Montgomery County is moving forward with a plan to build a tunnel extension for the Capital Crescent Trail under Wisconsin Avenue next to the planned route of the Purple Line.
Last week, the County Council’s transportation committee approved a $3.8 million budget item to be funded over three years to plan and design the tunnel that would extend from the planned Purple Line station underneath the Apex Building on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda to Elm Street Park in Chevy Chase. The tunnel is needed because the current trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Avenue isn’t large enough to accommodate the Purple Line and the trail used regularly by pedestrians and cyclists.
Construction of the Purple Line, a 16.2-mile light-rail line that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, was expected to begin in late 2016, but was put on hold after a judge rescinded the project’s federal approval as part of an ongoing lawsuit in federal court.
At the committee meeting March 2, Deputy Council Administrator Glenn Orlin said the county couldn’t move forward with designing the tunnel until officials reached an agreement with Carr Properties, the developer planning to build an expanded Purple Line station and new building on the current site of the Apex Building.
The county Planning Board approved Carr’s preliminary plan for the site in January, including the plan for an expanded Purple Line station.
Orlin said the county plans to complete the design of the trail tunnel by 2020, then construct it from 2020 to 2022 so it can be finished by the time the Purple Line is planned to open. County officials have estimated the tunnel may cost from $15 million to $30 million, but an exact cost won’t be determined until the design process is complete.
“This is about the most important piece about this entire conversation with respect to the Purple Line and Apex Building that we can possibly have,” County Council President Roger Berliner said. “We need to keep our commitment to our community on this.”
In January, Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson expressed frustration with what he described as a lack of progress on plans to build the trail tunnel. At the time, he urged the county to move forward with the planning process.
The county is also moving forward with a $5.23 million project to reroute the trail on a ground-level path across Wisconsin Avenue and through part of the Town of Chevy Chase. Cyclists and walkers would be directed onto the surface trail when Purple Line construction begins.
Because of the lawsuit, it’s not clear when construction will begin on the Purple Line. The judge in that case has not yet ruled on whether he will require a new environmental study for the project—a move that would further delay construction—or reinstate the project’s federal approval to allow construction to begin.
A Planning Board image showing the unfunded segments of the tunnel underneath Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street. Information via Planning Board documents.