Rock Creek trestle could be ready by 2002
May 24, 2000
Myra Mensh Patner
Staff Writer

David S. Spence/The Gazette

The County Council voted last week to rebuild the trestle on the Capital Crescent Trail over Rock Creek.

The controversial railroad trestle over Rock Creek that is about to be rebuilt as a steel hiker-biker bridge for the Capital Crescent Trail should be ready in less than two years.

That's the word from Holger Serrano, chief of design for the Division of Engineering Services at the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation, which will start work on the $1.3 million bridge in July.

The 230-foot-long steel bridge will replace an old wooden railroad trestle first built in 1892 to carry trains about 70 feet above Rock Creek.

When the county purchased the railroad right of way for use as the Capital Crescent Trail a decade ago, the trestle came along with the package.

But the trestle has been heavily damaged by fire several times and is impassable. Hikers and bikers must take a circuitous detour to use the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

The trestle's fate became controversial recently because a $250 million light rail line is proposed to be built parallel to the trail.

Those who want the light rail say spending $1.3 million on the trestle is a waste of money because the trestle may have to come down to make room for a bridge holding both the rail and the trail. They also say the expense and popularity of the new bridge would make it harder to tear down and build light rail.

But the County Council voted last week to rebuild and pave the trestle for hikers and bikers, saying there is no reason to keep the trestle out of commission while awaiting the rail line.

"We think it's a terrible waste of money to build this and then tear it down," said Ben Ross, head of Action Committee for Transit, which favors light rail and opposes rebuilding the trestle.

Ross said his group is also concerned about safety, because hikers and bikers crossing Jones Mill Road near the trestle will be subject to traffic coming from Jones Bridge Road.

The bridge proposed as part of the light rail line would lead to a tunnel that would go under Jones Mill Road to avoid traffic, Ross said.

But Wayne Phyillaier, chairman of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, which pressed for the trestle to be rebuilt, said hikers and bikers have been crossing Jones Mill Road for years.

There is a crosswalk and signage, which could be improved, Phyillaier said.

"I would not disagree that safety could be improved," Phyillaier said. "But my question is 'So what's new?'"

The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail questions whether the new bridge will have to be torn down, Phyillaier said, and maintains that it is possible for a separate rail line bridge to run parallel to the new trestle.

Serrano said his agency would document any historic features of the old wooden trestle before replacing it with steel trusses that will be fabricated for assembly on site.

There will be a wooden deck across the bridge and fencing on both sides, Serrano said, and the steel pier that holds up the trestle will remain in place.

The rustic look of the old trestle will be gone, but the all-steel structure replacing it will be sturdy enough to last 30 years, Serrano said.

"It will be very safe," he said.