Reviews | Traveling Together on the Tunnel and the Capital Crescent Trail Extension
The CCT is one of the most popular, well-used, and successful trails in the DC area. More than a million people use the trail for recreation and travel between Georgetown, Bethesda, and Silver Spring (albeit with a circuitous route), with easy access to Arlington. If the tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue and the extension of the trail to Silver Spring are completed, even more people could benefit from the trail.
The fate of these projects is intimately linked to the Purple Line. A tunnel previously existed allowing safe passage under Wisconsin Avenue, but this changed in 2017 as part of light rail construction. Now the tunnel is dedicated exclusively to light rail, and a new short tunnel for others has an uncertain future (especially as costs have soared to over $50 million). The developers and the county have promised CCT users a new cobblestone extension from Bethesda to Silver Spring. But Purple Line delays have pushed completion of the extension to at least 2026. And when this issue was brought up at the Purple Line Open Day, I was dismayed to learn that it there was little to no thought about extending the trail until the trains were tested.
We echo sentiments calling for the extension to be prioritized and for the tunnel to be funded and completed. We should all act together to support this plan, and here’s why.
The projects bring us closer to Montgomery County’s Vision Zero goal of no pedestrian fatalities on the road. With the tunnel closed, pedestrians, runners and cyclists must navigate the heavily congested streets of downtown Bethesda, potentially at risk of traffic accidents. Once the tunnel is complete, trailhead commuters to and from downtown Bethesda, the subway and the Purple Line will have a safe, fast and reliable route away from congested streets. This year, at least 175 pedestrians and cyclists have been hit on Montgomery County roads. As one of those 175 (and someone who lobbied for pedestrian-friendly infrastructure), I can vouch for walkers’ concerns about traffic safety in downtown Bethesda.
The projects allow us to meet the county’s climate action goals. Switching people from passenger vehicles to active transportation options will directly lead to reduced carbon emissions. The CCT extension will connect existing active transportation networks in our region, such as the Rock Creek Trail and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. This will help achieve the climate action goal of integrating the park’s trails into the county’s transportation system and also accomplishing the master plan for bicycles. Additionally, these CCT investments align with Downtown Silver Spring’s plan to improve the quantity and quality of parks and open spaces as well as encourage car-free options to counter environmental concerns.
The projects move us forward towards equity and accessibility in public transit. The CCT extension will allow residents of eastern Montgomery County to walk, run or bike to Bethesda, Georgetown and beyond. This racially and socioeconomically diverse area of the county is one that, having been neglected in the past, deserves improved trail connections to deal with large city blocks, difficult topography, and other barriers limiting access. pedestrians and cyclists. The 2017 plan for Greater Lyttonsville, a community that would benefit from completing the trails, calls for “trails and open spaces that could be expanded with new greenways and civic greens to benefit more residents,” which promotes and encourages physical activity. Consider how to get from here to Bethesda on foot or two wheels now. The most direct route is the east-west highway, with very limited alternate routes that are not sufficient, safe or appropriate for everyone. Maybe you are an elderly person, a child or a disabled person like me. How would you do?
The county is also serious about transit equity connecting communities. In his application for federal RAISE grants, he argues that the tunnel and extension provide a “high-quality and safe connection for bicycles, pedestrians and micromobility between a historically disadvantaged community and areas of emphasis on the equity elsewhere in Montgomery County and major employment centers”. The requested $25 million in federal funds would help achieve these goals.
We recognize that with many competing priorities, maintaining commitment and allocating funds for these projects will be an ongoing challenge. Resident support is crucial to help us continue to preserve, protect, and improve safety, equity, and access to CCT.