Environmental consultant Steve Offutt proposes a solution for building the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Ave that would save money by replacing the Air Rights and Apex buildings with more valuable buildings now rather than when the buildings reach their typical lifespan. The solution relies on the engineering assumption that the buildings could be replaced less expensively during Purple Line construction rather than after the Purple Line is already in place. The two buildings sit on top of the existing tunnel (hence air rights) and are the main reason it would cost $51 million to keep the trail in the tunnel with the rail line. Mr. Offutt”s solution presumes that newer, bigger (taller) buildings with more direct Metro access would be significantly more valuable to the owners than the existing buildings. The deal could be sweetened by continuing to tax the properties based on the existing buildings’ lower value for several years, saving the owner taxes with no net revenue loss to the county.
Mr. Offutt writes:
By redeveloping these properties at the same time as the Purple Line, the construction costs of the Purple Line can be reduced (no columns in the way) and the design might be improved. Undoubtedly the design of the bike trail can be improved and costs reduced, since the columns are the biggest impediment.
He points out that the new buildings have value not just to the owners:
We know that eventually these buildings will be taken down and rebuilt. Doing it now will bring those improvements to downtown Bethesda right away, not at some point in the distant future. So there are community benefits to this solution as well.
In response to this idea, Silver Spring Trails writes, “Much like their operational analysis of single-track, [MTA] did not share any of the assumptions and numbers from the analysis itself [regarding replacing the Air Rights Building] with us in their preliminary draft report, so we are left being forced to take their word for it.” But that blog also notes, “But we cannot hold up the Purple Line project and wait for this, the whole project will only become more expensive the longer we delay” . Unless the Purple Line is delayed for other reasons of course. But we won’t know that without a transparent analysis.