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Local cyclists rail against city for delay

in completing $16 million bike trail

(Published May 17, 1999)


Staff Writer

Local bicycle enthusiasts want to know why only one mile of a planned 7.7-mile bike trail from Union Station to Silver Spring has been completed when millions of dollars were approved for the project nearly a year ago.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail would be a part of a 141-trail network in the Washington area and would link to the Capital Crescent Trail that runs from Georgetown to Silver Spring.

Congress earmarked $8.5 million last June for the bike trail, and the city’s former director of public works, Cell Bernardino, publicly pledged the District would match those funds with local dollars when ground was broken for the first mile. D.C. City Council approved matching funds in August 1998. But only one mile near Catholic University has been completed.

"There is no delay," says Michelle Pourciau, chief of transportation and public space policy for the city. "We are going through a process of evaluating the feasibility study."

Pourciau says there is no timeline for the project’s completion. She says they expect to have one in about two weeks.

The local and federal funding, which was the most earmarked for an area trail in more than 15 years, was part of the new federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21stt century. According to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), a series of other high-priority Washington area bicycle and trail projects like bike parking, bike-on-bus racks, connections to the Mount Vernon Trail, renovation of the Capital Crescent Trail bridge over Rock Creek, and completion of the Accotink Trail are scheduled to receive funding over the next six years.

WABA project coordinator Heather Anderson says she believes the D.C. government’s Department of Public Works has a problem with following through on projects and blamed that for the lack of any visible action on completing the bike trail since the one mile was completed last year.

"That section was built before any of the money was appropriated," she said, noting that it was rolled into another project to rebuild part of McCormick Road in North-east Washington.

The idea to build the Metropolitan Branch Trail is credited to former WABA member Pat Hare, who in 1988 was looking for new bike routes in the city and thought it would be a good idea to construct a route alongside Metrorail tracks. The right of way for the trail was made available when CSX Corp. abandoned the 150-foot stretch of the railroad between Union Station and the Brookland neighborhood.

Other rail-to-trail conversions in the metropolitan area include the 44-mile Washing-ton and Old Dominion Trail in Northern Virginia, the 12-mile Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Trail in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties and the 11-mile Capitol Crescent Trail.

Anderson said the planned trail runs parallel to Metro’s red line but would extend to streets or a side path for those places with no room near the rails. Because it would pass through land owned by Montgomery County, the National Park Service, the District and CSX, the city must purchase the property or a right-of-way from the landowners to allow cyclists to pass through the property. Anderson noted WABA has no problem with receiving support on the project.

"When Hare met with civic associations, Metro, DPW and the Park Service in the early ’90s, they all agreed it would be a good resource," said Anderson.

WABA members say they think the trail would benefit a part of the region under-served by parks and trails, and also provide another commuting option for residents in the Silver Spring and Takoma Park areas.

Pourciau said the city wants to meet with WABA to set up a preliminary plan to proceed with the project.

Anderson said she hasn’t had any contact with Pourciau since WABA took her and another project coordinator on a tour of the trail last month. Anderson said they all agreed that it was a good project after the tour.

"Since our tour, we’ve have begun to package the elements of the project," Pourciau said.

"We’re thinking in three big categories," she said.

"One is the land needs to be purchased. Two, some sections need to be designed and constructed, and, three, make the existing right of way suitable for the project."

Meanwhile Anderson, other WABA members and the Metropolitan Branch Trail Coalition continue promoting Hare’s vision of the trail by meeting with political and community leaders.

"We’ve sort of stepped up the campaign to make it a reality," she said.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator