State and county officials, designers and cyclists celebrated the opening of the multi-million dollar Rock Creek Pedestrian Bridge on Saturday in Aspen Hill.
The span is suspended like an airy green tunnel over busy Veirs Mill Road and includes artistic engravings reflecting the area's industrial past. It connects two parts of Rock Creek Hiker-Biker Trail over the road at its intersection with Aspen Hill Road just southeast of Twinbrook, eliminating the need for cyclists, hikers, runners and pedestrians to cross the road in order to stay on the trail.
"It's already becoming kind of a landmark in the county," said Mary Bradford, director of Montgomery County Parks, who led Saturday's official opening of the bridge, which has been open to the public for a few weeks. "People are already talking about the 'green bridge.'"
The bridge's creation was a long time in coming and involved work at the federal, state and local levels among elected officials and community groups, including runners and bicyclists.
"We've wanted this bridge for ages," said Jean Arthur, president of the Montgomery County Road Runners Club. "Montgomery County Road Runners are on this path all the time."
The popular trail extends for 15 miles from Beach Drive, at the Washington, DC, line, to Lake Needwood in Rock Creek Regional Park.
Pedestrian improvements at the Veirs Mill-Aspen Hill Road intersection were recommended in a 1998 Countywide Park Trails Plan. The County Council recommended improvements in 2001, and the county Planning Board approved the project in 2003.
"We're standing here on the shoulders of visionary leaders who went before us," said County Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission received $5.3 million in funding from federal and state sources, including federal Transportation Enhancement and state Open Space grant programs. After the County Council approved funding for design and construction, work on the bridge began in December 2008.
"The amazing part is, it's not only functional, it's beautiful," said county Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier.
In addition to the bridge's striking green color and sweeping arc, its concrete piers are engraved with waterwheel patterns that tie into the area's history as a mill site. In Montgomery County, there was a concentration of mills in the Veirs Mill area.
Funding for the design part of the project was provided by the county's Public Arts Trust, which funds the creation of art in public spaces.
"Because of this distinctive history, we chose water and the waterwheel as a primary motif," said artist Vicki Scuri, who designed the bridge art. The water theme influenced the curved fencing used on the bridge, and the waterwheel theme is repeated in the pillars and in the planter design on the bridge's south side, she said.
The project is a good example of what members of the community, working with elected officials, can accomplish, said Sen. Roger Manno (D-19) of Silver Spring. Efforts to preserve the trail land near the bridge go back to the late 1980s. Initially, the area was intended to be part of the outer Beltway, he said.
"Local folks asked for this to be set aside," Manno said. "This was something that was done 30 years ago" for future generations.
The state will work with members of the cycling community to look for other opportunities to fund projects that increase opportunities for safe cycling, said Doug Simmons, deputy administrator for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
With high gas prices, "more and more people are looking at the bike not only for recreation but as a form of transportation," he said. "From the landscaping to the artwork to the architecture, [the bridge is] providing an asset for the entire community."