Orange and white “Trail Closed” signs began appearing along the Georgetown Branch Trail in Montgomery County on Tuesday morning — one of the most obvious signs that construction of the light-rail Purple Line is underway.
The barriers, which appear to be temporary, didn’t stop a few walkers from simply stepping around them. Even so, the wooded recreational trail between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring was eerily quiet, except for the rumbling of an occasional truck driving along as workers installed the barriers and inspected trail access points.
While advocates of the 16-mile light-rail project cheered the apparent ramping up of construction, those who use the trail said their final goodbyes to a rare swath of green space in the otherwise densely developed Washington suburbs.
The trail, which is also heavily used by bike commuters, will be closed for four to five years during the Purple Line’s construction, state officials have said.
“I’ve really come to love it,” said Barbara Wax, 76, who took a short walk on the trail in Chevy Chase while checking out the new barriers. “I had a hip replacement a couple months ago, and it’s really been part of my recovery to have a nice place to walk.”
Wax said workers installing the barriers couldn’t tell her when the Purple Line construction crews will begin cutting down the towering trees lining the shady trail.
“The trees are what make this place so wonderful. It’s like a canopy all the way to Bethesda,” Wax said.
Maryland transportation officials and a spokeswoman for the Purple Line construction team didn’t immediately respond to questions Tuesday about when trees would be cut and how people would be kept off the trail when they can walk past the barriers.
There also were no barriers yet along private property, including residents’ back yards, along the three-mile gravel trail.
The Georgetown Branch trail is an extension of the Capital Crescent Trail. The part of the Capital Crescent Trail between downtown Bethesda and Georgetown remains unaffected.
The part of the trail along the Purple Line corridor will be rebuilt adjacent to the train tracks. During the light-rail construction, the trail will be rerouted along local streets.