CCT is integrated into the Purple Line support structures and is not a “trail alone” in this area.
Seventeen years, and still waiting!
The off-road interim CCT was built on the Georgetown Branch r.o.w. in Bethesda/Chevy Chase neighborhoods in 1996. Downtown Silver Spring and Silver Spring neighborhoods are still waiting for any off-road CCT seventeen years later. The Purple Line design team has a clear path now to complete its plans to build the CCT into Silver Spring along the CSXT corridor as long promised. It is time to complete the plans, and to start building!