An influential group of bicycle advocates has started a petition seeking another off-road crossing of Wisconsin Avenue along the Capital Crescent Trail.
The petition, from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, comes a few weeks after the County Council agreed not to pursue a proposal for the Bethesda Purple Line station that would have meant a separate trail tunnel for bicyclists under the busy road. The deal with the owner of the Apex Building and a third-party developer would’ve cost the county a reported $68-$70 million, though the exact figure is unknown since the discussion was held in closed session.
WABA advocacy coordinator Greg Billing wrote on Monday that the group is working closely with Montgomery County on a previously planned road-level detour that would take Capital Crescent Trail users up Bethesda Avenue and through Elm Street Park.
But WABA is unhappy that no Apex Building redevelopment deal will likely mean the loss of the trail through the existing Wisconsin Avenue tunnel. If no deal is reached, that tunnel will be used for the Bethesda Purple Line station that could include a five- to seven-foot walkway for pedestrians.
The county will pay for a new, paved Capital Crescent Trail along the 16-mile light rail’s route from Bethesda to Silver Spring.
“While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one,” Billing wrote. “We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.”
WABA has been keeping close tabs on the Capital Crescent Trail planning process part of the overall Purple Line project.
In August, the organization’s executive director put out an advocacy alert about a county change in the trail design at Jones Mill Road in Chevy Chase. County Department of Transportation officials said they were going to make the trail crossing at Jones Mill Road at-grade instead of a previously discussed underpass design.
To WABA and some bicyclists, who see the trail as an important bicycle commuter route, changing the roughly 25-foot deep grade-separated underpass to a street-level crossing dependent on vehicle traffic was unsafe and would slow down trail users.
Just hours after WABA put out the Jones Mill Road alert, MCDOT said it had pulled back its request for the street-level crossing and was evaluating another underpass option.
Getting the county to reconsider a new trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue will be a lot more difficult to pull off.
Montgomery County would be responsible for the cost of the tunnel itself. That could’ve meant anywhere from $15-$30 million, according officials who earlier this year discussed the costs associated with the tunnel.
Building the tunnel would require the razing of the Apex Building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.). But getting the building owner to agree to redevelopment could’ve meant a county incentive package of $5 to $10 million, according to a consultant report done for the Planning Department. The amount of the incentive package proposed in closed session is unknown.
In a discussion of the issue last week, various councilmembers aid they were hopeful the county could still reach a deal to allow a more spacious Bethesda Purple Line station with a trail tunnel. But with Purple Line construction slated to start in late 2015, the clock is ticking.
“WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most travelled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail,” Billing wrote.
“The construction of the Purple Line will connect the Capital Crescent Trail to Silver Spring and will upgrade all trail crossings along the corrdidor, which is why WABA supported the project,” Billing continued. “The loss of a grade-separated crossing where one already exists is a significant compromise and loss. Wisconsin Avenue is the busiest road in downtown Bethesda. More than 1.3 million people use the trail annually. An at-grade crossing of this road is not an acceptable long term solution.”
WABA is looking for 1,000 people to sign its petition.
Image via Montgomery County Planning Department