Here’s my take.
The Capital Crescent Trail should be retained in the existing tunnel (or some tunnel) under Wisconsin Avenue after the Purple Line is built because:
- Trail users should not have to use the sidewalk. Even a 12′-15′ wide dual-area sidewalk on Bethesda Avenue would result in many conflicts between trail users and pedestrians walking, shopping or getting into their cars, not to mention cars turning across the sidewalk. It’s not suitable for a family trail (or a ped-friendly street).
- Trail users should not have to wait to cross Wisconsin Ave.
Psychologically I think it would be a big deal if Bethesda residents had to wait to cross Wisconsin Avenue at the very beginning of their trail journey to Silver Spring. In general it seems harder to me to get past an initial barrier than one further along the route. In this case it would seem like an effort just to leave Bethesda. We want Bethesda residents to see Silver Spring as a reachable destination, not make the two places further apart. We want residents of both communities to be able to travel back and forth in a convenient (and pleasant!) manor, so they see Bethesda and Silver Spring as one community, not two alienated islands. We want to allow travel in an environmentally friendly way. Retaining the trail wouldn’t just have a direct environmental benefit. It would introduce more people to bicycling. It would make bikeshare more viable which would facilitate more bicycling throughout Bethesda and Silver Spring, not just on the trail. It would support transit by improving access to the Red Line at both ends.
The relative cost of putting the trail in the Purple Line tunnel vs. running it along the surface is not fully known. $40.5 million is an estimated maximum differential, not a median estimate, according to the planning staff report. The report states that the estimate “represents a differential for the trail in the tunnel of as much as $40.5 million, but it could be reduced “. There also may be less expensive options like building a separate trail tunnel or a bridge over Wisconsin Ave. (admittedly a bridge seems unfeasible due to the road’s elevation). I think these need further exploration.
Don’t forget that this is money spent to retain an existing trail as part of another project, not money spent on a new trail. It’s real county money, but the expense should be considered part of the Purple Line cost. The distinction may seem imaginary, but it determines how we think of future bike/pedestrian spending. The expense of putting the trail in the tunnel shouldn’t be counted against county funding for bike/ped improvements any more than the trail next to the ICC should be counted against state bike/ped funding (and it wasn’t). Future bike/ped funding should not be reduced because of this tunnel.
We spend many millions on many projects, including road interchanges, parking garages, whatever. Putting the trail in the tunnel (any tunnel) would be money well spent.