Both options for a new Capital Crescent Trail crossing under Wisconsin Avenue pose issues, according to county planners working on a Bethesda Purple Line station plan.
The new bike and pedestrian tunnel, which would be separate from the existing Trail tunnel under the busy six-lane road, is being discussed as a major public benefit to razing the Apex building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) before construction of the Purple Line station begins below.
In 2012, the county decided not to pursue a full-width Capital Crescent Trail in the existing tunnel next to the light rail. County and state officials said it would be too costly.
But with the possibility of tearing down the Apex building now on the table, there’s new hope for a biker and pedestrian only tunnel.
The two options for the Trail tunnel proposed by the Maryland Transit Administration both have disadvantages.
Option 1, a 225-foot long tunnel that would open to the street at the southeast corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue, is the cheaper of the two options at $15 million. But planners are concerned about how a parking lot at 4610 Elm St. would restrict the tunnel.
The current design has the tunnel at only 13 feet wide, which planners note is an effective width of nine feet since bikers shy away from retaining walls. The optimal width is 15 feet for an effective width of 11 feet.
The current design also would require an eight percent grade over the length of the tunnel to avoid cutting off access to the parking lot, which planners say “would be difficult — if not impossible — for several user groups to navigate, including children, elderly, and disabled users.”
An elevator at the southeast corner of Elm and Wisconsin would provide an ADA compliant alternative.
Option 2, a 450-foot long tunnel that would travel under Elm Street and open up in Elm Street Park, would be 16-feet wide its entire length with a manageable 4.75 percent grade that meets ADA requirements.
But it would cost about $30 million and include a curved entrance/exit that planners worry would pose security risks for users who wouldn’t be able to see the end of the tunnel. It might also require the removal and replacement of the half-basketball court in the park, one of just a few park facilities in downtown Bethesda.
On Thursday, planners will recommend Option 1 in front of the Planning Board. The hope is that the design could be widened to 16 feet and the grade reduced to less than five percent by closing the commercial driveway that leads to the parking lot.
It all depends on if the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the Apex building, will be willing to demolish the property. The Purple Line station plan suggests the county and state would have to come up with about $10 million in public incentives to make it worthwhile for the group, which also is a tenant of the building.
If the county, state and Pharmacists group can reach an understanding within the MTA’s timeframe, planners hope the improved Purple Line station will include a 500-bicycle, 10,000-square-foot bicycle parking space.
The facility would include changing rooms, showers and a bicycle repair shop.
Both options and the no-build option include provisions for an on-road route that would connect the Capital Crescent Trail with the Georgetown Branch extension just north of Elm Street Park. Bikers would have to cross Wisconsin Avenue at Bethesda Avenue, which many say could curtail the number of users.
Photos via Montgomery County Planning Department