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. Note that the CCT along the Purple Line will be managed by Montgomery County DOT (MCDOT), not by Montgomery Parks as the CCT south of Bethesda Ave in the county is.

Official information on trails in the Purple Line project is here:

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: used to extend) 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 to 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:
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:
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 is being 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/uphill 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 trail 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, rather than the previous almost unsigned 6 block connection on neighborhood streets and sidewalks.

The former CCT tunnel under Wisconsin Ave is now completely filled by the Purple Line Bethesda terminus station. In reply to a request from Montgomery County, MD state 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:

But with the current (2022-2023) very tight financial situation aggravated by Covid, the timing for capital funding for the replacement tunnel is in great danger of sliding far out into the 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 would hopefully start by 2025, not complete.

A January 18 2023 Washington Post article titled New Capital Crescent Trail tunnel could be delayed as costs grow reported that the estimated cost to build the tunnel had increased to $82.5 Million from the previous $55 Million. This raises the possibility that the replacement tunnel will only get built when a building gets replaced just North or South of Elm St on the East side of Wisconsin Ave. Part of the tunnel construction and cost could get rolled into such a building replacement project. This is speculation on our part, but that approach is exactly how the portion of the tunnel up to the West edge of Wisconsin ave has already been constructed, as part of the deal for constructing "The Wilson and The Elm". which replaced the Apex building on the West side of Wisconsin Ave.

In the mean time, Montgomery County DOT has constructed 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 construction was completed around the end of 2021. Phase I includes everything from the trailhead at Bethesda Ave to and across Wisconsin Ave. Phase II, the part in Elm St Park, will follow later, but Elm St Park is somewhat bicycle friendly, and the CCT along the Purple Line won't be usable to connect to some time in 2027 at the earliest.

The CCST is pretty nice, with bicycle crossing lanes and signals across Bethesda/Woodmont Aves and Wisconsin Ave. It feels safe, including for less experienced bicyclists. 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 still confusing and out of date as of December 2022, since construction is completed:

Montgomery Parks has a much better CCST route map, but as of December 2021 there is no other information, just a link to the MCDOT CCST project pages:

Overall, we feel the Purple Line project design has treated the CCT fairly well, 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 the 3 opposing lawsuits, which helped cause the lead construction contractor Fluor to back out in late summer 2020.  The Maryland Transit Administration and Purple Line Transit Partners went through the process of soliciting and selecting a replacement lead construction contractor, and finalized that choice in April 2022. There are many press articles about all of this, such as in Bethesda Magazine and the Washington Post. Try these searches:

Purple Line construction completion was originally predicted for 2023/4, but now for late 2026 at the earliest and more likely early to mid-2027, due to the need to replace the lead construction contractor after the major contract disagreements in 2020. The Purple Line is supposed to start passenger service when construction completes. There have been requests that the CCT open before the Purple Line, but the project has said no.

Here is a January 20, 2023 Washington Post article titled "Maryland's Purple Line construction faces another seven-month delay", which moved the completion date guesstimate from Late 2026 to mid-2027.  This International Railway Journal article has more detail about this added delay and the change of lead construction contractor.  This July 14, 2023 Washington Post Article titled "Purple Line further delayed, another $148M over budget" confirms a May 2027 estimated opening, and says more about cost increases.

For some more information about the CCT in the Purple Line project, see the Purple Line Now Rails & Trails page. Purple Line Now is obviously 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.

The Purple Line project itself also has a YouTube channel, which includes recordings of their Community Advisory Team meetings.