Posts Tagged ‘Purple Line’
Those interested in learning about the current status of the Purple Line project in and around Chevy Chase should plan to attend a neighborhood work group meeting hosted by the Maryland Transit Administration this evening. Read the below press release for more information. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Last week, a public meeting was held by MTA on the future of the Purple Line and the accompanying trail improvements to the Capital Crescent Trail that would make the portion of the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring a more viable connection between these two employment and transit hubs.
After more than a decade of debate, you might think that questions about the future Purple Line would be put to rest. But as work has continued, budgets have tightened, and cost estimates have been released, some trail opponents are bringing up the same misleading arguments about lack of public input, expense, and harm to the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT).
Throughout this planning process, trail opponents have cloaked their opposition with positive spin, naming the anti-Purple Line advocacy organization “Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail” and circulating a “Save the Trail” petition. This has created a great deal of confusion, and we want to clarify—now that some time has passed—where WABA—as credible, regional cycling advocates who love the trail and have advocated for it from its inception—stand on this project.
So let’s set the record straight: The Purple Line is not going to destroy the trail. While the trail will change, in most ways it will be for the better. The fact is that the Purple Line is the best way— in fact, the only realistic way—to get improvements to the existing segments of the CCT and to extend the trail into downtown Silver Spring.
WABA outlined our reasoning for the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission in 2008:
WABA has studied the arguments of Purple Line opponents about the impact of a transit line running parallel to—and in the same right-of-way with— the Capital Crescent Trail with great interest. We have considered their claims carefully, and we think they are simply incorrect. The Purple Line build options in the environmental impact statement are fully consistent with preserving the trail . . . . WABA prefers the light rail versions to the bus line options because rail would more effectively integrate the area’s transportation infrastructure, including Metrorail and alternative modes of commuting such as bicycling.
WABA also noted that the infrastructure built for light rail will provide the maximum number of opportunities to include trail crossings to avoid several dangerous intersections:
The existing trail includes at-grade crossings with limited visibility or heavy automobile traffic at Jones Bridge Road and Connecticut Avenue . . . . Once the trail reaches the western part of Silver Spring, cyclists and walkers are dumped onto the streets, and they are forced to cross wide, busy intersections at 16th Street and at Colesville Road. The heavier investment Purple Line options provide for the trail to cross all of these intersections on bridges or under tunnels, improving safety.
Montgomery County and MTA planners have adopted each and every one of the specific recommendations we made in 2008. At a briefing for the board of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, MTA showed how the trail will be extended by an additional 1.4 miles into downtown Silver Spring as part of the Purple Line project. The CCT will connect directly to the future Metropolitan Branch Trail in the new Silver Spring Transit Center, as WABA requested, to complete the missing northern link in the long-planned “bicycle beltway” beginning at Union Station, extending north to Silver Spring, west to Bethesda, and south again through the District of Columbia ending in Georgetown.
The rebuilt trail will be more complete, wider, better paved, and better separated from motor vehicle traffic than the interim gravel trail that exists today. As WABA recommended, the trail will be paved and 12’ wide from the Bethesda tunnel to Silver Spring. The trail will have grade separated crossings of all busy highways, including Connecticut Avenue, Jones Mill Road, 16th Street, Spring Street, and Colesville Road. The trail will be safely separated from the transit tracks by a landscaped buffer and fencing, and it will include direct access to five transit stations, including at the Bethesda and Silver Spring Metro stations.
Now, will these improvements come without investment? Of course not. But the more recent release of a $65M cost estimate for completing the trail has brought trail opponents back into the picture.So let’s put that $65M in context. Certainly, we could demonstrate that much of the cost allocated to the trail is actually for access to the rail stations that would exist, regardless of the trail’s status. And we could argue that certain costs for moving the existing trail were computed in a way that is never applied to similar relocations of roadways. But even if we accept the $65M, we can still show that, as a transportation investment, this trail is good buy.
Yes, $65M is a lot of money. In the context of our own personal or family economies, it is overwhelming—and that is why opponents of the trail are citing it. It is a big number, and that is all they want people to hear, even if that big number represents a good investment in transportation infrastructure.
So let’s take that $65M and place it in the cost context of transportation infrastructure. Looking at current projects in Montgomery County, a standard resurfacing of existing roadway is slated to cost $3.5M for a 1.4 mile stretch of roadway—with little to no change in transportation effectiveness. (Resurfacing University Blvd. from Arcola Ave. to Colesville Rd.) And improving a single roadway intersection is budgeted to cost $62.5M—nearly as much as the entire trail, even accepting the $65M figure. (Georgia Ave. at Randolph Rd.) And that’s not even comparing it to the truly expensive projects, such as the $2.5 BILLION Intercounty Connector, whose affiliated bicycle-related projects to serve east-west traffic already have been undermined.
So here is the bottom line: Yes: $65M is a big number when compared to a weekly grocery budget. But it’s not a big number when compared to the massive costs accepted simply as necessary to move cars around our region. And here, we know that this trail is a better investment in moving people because we already know that the paved portion of the CCT moves over a million people every year from DC to Bethesda, but experiences a significant drop-off in usage when it leaves Bethesda and becomes unpaved.
WABA looked at the Purple Line years ago and concluded that the rail option was the best thing for cyclists, and for the region’s mobility. Looking at it again—in the context of regional growth, the progress in Silver Spring, and the ongoing work on the Metropolitan Branch Trail—we are even more convinced of that conclusion today. We know Silver Spring is growing. We know Bethesda is growing. And we know that regionally, Silver Spring is to become a major multi-modal transportation hub. Completing the Purple Line and accompanying trail continues to be the best and most effective opportunity to contribute significantly to the regional trail network in Montgomery County, and to enable people to travel by bicycle.
As mentioned yesterday, WABA will be at the Bethesda CCT trailhead and along the trail providing safety tips, route guidance, and other information to cyclists. If you have questions about the trail or the impact of the Purple Line, we would be happy to answer them. Look for us from 10am to 2pm.
Note: This posting is adapted from an article in the forthcoming issue of RideOn–WABA’s quarterly newsletter for members. Thanks to Casey Anderson and Wayne Phyillaier for their contributions to the article and for their ongoing advocacy in support of the trail.