County Executive Marc Elrich has proposed delaying funding for construction of the Capital Crescent Trail, a bikeway and pedestrian route that lies underneath downtown Bethesda and connects to Silver Spring, and is a complement to the Purple Line light rail project.
The trail was originally scheduled to open 12 to 14 months before passenger service begins in late 2026. But it was delayed after work on the light rail project was shut down in September 2020, due to cost overruns and overall disputes between the project’s prior contractor and Maryland officials.
Purple Line officials told the County Council last fall that the trail would reopen once the Purple Line opens for passenger service.
Elrich and county officials said the project should be delayed again to pay for construction and renovation of public schools for the next two years. The Washington Post first reported the proposed delay of construction.
According to Elrich’s proposed capital budget, the trail would cost the county about $82.5 million to construct. Last year’s capital budget estimated the project at $55 million. The county executive and other officials believe that it is too expensive to include in the six-year capital budget, the Post reported.
Rich Madaleno, the county’s chief administrative officer and former budget director, could not immediately be reached for comment via phone or text on Wednesday. He told The Post the funds for the trail could pay for the cost of a middle school.
Cyclists and other proponents say the trail is needed as a valuable transportation link between Bethesda and Silver Spring, and connecting to parts of Washington, D.C. The trail has been closed since 2017, when construction on the Purple Line began.
County Council Member Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1), whose district includes Bethesda, has repeatedly called on project and county officials to keep construction of the trail on schedule and have it open by at least the time the light rail is scheduled to first carry passengers in late 2026.
Friedson said in an interview Wednesday that he’s not surprised by Elrich’s decision, given that the county executive has historically not included funding for the trail in prior budgets. He added that Elrich also asked the state to explore single-tracking the Purple Line in Bethesda; state officials rejected the proposal.
The private sector has already funded its improvements to the trail and tunnel, Friedson said. He’s hopeful that he can persuade his colleagues to restore the funding for the project, as has been done in prior budgets with the previous County Council.
On the argument that the money should be used for schools, Friedson said: “This is not new infrastructure. This is returning infrastructure that the community has relied on for many years.
I understand that [schools are] a good talking point, but this is a commitment made, and it should be a commitment kept. And we need to fund schools … but it’s not as if it’s clear that the county executive chose a school instead of this particular project.”