A group of Montgomery County Council members wants two county agencies to prepare cost estimates for snow plowing on the Capital Crescent Trail.
Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda) on Thursday sent a letter to Department of Transportation Director Art Holmes and Montgomery Parks Director Mary Bradford, urging the agencies to revisit the possibility of removing snow and ice from the popular biker and pedestrian trail that connects Silver Spring, Bethesda and D.C:
The Capital Crescent Trail is local treasure enjoyed recreationally by numerous residents throughout the year. But for those who do not own a car or perhaps have chosen to only own one family car, the trail represents a critical corridor for getting to their workplace. Each year, I hear from residents who report the difficulty of traversing the trail after a snow fall or icy conditions due to the lack of maintenance and snow removal. As a result, commuters are forced onto busy and dangerous roads that often do not have the appropriate bicycling infrastructure, a situation made worse by the accumulation of snow in the curb lanes from the plows.
Montgomery Parks and MCDOT are responsible for different portions of the Trail.
Trail reports in January chronicled how winter weather made for a difficult-to-navigate Trail packed under snow and ice for at least a week after roads were cleared.
After last week’s heavy snowfall, more complaints flooded in to the Council offices. Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Cherri Branson, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer signed the letter in support of Berliner’s request.
Before the memo was sent out Thursday, Bradford reiterated how difficult it is to find the resources for plowing any trails, natural or hard surface. The issue has come up before, usually in snowy winters.
“Montgomery Parks manages 420 parks — many of which require parking lots and adjacent sidewalks to be cleared when it snows,” Bradford said. “During snow events, our policy has been to clear parkways, park roads, park sidewalks and walkways and assisting the county in snow removal from neighborhood streets for emergency transportation needs and so residents can safely reach their job and school.”
Bradford said Montgomery Parks does not have the proper equipment to clear recreational trails because the county’s trails were not built to withstand the weight of the agency’s heavy trucks. She also said hand-clearing is extremely difficult for such lengthy trails.
The county has more than 200 miles of recreational trails, according to Montgomery Parks. The Capital Crescent Trail and Georgetown Branch Extension cover about 5.5 miles in Montgomery County.
Berliner requested both Parks and MCDOT to prepare an estimate for snow removal and winter maintenance on the Trail in time for his Transportation Committee to review it during the Council’s budget deliberations in April:
In my opinion, not maintaining the Capital Crescent Trail does not only a great disservice to residents who rely on the trail for commuting purposes, but also to the County’s goal of being a more walkable and bikeable community. Montgomery County prides itself on the network of trails and bike paths built within its borders. It is only appropriate that we maintain those networks to the maximum extent possible.
But financial considerations might not be the only hurdle.
Bradford said there are environmental and logistical concerns. Most of Montgomery Parks’ trails are in environmentally sensitive stream valleys. The Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail passes through the Rock Creek Park area of Chevy Chase and Silver Spring.
“Salting of trails in these areas will have a negative impact on water quality in streams and floodplain wetlands — as well as on the large numbers of plant and animal species that make these areas their homes,” Bradford said.
Bradford also said certain portions of county trails are very narrow and abut other properties, which could leave no place to put snow that would have to be removed.