Yesterday, I wrote about Montgomery County's updated trails plan that should be finished this year. But another emerging story is how the PEPCO-Exelon merger (which a lot of locals are against) could help them to achieve the goals in the plan.
Council members are asking the Maryland Public Service Commission to consider allowing the county to create recreational trails along utility rights-of-way—which often are large clearings where power lines run—as a condition of approving the merger.
The council is putting forth the resolution after Montgomery Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson proposed the idea in a letter to the executive secretary of the Public Service Commission at the end of December.
In that letter, Anderson asked the PSC to allow the county to use utility rights-of-way to achieve objectives proposed in the planning department’s Countywide Park Trails Plan.
Specifically, Anderson highlighted the following three corridors that would connect parks in the county, including a Pepco corridor that could connect South Germantown Recreational Park with Cabin John Regional Park in Bethesda (text is from Anderson’s letter, slightly abridged):
- One PEPCO corridor runs parallel to Patuxent River State Park, approximately between Howard Chapel Road and Annapolis Rock Road (MD 94), part of which is within the coverage area of Potomac Edison, not PEPCO. A trail in this area would help county planners achieve the objective to link the Rachel Carson Trail Corridor (and Rachel Carson Conservation Park [in Brookeville]) with the future extension of the Seneca Greenway Trail north of MD 108 toward Patuxent River State Park [in Woodbine].
- Another PEPCO Corridor runs through communities in the area of Potomac. In terms of trail (and park) connectivity, the segment the county would be most interested in is between South Germantown Recreational Park and Cabin John Regional Park. South Germantown Recreational Park features numerous trails and a host of other recreational facilities, and nearby is Schaffer Farm, a regionally renowned mountain biking area with numerous trails. The PEPCO lands then cross and connect to area parks and ultimately link to Cabin John Regional Park [in Bethesda], which features a natural surface trail network.
- A third corridor starts in Seneca Creek State Park [in Gaithersbug] and travels northeast across the county, ultimately connecting to the PEPCO corridor along the Patuxent River. The PEPCO transmission line and corridor cross nearby to many parks and open space, and pass through Carson Farm Special Park [in Laytonsville], where a bicycle skills area is planned. This PEPCO corridor also could help recreational trail users travel from the Upper Rock Creek stream valley parks and trails to the state park as well as nearby South Germantown Recreational Park and Schaffer Farm.
The maps were all crudely drawn by me and may be wrong in several places, but I think they give the gist. The blue line on map 3 is the southern end of corridor 1, to show how they connect. Of course there are several other corridors that could be of great use.
Before anyone gets too excited, occasional contributor Jim Titus points out that such a deal might be unconstitutional.
While MoCo can ask PEPCO and Exelon to be good neighbors, requiring the power company to allow trails as a condition of a merger would be an unconstitutional exaction under Nollan v. California Coastal Commission.
Power line trails have the potential to be the next big thing in the regional/national bike trail system. Most of the abandoned railroad opportunities have either been seized or squandered at this point, but power line right-of-ways are an untapped resource. Inside the Beltway, there's a line from the Takoma Substation at New Hampshire Ave and Ray Road just across the DC boundary to the Metzerott Road Substation near UMD that always seemed enticing to me.