Capital Crescent Trail
|Capital Crescent Trail|
|Length||11 miles (18 km)|
|Location||Washington metropolitan area|
|Trailheads||South: Georgetown, North: Bethesda, Temporarily closed: Silver Spring|
The Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) is an 11-mile (18 km) long, shared-use rail trail that runs from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Silver Spring, Maryland. The portion from Bethesda to Silver Spring was called the Georgetown Branch Trail but is currently closed to build the Purple Line light rail project and to extend the Capital Crescent Trail.
The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most heavily used rail trails in the United States and is used by more than 1 million walkers, joggers, bikers, skateboarders and rollerbladers each year. In 2005, it was named one of the "21 great places that show how transportation can enliven a community" by The Project for Public Spaces.
The trail runs on the abandoned right-of-way of the Georgetown Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The branch was partially built in 1892 and completed in 1910. It served Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO), the Washington Mill, and federal government buildings; but with the changing use of Georgetown's waterfront, became obsolete. B&O was purchased by the Chessie System in 1973.
Because of structural problems with a bridge in Montgomery County, the last train on the line ran in June, 1985. At that time, the only customers were the General Services Administration (GSA) heating plant at 29th and K streets and a small building supply company in Bethesda. Three months later, Chessie indicated that they would ask the Interstate Commerce Commission(ICC) for permission to abandon the line. Chessie claimed they were losing money on the line and that it detracted from the scenery around the Washington Harbor Condominiums, of which Chessie was a part owner. Local governments and the National Park Service began trying to acquire the land for a trail and transit corridor as early as 1985, when the Interstate Commerce Commission informed them that the National Trails System Act could not be used to force Chessie to turn the land over. Problems with the line were exacerbated after the Potomac River flood in November undermined about 75 feet of roadbed near Fletcher's Boathouse. Before the abandonment, Chessie made plans to sell the section in the Palisades to a developer, and offered to sell it for $15 million. Chessie, by then part of the CSX Corporation, asked for permission to abandon the line in April 1986. The abandonment was completed in April 1988.
Advocates for turning the railroad into a trail, including the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition and the newly formed Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail began to lobby local and federal officials to do so, putting together a Concept Plan in 1988. Despite opposition from neighbors and those who wanted the right-of-way for mass transit or other development, they were able to convince the Montgomery County Government, along with a coalition of developers and government agencies, to purchase the right-of-way from the D.C. line to Silver Spring. The purchase was made in 1988 under the National Trails System Act of 1968. CSX sold the Maryland section of the line for $10.5 million. The following year, the County voted to build a trolley and bike trail along the Bethesda-Silver Spring section of the right-of-way.
In December 1988, Kingdon Gould, Jr., purchased an option to buy the railroad right-of-way after failing to buy it outright for the purpose of restarting the railroad. However, once Montgomery County made a deal to buy their section of the trail, Gould placed the 4.3 miles (6.9 km) section in the District of Columbia, between Georgetown and the D.C./Maryland boundary, into a trust until the National Park Service could purchase it outright for $10.5 million in 1990. The DC section then became a component of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. In 1991, advocates John Dugger and Henri Bartholomot helped secure federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act funding to develop the Maryland portion of the trail.
With the right-of-way and funding secured, work on the trail began in the early 1990s with four separate sections. Before any of the formal work began, volunteers built a wooden deck over the Arizona Avenue Railroad Bridge in 1990. The groundbreaking for the trail was held on September 30, 1992, when Montgomery County leaders symbolically pried loose one of the railroad ties. Work then began on the first section between Bethesda Avenue to Little Falls Parkway. That section, paid for by the county, was cleared by PEPCO in exchange for easement considerations elsewhere. Work on the portion in the District, from Dalecarlia Reservoir to Georgetown, except for the Arizona Avenue Trestle, started in 1993, finished in late 1994 and was performed by the National Park Service. Montgomery County, with financial assistance from Maryland and the federal government and planning from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, built the section from Little Falls Parkway to the MacArthur Boulevard in 1994. Removal of the tracks was done in the spring, paving in the summer and the section was completed by the end of the year. In late 1994/early 1995, Arlington County, oddly, built the section of the trail near Dalecarlia Reservoir from MacArthur to the District line, because they were doing unrelated work on pipelines in the area. In late 1995, the concrete deck of the Arizona Avenue trestle was poured, replacing the wooden deck built 5 years earlier. In 1996 a trail bridge was opened over busy River Road and the Dalecarlia Bridge was completed. The Dalecarlia Bridge includes a component of a bridge which formerly took the Georgetown Branch over the Washington and Great Falls Electric Railway and it was designed to go over a road connecting two parts of the Washington Aqueduct reservation. In June of that year the final piece of the trail between Bethesda and Georgetown was completed when the Arizona Avenue Trestle was finally opened. The trail was formally dedicated in December 1996.
An unpaved trail connection to Norton Street, NW and a staircase connection to Potomac Avenue, NW were built after 1997 and before 2003. A plaza along River Road, named for Neal Potter, was opened on November 3, 2018.
The section from Bethesda to Silver Spring, meanwhile, was delayed due to continued debate over the proposed trolley. It later opened as the Georgetown Branch Interim Trail. That section will be constructed as part of the ongoing work on the Purple Line.
Georgetown Branch Interim Trail
The section of the right-of-way from Bethesda to Silver Spring opened later than the section from Bethesda to Georgetown did, primarily because of a debate over what to do with it. A year after the right-of-way was purchased, Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) offered $70 million to build a trolley line on it and later a combined transit/trail corridor was added to the county's master plan. This led to several contentious battles between those who supported transit and those who did not, with those who supported a trail left in the middle. There were also lawsuits over the ownership of the line with adjacent homeowners, the Chevy Chase Land Co. and Columbia Country Club all suing the county. The county won all the suits and pursued construction of an interim trail while transit options were considered.
On May 17, 1997, the Georgetown Branch Interim Trail, from the east side of the Air Rights Tunnel in Bethesda to Stewart Avenue in Silver Spring opened. On August 15, 1998, the Air Rights Tunnel in Bethesda (built in 1910) was opened to trail traffic, connecting the interim and permanent sections. In June 2000, Montgomery County committed $1.3 million to repair the Rock Creek Trestle, which had been damaged by arson and fire, most notably in 1967, and open it for trail use. The trestle was dedicated for trail use on May 31, 2003.
Over the years, adding transit to the Georgetown Branch continued to be studied and debated. A trolley between Bethesda and Silver Spring eventually became the Georgetown Branch Light Rail Transit, the Inner Purple Line, the Bi-County Transitway and finally the Purple Line - a light rail train from Bethesda to New Carrolton, MD. Each iteration included plans to pave a parallel extension of the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring and using the existing Air Rights Tunnel. However, in 2011 MTA announced that the cost of building the extended trail would be $103 million, much more than the previously estimated $65 million, with half of that being the cost of squeezing the trail into the Air Rights Tunnel with the train. Instead the county made plans for a 2nd trail tunnel parallel to the transit tunnel built, in part, under a new Air Rights building.
On September 5, 2017, the Georgetown Branch was officially closed so that work could begin on the Purple Line light rail. In conjunction with the Purple Line project, construction crews will extend the Capital Crescent Trail as a paved 12 foot wide off-road shared use path from Bethesda to Silver Spring. That project is to be completed in October 2022.
The currently closed section of the trail started at Lyttonsville Junction, about one mile (1.6 km) west of downtown Silver Spring. It went west on an unpaved, crushed stone surface passing over Rock Creek on a trestle to Chevy Chase and then to Bethesda through the 800-foot-long Air Rights Tunnel. It was closed in September 2017 for construction of the Purple Line and the extension of the trail to Silver Spring. It will reopen around 2022 as a paved trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring.
The currently paved portion of the trail begins south of Bethesda, where the trail begins to turn south. It follows the Little Falls Branch to the Potomac River and the District line. It goes over the River Road Bridge and past the site of Fort Sumner, a Civil War-era fort. It then moves through the Dalecarlia area, traveling under the Washington Aqueduct conduit at the Dalecarlia Tunnel, past the Dalecarlia Reservoir and through the grounds of the Dalecarlia Treatment Plant over the Dalecarlia Bridge.
Crossing into Washington, DC, it then turns southeast, dropping down from the Palisades neighborhood over the C&O Canal on the Arizona Avenue Railway Bridge, and down to the banks of the Potomac. It then runs between the Potomac and the C&O Canal, past Fletcher's Boathouse and the Foundry Branch Tunnel, into Georgetown to its terminus at the west end of Water Street NW.
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