Parks could start plowing Capital Crescent Trail next winter

The Georgetown Branch extension of the Capital Crescent Trail at  Jones Mill Road on Jan. 30Montgomery Parks on Thursday said it could plow its part of the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda for less than $60,000 with a pilot program starting next winter.

The cost estimate came in response to criticism from trail users and a request from Councilmember Roger Berliner after this winter’s many snowfalls left the heavily-used route impassable for days and even weeks after storms.

In a letter from Parks Director Mary Bradford, the agency estimated it would cost $50,000 for specialized equipment to remove snow from its portion of the trail, which runs from Bethesda Avenue to the D.C. line.

Labor cost estimates ranged from $1,100 to handle light snow to $5,800 to deal with a heavier snow event.

In his initial request, Berliner made the argument that the Capital Crescent Trail was special in that it carries a large amount of commuters in a heavily populated area. The D.C. section of the trail is plowed after snow storms.

In the past, Montgomery Parks has argued the idea of plowing the Capital Crescent Trail would mean having to remove snow on all of its trails in the county, a financially arduous task.

“I am pleased that the Montgomery County Parks Department has proposed a pilot snow removal program for the Capital Crescent Trail. I, along with Councilmembers Andrews, Branson, Leventhal, and Riemer, had requested our Parks Department to consider such a program. For less than $75,000, the Capital Crescent Trail can remain a bike commuter route. Not all trails are equal. This trail is a vital commuter route connected to a park trail in the District of Columbia that is also plowed. I hope that all of my colleagues on the Council will agree that this is a very modest ask for a substantial improvement and reaffirms the county’s desire to support biking as an environmentally preferred transportation alternative,” Berliner said in a press release.

The pilot program will require approval from the County Council, where snow removal proposals for sidewalks and bus stops have faced some opposition recently.

“We are fortunate that, of all our paved trails, the Capital Crescent has the strongest base for supporting heavier equipment, since it is largely over an old railroad bed, and it is fairly wide,” Bradford wrote.

She made it clear the pilot program would apply only to the Capital Crescent Trail. Montgomery Parks would generally be able to address the trail 48-72 hours after a storm, after clearing snow in parking lots and other Parks facilities. Bradford said this was in line with the procedures of the National Park Service, which clears the D.C. portion of the trail.

“The Capital Crescent Trail serves a rapidly growing number of bicycle commuters each day through out the year.  Each of these riders represents one less car on the roads, or one less seat occupied on Metro.  Clearing the trail after significant snowfalls will allow bike commuters to maintain their regular commutes.  The Coalition For The Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) applauds all efforts to keep the trail open year round,” Coalition President Ron Tripp said in the press release.

“The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) is delighted to learn that the county has committed to clearing the Capital Crescent Trail of snowfall. The Capital Crescent Trail is the region’s most heavily used trail and a critically important connection for thousands of people who travel by bike.  This winter’s repeated snowfalls revealed just how vital it is to the transportation network, and we greatly appreciate this step by the county to make winter biking a safer, more predictable possibility,” WABA Executive Director Shane Farthing said.

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