The Bethesda Purple Line station is currently planned to squeeze into an existing tunnel below the Apex Building on Wisconsin Avenue. But planners are now considering an alternate plan to tear down the building and redevelop the entire site.
Between Silver Spring and Bethesda, the Purple Line will run along the Georgetown Branch, a former railroad line. While Montgomery County bought most of the rail line for transit and a trail, years ago the railroad sold the development rights above the tracks in downtown Bethesda. Now there are two buildings atop the rail corridor, the Apex Building and the Air Rights Building.
The Purple Line will pass easily under the Air Rights Building, but the Apex Building needs to accommodate a station. And while the tunnel there was designed to carry tracks, it wasn’t originally built with room for much more. The structural columns supporting the building come down into the rail tunnel, severely constraining the space.
Planners can squeeze a station in the existing space, but the result is a narrow platform crowded with building columns.
Meanwhile, there are other problems with the existing arrangement. There’s not enough room in the tunnel for both a light rail station and a bike trail, so county planners explored moving the trail to the surface.
Also, building a subway station under the Apex Building would complicate any potential future redevelopment prospects. Since the Apex Building is only 5 stories tall, it’s already shorter than most other buildings nearby, and it will become a prime redevelopment candidate after Bethesda becomes a key transfer point between the Purple and Red lines.
Redeveloping now could solve the problem
The new proposal suggests tearing down the Apex Building, building the Purple Line station in a new custom-built trench, adding a 2nd tunnel for the trail, and then allowing the owners of the Apex Building to replace it with a bigger building. Montgomery County is currently in talks with the owner of the building, and is working through a minor master plan amendment to determine the density and height.
If the new plan is approved, all the pieces will work together better. The Purple Line station will be simpler and more spacious, bike riders will have an uninterrupted dedicated trail, and one of the most transit-accessible properties in Montgomery County can be redeveloped at a more appropriate density.
It would be win/win/win. As long as this doesn’t delay the rest of the Purple Line, I say let’s do it.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.