After outcry from cycling advocates, the plan to build an underpass beneath Jones Mill Road will be subject to public input.
Montgomery County transportation officials are withdrawing their request to kill plans to build a subterranean passage for a popular biking and walking trail, after advocates objected to the lack of public notice about the move.
The county department of transportation quietly asked the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to change construction plans for the Capital Crescent Trail where it intersects Jones Mill Road. The trail is supposed to be redesigned when the Purple Line light rail system is built through Montgomery County, and plans had called for continuing the trail as an underpass beneath the roadway to protect bicyclists and pedestrians from traffic.
Without public notice or input, the county department of transportation acted to change the trail design to keep it at grade, sharing the intersection with cars and trucks. When bicycling advocates noticed the move, they immediately objected and successfully pressured county officials to reverse course — for now.
“They have decided to go through the public process. That is a great thing because we are happy to have a conversation about what the best and safest trail can be. We just can't have decisions made behind closed doors,” said Shane Farthing at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
In a letter to the bike advocates, Bruce Johnston, the county DOT’s engineering chief, explained the decision.
“MCDOT staff has contacted MTA to suspend the previous orders to MTA to make changes to the Capital Crescent Trail configuration at Jones Mill Road. Subsequent to the aforementioned order, additional engineering information has been provided to our staff, which is currently being reviewed by MCDOT engineers,” the letter stated.
“After our evaluation is complete, and before any further decision is made, the results of our evaluation will be vetted with the Capital Crescent Trail stakeholders, including the bicycling community.”
Opponents of building a grade separated trail contend the underpass would expose bikers and walkers to crime because they would be hidden from sight under the intersection of Jones Mill Road and Jones Bridge Road, next to the proposed Purple Line right-of-way. If the county ultimately decides to keep the Capital Crescent Trail at street level, officials promise they will involve the public in the process.
“We are very good at communicating with organizations and the public,” said Johnston. “I do think we could have done this one better and it's a good lesson learned. We are going to be working with the community working forward.”
On Monday afternoon, bicyclist Jake Kelderman waited about three minutes for the light to change so he could cross Jones Mill Road and continue on his ride. An opponent of the Purple Line, he said if the light rail system is going to be built he would prefer the trail go underground to remove it from the intersection.
“This is probably the scariest of the intersections because you can't see over here, and people are accustomed to turning right on red, so they just come sailing through there. Plus the light is really long,” he explained.
Farthing said there is no reason to keep the public out of the process at this critical juncture in Purple Line planning.
“We've been working for a number of years to see how this trail is going to develop alongside the Purple Line and we have advocated for a top notch trail through hundreds of hours of public involvement,” he said.
“To see one of the first grade-separation decisions suspended and changed without any public notice, we are concerned with how this process is going to work.”