The Montgomery County Council is reviewing a plan that could complete a 10.7-mile bicycle and pedestrian path from Silver Spring to Georgetown by the end of next summer, allowing cyclists and runners a motor vehicle-free link to an extensive hiker-biker trail network in Virginia.
A key gap in the Capital Crescent Trail is the 3.3-mile segment between the downtowns of Bethesda and Silver Spring. A task force recently outlined to the council ways to complete that link while the debate over whether to build a light-rail transit line on that right of way continues.
The task force suggested that the old rail ties now there be removed, salvaged and replaced with bluestone gravel, which could easily be removed if the $100-million trolley is ever built, the report said.
Supporters of the trail said they are optimistic the council will approve such a path.
"It's early, but we feel we have given them a feasible suggestion," said Henri Bartholomot, who headed the 12-member task force. "It's not really a question whether a majority of the council are supporters of the trail. The record shows that" they are.
Another suggestion, which only three members of the task force supported, was to keep the rail ties and fill up the path with wood chips and gravel.
The suggestions now go to committee, and the council is not likely to act for a few months, officials said.
The 10-foot-wide Crescent Trail follows the old CSX Railroad spur line that carried coal trains from Silver Spring to a federally owned electric plant in Georgetown from 1915 until 1985. It would be one of the longest rail trails in the eastern half of the nation. The trail is named for the route's crescent-moon shape. When completed, the trail is to stretch 23 miles from Silver Spring to Georgetown and then on to Union Station.
The state is now studying the feasibility of the trolley, and it could take up to two years to complete.
Opponents of the light-rail line said they hope the task force suggestions weaken the possibility of the trolley.
"We think it looks very good for the bike path and not very good for the rail," said Anthony Czajkowsi, head of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition.
Montgomery's new county executive, Douglas M. Duncan, "has said this route is a very low priority," Czajkowsi said. Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening "has personally said to me he doesn't prefer this location, and our state representatives said they don't like the idea. It's too costly and unfeasible, and now, we hope, a better alternative has started to form."
The task force didn't put a price tag on its bicycle path proposal but did say it could be funded with private donations and the cash value of the salvaged rail ties.
The 7.4-mile section of the Crescent Trail between Georgetown and Bethesda has three major gaps in it, but that has not prevented it from being heavily used by bike riders and pedestrians. Those segments should be completed by July, officials said.
The gaps are caused by the reconstruction of a railroad bridge on Canal Road near Arizona Avenue NW in the District; the building of a $550,000 bridge where the trail crosses busy River Road a few blocks west of Little Falls Parkway (the county received federal and state funding in October); and the installation of a water line from the Dalecarlia Reservoir, which has torn up the pathway.