No Tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail at Wisconsin Ave

The Bethesda tunnel. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most travelled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail.

The construction of the Purple Line will connect the Capital Crescent Trail to Silver Spring and will upgrade all trail crossings along the corrdidor, which is why WABA supported the project. The loss of a grade-separated crossing where one already exists is a significant compromise and loss. Wisconsin Avenue is the busiest road in downtown Bethesda. More than 1.3 million people use the trail annually. An at-grade crossing of this road is not an acceptable long term solution.

Repeat, there will be no trail tunnel.

A redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to design a larger, more efficient Bethesda Purple Line station with better multimodal facilities. A new building above the station would be considerably taller and denser. The plans also included a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave for the Capital Crescent Trail.

With this latest news, the MTA will go forward with the original plan for the project: when construction begins in late 2015, the existing trail tunnel will be closed and the light rail station will be built in that space. The completed station will include a very narrow pedestrian (and walking bicycle) entrance from Woodmont Ave. The Capital Crescent Trail will follow a surface route described below.

Now what happens to the Trail?

Plans for the Purple Line have always included the construction of an additional “surface route” for the Capital Crescent Trail through downtown Bethesda. You can think of the surface as the “business route” and the tunnel as the “express route”. The Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation is developing the plans for the surface route right now. The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) and WABA have been involved for over a year with a stakeholders group advising MCDOT on their plans. With the tunnel now off the table, the surface route will carry all of the traffic on the Capital Crescent Trail.

The stakes are now much higher for the design and execution of this surface route. Councilmember Roger Berliner has tasked MCDOT to build a “gold standard” trail experience for the at-grade crossing of Wisconsin Avenue. MCDOT is hoping to have draft plans to present to the public later this fall, finish designs and begin construction by next summer. This sounds like an aggressive timeline because it is one—the surface route must be completed before construction starts on the Purple Line, as the tunnel will be closed. We will post notice about a public meeting here when the information becomes available.

What next for the trail?

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

Tell Montgomery County you want a safe trail crossing

Don’t Let MCDoT Eliminate Part of the Capital Crescent Trail

Updated 4:15pm.
We received the following email from Bruce Johnston at MCDOT informing us that the agency has suspended its request to MTA:

Good afternoon Shane,

As directed by Director Holmes, MCDOT staff has contacted MTA to suspend the previous orders to MTA to make changes to the Capital Crescent Trail configuration at Jones Mill Road.

Subsequent to the aforementioned order, additional engineering information has been provided to our staff, which is currently being reviewed by MCDOT engineers.

After our evaluation is complete, and before any further decision is made, the results of our evaluation will be vetted with the Capital Crescent Trail stakeholders, including the bicycling community.

Be assured that Washington Area Bicyclist Association will be involved.

I hope this information is helpful.

Bruce Johnston


Thank you to everyone who contacted the County Executive, T&E Committee, and MCDOT about this matter. And thank you to Bruce, Director Holmes, and MCDOT for reconsidering this decision.  We look forward to continuing to push for a safe, well-designed Capital Crescent Trail with grade separated crossings, as promised.


Original action alert below

After years of public input and agreement on the design for the future Capital Crescent trail, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) just moved unilaterally to eliminate the long-promised grade-separated crossing of busy Jones Mill Rd.


The grade separation makes the trail safer, and safety is vital to ensuring this heavily travelled trail remains a viable transportation option. Through thousands of hours of meetings on the future of the Capital Crescent Trail, County officials have promised safe crossings of major roadways that don’t leave bicyclists competing with cars or pressing “Walk” buttons and waiting for minutes.

But the County’s own transportation officials just sent a letter to the Maryland Transit Agency (MTA), requesting that the separation be removed from the request for proposals (RFP). Despite years of working together on this project, MCDOT did not notify the public. They did not hold a meeting. They did not mention this at a Council hearing. They did not send a note to representatives of the bicycling community. It is unclear whether they even communicated their intentions to the County Executive.

Frankly, they tried to sneak this past without any of us noticing.

We noticed. We noticed that at the first opportunity to save money by sacrificing trail safety, they attempted to do so in a manner that evades public scrutiny and reneges on years of promises.

We need you to take action today to tell the County Executive that we will not stand for such a downgrade to our prized trail, or for such misleading actions from our local transportation officials.

Our hope is that the County Executive’s office was as misled as we were, and that they will immediately, clearly, and unambiguously tell MTA that the County is NOT seeking an amendment to the Purple Line RFP to eliminate the grade-separated crossing at Jones Mill Road.

With years of work still ahead to complete the trail as promised, we cannot stand for a precedent of closed-door decisions that remove, or compromise, long-promised trail improvements.

For an in-depth engineering perspective on why a grade separated crossing is both doable and the best option. check out this post at Silver Spring Trails

For WABA’s position on the Purple Line project, have a look at this post.

Montgomery Co. Transportation Forum on May 29th

As Montgomery County continues to grow, what are the county’s best approaches to transportation and development for a more sustainable and equitable future? Join Coalition for Smarter Growth, WABA and WAMU reporter Martin DiCaro to learn what the candidates for County Council think about these critical and interconnected issues. Candidates will be prepared to discuss a range of transportation issues and answer questions about funding prioritizes, building better transit, increasing bicycling through protected bike lanes, and making the streets safer for pedestrians.

Montgomery County Council Candidates Share Their Views
Thursday, May 29th, 7:00-9:00pm | Silver Spring Civic Building (Metro: Silver Spring)
RSVP here on Facebook

All candidates for County Council seats are invited to participate, creating a terrific opportunity for the public to hear directly from a number of the candidates.  This is strictly an educational event since some of the co-sponsors are 501(c)(3) non-profits and cannot and do not endorse candidates.

The forum is co-sponsored by Coalition for Smarter Growth, Purple Line Now, Action Committee for Transit, Montgomery County Sierra Club, Montgomery Countryside Alliance, Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and the TAME Coalition.

Speak Up By Oct. 21 to Support an Improved Capital Crescent Trail

Capital Crescent Trail

We sent an action-alert email to our supporters in Maryland this morning encouraging them to submit for comment to the Maryland Transit Association their support for improvements to the Capital Crescent Trail as part of the Purple Line project. We’re reposting it here for our blog’s readers who may also support a better, paved, grade-separated crossing between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Next Monday, Oct. 21, is the deadline for the public to comment on the Maryland Transit Administration’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Purple Line.

As you likely already know, the future of the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring is directly tied to the Purple Line, with Montgomery County committed to completing, paving, and providing grade-separated crossings of major roadways as part of the overall project.

Send your comment in support of the Capital Crescent Trail.

Public input matters on this project, and opponents of the trail completion have mobilized their supporters to flood the record with comments against the Purple Line—as well as against improvements to the trail that will make is a safe, viable transportation and recreation connection between two of the county’s hubs of activity for people of all ages and abilities.

WABA strongly supports the long-awaited completion of the Capital Crescent Trail. As long as the interim trail remains unpaved, with at grade-crossings and no connection into downtown Silver Spring, this section of the trail will continue to be underused and undervalued. We see how critical the portion of the CCT from Bethesda to Georgetown is because it is well-paved with grade separated crossings and connects two population hubs.

We have the opportunity for another such gem that will connect Bethesda to Silver Spring, but you need to speak up in support. Those who oppose improvements to the trail on the basis of preventing broader development downcounty through the Purple Line could very well prevent the creation of a great amenity for the region.

Please CLICK HERE to provide your comment in support of a completed, paved, grade-separated trail to the Maryland Transit Administration.

Image via Flickr user eddie.welker

A New Option for Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel in Bethesda

As the Washington Post reported recently, Montgomery County planners are working on a plan to redevelop the Apex Building in downtown Bethesda to better accommodate the Purple line’s western terminus. As currently planned, the Bethesda station for the Purple line will be tightly squeezed into the space under the Apex Building. This will force the Capital Crescent Trail out of the tunnel. In early 2012, the Montgomery County Council voted against spending over $50 million to keep the trail in the tunnel due to the high costs of the project and potential of damage to the buildings above during construction.

However, if the county is successful in encouraging the building’s owners to demolish and rebuild the Apex Building, another option would exist. A newly designed Apex Building would allow Purple line planners to build a larger and more efficient station platform, tracks, and connection to Metro’s Red line station. There would also be space for a new Capital Crescent tunnel.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has been working over the past year to plan and design a surface route for the Capital Crescent Trail that includes an at-grade crossing at Wisconsin Avenue. Additionally, Council President Roger Berlinger has tasked MCDOT with building a “gold standard” trail experience for the crossing of Wisconsin Avenue. This new opportunity is an exciting development to provide a grade separated crossing for the trail across the busy state highway.

To prepare for the final design and construction of the Purple line, county planners are working fast to prepare a plan for the redevelopment of the Apex Building. Purple Line planners are hoping to finish the final design in 2014, begin construction in 2015, and open for revenue service in 2020. The county planning department will host three public open houses in September to explain its plans and answer questions.

Please consider attending one of the public open houses and expressing your support for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel through Bethesda. The official meeting announcement from the planning department is below:

The Planning Department will hold Open House Previews of Staff Recommendations for the Bethesda Purple Line Station Plan, at the Bethesda Regional Services Center, located at 4805 Edgemoor Lane near the intersection of Woodmont Avenue and Old Georgetown Road. Enter on the plaza level above Chipotle. Each session will include the same information.

The sessions will be held:

* Tuesday, September 3, 2013, 6-9pm
* Saturday, September 7, 2013, 10am-2pm
* Monday, September 9, 2013, 6-9pm.

Please drop in any time during the Open House to learn more about this limited plan and share your thoughts, questions, and comments with the Planning Department team. Staff will prepare a handout summarizing the recommendations for the Open House sessions and will post it online when it is available.

For more information, questions, or to join the mailing list:
Project email:
Twitter:                @bethesdaPL, #bethesdapurpleline
Facebook:           Bethesda Purple Line Station Plan
Phone:                 301.495.2115, Elza Hisel-McCoy, Lead Planner

Image via Washington Post

CCT Update

Last week, WABA and other community leaders and trail advocates met with Montgomery County T&E Chairman (and now Council President) Roger Berliner to discuss the future of the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT).

The purpose of this posting is to share: (1) the pending decisions on the CCT’s future; (2) the alternatives under consideration, (3) the deficiencies in those alternatives, or information regarding those alternatives, and (4) WABA’s request to resolve those deficiencies.

1. The Pending Decision

Montgomery County must decide how to proceed with the CCT’s crossing of Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda. The initial plans called for continuing the trail–along with the Purple Line–through the existing tunnel right-of-way with the trail component stacked atop the rail component. However, revised cost estimates from MTA for this portion of the trail have reached $40M due to the difficult construction techniques needed to safely create the necessary height to accommodate such stacking within the tunnel, prompting the County–which is largely footing the bill for trail improvements–to study alternatives.

2. The Alternatives

The County is seeking additional information from MTA on a number of alternatives. The preferred option already presented by MTA, which was the basis of the $40M figure for the trail crossing, included increasing the available height of the existing tunnel to allow for the stacking of the trail above double-tracked rail operation. The County has requested information on a number of potential changes–each of which merits full consideration and entails numerous complexities. For the sake of simplicity, and because WABA’s interest is in the impact of changes on the trail rather than rail operations per se, I have combined several alternatives under “Physical Changes to the Purple Line.”

  • A. Physical Changes to the Purple Line

The County has requested further information from MTA regarding potential changes to the physical configuration of the rail platforms that might allow movement of the rail line such that the CCT could use the existing tunnel without the costly stacking.

  • B. Operational Changes to the Purple Line

The County has requested further information from MTA regarding potential changes to the operation of the Purple Line that might allow the rail and trail components to safely operate side-by-side within the existing tunnel.

  • C. Stacking Trail over Rail within the Tunnel

The County maintains the option to stick with the longstanding design, with the trail stacked above the rail within the tunnel, heightened to allow for both. However, selecting this option at current cost estimates would require rejection of the recommendation of the County Planning Board.

  • D. Enhanced On-Street Trail Crossing

The plans for the trail crossing have long included an on-street crossing of Wisconsin Ave. as part of the project to provide connectivity to shops and businesses and an at-grade alternative to the tunnel. This alternative would enhance in some manner that on-street crossing while foregoing any grade-separated crossing.

3. The Deficiencies in the Alternatives Under Consideration, or Information About those Alternatives

As a preliminary to the discussion of the alternatives, it is important to note that separate entities are largely responsible for the highly interrelated rail and trail component of these projects. MTA is largely responsible for the design and funding of the Purple Line, while Montgomery County is largely responsible for the design and funding of the Capital Crescent Trail improvements. Thus, information on changes to the rail come from MTA, while independent assessments of trail options that depend less on changes to the Purple Line could be generated by the County.

Information on options A and B, which require changes to rail design or operations, has been requested from MTA, and extensive study is expected on the potential impact of any change on future rail usage. WABA hopes that MTA’s further study will reveal viable alternatives for the Purple Line that will allow changes to lower the cost of improving the CCT through the existing tunnel.

But we are concerned that if MTA concludes that no such changes are viable, the County is considering no option to retain grade-separation, and seemingly conducting no study–similar to that requested of MTA on the rail component–addressing the impacts of this major physical change in the trail design on future trail usage or safety. County leaders and trail users deserve to know the feasibility and cost of the next-best grade-separated CCT crossing of Wisconsin Ave., as well as the impact of grade separation on the trail’s future usage and success. To treat the existing tunnel as the only possibility for a grade-separated crossing is to unnecessarily constrain the project’s possibility, and to fail even to study the impact of grade-separation at a high-traffic trail crossing is to ignore the importance of this feature on safety and trail usage, as shown in nationwide best-practices and research. Decision-makers, trail users, and residents deserve to know what they will lose if they choose to forego grade separation, and should attempt to include an alternative grade-separated crossing that does not require the use of the existing tunnel among the options for consideration.

In addition to our concerns that an important option is missing from consideration, we are concerned that the on-street option (D) is insufficiently defined to provide a proper basis for decision-making. While decision-makers and trail users are told that this option includes an “enhanced” on-street option and not simply a removal of the grade-separation portion of the existing plans, no further clarity or commitment is provided on the nature or extent of the enhancements. As a result, various decision-makers and groups may have differing visions of this alternative and its strength in providing a safe and efficient crossing suitable crossing for a trail of this stature and usage. All parties deserve a clear definition of the alternatives at-hand. And with a potential cost savings in the range of $40M contained in this alternative, we hope and expect that the enhancements will be substantial and sufficiently important in their contribution to the usability of the trail that they merit full consideration by County officials.

4. WABA’s Proposed Approach

WABA has sent the following letter to Chairman Berliner asking that the County seek the additional information necessary to make a fully informed decision on the future of the trail. While we hope that MTA will find a method of accommodating the trail within the existing tunnel, this would require a change to their preferred method of proceeding. And as advocates for the best possible trail and crossing, WABA asks that the county take steps to evaluate the importance of a grade-separated crossing, account for the importance of grade-separation to trail usage and safety by including an alternative grade-separated option, and clearly define the proposed enhancements that would be included in the on-street option that would make it more than a fallback cost-savings at the expense of trail users and to the detriment of the project.

Berliner Cct Letter