The Georgetown Branch Trail is set to close next week as Purple Line construction moves forward, but two Montgomery County Council members have questioned whether the trail needs to be closed so soon.
In a letter sent Thursday to the Maryland Department of Transportation, County Council President Roger Berliner and Council member Tom Hucker wrote that the announcement that the trail would close on Tuesday “caught many of us by surprise.” They question the immediacy and length of the closure.
“Is it absolutely essential to close all parts of the trail immediately, particularly on the day kids are returning to school?” they wrote. “We have heard many concerns from parents whose children have routinely used parts of the trail to get to school and believe both the state and county must do more to ensure alternative routes are safe.”
The approximately 3.5-mile unpaved trail will remain closed for four to five years between Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda and Talbot Avenue in Silver Spring, according to the Purple Line website. The closure will allow crews to begin clearing trees and begin constructing the light-rail line.
Berliner and Hucker represent districts 1 and 5, respectively, on the council, areas that they said would be most affected by the Purple Line construction between Bethesda and Silver Spring.
Pointing to a commitment by the Maryland Transit Administration to minimize the time of the trail closure, the council members question whether closing the trail for nearly the duration of the project meets that pledge.
David Buck, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Transportation, said the staff received the letter, but had not yet reviewed it, so he had no comment. A spokesman for Purple Line Transit Partners did not immediately reply Friday morning to a request for comment.
Berliner and Hucker also raised several other questions relating to how the department would alert the community about ongoing construction around the trail and how residents can be involved, provide feedback or report violations of the construction contract.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has put forward an alternate route for walkers and bikers to use while the trail is closed.
Though plans to run the route through the Town of Chevy Chase have been suggested, county officials said they were never able to make an agreement with the town. But Mayor Mary Flynn said the county hadn’t made a good-faith effort in negotiating.
The alternate trail route and trail work zone. Via Purplelinemd.com
The alternate route will instead go through east Bethesda, along Jones Bridge Road and through Lyttonsville—although that route is also not without controversy, with some residents calling it unsafe.
Matt Rand, a Kensington resident who said he bikes on the trail about eight times a week, said he is “disappointed and scared” at the prospect of losing the trail and commuting along Jones Bridge Road.
“I’m a very cautious rider and I’m not excited about the idea of any additional miles I have to take along a roadway,” he said Friday. “A collision with a car is often fatal. I’m not excited at all.”
He sent an email to Purple Line project officials expressing his thoughts and saying it was unacceptable that the trail closure would put him at “serious risk of harm.”
Readers on social media and the comments section of Bethesda Beat shared similar concerns about “unsafe streets” and regretted that they wouldn’t be able to use the trail for several years.
Construction on Purple Line began when Gov. Larry Hogan and other officials broke ground on the project Monday. The 16.2-mile light rail is estimated to cost $2 billion and has been set to be completed around 2022.