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Twenty Years On, Metropolitan Branch Trail Remains Unfinished

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Interim detours dot sections of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which is supposed to go from downtown D.C. to Silver Spring.
WAMU/Martin Di Caro
Interim detours dot sections of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which is supposed to go from downtown D.C. to Silver Spring.

Twenty-one years after its plans were first devised and seven years after the District’s bike master plan called for its completion, the northern segment of Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington — a proposed eight-mile bicycling and walking trail that may eventually connect Union Station and Silver Spring, Md. — remains years from being finished.

The D.C. Department of Transportation on Tuesday said another calendar year is coming to a close without any progress toward the design and construction of the northern segment from Catholic University to the Maryland border at Takoma Park.

DDOT was prompted to clarify the status of the trail after D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) wrote a letter to the agency, asking why so little progress has been made for the past three years.

The issue is not money.

When construction eventually begins, DDOT has funding programmed into its budget to finish the eight-foot-wide trail within Washington, whose completed southern segment (1.5 miles from Union Station to the Brookland neighborhood) sees 15,000 bicyclists and pedestrians per month.

The biggest unresolved issue remains property conflicts near the Fort Totten Metro station: the Met Branch Trail would sneak around a municipal trash transfer station, privately owned railroad tracks and concrete factory, onto National Park Service property and around land owned by Metro.

“I hesitate to put a timeline on the actual construction of the trail just because… we don't know all the answers about what's going to be needed to be done,” said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s policy, planning, and sustainability director, who said there is no schedule to begin design work at this time. Design work is expected to take about one year before any construction could begin.

Land-use negotiations are still ongoing, Zimbabwe said.

“It takes a long time to do a project like this and it has taken longer than anyone involved has wanted it to take.” In October 2012 Zimbabwe called a prediction that the trail could be finished in two to three years "optimistic."

Bicycling advocates said the delays are hampering the District’s stated goal of substantially increasing the proportion of biking and walking trips inside the city to 25 percent in the next 20 years.

“The bike master plan called for the project to be done in 2007. We're now almost seven years late,” said Greg Billing at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “This is a premier facility that has been promised to the community for almost two decades and it is not acceptable to have it incomplete.”

The trail’s incomplete three segments north of Catholic University (two in D.C., one in Montgomery County) are a combination of off-road and "interim routes," which force cyclists to leave the protected pathway and squeeze onto congested city streets, especially in Northeast D.C. near the trash transfer station.


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