Trail Group: Purple Line Planners Erred In Impact Study

Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt at the announcement of a public-private partnership for the Purple Line in August

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail says “priorities have changed” when it comes to the future use of the Georgetown Branch Trail.

In 2009, Purple Line planners chose the trail as the preferred route for the section of light rail that would run from Bethesda to Silver Spring. Montgomery County purchased the right-of-way for the trail, a former railroad, in 1988 for the purpose of providing a transit line.

But in its 27-page response to the Maryland Transit Administration’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), the Friends say circumstances have changed:

Before 1985, the CCT was a single-track freight line with a slow-moving train running once a day on the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad right-of-way between Georgetown, Bethesda and Silver Spring. In 1988, Montgomery County purchased a portion of the right-of-way under the National Trails Systems Act, often called the “Rails-to-Trails Act.” Although this portion was purchased by the county for the purpose of providing both a trail and transitway, times, circumstances and priorities have changed. The seven-mile section of the CCT from Georgetown to Bethesda was built and formally dedicated in December 1996. Development of the Georgetown Branch Trail was approved by Montgomery County in August 1995 and dedicated in January 1997. In August 1998, the segment of trail passing through the tunnel underneath the Air Rights building, Wisconsin Avenue, and the Apex building entered into service to connect the two trail sections. In May 2003, repairs were completed to the historic Rock Creek Trestle and it was dedicated for trail use, closing the last major gap in the interim trail along the Georgetown Branch Rail Line Corridor.

The CCT, including the Georgetown Branch Trail, helps create and support the region’s culture of healthful living, outdoors enjoyment, and environmental awareness. These immeasurable benefits have already been bestowed on an entire generation and should remain for generations to come.

The purpose of the county’s 1988 purchase of the right-of-way has been a central argument for those who support the Purple Line. Many of those supporters also say it is the only way to connect the off-road Trail to Silver Spring. The project would include the replacement of the biking and walking path with a new and wider paved path next to the light rail line.

But the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail says the trail would effectively be ruined by noise impacts and the loss of trees.

The group further alleges that the MTA didn’t look hard enough at alternative options, including a bus rapid transit system, a charge it says can be challenged in court.

The noise study conclusion doesn’t seem to consider that the train will make noise not only in one direction but both directions, making it loud twice as often as considered. More importantly, why not a noise measurement for pedestrian safety on a shared path with approaching bicyclists’ warnings drowned out by trains passing only a few feet away?

Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt said the response came with 5,500 signatures collected since 2009 of people against using the Trail for the light rail system.

“This is an opportunity for decision makers to step back for a moment, talk a quiet walk on the Trail and decide on an alternative that saves the Trail for current and future generations,” Bhatt said. “This 20-acre park inside the Beltway is a slice of heaven truly worth saving.”

The MTA hopes to begin construction on the $2.2 billion light rail by 2015, but most iron out a public-private partnership and ensure funding from the Federal Transit Administration.

PDF: Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail response to Purple Line FEIS

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