November 18, 2011
Trail users criticize tunnel plans
Washington Examiner

By Leigh Giangreco

The Montgomery County Planning Board asked the state to study moving the Purple Line’s proposed Bethesda station to accommodate a popular trail that goes through a tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue.

About two dozen Montgomery County residents on Thursday criticized suggestions to make users of a popular trail cross busy Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, after planners discovered that both the proposed Bethesda station and the trail would not fit in the tunnel.

Maryland officials had promised that the Capital Crescent Trail would be rebuilt alongside the track when the light rail is built along the current trail path from Silver Spring to Bethesda. However, planners realized that the train platform and trail cannot both fit in the tunnel and estimated it would cost $40.5 million to rebuild the tunnel to accommodate both, almost half of the $93.9 million expected to rebuild the entire trail.

Instead, planners had offered an elevated path or tube for pedestrians as an alternative.

“I’m disappointed that we have to take time out of our lives, away from our families and work, to meet, to argue about something that was promised to us as a fact,” Jim Roy, a member of the Friends of Capital Crescent Trail, said during a Thursday hearing with the county Planning Board. As an example of the danger of taking the trail out of the tunnel, he noted that members of a Maryland Transit Administration tour of the Purple Line path were almost hit as they were crossing Willow Lane.

In addition to the thousands of residents who use the trail for walking, running, biking and commuting, students walk through the tunnel to reach Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Without a tunnel, students would have to cross the busy street or take a circuitous bus route.

“Putting children back on the streets is the least progressive thing that Montgomery County can do,” said Ajay Bhatt, president of Friends of Capital Crescent Trail. “Without the tunnel, children will be killed.”

The board rejected a proposal to single track the trains inside the tunnel, an option that County Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at-large, had suggested, because that would make the rail less efficient.