The Purple Line and completing the CCT

The Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) will be completed between Bethesda and Silver Spring as part of the Purple Line project, and so far we see no serious reason to doubt that. The main uncertainty arises from the many twists and turns and resulting delays which have impacted that project. Official information on trails in the Purple Line project is here:
https://www.purplelinemd.com/about-the-project/trail-connections

That page paints a positive picture of the resulting CCT:

  • The interim trail built in the former Georgetown Branch railroad right-of-way which currently extends (Ed: once extended) between Bethesda and Stewart Avenue in Lyttonsville will be replaced by a 12-foot paved trail with 2-foot buffers that extends all the way into downtown Silver Spring.
  • The trail will be paved and landscaped with new formal access points from local neighborhoods.
  • The completed trail will include trail bridges over Connecticut Avenue and Colesville Road, and underpasses at Jones Mill Road, 16th Street, and Spring Street; making a safer trail for the public.
  • The completion of the trail into downtown Silver Spring will be a major enhancement of the local trail network, linking the Capital Crescent Trail, the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Green Trail.

This link downloads a PDF map of the CCT alignment along the Purple Line, including the trail access points:
https://www.purplelinemd.com/component/jdownloads/send/47-trail-connections/241-capital-crescent-trail-map
The CCT will continue directly into the Metropolitan Branch Trail at the Silver Spring Transit Center.

The Purple Line Project Maps page includes links to download high resolution Aerial Maps covering the whole alignment:
https://www.purplelinemd.com/about-the-project/project-maps
The first 4 Aerial Maps cover Bethesda to Silver Spring and show the CCT route in green, with a lot of detail.

Regarding grade separation, the Purple Line Trail Connections page lists bridges or underpasses at all the major roads, but does not say the CCT will be fully grade separated. Looking at the Aerial Maps, it shows the CCT crossing roads at-grade in 2 places, both low-traffic:

  1. Stewart Ave in Lyttonsville - This dead-end street was the old eastern terminus of the Georgetown Branch Trail/CCT. Both the Purple Line and the CCT are shown crossing Stewart Ave at-grade.
  2. Talbot Ave - This is where that former narrow wood-decked bridge was. It will be replaced by a modern bridge, where the CCT and Talbot Ave together will cross both the Purple Line and CSX main line. The CCT will cross Talbot Ave at-grade at the north end of that bridge.

Regarding the Rock Creek Trail connection, the "Jones Mill Road to CSX Corridor" Aerial Map shows that it will be a switchback on the east side of Rock Creek. The new CCT bridge over Rock Creek will be much lower than the old trestle was, at a guess around half as high, so the grade change down to the Rock Creek Trail can be achieved in a single switchback.

The former CCT tunnel under Wisconsin Ave is now completely filled by the Purple Line Bethesda terminus station, and in reply to a request from Montgomery County, MD DOT has stated conclusively that a tunnel for the CCT cannot be squeezed into that space. Montgomery County has said at multiple points that they would build a replacement tunnel for the CCT, and MCDOT has done the initial (35%) design for it, visible here:

https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dot-dte/projects/capital-crescent/index.html

But with the current very tight financial situation aggravated by Covid, the timing for capital funding for the replacement tunnel is in danger of sliding out into the post-2025 future. CCCT and WABA have been campaigning for the new tunnel, but the Montgomery County Executive has advocated removing the tunnel from the current capital budget. The Montgomery County Council has overridden the County Executive to keep tunnel funding in the 2021 capital budget, which runs through 2025. Note that this success still means the replacement tunnel project will hopefully start by 2025, not complete.

In the mean time, Montgomery County DOT is constructing protected bike-only lanes called the Capital Crescent Surface Trail (CCST) between the current CCT trailhead at Ourisman Plaza on Bethesda Ave, and Elm St Park where the CCT from Silver Spring will reach once completed with the Purple Line. CCST Phase I is well along in construction, likely to be completed in July or August of 2021. Phase I includes everything from the trailhead at Bethesda Ave to and across Wisconsin Ave. Phase II, the part around Elm St Park, will follow later, but Elm St Park is already bicycle friendly, and the CCT along the Purple Line won't be completed to connect to for 3 years at the very least, more likely 4 or 5 years.

The MCDOT CCST project web pages have good plans and renderings in "Project Documents", but their "Area Map" is confusing and slightly inaccurate, and their schedule information was both confusing and out of date as of June 2021:

https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dot-dte/projects/bethesdabikewaypedfacilities/index.html

Montgomery Parks has a much better CCST route map, but no detailed information and as of June 2021 they incorrectly show it as still In Design, while actually Phase I is almost complete:

https://www.montgomeryparks.org/projects/directory/capital-crescent-trail-mcdot-ccst-surface-route-project-phase-i-and-ii-downtown-bethesda/

Overall, we feel the Purple Line project design has treated the CCT well enough, for example giving the trail separate bridges over Connecticut Ave and Rock Creek, and a separate tunnel segment under Jones Mill Rd. The Purple Line project is burdened with years of delays due in part to 3 opposing lawsuits, which helped cause the lead construction contractor Fluor to back out in late summer 2020. MD DOT and Purple Line Transit Partners are in the process of soliciting and selecting a replacement lead construction contractor, hopefully to finalize that choice in Fall 2021. There are many press articles about all of this, such as in Bethesda Magazine and the Washington Post. Try these searches:

https://www.google.com/search?q=bethesda+magazine+purple+line
https://www.google.com/search?q=washington+post+purple+line

A Purple Line completion date is very unclear. One could guess 2025 to 2026, but our crystal balls are very cloudy on this.

For some more information about the CCT in the Purple Line project, see the Purple Line Now Rails & Trails page. Purple Line Now is self-admittedly highly pro-Purple Line, and their Rails & Trails pages appear to have last been updated around 2011, but if you read between the boosterism there is some interesting history and information there.