Getting the Trail Repaved
[insert some photos later!]
If you’re a trail user, you’ve probably noticed that the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) between Bethesda and Georgetown is overdue for repaving. In fact, the trail was originally paved over 25 years ago (between 1992 and 1995), and with only spot repaving since then, much of the trail has its original asphalt. As one of the most heavily used trails in metropolitan Washington, DC, our well-loved CCT is showing its age with wear and deterioration that degrades the integrity of the trail and the experience for everyone who uses it.
The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (the Coalition) has long been advocating for repaving in discussions with the National Park Service (NPS), which owns the DC section of the trail (as part of the C&O Canal National Historic park) and with the Montgomery County Parks Department, which manages the Montgomery County section. Both park authorities acknowledge the need for repaving and the challenges associated with funding a project of this scale. Along with repaving, the Coalition also strongly recommends widening the trail for ease of use and safety.
Here’s a breakdown and progress update on that recommended work:
The DC section of CCT is clearly showing wear and age, with a lot of bumps from roots and frost heaves, and many dips due to subsidence, making for a rough surface and increasing the risk of accidents.
While the Montgomery County section is in better shape, it’s reached an age where the remaining asphalt needs replacement to ensure its integrity and the shoulders need regrading. There are also several portions that badly need repaving, such as between the Bradley Blvd. overpass and Weiner Plaza south of the Ourisman Plaza.
In addition, although the Montgomery County section has dirt and gravel shoulders over much of its length, the shoulder on one side is missing, rough or narrow at multiple points. There are also sections with no shoulders, such as just south of the bridge that passes over the Dalecarlia Reservoir grounds.
The DC section has no shoulders in most places, and where it does, those shoulders are usually on just one side of the trail.
Coalition records report that the original cost to pave the Montgomery County section was about $50 per linear foot, while the section in Washington DC was about $25 per linear foot. That cost difference explains why the DC section is in poorer shape—it was paved with thinner asphalt that is more easily damaged. Today, a very rough estimate of trail repaving cost is $TBD.
The Coalition has been trying for years to persuade the NPS to rehabilitate and resurface its section of the CCT. In the past, the limiting factor has been the annual major under-funding of maintenance for National Parks. However, in 2020 Congress passed, and the President signed, the Great American Outdoor Act, from which funds will be available for improving the NPS parks and trails. As a result, the NPS will have a source of funding to resurface the CCT and we understand that the NPS is considering how it can now address the needs of the CCT. However, it will take a couple of years for the NPS to develop the plans, complete environmental assessments, invite bids and complete the project. Consequently, under the best of circumstances, we likely won’t see significant improvements to the surface of the DC section until 2024.
The NPS is, however, working to resolve some more immediate serious trail problems, especially the recently completed repair work in the Palisades where the slopes both above and below the CCT had eroded and threatened the integrity of the trail.
The Coalition has also been in touch with the Montgomery County Parks Department regarding the condition of their section of the CCT. The Parks Department is aware of the need for trail improvements and is working on a plan to accomplish this, including how they intend to fund this project. However, as with the NPS section improvements, it will take several years to be achieved.
Widening the trail
Repaving the CCT provides a perfect opportunity to widen it, which the Coalition strongly favors to improve safety and ease of use. A wider trail would also align with best practices for heavily used trails like the CCT, which sees over one million users per year.
The current pavement is 10 feet wide, while current design guidance for a trail as busy as the CCT calls for a minimum of 12 feet paved width with 2-foot unpaved shoulders on both sides.* It would also be particularly helpful to add shoulders on both sides along as much of the DC section as possible, to provide adequate space for walkers and runners who prefer not to be on the asphalt, and to reduce plant overgrowth onto the pavement that can become difficult to remove, which has been endemic in the DC section.
In addition, two future trail milestones will increase use and bring users from new areas. First, the completion of a paved, grade separated CCT from Bethesda to Silver Spring with the Purple Line will bring direct access to Chevy Chase, Lyttonsville, Silver Spring and beyond, increasing both recreational and commuter usage. Second, the completion of the planned replacement trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue will provide safer passage for all, and will attract those hesitant to use the new protected surface trail to cross Wisconsin Ave. Both enhancements will most certainly increase recreational and commuter traffic on the trail.
The CCT between Bethesda and Silver Spring will be "a 12-foot paved trail with 2-foot buffers", when constructed as part of the Purple Line project. This supports widening the rest of the CCT to match.
The Coalition will continue to advocate for trail repaving and widening, and provide updates here on the plans and progress made by the National Park Service and Montgomery County Parks Department for these and other improvements to the CCT.
*References for shared-use trail design:
Chapter 5: Design of Shared Use Paths, 2012 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities
Link to AASHTO store to purchase Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, 4th Edition (2012)
- Sections 7.3: Path Cross Section and 7.6: Shoulders, 2015 Maryland State Highway Administration Bicycle Policy & Design Guidelines
- FHWA-HRT-05-138 - Shared-Use Path Level of Service Calculator - A User's Guide - July 2006