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Montgomery faces a hard decision with Bethesda tunnel

It'd be very expensive to keep the Capital Crescent Trail and the Purple Line in the same tunnel in Bethesda. The Maryland Transit Administration analyzed some options, but there is no silver bullet. The Montgomery County Council will have to make a tough choice between spending a lot of money or taking the trail out of the tunnel.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) runs in a former railroad tunnel under 2 buildings and Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda. Plans call for building the Purple Line in this tunnel, with a station under the Apex Building and elevators connecting to the Metro.

Officials have long promised to keep the CCT in the tunnel with the Purple Line, but the cost turned out to be much higher than expected.

The MTA looked at a number of alternative approaches:

The original plan: This design, the "locally preferred alternative," calls for lowering the floor of the tunnel to make room for an elevated CCT above the Purple Line. The Purple Line station would sit under the Apex Building, adjacent to the planned elevator connection to the Red Line.

Don't keep the trail in the tunnel: Another option would be to create a new trail alignment through Elm Street Park and along Bethesda Avenue. The tunnel would not have to be lowered, and the Purple Line would run alone in the tunnel. The station would be located in the same spot as in the original plan.

Don't put the Purple Line in the tunnel: The Purple Line could terminate east of the eastern end of the tunnel, letting the trail to remain in the tunnel. Passengers transferring to the Red Line would have to walk approximately ¼ mile to get to the new southern entrance to the Bethesda Metro.

Tear down and rebuild the Air Rights Building: Tearing down the Air Rights Building, above the tunnel, would make it possible to create a wider tunnel and fit the trail and train station side-by-side. It would require a slightly longer walk for transferring passengers than the original plan. It would also cost a lot of money to purchase and demolish the Air Rights Building on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue.

Have a narrower Purple Line through the tunnel: Several alternatives looked at using single track or gauntlet track in the tunnel. Station locations included placement in the original location or farther west in the Woodmont Plaza.

The County Council's Transportation and Environment Committee will discuss this issue on March 1.

The findings are disappointing to those of us hoped to escape making a very hard decision. All of the new alternatives for keeping the trail in the tunnel would either seriously degrade the level of service and operational capabilities of the Purple Line, or have an unreasonable cost.

The MTA draft report could do a bit more to persuade everyone by giving more details about why they rejected some alternatives. For example, the report says that operational models showed that the reduced transitway width alternatives didn't work, especially since the Bethesda station will be the end of the line.

But the report gives no information on the method and assumptions behind the simulations. It would be easier to accept the conclusions if they made those available for review. In any case, the MTA is likely right about this. I can find no examples of successful single-track operations for a terminal station with a short headway.

As much as I wish it were otherwise, we are back to the hard choice: either spend a now-estimated $50.9 million and take considerable construction risk to keep the trail in the tunnel in an overhead structure, or develop the alternative surface route across Wisconsin Avenue.

The right choice is to develop the surface route to the fullest extent possible. $50.9 million is simply too much money to spend to avoid one at-grade crossing for the trail. That cost will double the total cost of rebuilding the CCT, putting the whole trail project at much higher risk of being abandoned in these very difficult budget times.

Also, the elevated trail will involve a narrow switchback to climb above the tracks, and then run in a cage above the tracks. This will not be attractive to most trail riders, and certainly not inviting enough to justify spending $50.9 million.

There is also too much risk that digging under the APEX building will destabilize the entire building. The Silver Spring transit center turned into a fiasco because engineers underestimated the risk of a construction method. Nobody wants another mess like that along the future CCT in Bethesda.

Most likely, the council will decide against taking on the cost and risk that comes with keeping the CCT in the Bethesda tunnel. The political blowback from this decision will be intense; some of that has already started in the comments to the Washington Post's story about this report.

"Save the Trail" advocate Pam Browning and others are advocating for a third option: kill the Purple Line. But they have the tunnel vision that comes with thinking that CCT means "Chevy Chase's Trail." They care little about whether the CCT is ever completed into downtown Silver Spring, and would have us obsess about one trail crossing at Wisconsin Avenue while overlooking the many other at-grade crossings east of Bethesda that will be eliminated as a part of the Purple Line project.

A version of this article originally ran at Silver Spring Trails.


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Assuming that you are correct, are there ways of designing the whole thing so that a tunnel becomes possible later?

For example, the Air Right Building may not stand forever. So could the tunnel be built to the required width elsewhere, with the understanding that if and when the Air Rights building is rebuilt, then the trail can go into the tunnel? Such extra space might be used in the interim for something else such as concessions.

by Jim T on Feb 27, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport

Those who use the MBT already have to cross Connecticut. Those who transition between CCT and MBT have to cross Woodmont and Bethesda. Asking users to cross Wisconsin w/o a tunnel is asking very little of them, especially considering the price tag to put this underground.

by Fitz on Feb 27, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

I think the focus here should be on making a surface trail connection platinum-standard- namely, a cycle track along Bethesda Ave. The current tunnel may be fast, but it's not that pleasant an environment to walk/bike through, and if a fully-separated surface connection were built, I'd call it an improvement despite one additional street crossing.

by RichardatCourthouse on Feb 27, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

It seems like this is a done deal, and the trail is going to be forced out of the tunnel.

I'm in favor of the Purple Line, even if it screws up the trail, but this project was sold on the basis that the trail could stay. The 'save the trail' coalition were basically correct in pointing out that the right of way wasn't sufficient for a train and mixed-use trail.

It's too bad because we're downgrading really the only decent mixed-use trail in southern Montgomery County. We need to get people out of their cars, but the bike infrastructure is getting worse. Sure, you can have a crappy surface route and wait at the lights for 2 minutes to cross Wisconsin and Connecticut but it's not an experience that would encourage me to get on my bike.

by renegade09 on Feb 27, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

renegade - Don't lose sight of the fact that the Purple Line will bring great improvements to the trail east of Bethesda. You will need to wait at a light at Wisconsin, but you will have a bridge over Connecticut. (And the surroundings of the Connecticut crossing will be redeveloped to be much more welcoming to cyclists and pedestrians.) Then you will have an off-road trail into Silver Spring, connecting with the Met Branch Trail.

by Ben Ross on Feb 27, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

I like the idea of the Gauntlet track, shared alongside the trail -- operating under the idea that @Jim T mentioned above.

by Matt Glazewski on Feb 27, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Jim T

Yes, a tunnel might be possible later. From the MTA Report:

"This does not mean that the CCT would always have to cross Wisconsin Avenue at-grade. If a surface CCT alternative was selected, the CCT could remain in the Master Plan under the Apex Building, Wisconsin Avenue and the Air Rights Building. Upon redevelopment, additional width can be reserved adjacent to the Purple Line and a tunnel could be created beneath Wisconsin Avenue, adjacent to the existing bridge, to connect the trail between the future Apex Building and the future Air Rights Building."

by Wayne Phyillaier on Feb 27, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

One can pick at the report--it has some obvious errors in it, and has the air of an effort to paper a decision that has already been made--but at the end of the day, another, better report without those errors would probably reach the same conclusion. Trail advocates need to save our ammunition for other battles--like keeping the Purple Line itself on track, so to speak.

I'll settle for an improved at-grade crossing of Wisconsin if we can get a separated one at Connecticut. There's only one way we'll ever see a separated crossing at Connecticut, and that's in connection with the Purple Line.

by Crickey7 on Feb 27, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

"Officials have long promised to keep the CCT in the tunnel with the Purple Line, but the cost turned out to be much higher than expected."

Really? Not higher than Save the Trail folks expected. We've predicted this all along.

I'll give you some more predictions:

1) A Purple Line station at Wisconsin Ave. will cost way more than anyone is talking about.

2) There won't be money to rebuild the Trail.

3) If a narrow bike lane is eventually built in place of the Trail, it will be many years before it is ever built, and it will have no shade trees, ever.

4) Walking and riding less than 10 feet from trains will not appeal to most Trail users -- just hard core bikers who do not care about the nature Trail.

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

I the overall scheme of things there is not downgrading of the trail (see renegade's comments)when you weigh the loss of the tunnel against all the improvements to the overall trail including the other grade separated crossings and extending the full state-of-the art trail into Silver Spring.

by woodsider on Feb 27, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

Oops, posted a bit slow. I definitely disagree with Pam Browning (from "Save The Trail"). They want to save the trail for their own use by keeping it unimproved and unconnected to Silver Spring. The whole point of not putting the trail in the tunnel is to have the money necessary to re-build the CCT to state-of-the art standards and landscape/reforest it appropriately. The doomsday predictions never end though from the folks who bought a house/country club on a rail right of way and now have a problem with running trains on it.

by woodsider on Feb 27, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

I guess if you can't argue the points, then demonize the messenger.

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport


You can lobby to make sure that 2, 3, and 4 are mitigated as extensively as possible. Instead, you've chosen an unreasonable and doomed approach to your lobbying, and have discredited some of the strongest voices that could have helped to ensure that the new bicycle facilities would be as good as possible. This ship sailed years ago, and the Purple Line is going to be built.

Taking away the WI tunnel, and putting a bridge over Connecticut Ave would be a net positive for the trail. If you also improved bicycle access to the Red Line during that process would be a *huge* net improvement to the trail, even if you took away the tunnel.

The WI crossing can be engineered to be as safe and pleasant as possible, not to mention that cyclists are *already* faced with a busy crossing nearby; consolidating the trail's street route and busy crossings to to one location makes a lot of sense, and probably won't have a tremendous effect.

That said, the gauntlet track is an interesting proposal. I'd like to see that option fully explored.

by andrew on Feb 27, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

As a CCT rider who generally hops off my bike to grab a bagel in Bethesda Row, I prefer the street crossing to that creepy tunnel.

by LouDC on Feb 27, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

Ms Browing

I have walked near the green line in Boston, and near the trolley in San Diego. I do not think walking will necessarily be unpleasant next to a light rail, and I think it will be utilized by walkers (as well as by riders) who find it a direct route to their destinations.

Now it may not be used as much by those looking for a quiet nature trail. My understanding is that the property was purchased specifically to provide a transportation. As a route for light rail, for the "hard core" cyclists, and for destination focused walkers, it is that. My understanding is that MoCo has other trails and parks that are suitable for use for quiet walks. It seems like removing this important potential transportation route - not only the LRT route, but the improved route for "hard core" cyclists, to preserve the nature trail, would be a big mistake.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport


I want to believe you. However, who has been right so far? I'll tell you who - it's the 'Save the Trail' folks! I thought they were a crowd of nimbies too, but their pessimism has been borne out with the tunnel outcome. As for the proposals for Connecticut Avenue and parts of the trail further east: it's all subject to review. An engineer associated with the project told me last week that they were only starting to assess the highway crossings such as Connecticut. It seems very possible to me that bikers and walkers are going to get screwed even more in future if this project is not subject to intense scrutiny.

by renegade09 on Feb 27, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

1. WRT RichardatCourthouse's point about Bethesda Ave. and a surface trail, I mentioned the Indianapolis Cultural Trail as an excellent model for how to integrate high quality surface trails in urban settings in a blog entry yesterday:

2. @Pam Browning. I am probably a much bigger biking advocate than you. BUt I am a transpo rider, not a rec. rider, and a sustainable transpo. advocate besides. So I would prioritize transpo use for the trail, not rec. use.

There is no question that the "highest and best use" of this particular infrastructure is light rail, based on the number of people who will travel daily on light rail transit.

All the better to integrate a trail alongside it to maximize the use.

Given the success of fixed rail transit in this region, I expect the purple line will be the single most successful LR line in the U.S. in terms of ridership.

- the higher numbers on this list are from multiple lines,

by Richard Layman on Feb 27, 2012 4:08 pm • linkreport

@renegade - It sounds like you are extremely well informed about the crossing of Connecticut Avenue, if you were discussing the subject with a project engineer last week. Why did your first comment give the impression that building the Purple Line will create an at-grade crossing of Connecticut Ave, when the opposite is the case? You wrote:

we're downgrading really the only decent mixed-use trail in southern Montgomery County... the bike infrastructure is getting worse. Sure, you can have a crappy surface route and wait at the lights for 2 minutes to cross Wisconsin and Connecticut

by Ben Ross on Feb 27, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

I agree with the NIMBYs! What's the point in building a rail line for tens of thousands of riders if we can't keep the current trail exactly as it is?!?

by Gray on Feb 27, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

Walker in the City,

This is not about whether we should have transit, but where we should have it.

We can build transit in many places, and we can build bike lanes in many places -- but we can't build this nature trail inside the beltway. It is a gem. And it is irreplaceable.

The Trail provides solice and respite from the stresses of urban living for tens of thousands of Trail users from all over the region. As our population increases, we will need more trails like this, not fewer.

Our planners should be doing better than this.

I'm all for transit (despite what you read demonizing me) -- just not on this nature trail that should be saved for generations to come.

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

Pam Browning: Where would you propose building transit instead, so that we can avoid the horrible injustice of forcing bikers and pedestrians to hear a train every several minutes?

by Gray on Feb 27, 2012 4:32 pm • linkreport

@Ben, so there's currently an at-grade crossing at Connecticut and now there's going to be an at-grade crossing at Wisconsin too. What's your point? Have you got anything substantive to say about the Purple Line / Trail or did you just come on here to play 'gotcha!'?

@Richard, great post and I agree with you that the Purple Line is worth building even if the trail is closed completely (note: I know this isn't the likely outcome). Fantastic infrastructure in Indianapolis, hope we can get some of that here!

by renegade09 on Feb 27, 2012 4:32 pm • linkreport

all over the region? I can't imagine why I would go to MoCo for a quiet nature trail when I have the Cross County Trail here in Fairfax - which runs beside major streams, has some real changes in elevation in parts, and goes by Lake Accotink. When I go to MoCo for recreational walking, its to hike on the Billy Goat Trail.

You have suggested elsewhere BRT and heavy rail. Neither would accomplish what the purple line would.

And again, you have not responded the fact that this line property, originally a rail line, was purchased as a transportation asset. The use as a nature trail was only a placeholder. If that is to prevent utilization as a transportation asset, that will set a precedent that will discourage juridictions from establishing temporary nature trails, for fear of losing flexibility. If you are concerned about nature trails all around this country, you will consider that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 4:35 pm • linkreport

I don't dismiss the appreciation that residents near the current Georgetown Branch trail have for it--it's very pleasant. I do get frustrated at the misinformation and disingenuous tactics, especially when it comes to the tunnel, probably the most unpleasant piece of the entire trail. Part of its pleasantness comes from the fact that it's nearly deserted most of the time, given it doesn't really go anywhere. Shortly after it crosses Rock Creek, it peters out miles short of Silver Spring. And it hasn't been pristine wilderness for well over a century.

Purpole Line proponents think it is understandable but selfish for Chevy Chase residents to want to keep that themselves. To allow their own wants for one segment of the entire Purple Line route to kill the whole thing. To oppose the system that will connect the two down country economic hubs and the University of Maryland in a way they've never keep connected before. Use of the Trail itself will increase, although admittedly more for exercise than for thoughtful contemplation.

So there will be winners and losers. There will be an order of magnitude more winners, though. And even the losers will get a benefit, as the economy of Montogomery County enjoys major boost.

by Crickey7 on Feb 27, 2012 4:36 pm • linkreport

Pam, if it were up to planners (and most of us, I believe) they would put the Purple Line in a tunnel under the Georgetown Branch of the CCT. But there is neither the political will nor the funds to build the line in 2.5 mile tunnel so they are doing the next best thing. The "nature" trail you speak of was purchased by the county for transit, but of course you already know that. You really can't pretend there aren't other nearby alternatives to experience "the solice and respite and from the stresses of urban living" you want. Have you been to Rock Creek Park just a few moments from you home? Perhaps you have been on the Capital Crescent Trail a few moments in the other direction?

by Woodsider on Feb 27, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

I'll stand by my comments above,and if anyone is being disingenuous, I believe it is MTA. If you believe their drawings and everything they say, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you....

Three questions:

1) Are you reading about the budget problems in Maryland and in Mo. Co.?

2) If the PL were ever to be built, under the best case scenario, how long do you think the Trail would be closed?

3) How about under a more pessimistic scenario, how long would the Trail be closed?

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 4:57 pm • linkreport

Why not just end before the tunnel, on the east side of Wisconsin. That way commuters can get out and walk a block or two?

by mphs on Feb 27, 2012 5:08 pm • linkreport

When I spoke of disingenuousness, I had a couple of instances in mind. The tunnel was one. BRT is another. Any BRT system that offered any time savings would also take the trail. Any BRT that did not take the trail would not offer any time savings. It would be cheaper, but a cheaper alternative that fixes nothing is not an improvement. A third is the argument that it's just a boondoggle for developers. Developers might in fact make a lot of money--the Purple Line is going to uncork lot of demand that's currently stifled by the mess that is the road netwrok in that area at rush hour. If anything, the fact that developers (and other property owners) will make money is an argument for the desirability of smart growth policies like the Purple Line.

I don't doubt your sincerity. Please be aware that many trail proponents live near the Trail, too, and are just as sincere.

by Crickey7 on Feb 27, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

Read "Purple Line proponents"

by Crickey7 on Feb 27, 2012 5:23 pm • linkreport

Speaking of the brooklyn bridge, did you know that people walk across both the manhattan and williamsburg bridges, adjacent to the BMT subway?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

If maryland and MoCo have such budget problems, how would they possibly manage to build a heavy rail under the beltway in lieu of the Purple Line?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 5:26 pm • linkreport

I walked the CCT with Pam Browning in 2007 and this is what she told me:

"I'm not in the discussion of Silver Spring to New Carrollton. I don't know those areas," she says. "I'm saying the best transit plan for this area is Metro, and if it's tunneled or along the Beltway . . . I don't know everything that's at stake, but I know what's at stake here."

The Save the Trail folks are entitled to their own opinions, but it's a falsehood to say they're interested in anything beyond the wants of their own neighborhood.

by dan reed! on Feb 27, 2012 5:46 pm • linkreport

That is a bit of an unfair distortion. I said I did not want to pretend I know what is best for New Carrollton. Just as I resent folks inserting their opinions about the Trail if they have never been there, I did not want to insert myself into their community issues and tell them what is best for them.

I have always felt that a Metro connection between Bethesda and Silver Spring, closing the two legs of the Metro red line with Metro and not light rail, makes good sense. It would improve Metro services vastly to have a circuit with the same trains and tracks, rather than a totally different system.

With the budget the way it is now, I would recommend BRT for now and Metro when we can afford it.

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 5:56 pm • linkreport

@Pam Browning: To ask my question again, where would you propose putting this transit?

by Gray on Feb 27, 2012 6:14 pm • linkreport

First, let's have someone answer the questions I posed earlier. I've asked many times, in many forums, and no one ever answers:

1) Are you reading about the budget problems in Maryland and in Mo. Co.?

2) If the PL were ever to be built, under the best case scenario, how long do you think the Trail would be closed?

3) How about under a more pessimistic scenario, how long would the Trail be closed?

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 6:33 pm • linkreport

@Pam Browning: I join Gray in asking where you want to put BRT??

The Coquelin Run Citizens Association has been pleading with MCDOT to accelerate its traffic calming project on Jones Bridge Road, for the safety of their residents and the children at the school. Are you ready to tell them they should accept BRT vehicles running every several minutes through their neighborhood on Jones Mill Road?

The express J4 bus is already jammed in rush hour traffic on East-West Highway. BRT will be no faster there unless you take lanes away from cars, or take front yards to build two more dedicated lanes.

The Executive's Rapid Transit Task Force is recommending that the first priority of any BRT route is to have the vehicles in dedicated lanes. There is about a 0 chance they will ignore the Georgetown Branch corridor and try to jam a BRT down either Jones Bridge Road or East-West Highway.

Be very careful when you ask for BRT. You may get it.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Feb 27, 2012 6:35 pm • linkreport

This all strikes me as a campaign by bike advocay groups to make some noise and extract some candy.

I doubt users would be terribly inconvenienced. Bethesda is a nice stop, and I suspect a large percentage of bike users will use that as a starting or stopping location.

by charlie on Feb 27, 2012 6:39 pm • linkreport

@Pam Browning: I guess it's easier to ignore the question I asked of you by repeating some questions you asked later.

To answer your questions:

1) Yes
2) I don't have a good estimate (since I'm just a guy commenting on a blog), so I would appreciate the information you have on estimates of this. At least, you seem to have information, right?
3) See #2

Your turn.

by Gray on Feb 27, 2012 6:43 pm • linkreport

Wayne, glad you're here. Some questions for you that I'm having trouble getting answered. And Peter, huh? just some guy writing on a blog? Weren't you President of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail. I would think these questions would be of concern to your members, as well as readers here.

1) Are you reading about the budget problems in Maryland and in Mo. Co.?

2) If the PL were ever to be built, under the best case scenario, how long do you think the Trail would be closed?

3) How about under a more pessimistic scenario, how long would the Trail be closed?

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 6:48 pm • linkreport


I'm still waiting for you to answer where you want BRT to go, and also after all of these years still waiting for you to show us how you would finish the trail into downtown Silver Spring without the benefit of the Purple Line to break open access to the CSX corridor for a joint project.

But still, I'll try to answer your questions.

1) Yes, I have been following the budget issues, and if we don't get some new funding sources for the state Transportation Trust Fund soon, then all forms of transportation will be in big trouble. But I also have seen the need and the support for better transit along the Purple Line Corridor grow over the years, and that trend is going to continue. I hope we can get the Purple Line construction started soon, but delays in funding will be only that - delays. The need will only continue to grow, and eventually there will be transit in this corridor.

2) and 3) I think construction will take 2-3 years in the Bethesda to S.S. section, and different segments of the trail will be closed as the construction moves through different stages in different parts of this corridor. So yes, it will be a big pain for 2-3 years. But all of us in Silver Spring are still waiting for the trail in our neighborhood almost two decades after Bethesda neighborhoods got the trail. For us, and for trail users who are still waiting for a complete trail network, a 2-3 year disruption to a partial trail there now is a necessary price to pay to have the complete trail.

Now your turn to answer some questions.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Feb 27, 2012 7:32 pm • linkreport

It sounds like the Trail would be closed for a minimum of 3 years, optimistically, if the money were ever found to re-build the Trail. The County has to come up with that money. But the County doesn't have it, nor will the money be provided with funding for the Purple Line.

And we see at each step of the way what happens to funding for the Trail. First MTA and the County tell us the Trail will go through the Tunnel, and now they tell us it won't.

Bait and switch.

This is not the beginning, nor the end, of betrayals by MTA and the County regarding the Trail.

by Pam Browning on Feb 27, 2012 7:58 pm • linkreport

Seriously Pam, you lose all credibility by not answering the basic question and dancing around the issue.

by Woodsider on Feb 27, 2012 9:02 pm • linkreport

Why is it that the shortest segment of the trail receives almost all the attention of the Purple Line debate while the other 3/4ths of the line are mostly ignored?

by Steve on Feb 27, 2012 10:11 pm • linkreport

Growing up in Bethesda in the 70's and 80's, I remember the tracks with the occasional (coal?) train heading to Georgetown. When they closed it, I thought there was an understanding that a trolley would eventually be built there. If that's the case, what's all the fuss about losing a trail? I agree the trail is nice, but it will still be there, and for the spandex wearing Bethesda Crew, they'll still have the stretch going to Georgetown public transit/working class free. The purple line really ought to go all the way down into Georgetown, but baby steps.

by Thayer-D on Feb 27, 2012 10:13 pm • linkreport

It's been interesting to see the infighting the Purple Line has caused between Montgomery County liberals. It really separates the sheep from the goats.

On one side you have the head-in-the-clouds perfectionists who think Maryland/MoCo/DC should be some ultimate utopia with nice wide sidewalks on every single street, bikes taking precedence over cars, and $0 for road projects. Whining is their main tool and ultimately they don't understand the concept of compromise, but want to have their cake and eat it too.

On the other side you have the rational progressives who leave in the real world and understand that in order to see real, cost-effective improvements in transit and society at large, difficult decisions have to be made and we all have to give up something. I myself would rather the CCT be light rail like everyone else, but will take BRT if LR will put it (or the Purple or Red Lines) in jeopardy.

In the end the former group will end up losing, just as Tysonstunnel did. is one of the most misleading websites I've visited. 99% of their Purple Line page is false. They can't even get the agency right! The Maryland Transportation Authority manages Maryland's toll facilities and has nothing to do with the Purple Line; the Maryland Transit Administration is the agency planning the line.

It's really disappointing to see that a group of people are so selfish as to sabotage a critical transit project just because everything won't go their way. You would think that the state is gonna tear up the entire trail and cut down every tree the way they're whining!

by King Terrapin on Feb 27, 2012 10:35 pm • linkreport

I believe a more creative look at the Air Rights Building option will show that it could be cost effective--not costly. The oldest part of the building is almost 50 years old--outlived its depreciation. The building is assessed for tax purposes at only $19 million. It's going to get redeveloped in the next decade or two anyway.

Yes, buying and razing the building would cost money, but that ignores the value (real $$ as well as streetscape, connections to the PL & tunnel, aesthetics, etc.) that would come from putting up a state-of-the art $80 million building. Shoot, a smart developer could probably buy that building, construct a new one and make a profit. It's on the most valuable real estate in the county IMO.
I take a shot at this financial solution here.

by Steve O on Feb 27, 2012 11:23 pm • linkreport

It's interesting how greedy people are. Purple line advocates care nothing about the MULTIPLE communities that this monstrosity will literally destroy. Homes and businesses TORN to the ground. People will be displaced and there will be an uptick in crime that comes with the territory. They also love to throw about meant-to-be nasty monikers like "NIMBY's". Why? The people in these communities have a right to opposition. And the so-called NIMBY's are in fact being proven right. Promises are already being broken by MontCo and the MTA left and right. No tunnel for the trail??? Really? I am not shocked. The mock-up drawings shown to the public are a joke. Soon there won't be trees (that and the benches are already up for $$$ discussion because of the lack of funding)...the only thing left will be a concrete strip for biking commuters who will mow you down with their bikes. Major cities go through great pains to preserve any green space they have left. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Still, MontCo and the MTA exhibits backward thinking every step of the way.

Furthermore, why should everyone in the ENTIRE state be subjected to the proposed RIDICULOUSLY HIGH gas tax that will be needed to fund this nightmare??? Gas prices are already at an all-time high, show no signs of going down and politicians want to make it even more painful to fill up your tank? How are people who are not utilizing the PL going to be able to afford to fill up their cars to get to work? Let's talk about the real-life economic hardship this is going to cause Marylanders across the state so a few ten thousand people can get to work 3 or 5 minutes sooner? How many people have to lose their homes, lose money at the tank that could be used for rent/food, and lose invaluable public green space so that this urban redistribution/development scheme can be built for a few ten thousand PROJECTED riders? What a pathetic joke. Purple Line proponents...YOU are the selfish ones. The PL will have very little PERSONAL impact on you (a couple extra minutes in transit to here or there), but tons of personal impact (to varying and horrible degrees) to millions of others both here in MontCo and to other people around the state who will never set foot on the PL. Take a good look in the mirror before you say the word "NIMBY" because the Purple Line will have a definite negative economic impact on nearly everyone in this state whether they want this boondoggle or not. So, call me a NIMBY...when you are looking for PL tax dollars..."Not In My Bankaccount You" corrupt jerks!

by Noelle on Feb 27, 2012 11:31 pm • linkreport

To repeat someone else's question, why can't the line end just before the tunnel? A smaller pedestrian tunnel could be built connecting to the Bethesda Red Line station, and probably for a cost not much different than the cost of using the tunnel. The Red Line is pretty far below ground there anyway, so much of the distance would probably be covered by escalator, though I'm not sure how much it would cost to satisfy ADA requirements.

I'm sorry Pam, but I'm not very sympathetic to your arguments to only have the trail. The right-of-way would not have been purchased had it not been promoted as a transit corridor. I'm sure it's a nice respite from the city for you and your friends. But that's not why people agreed to buy the old rail corridor in the first place.

by Steve K on Feb 27, 2012 11:35 pm • linkreport

Excellent point, Noelle. I just can't believe the nerve of some people. Coming between you and your God-given right to low gas taxes, just so that tens of thousands of people each day could have an alternative to driving around in cars!

This is LITERALLY the most destructive infrastructure proposal I have ever heard. The NERVE of some people!

by Gray on Feb 27, 2012 11:48 pm • linkreport

So the MTA decides that since they're clearing forest for a rail line anyway, they might as well set up a temporary nature trail while they wait for the rest of the project to come together? And then they're accused of "betraying" trail users when it comes time to install the transit line for which the land was cleared in the first place?

I bet they won't make the same mistake if the Purple Line's ever extended. There won't be any trail, just a lot of chain link fence.

by jakeod on Feb 27, 2012 11:52 pm • linkreport

Gray...laughable. Really? Tens of thousands of people need an ALTERNATIVE to their cars? While MILLIONS across the state need more money in their bank accounts in order to SURVIVE? hahahahahaha! [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Noelle on Feb 27, 2012 11:53 pm • linkreport

Because yes, it is the taxes on gas that are keeping it so high. And really what do the populations of montgomery and prince george's county provide for the rest of the state of maryland anyway?

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 12:05 am • linkreport

You are right gas prices are high and they are going to continue to get higher. We are simply running out of oil. Plus demand is increasing as many third world countries become industrialized. This is however the perfect argument of why we should be building trains, trains, and more trains. The few cents being adding to the price of gas to fund them is going to be nothing compared to the dollars of price increases gas is likely to see over the coming decade. It's insanely shortsighted to think the responsible thing to do is just to ignore this trend and not invest in alternative transportation.

by Doug on Feb 28, 2012 2:37 am • linkreport

Noelle: I couldn't agree with you MORE! Like you, I have a basic misunderstanding of the economics behind how gas prices are set, so I think that they're largely determined by TAXES. And despite that I always have the OPTION not to buy gas (or would, if we constructed other ways for me to get around besides just my CAR), I think it's the HEIGHT of injustice to expect me to buy food or pay the rent instead of DRIVING more! That's classic LIBERAL MEDDLING!

by Gray on Feb 28, 2012 7:25 am • linkreport

Gray, there is no basic misunderstanding of how gas prices are set. OPEC. You still don't address the point of why millions should pay for the PL line so a few ten thousand don't have to take the bus when Bus Rapid Transit would be faster and cheaper.

Most people in this state do not live on a rail line and will have to DRIVE to get there. Gas is NOT an option for 99% of Americans or Marylanders. It is a necessity just like food or rent. The PL is a development deal, period. How many politicians have been paid off by the Chevy Chase Land Company? I wouldn't even doubt it if you were a paid shill for a PL advocacy group.

And I know, I couldn't agree with you MORE!!!! dare those people want to keep their homes? How SELFISH of them!!! Don't they know they should sacrifice their lives to the collective greater good and do it with a smile? Those NIMBYS are just HORRIBLE, just AWFUL! Why should they get to keep their homes? Why should they get a trail behind their home and not a high voltage train? That's just plain ECONOMIC INJUSTICE because You NEED a nice seat on the Purple Line while you read your paper?

Until we can AFFORD to do the PL the RIGHT way by tunneling it underground and connecting it to the Red Line directly, this project should be shelved. I love trains, my son loves trains, I ride trains when I can. I am all for the development of mass transit when it does not have a detrimental impact on entire towns, communities, home owners, nature trails and tax payers. But fleecing others and destroying homes and communities for a flat-out development scheme is nothing short of a travesty.

And to the previous poster, Doug, we aren't talking a few cents here and you know it. We are talking an 18 cent per gallon tax hike (phased in over the course of 3 years at 2%) So every time we go to the pump, we will pay, on average, an extra $3. If you fill up more than once a week, like I do, you will be paying on average $24 extra per month. That's nearly $300 a year. To someone making minimum wage, that is not just a few cents. But to elite liberals, the ends always justify the means, no matter who pays...either with their home or their paycheck.

by Noelle on Feb 28, 2012 9:56 am • linkreport


You do realize that compared to the rest of the developed world (and the rest of petroleum-importing countries), our gas is incredibly cheap, right?

If people get hit in the pocketbook from high gas prices because they must rely on cars, the solution is to reduce their reliance on cars - not to artificially keep gas prices low.

by Alex B. on Feb 28, 2012 10:03 am • linkreport

Noelle, do you ride buses?

by Richard Layman on Feb 28, 2012 10:07 am • linkreport

So the argument is that we love trains but shouldn't build any trains because gas prices are high. And tunneling is not disruptive and cheaper than a surface route.

If you're worried about the price of gas then take a moment to figure out how to not buy so much.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 10:30 am • linkreport

Can anyone explain the benefit of going through the tunnel? Why not turn north on Wisconsin Ave, so the terminus is at the Metro station?

BTW, Richard doesn't drive and he doesn't think anyone else should. But given the traffic solutions he proposed for Park Road in Columbia Heights, I give him NO credibility on traffic design. Too bad, because he's knowledgeable about so much other planning issues.

by mphs on Feb 28, 2012 10:31 am • linkreport

"Gas is NOT an option for 99% of Americans or Marylanders. "

you've never actually been to the city of baltimore, have you?

"Until we can AFFORD to do the PL the RIGHT way by tunneling it underground and connecting it to the Red Line directly, this project should be shelved."

how much would the incremental cost of that be? Unless there was massive densification along the route (which I doubt you would support) the cost would more than offset the incremental time savings of heavy rail vs light rail. Ergo, the entire additional cost would be to avoid the COMPENSATED taking of a few homes and businesses, and the presence of a clean train line near a few back yards. I doubt that would be justified whether the money was there or not.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:32 am • linkreport

Alex, so you propose to run a train through every neighborhood in the entire country so that we can reduce EVERYONE's reliance on cars and not just a few ten thousand? Because, as I noted, people still need cars to get to the trains. The trains will not reduce our reliance on cars. It will only move the traffic snarls to areas near the train stations and reduce commuting time for a select few by a couple of minutes.

So we are lucky enough to have the "cheapest expensive" gas in the world? How is that supposed to justify this shameless money grab on the people? How long before the "public transportation" coffers are robbed for other vanity projects once the current "pet projects" are paid for?

And yes, I love buses, my son loves buses, my entire family rides buses whenever we can. I took a bus two days ago to get across the city with both of my kids. Please explain to me, what's wrong with buses and why some people think they are too good to ride them? Why a multi-billion-dollar-tax-dollar-grubbing community-destroying-nature-trail-robbing-eye-sore train is needed instead?

by Noelle on Feb 28, 2012 10:33 am • linkreport

noelle - back of the envelope, seems like you use about 4 gallons of gas a day. That means either your MPG sucks, or or you are driving more than 120 miles a day.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

"Because, as I noted, people still need cars to get to the trains."

people who live within walking distance of the PL in New Carrolton and Silver spring will mostly walk to them, some will take the bus to them. And others who drive to New carrolton to use the PL will be driving less miles, since they will no longer be driving all the way to Bethesda.

People who live on the eastern shore will mostly not sure the PL. But IIUC maryland has built other transportation improvements for people on the eastern shore.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

So lets assume you're arguing in good faith and that you have more than just a principled opposition to transit but rather you specifically have problems with the purple line.

How does not building the purple line keep gas prices at current levels (or lower them) and how does it keep down congestion/traffic if we assume that the population of the purple line areas and further out will still keep growing? You argue that the purple line will exasperate existing problems but I fail to see how not building the purple line will actually go to relieving any of the issues MD. faces today.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

Baltimore is in the 1% (like Philly and New York) where the population density is high enough where the reliance on cars is reduced because more people actually live in the city. We are talking about Silver Spring/Bethesda here. Suburbs, people. Apples meet Oranges. Residents here still need cars, this entire area is car dependent whether or not the PL comes through. Take a look at The vast majority of this area is car dependent. That is not going to change. People don't primarily live in high rise apartments or condos, they live in homes with yards. These are spread out NEIGHBORHOODS. They will never be walkable.

And these people are COMPENSATED by whose definition? Do you know if they are getting fair market value? I would love to see the proof. This project is trying to cut corners left and right because it is too already expensive. How do you fairly COMPENSATE someone for stealing their home...forcing them out?

by Noelle on Feb 28, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

the population of baltimore makes up about 10% of the population of maryland.

The definition of compensation is a question of law, and has been around for centuries. It has nothing to do with cutting corners - if property owners feel they have not gotten value, they can sue in court.

as for bethesda and silver spring, this is precisely the area that will benefit most from the PL, not only in increasing walkability and transit access, but in increasing home values.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

but why do you consider people auto dependent if they arent near rail? You yourself said bus is just as good. most of moco residents are within walking distance of a bus line, I imagine.

also, could you please explain why you burn 4 gallons a day, despite using the bus regularly?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

1% of what? Land area? Population density?

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 28, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

The uh, law dictates that property owners be compensated. And generally whatever something is sold at is the market value. It's not like there have been any lawsuits or anything about the level of compensation.

And its shame that I'll have to go tell all my neighbors who live in two story buildings that our neighborhood is no longer walkable. I'm already buying my second car tonight to drive the 1/4 mile to the grocery store and across the street to CVS.

And its time to inform the residents of silver spring and bethesda, home to major corporations, high rise condos and skylines more notable than a lot of cities that since they're on the wrong sides of western and eastern avenue that they live in suburbs and should act accordingly despite all evidence (like density, land use, architecture) that both areas are cities in all but statutory definition.

If you don't want people telling you how to live why are you making the same arguments?

by X on Feb 28, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

Using the term "BRT" for any transit system that does not use the trail is a cruel joke. Not building the Purple Line has its own cost in wasted time and gas in traffic and an area whose economic development is stifled by inadequate connections. Not building the Purple Line now means the cost keeps rising and right of way gets harder to acquire.

by Crickey7 on Feb 28, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

And to the previous poster, Doug, we aren't talking a few cents here and you know it. We are talking an 18 cent per gallon tax hike (phased in over the course of 3 years at 2%) So every time we go to the pump, we will pay, on average, an extra $3. If you fill up more than once a week, like I do, you will be paying on average $24 extra per month. That's nearly $300 a year. To someone making minimum wage, that is not just a few cents. But to elite liberals, the ends always justify the means, no matter who pays...either with their home or their paycheck.

I have a feeling you're going to be sorely disappointed by the coming decade. (As the global recession fades a bit, and the middle-class in India and China continues to grow.)

In the near future, we're going to be overjoyed to see gas prices at $5 / gallon, and that's without any new taxes. We can either prepare ourselves by building alternatives for people, or we can wait to be slapped across the face by the changes that are coming.

(As Alex B pointed out, most other developed nations are much more prepared for the inevitable rise in fuel prices because they artificially raised gas prices 30 years ago. We decided we'll deal with the problem when it comes.)

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

Noelle is more honest than most Purple Line opponents. She doesn't conceal her opposition in layers of arguments about preserving trails and protecting users. Her concerns about destruction of communities are grossly exaggerated, but she appears to believe it all.

You can't get from point A to point B without going through a lot of points in between. If we're going to have good transportation, people who live on those points in between will be affected. Not destroyed in this case (the ICC is a lot worse). But affected. Green space taken away. Noise increased. Maybe loss of some few homes or yards. And then you'll get opponents. My neighborhood is as close to I-270 as you can get - noise and everything - but life is good here and people like living in my neighborhood. New houses are always going up.

My question is whether Noelle actively opposes other transportation projects -- say Montrose Parkway, widening I-270 and the Beltway (25 years ago), or Midcounty Highway extended, to prevent impacts on other communities (including mine).

by Jack on Feb 28, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

The other point I'd make is that change happens even if you don't plan for it. Not building the Purple Line doesn't guarantee things will stay the same, other than on a certain short, little-used strip of former railbed.

by Crickey7 on Feb 28, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

For the short term, there is no funding available for rail, be it light or heavy rail. BRT and express buses are the only short term solution.

However, for the best long term transportation solution, the connection between the two legs of the Red Line should be Metro heavy rail, not light rail, to create a seamless circuit that improves the Metro system. This would not affect Silver Spring to New Carrollton, which could be light rail or BRT.

This Metro connection could be tunneled underground, or run from the Silver Spring Metro along the old B&O railroad right of way to the Beltway, then along the north side of the Beltway, then tunneled directly to Bethesda Medical Center Metro, where BRAC has caused enormous traffic congestion.

In 2003, years before BRAC was announced, the Montgomery County Planning Board found this Beltway Metro Loop plan, which was created and recommended by WMATA staff, to be feasible, and voted unanimously that this plan should be studied further if the light rail did not receive construction funding back in 2003.

And yet, there has been no further study, even after BRAC was announced. During the BRAC comment period, more than 500 comments were submitted requesting this seamless Metrorail connection.

This Metro circuit would greatly improve Metro’s infrastructure. And it would allow commuters to take a “one seat ride” from Union Station to Bethesda Medical Center without making a transfer, AND without having to travel through downtown DC.

This circuit connection would alleviate Red Line saturation and congestion downtown. It would serve more commuters, travel faster, take more cars off the road, and relieve more congestion.

Why wasn’t this plan ever studied in depth? Because the Chevy Chase Land Company owns over 50 acres with plans for mega development that are dependent on a light rail station at Chevy Chase Lake. If you don't believe me, then just take a look at their plans.

by Pam Browning on Feb 28, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

However, for the best long term transportation solution, the connection between the two legs of the Red Line should be Metro heavy rail, not light rail, to create a seamless circuit that improves the Metro system. This would not affect Silver Spring to New Carrollton, which could be light rail or BRT.

How would this be "seamless"? You'd still have to transfer. If you're transferring from the Red line to a LRT purple line, the purple line will essentially be grade-separated from Bethesda to Silver Spring anyway. I don't see how building it as Metro would be any more 'seamless' than the proposed LRT purple line is already.

Likewise, just because people request something doesn't make it a good idea. WMATA's looked at a beltway Metro line. It doesn't model well at all. In short, it's not worth the investment.

The reason is simple - the Beltway is too full of 'macrodestinations', not the kinds of environments where transit is likely to succeed. See:

Even if Metro built this beltway line, that doesn't mean it would be a one-seat ride as you describe. In fact, operating such a service would be rather absurd.

by Alex B. on Feb 28, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

Having a circuit for the Red Line would be a huge improvement to the infrastructure, being able to run trains back and forth, providing redundancy in the system. WMATA testified to that fact.

For example, when track work is done or an accident occurs on one leg of the Red Line, trains can come in from the other leg.

It's a one seat ride from Union Station to Bethesda Medical Center, without going through downtown DC and all those congested stations.

by Pam Browning on Feb 28, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport


What you are describing would be an operational nightmare and a non-starter.

by Alex B. on Feb 28, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

"It's a one seat ride from Union Station to Bethesda Medical Center, without going through downtown DC and all those congested stations"

but not from new carrolton or college park to Bethesda.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 4:43 pm • linkreport

Linking College Park to the regional rail system is going to be huge. The University of MD has been nibbling at the edges of being one of the nation's premier public universities, and this will be one more step in that direction.

by Crickey7 on Feb 28, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

Not everyone using the PL is going to Bethesda. In fact, MTA testified that most rides would be short to connect with Metro going downtown.

Those wanting to continue past Silver Spring to Bethesda on the PL would transfer to Metro. They may be wanting to continue on to Grovesnor etc. too which will be easy (they would have had a transfer if the PL between Bethesda and SS was light rail).

by Pam Browning on Feb 28, 2012 5:52 pm • linkreport

I am astonished at the idea of a discussion of Purple Line vs. Red Line loop, in the context of this post. The Purple Line may actually get built within the next ten years. The Red Line loop is an idea.

It's as though I were going to New York next month, and trying to decide whether I should get on the Amtrak at New Carrollton or Union Station, and somebody told me that actually the best thing would be to take the monorail.

by Miriam on Feb 28, 2012 7:01 pm • linkreport

@ WalkerInTheCity
"as for bethesda and silver spring, this is precisely the area that will benefit most from the PL, not only in increasing walkability and transit access, but in increasing home values."

I can understand worrying about undesirables flooding your nice neighborhood and bringing crime and mayhem. I can see the ecosystem of the squirels and occasional deer being destroyed for rapacious developers. I can even see the shock of neighbors who never knew of the county's 30 year old plans, but I can't understad your logic.

According to just about every reliable analysis, the correlation between walkability and transit access is directly responsible to icreased property values. The only thing that should say is why aren't we building a whole streetcar network now! Economic developmet is something we could use right about now, and those taxes from redevelopment, to say nothing about increased productivity will more than pay for the investment.

by Thayer-D on Feb 28, 2012 8:02 pm • linkreport

@Pam Browning

Not higher than Save the Trail folks expected. We've predicted this all along.

Show me where.


To be fair, the monorail is going to be incredible.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 10:48 pm • linkreport


I didnt mean to suggest that walkability and home value increases were additive in a Benefit Cost sense. I was attempting to preempt the argument that Bethesda was not being helped by the purple line because most residents of Bethesda are still going to use their cars for most trips. To reinforce that the benefits of walkability and transit access accrue even to those who do not walk or use transit.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 29, 2012 9:31 am • linkreport

I've never bought into the idea that the purple line will take cars off the road, rather it will keep more from clogging up all the existing roads like Wisconsin Aveue in Bethesda. I'm not sure that was your point, but if we don't plan for the growth that's coming in a sustainable way, we'll suffocate under our own good fortune. People like Save our trail don't seem to see the larger picture, that we're all in this together.

by Thayer-D on Feb 29, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

Pam Browning said Those wanting to continue past Silver Spring to Bethesda on the PL would transfer to Metro. They may be wanting to continue on to Grovesnor etc. too which will be easy (they would have had a transfer if the PL between Bethesda and SS was light rail).

I think you should look at a map because your assertion is illogical. No one would transfer to Metro at Silver Spring, take the red line all the way downtown, then loop back north passing the Bethesda station to get to Grovesnor? The metro portion alone would be 42 minutes according to WMATA.

The logical passenger would stay on the Purple Line between Silver Spring & Bethesda(8 minutes), then transfer to Metro and go north to Grovesnor (6 min).

Number of transfers is one in either scenario, but total time on trains: 42 min if you transfer to Metro at Silver Spring, 14 min if you transfer to Metro at Bethesda.

by Woodsider on Feb 29, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

Those who cleave to the reminds me of calling Rails to Trails Conservancy in the early 90s to ask them what happens if a rail-trail were later needed for rail use again. They didn't return my call. Anybody know what RTC's current philosophy is in that regard?

by LouDC on Feb 29, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport


Please re-read both of my posts on this topic. I am suggesting there be a Metro rail, rather than light rail, directly connecting Silver Spring and Bethesda. A rider could then go from Union Station up to Silver Spring and over to Bethesda and Grovsner on a one seat ride on Metro -- without transfers and without going through congested downtown Metro stations, thereby alleviating crowding on Metro in downtown.

In the other scenario, a rider coming on a lightrail from New Carrollton to Silver Spring would then make one transfer, to the Metro in Silver Spring that would continue directly to Bethesda and up to Grovsner.

by Pam Browning on Feb 29, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

LouDC, occasionally - and I think like 3 times total - the railroad has come back to ask to unbank the ROW. RTC is OK with this, but they want the trailbuilders be reimbursed for any large expenditures. In one case the trail group had spent many millions to rebuild a bridge and then the railroad wanted to buy the ROW back for their sales price, despite the millions put into the ROW since then. Not sure how that ended. But RTC understands that fighting reconversion will kill railbanking.

by David C on Feb 29, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport


I am suggesting there be a Metro rail, rather than light rail, directly connecting Silver Spring and Bethesda. A rider could then go from Union Station up to Silver Spring and over to Bethesda and Grovsner on a one seat ride on Metro -- without transfers and without going through congested downtown Metro stations, thereby alleviating crowding on Metro in downtown.

If you built Metro, that would not imply a one seat ride as you suggest. To do so would require re-directing existing Red Line trains to the new tracks, therefore reducing frequency on those already crowded trains - which would be exactly the opposite of what you'd want to do.

Don't be afraid of transfers.

That's not to mention the technical issues that would be raised to construct the one-seat ride you imply - it would be quite difficult and far more expensive.

by Alex B. on Feb 29, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport


I think Pam is talking about some pie-in-the-sky fantasy whereby there's a metro heavy rail connection built between Silver Spring and Bethesda. It's not going to happen, but it's a good way to further undermine the Purple Line plans!

by MLD on Feb 29, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

mphs -- I drive but I don't _own_ a car. I drive Zipcars, rental cars, and friend's cars. I will concede that not being a civil engineer, really tough road geometry issues I might mess up on, although while congestion is bad in the CH area during rush periods, I don't think there are any good alternatives. (I will say based on some experiences in places like Savannah, I am starting to waver on municipal garages in residential areas, if only to be able to take parking off streets like Park Road between 14th and 16th Streets.)

WRT proposals for "a subway loop...". The issue is that it costs $400MM+ per mile for tunneling, and to justify that expense you need to have multiple sequential hours where you are moving 15-20,000 people per hour over long stretches of the system. (In the discussion in Toronto about LR vs. subway and the Mayor's scuttling of the "Transit City" program, the TTC uses the number 15,000 riders/hour for justification of subway.) Even though the Purple Line is likely to be the most successful single line LR in the U.S., it won't be able to achieve that kind of ridership level. Hence it doesn't make sense to do a subway there.

Even SS to Bethesda is not likely to achieve those kinds of numbers.

A subway/heavy rail loop around the Beltway doesn't make sense for other reasons (it's the very rare in-freeway transit line that is successful because by definition it's disconnected from neighborhoods and activity centers, cf. Vienna station in our region, but there are other examples elsewhere) because of cost and ridership.

Re the discussion about Bethesda and Silver Spring and suburbs, yes this discussion mostly comes down to the fact that land use paradigms and the nature of conurbations in suburbs is changing.

People don't want to believe it, but that's what the issue is.

cf. for other people who don't believe

and this for people who don't understand cost-benefit analysis and decision making processes that shape transit infrastructure routing decisions:

by Richard Layman on Feb 29, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

@richard layman

Perhaps I misread you - are you saying the I66 part of he orange line is a failure? IIUC the number of passengers (via bus as well as auto) at Vienna, the terminal station, is quite large. The orange line is stimulating TOD at East Falls Church, and in a dramatic way, at Dunn Loring. (Dunn loring, WFC, and EFC all get lots of riders). Indeed some TOD has sprouted near the Vienna metro station. IIUC the problem with a line in a freeway is A. the tendency to miss the key activity centers and B. the extra (often unpleasant) walk over the highway (and often past parking lots) The latter is of course a big issue at Vienna, and an issue (now being rectified to some degree) at Dunn Loring. The activity centers? Well, leaving aside Tysons (which wasnt that big a deal when the original metro plan was done) the activity centers that are missed are downtown Falls Church and downtown Vienna - neither a huge traffic generator. Orange line in that sense isnt like the silver Line (missing the heart of Reston Town Center)

IIUC the reason a beltway heavy rail fails in MoCo is that it misses downtown Bethesda - by far more than the Silver line misses RTC.

Which leads me to ask again what Ive asked before - how DO we provide a quality transit connection between Tysons and MoCo? Is BRT the only feasible answer?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 29, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport


The idea of a beltway Metrorail line fails because no one actually drives the beltway in a circle. They use a portion of the Beltway on a portion of their commute to someplace else.

Without even touching the land use issues (which you're right, the station areas would not be walkable and would not support quality last-mile on-foot traffic), there's a fundamental problem with trying to serve the markets that ring the beltway - you need to really treat each one as if it were its own center, rather than some idea of just creating a giant loop for the sake of having a loop.

The most practical idea I can think of (which isn't particularly practical at all) would be to extend the purple line to the west. Have it continue on the Georgetown Branch ROW till you get to Dalecaria Reservoir, tunnel under the Potomac there, go past Langley and McLean following the Route 123 corridor into Tysons.

by Alex B. on Feb 29, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport


i was not (in this instance) thinking of a line all the way around the beltway (which would be justified only section by section) or on the beltway for the sake of being on the beltway. But to have a suburb to suburb route in an area of major suburban employment and population centers - of which there are several on or close to the beltway. For a heavy rail line in maryland, the beltway could provide an alternative to tunneling. My understanding is that failed vis a vis the purple line route, because of lack of proximity to some major activity centers, esp bethesda.

For MoCo to Tysons, which particularly concerns me, IIUC the cost of a tunnel would be very significant. Im not sure the volume on the purple line would justify it. OTOH Im not sure how costly it would be to add rail to the Legion bridge - and I suspect missing Bethesday kills the route anyway.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 29, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

hence thats why I think the most practical answer is BRT - buses cross the legion bridge - some could connect mid and up county to Tysons - some could shuttle between Tysons and Bethesda, connecting to the Red and Purple line. At Tysons they would connect to the Silver Line, and with any transit service running south of Tysons - express buses on the Beltway, BRT/LRT on Gallows rd, or BRT/LRT down rte 7 to seven corners and Baileys.

IF demand justified it, BRT/express buses direct from MoCo to points on or near the beltway in NoVa beyond Tysons.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 29, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

The I-66 Metro alignment fails in terms of how the transit line reshapes or doesn't land use. cf. to the Wilson Blvd. portion of the alignment. Compare the land use around those stations to say, Vienna.

by Richard Layman on Mar 1, 2012 6:35 pm • linkreport

This latest news may be the answer to the previous comment regarding crossing Connecticut Avenue at grade, rather than with a bridge.

It's pretty optimistic to thing that plans for the Trail will not eventually be stripped bare, at best.

by Pam Browning on Mar 2, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

As I pointed out in my letter to the editor of The Washington Post, adding a crossing guard at Wisconsin Avenue can address safety issues resulting from moving bikers and pedestrians out of the tunnel. Saved carrying cost of $50 million ($1.5 million/year at 3%) will clearly more than support a traffic guard at rush hours (for bike commuters and those hypothetical school children that would use the tunnel -- haven't spotted any on my morning bike rides there) and on weekends spring, summer and fall.

by Adam Wenner on Mar 9, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

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