When we were brainstorming ideas earlier this month, I typed up one and deleted it because it was just too crazy. The idea was to buy and tear down the Air Rights and Apex building, then build the light rail and trail, and then resell the air rights, perhaps with higher height restrictions. It might even pay for itself.
Well, it looks like it wasn't that crazy after all. At the meeting yesterday, that I did not attend and haven't yet watched, the Board had two proposed alternatives.
One proposal would build the Bethesda light-rail station for the 16-mile Purple Line just east of the tunnel, perhaps using county land at Elm Street Park. Another would build it in the tunnel but east of Wisconsin, sparing the most problematic of the two office buildings on the western side. The state would have to buy and tear down the Air Rights building on the east side of Wisconsin but could recoup some of the cost by redeveloping the land, board members said.
Someone mentioned the first proposal in the comments, but many criticized it because it moved the station too far away, which MTA seems to have reiterated. Still, residents and trail advocates unanimously supported the trail in the tunnel.
One option seems to have been removed from consideration.
The board rejected the idea of keeping the trail inside the tunnel by single-tracking trains there after state transit planners said that would make the light-rail line too slow and unreliable.
Here are the options as I see them:
- Stop the Purple line short of the tunnel, and leave the trail in the tunnel
- Move the last Purple line stop east, but still in the tunnel. Tear down the Air Rights Building and redevelop it. Keep the trail in the tunnel
- Spend up to $40M to build the trail in the tunnel with the Purple line.
- Don't excavate. Build the Purple line in the existing tunnel. Split the CCT into a ped trail that would continue through the tunnel, but be somewhat narrow (6 feet?) and divert cyclist on to street level.
- Don't excavate. Build the Purple line in the existing tunnel. Divert the trail to street level.
- No build
If the price of 3 gets down to the $5-10 million range, it gets more appealing. If the money isn't there then 2 or 4 become the best options IMO, depending on the cost of 2.
Of course, even if 3 is $40M it might still be the best option. It depends on where that $40M comes from. Will it use bike project funding, or will it come from road funding? Are we giving up a county-wide bikeshare system or one highway interchange? Because knowing the opportunity cost changes my answer. Also, will the state pick up more of that $40M as a purple line expense? Jack Cochrane thinks it should stay in the tunnel no matter what. The "Friends of the Trail" are staking the same position. Perhaps real trail advocates can use that to our advantage.
A decision might be less than two months away
The council’s transportation committee is to discuss the trail Dec. 5, and full council consideration is planned for January.
In addition, the board made another recommendation in favor of the best possible trail.
Board members also recommended that the county spend $1.9 million to build switchback ramps to carry runners and cyclists from the trail alongside a Purple Line down to the Rock Creek Trail. Maryland transit officials said they would study ways to spare more trees in building the trail connection.