The MTA issued an updated technical report on the Capital Crescent Trail in relationship to the Purple Line. They considered two additional options and eliminated them both, leaving only two options still on the table.
the Maryland Transit Administration said building a Purple Line station east of the tunnel would add three minutes of walking time for Purple Line passengers transferring to and from the Metro Red Line’s Bethesda station. That would reduce Purple Line ridership, lengthen travel times and make the project less competitive for federal funding, the report said. Another option — tearing down and redeveloping an office building to expand the cramped tunnel — would be too expensive, according to the report.
The report doesn't go into much detail about the second option, beyond listing the items that drive up the cost and claiming that it would be too expensive. It doesn't even mention how much it would cost. It does note that it would not be "economically feasible under the existing development density limits." Which leads me to ask if it would be feasible under new density limits? Obviously there is a limit to how much density Bethesda can handle, but let's not let zoning stand in the way - or at least let's understand IF zoning is standing in the way. Steve Offutt makes the case for razing both the Air RIghts and Apex Buildings, which are assessed at $60-65M here.
Assuming that this problem is unsolvable, this leaves the only official options as paying $50.9 M to create a “concrete box structure” above the trains’ overhead electrical lines or routing the trail around the tunnel via local streets for $2M. And the tunnel option will actually cost more than $50.9 M if you price the identified risks to the buildings it goes under.
Earlier, I brought up the idea of leaving a narrower, pedestrian only trail in the tunnel and redirecting cyclists through the park and at street level. MTA planners seemed unsure about this and I'm not sure it was addressed by this study. If possible, I still think it should be carried as a compromise proposal.
They do address one other caveat to the $2M rerouting of the trail, which is that a trail through a tunnel could be left in the Master Plan to be addressed whenever the various buildings are redeveloped/rebuilt.
If a surface CCT alternative was selected, the CCT could remain in the Master Plan under the Apex Building, Wisconsin Avenue and the Air Rights Building. Upon redevelopment, additional width can be reserved adjacent to the Purple Line and a tunnel could be created beneath Wisconsin Avenue adjacent to the existing bridge, to connect the trail between the future Apex Building and the future Air Rights Building.
All of which means that people are starting to take sides.
Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, the group opposed to the Purple Line, is unsurprisingly using the tunnel news to cast Purple Line planners and supporters as breaking a promise.
“How do our elected officials sell a project because they promised it one way and turn around a couple years later and say, ‘We can’t deliver that, but we’re going to build [a Purple Line] anyway?’ ” Bhatt said. “The idea of them going back on a promise of keeping the tunnel open is going to create a lot of angry people.”
I don't quite see it as breaking a promise. The facts changed. They would have been better off qualifying their promises, but no one thought building the rail and trail in the tunnel would cost this much. If FoCCT knew it would cost $50M plus, they kept that a secret. I still believe that MoCo wants to include the trail in the tunnel, but it's so expensive I don't think they can. That's not really the same as lying or breaking a promise. It's a failure to predict the range of costs. It's still worth asking how much MoCo would pay for the trail in the tunnel.
SilverSpringTrails thinks that building the Purple Line with the trail on a surface route is the best option.
For me the right choice is to develop the alternative surface route to the fullest extent possible. $50.9M is simply too much money to spend to avoid one at-grade crossing for the trail.
He makes a strong case. The new trail in the tunnel will not be all that appealing and won't be as fast as the current trail. Crossing Wisconsin will not be much more difficult that crossing Woodmont and will be better than crossing Connecticut now.
I doubt you'll see much of a drop off in trail traffic from this. Most transportational cyclists will find the new route to be a small inconvenience, but not a deal-breaker. Many recreational users can just turn around before the tunnel (as they do now frankly). The hardest hit group will be pedestrians who use the tunnel for transportation, but in return, they will gain access to the Purple Line. The benefits of the new trail with it's grade crossings at Conn Ave and Jones Mill Road and its connection to Silver Spring will still be better than the status quo. I suspect that building the Purple Line, with the new trail, even if that trail is pushed out of the tunnel will still see much more traffic, not less. Richard Layman shows how good at street trail crossings can be.
It remains to be seen what position the CCCT and WABA will take. There's an advantage of asking that the trail be built despite the cost. If the trail in tunnel is built that would be a nice amenity. It's not like the choice will be between the trail in the tunnel and a massive Capital Bikeshare expansion. If the money were spent on the trail, it would likely come from other funds (mostly because there aren't enough bike funds to pay for this anyway). And if the trail in the tunnel isn't built, simply asking would give advocates leverage to ask for something else. The risk is that advocates might appear irrational and uncompromising.
I think advocates will probably have to give in on this one, but they shouldn't just roll over. Supporters should ask about a smaller ped-only path in the tunnel. They should insist that the bike route in a tunnel remain in the Master Plan. They should push for the best possible above ground crossing. And, they should probably ask for more bike and trail funding in general, to compensate for the loss. Perhaps a guaranteed share of property tax assessed on land developed along the Purple Line after the Purple Line breaks ground.