Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation is planning a bike lane and sidewalk project for Goldsboro Road after a request from a local neighborhood group.
The Tulip Hill Citizens Association wants better pedestrian access along the road. Goldsboro now has one continuous sidewalk along the southern side of the roadway from Tulip Hill Terrace to a point about a quarter- mile east of Massachusetts Avenue, where the sidewalk just stops.
The project is in the facility planning stage, thus the public workshop scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 4 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Whitman High School (7100 Whittier Blvd.).
So far, the project provides for a study of a five-foot wide sidewalk linking River Road and MacArthur Boulevard and a master planned on-street bike lane. The project also might include a reconfiguration of the somewhat confusing MacArthur Boulevard intersection, near Glen Echo Park.
For more information, check out MCDOT’s information pamphlet on the project.
Photos via Google Maps and Montgomery County Department of Transportation
The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday formally approved a master plan for a countywide bus rapid transit system that will include mostly bus-only lanes.
The approval was unanimous, despite varying expectations among councilmembers for the 10-corridor, roughly 80-mile BRT network.
“Fundamentally, we are adopting a new philosophy that is at the heart of this. We are saying, for the first time, that we are going to allocate [roads] that scarce public resource in the most efficient manner possible,” Councilmember Roger Berliner said. “A person-throughput philosophy. It isn’t just cars that matter. It’s how many people can move through this constrained area. That’s a bold statement, a new statement from our county.”
Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who in Committee voted against extending the Rockville Pike BRT corridor south of Grosvenor, said she voted for the plan without “the rosy view of this shiny new thing,” that others expressed.
“It’s wrong to think that this is going to solve congestion issues. We are part of a region. Our traffic comes from Frederick, it comes from Howard, it comes from Prince George’s, it comes from Virginia,” Floreen said. “Remembering that 85 percent of our residents don’t even take Metro any place, the question is going to be, of course, how this affects them, those people. Are we really going to support the density necessary to justify what is likely going to be a significant fiscal investment?
“Montgomery County largely is suburban and I believe we’re going to stay that way,” said Floreen, who also seemed to question whether high ridership projections for 2040 will hold up.
The Council on Tuesday also tightened up language in the master plan that would require a separate set of public hearings for each BRT corridor or related connection of corridors before the county approves any money toward taking right of way or building the project.
The language means there will be two additional public processes before any of the corridors is built, including the general capital budget public and Committee hearings. Language approved last week by the Council requires a Citizens Advisory Board for each corridor to monitor work by the Department of Transportation and make recommendations and criticisms.
Marc Elrich, the councilmember credited with first introducing the idea of bus rapid transit, said he felt comfortable with the additional public involvement.
“If we are going to go forward in this county, we’re going to have to figure out how to make this real,” Elrich said.
Most councilmembers have said they don’t expect the system, which is likely years away from fruition, to completely solve the county’s gridlock problems. But many pointed to it as the best, and cheapest, option to make some progress against gridlock in a county that is projected to grow in population.
Councilmember Hans Riemer said the county should test how a BRT system would work with its upcounty Corridor Cities Transitway, which has drawn funding interest from the state and has already been approved to use the bus rapid transit model.
Others emphasized how important excluding regular traffic from using bus lanes will be for the system’s success. About 78 percent of the system in the master plan has dedicated bus lanes.
“It’s going to have to be more appealing than traffic and that means it has to be faster than traffic,” Councilmember Phil Andrews said. “I just can’t underscore how important that is.”
The County Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to support a master plan for bus rapid transit that allows dedicated lanes for buses on most of the network, but provides minimal guidelines for implementation of those lanes.
The Council, by a 6-3 straw vote, also agreed on Councilmember Roger Berliner’s recommendation to keep the section of BRT for Wisconsin Avenue south of the Bethesda Metro station to Friendship Heights in the plan, but only as a dotted line. Montgomery County would need to see master planning for a similar transit system from the D.C. government on its side of Wisconsin Avenue before studying BRT in Chevy Chase.
Most comments from the councilmembers on Tuesday focused on the long-term nature of the plan, an aspect some said was misunderstood by the public.
The master plan will allow for bus rapid transit in 10 county corridors. Berliner said roughly 78 percent of those routes will include a dedicated lane for buses, meaning a lane reserved for transit and cut off from regular traffic.
“Citizens misunderstood the pace and the imminency of these plans,” Councilmember George Leventhal said. “That’s true with virtually every master plan we take up.”
The Planning Board-approved master plan included recommendations for specific road treatments — meaning where those dedicated lanes would be put. That caused great concern in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, specifically in the Chevy Chase West neighborhood. Curb lanes were recommended there. Residents worried right-of-way would be taken to provide for bus stations or more road space.
The Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee passed on making those specific recommendations. The county’s Department of Transportation will have to determine best corridor treatments in the engineering stage of the plan.
Some in Bethesda were also against the Planning Board-approved idea of using the two median lanes on Rockville Pike for dedicated bus lanes.
On Tuesday, the Council unanimously agreed to add language to the master plan that requires another set of public forums, meetings and hearings before the Council funds any implementation. Leventhal added an amendment that would require a Citizens Advisory Board for each proposed route before Council funding.
Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who criticized many aspects of the plan and voted against the Friendship Heights extension on the Transportation Committee, said it’s important the public understands the build-out of the BRT network will likely take a long time.
Floreen was one of three who voted against Berliner’s dotted line approach to extending BRT to Friendship Heights. Councilmember Phil Andrews and Councilmember Hans Riemer, who recommended the section be included in the master plan, also voted against it.
But more than anything else, councilmembers focused on the many steps left in creating the BRT network.
“The average person doesn’t know what passing a master plan means in terms of the affect on their lives,” Riemer said. “All we’re saying is, ‘Public transportation should have dedicated lanes in the future.’ It’s a very far-sighted proposal.”
The Council will have a final vote on the plan next week. The Department of Transportation is already budgeting money for studies and conceptual planning of three bus rapid transit corridors, including 355 South Corridor on Rockville Pike and Wisconsin Avenue.
“Hopefully, some of us will be around in the future to see it come to fruition,” Council President Nancy Navarro said.
The tug of war over the future of Bethesda’s Apex Building will continue Thursday, when planning staff responds to the reluctant owner of the building that is subject to Purple Line Station redevelopment.
On Nov. 7, a top official from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., said selling the building or razing it doesn’t seem worth it, even with the additional density the owners would get in exchange.
County and state officials want to raze the building in order to build a more expansive Bethesda Purple Line Station below it. Officials say the default station planned for construction under the existing building wouldn’t include a Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel, connection to the Red Line on the same side of Elm Street and would have a cramped track platform.
But ASHP Senior Vice President and COO David Witmer told the Planning Board the complexity of the preferred Purple Line Station design would hamper the economic potential of a redeveloped Apex Building, especially on the first floor.
Planning staff will respond by pointing out the additional foot traffic and increased property values it says will come with an estimated 15,000 daily riders at the station:
Staff appreciates the complexity of integrating a transit station and associated equipment, a circulation core for a second transit station, a new trail tunnel, and a new building on an urban site. Such an effort requires significant coordination and will impact the building design, particularly of the ground floor. The primary goal of the plan is to implement an improved station design to deliver a higher quality user experience for the high expected ridership than the current default design. Staff expects the joint redevelopment envisioned by the plan to buoy commercial interests in and around the Plan area by increasing property values and bringing more foot traffic through the area. To incentivize this redevelopment, the Plan recommends the maximum density available in this zone.
Witmer previously indicated the ASHP was open to a deal to sell or redevelop the building.
The back-and-forth negotiations on razing the building aren’t surprising. An economic study commissioned by the Planning Department found giving the ASHP more density in exchange for razing the building likely wouldn’t be enough to offset financial losses. That study found $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to entice the group to sell or redevelop the building.
Also of concern for the ASHP is a fast-approaching deadline. The Maryland Transit Administration has said it wants a decision on the future of the Apex Building by early next year, so it knows which Bethesda Purple Line Station to include in final plans to submit to federal transit officials.
Image via Montgomery County Planning Department
A few weeks ago, the group that owns the Apex Building indicated it was open to selling the property to help the state and county carry out a preferred design for the Bethesda Purple Line station.
On Thursday, a top official from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., sounded a different tune:
“We’ve not had sufficient time to complete our analysis at this time, but we believe that the plan that is currently proposed imposes significant burdens on the property owner that would limit interest in commercial redevelopment,” ASHP Senior Vice President and COO David Witmer told the Montgomery County Planning Board during a public hearing.
The Planning Department created a Minor Master Plan Amendment that offered the building owner more density in redevelopment. It was an attempt to entice the ASHP to raze the building or sell it to another developer that would.
“We believe the current plan requirements, such as the incorporation of two tunnels, integration of ventilaton, the new addition of a shell-ready Purple Line station and limitations to the ground level will significantly limit the ability to effectively utilize the additional density resulting from the modest increase in [floor-area-ratio],” Witmer said. “Without modification of the plan to better balance transit and commercial interests, and additional incentives outside the plan, we’re concerned there may not be sufficient benefit to us pursuing such a disruptive undertaking.”
Witmer went on to say “there must be benefits to us both now and in the future,” a possible reference to $5 million to $10 million of public money an outside Planning Department consultant said could be required to make up for losses during redevelopment.
“It’s not the answer we wanted to hear,” Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier told Witmer.
The preferred design for the station would include a separate tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail, more room for transfers from the Metro station and other improvements over the existing station design. But it would require the building owner to raze the property, a lucrative one that includes restaurants, offices and a popular movie theater as tenants.
The Maryland Transit Administration has also said it wants a clear indication of the ASHP’s decision before the end of the year or early next year, which Witmer testified was too short a time period.
Attorney Bill Kominers, from Bethesda-based firm Lerch, Early & Brewer, introduced Witmer and told the Planning Board he was representing the building owner. In August, the pharamacist group hired David Silver, with D.C. firm Holland & Knight.
It’s unknown why the ASHP made the apparent switch.
Other nearby residents testified about the bike tunnel during the public hearing.
The Planning Board is scheduled to take up the Minor Master Plan Amendment in a Nov. 21 worksession and submit it to the County Council on Dec. 6, yet there is no assurance the ASHP is willing to cut a deal.
The proposal took a big hit on Friday, when the Planning Department, which included the BRT line all the way to the D.C. line in its master plan, reversed course and agreed with Council staff that it should stop at a planned Bethesda Metro entrance on Elm Street.
The three-member Transportation Committee was split, producing a 1-1-1 vote for keeping the section of BRT to Friendship Heights, getting rid of it entirely and drawing it as a dotted line to indicate the county would study it if and when D.C. looked at transit of its own for Wisconsin Avenue.
The Coalition, a D.C. based nonprofit advocating for bus rapid transit, put out a press release on Monday urging the full Council to reconsider:
Stopping the route at Bethesda, instead of connecting it an additional 1.5 miles to the D.C. border could shortchange the area and the county in several ways, supporters said.
“With traffic congestion rising and the possibility of local Metro stations shut down for extensive repairs, residents in our area are seeking more options for getting north to Bethesda and beyond, or to Friendship Heights and D.C.” said Chevy Chase resident Ronit Dancis. “BRT would be a great new option for our neighborhoods.”
Residents in the Chevy Chase West neighborhood are opposed to BRT south of Bradley Lane because of safety issues and because they think it would make it more difficult to turn in and out of the neighborhood. Council staff analyst Glenn Orlin dismissed those fears, but said he was against extending BRT into Chevy Chase because he didn’t see who would use it.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth’s release cites developers JBG and the Chevy Chase Land Company as supporters of extending BRT south. Both developers have properties in downtown Bethesda and Friendship Heights. Other supporters include the Friendship Heights Transportation Management District Advisory Committee, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and Ward 3 Vision, a partner group of the Coalition for Smarter Growth that operates in D.C.
“Cutting short this key route would sever an important transit connection between Montgomery County and D.C., putting more cars on the road and make both Bethesda and Friendship Heights less competitive locations for business,” the Coalition of Smarter Growth’s Kelly Blynn said in the release. “Extending the route has few downsides. The plan proposes wider sidewalks and an improved pedestrian environment, while recommending no changes to the median or street width.
“Connecting the Montgomery Rapid Transit to Friendship Heights will enhance transit connections with D.C and its extensive bus network and the city’s own growing express network. The BRT link on 355 between Bethesda and Friendship Heights is a critical connection that needs to be made,” Blynn said.
The Transportation Committee will host two more worksessions on BRT on Tuesday.
A new bus rapid transit system could include a route into Bethesda, but the system’s fate for Wisconsin Avenue south of Bradley Lane toward Friendship Heights is unclear.
The County Council’s Transportation Committee on Friday wrangled over the MD 355 South and North Bethesda Transitway corridors part of a Planning Board-approved master plan.
All the recommended routes and treatments in the 81-mile, 10-corridor proposal are subject to more detailed studies and deliberation by the county. But there were major disagreements about what should be included in the master plan and the effectiveness of a Rockville Pike BRT system at all.
Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At large), of Garrett Park, argued the Rockville Pike BRT corridor should not continue south of the Grosvenor Metro station. Floreen contended 355 is too constrained in those sections to actually implement the system.
“You can put this in here, but it is absolutely not doable,” Floreen said. “We’re presenting a solution that in no way in this lifetime is going to get constructed. So why are we pretending?”
Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer voted 2-1 to keep a BRT route into Bethesda in the plan. The specific treatment of the route — whether it’s the Planning Board-approved two median lanes, a single-reversible lane based on rush hour or a community-preferred curb lane approach — would be subject to the county’s project planning studies.
Councilmember Marc Elrich, who’s credited with first proposing a BRT system, said he has had conversations with NIH officials who suggested they’d be open to finding more space for BRT. The Committee made it clear it would not take up the conterversial proposal to repurpose two existing median lanes for exclusive bus use. That, again, would be taken up in the implementation process.
In a surprise, lead planner Larry Cole said he agreed with Council staff on its recommendation to ditch the BRT line Cole proposed for Wisconsin Avenue south of Bradley Lane.
Council transportation analyst Glenn Orlin said concerns from Chevy Chase residents — that a BRT line would be dangerous or mean a widening of the road — were completely unfounded. Orlin said he was agains extending the route to Friendship Heights simply because it wouldn’t serve anybody. There are no stations planned between Bradley Lane and the Friendship Heights Metro.
Berliner proposed a dotted-line approach, to convey the county would only look at the section south of Bradley Lane if D.C. was contemplating a similar transit system down the rest of Wisconsin Avenue. Riemer voted to stick with keeping it in the plan. Floreen was against having a route there at all. That means all three Committee members have different views.
Finally, Floreen questioned the fundamental purpose of having a North Bethesda BRT route from White Flint Metro to Montgomery Mall, when there is already a master plan for a route from the Grosvenor Metro to Montgomery Mall.
Planners switched it to White Flint Metro with the thinking that it would serve more people, as White Flint is expected to become a larger and more attractive activity center. Floreen argued it should stay at Grosvenor, and proceed west via Tuckerman Lane, in order to provide drivers with parking with which they could then use the BRT system.
“I really don’t think, as much as the developers would like us to believe it, that White Flint is going to be the center of the universe,” Floreen said.
At the end of the nearly three-hour session, which also included deliberation on a 355 North route into Rockville and Gaithersburg, it was clear the full Council will still have much to hash out when it takes BRT up later this month.
Next up in the County Council’s discussion of Bus Rapid Transit is the plan for Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue, which for months has caused controversy about potential road treatments and right of way issues with adjacent neighborhoods.
In his recommendations, released today, Council transportation analyst Glenn Orlin says the Council should ditch plans to extend a Wisconsin Avenue BRT route south of Bradley Lane to Friendship Heights.
Orlin also recommended changes to a number of other aspects of the Planning Board-approved master plan, including getting rid of a station at Cedar Lane.
The Transportation Committee will take up the issues at 9:30 a.m. on Friday.
Orlin says “there is no purpose” in extending BRT south of Bradley Lane, where the Red Line already runs:
The reason is that there is no purpose in duplicating the service already provided by the Red Line. The only proposed station between Bethesda Metro and Friendship Heights Metro would be Bradley Boulevard, and any homes or businesses near it will be within an easy walk of the programmed south entrance of the Bethesda Metro. However, in the future, should the District of Columbia consider establishing a true BRT service on Wisconsin Avenue to, say, the Cathedral area and Georgetown — where Metrorail does not now go — then the Council should reconsider BR T service in this segment.
Chevy Chase West, the Town of Somerset and others in the neighborhoods along that stretch of Wisconsin Avenue came out vehemently against BRT for fears that it would pose safety or traffic risks.
In its worksession on Tuesday, the Committee discussed a similar issue in Silver Spring, where the Planning Department plan calls for a BRT route to extend past the Silver Spring Transit Center to 16th Street and the D.C. line.
Despite Orlin’s recommendation to stop the route at the Transit Center, Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer voted to keep it in the master plan. Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who has questioned many aspects of the BRT plan, voted to ditch it.
Orlin recommended the Committee stick with the Planning Department’s plan for BRT on Rockville Pike in North Bethesda and White Flint, writing that the system would not duplicate the Metro Red Line because “the Metro stations are more than a mile apart in this section, while the Rockville Pike corridor has consistently significant density of employment and housing along most of its length between Grosvenor and Shady Grove that is not within walking distance of a Metro station.”
But Orlin wrote the stretch south of the Grosvenor Metro Station presents a different situation. Orlin said there is only one “high-density location” not within walking distance of a Metro station: Pooks Hill.
To improve travel times for BRT, Orlin recommended taking a station at Cedar Lane and Rockville Pike out of the plan.
He also recommended that the county should do a more detailed study on treatments. The plan calls for two median lanes. Orlin said the county, during project planning, should seriously look at one single lane that would reverse direction based on rush hours and taking curb lanes for reserved bus use.
As far as the North Bethesda Transitway, which would run 2.7 miles from the White Flint Metro station along Old Georgetown Road to Westfield Montgomery Mall, Orlin agreed with much of the Planning Department master plan.
Based on public hearing testimony, Orlin said a station planned for Edson Drive and Poindexter Lane should be moved to Nicholson Lane or Executive Boulevard.
Photo by Juanman 3 via Wikipedia
The Maryland Transit Administration will put the “P3″ concept before the state’s Board of Public Works on Nov. 6 before issuing a request for qualifications from private concessionaires. The winning concessionaire would essentially fund portions of the project during the peak construction years in exchange for payments from the state for meeting benchmarks.
Members of the Council’s Transportation Committee asked about the particulars of the partnership, including what it would mean for customer complaints and how it would impact the county’s contribution to the estimated $2.2 billion project.
Jodie Misiak, who helped develop state P3 legislation that passed earlier this year, said it’s not “necessarily common,” to do such a public process before the requirements of the agreement have been laid out.
Misiak said the state wants to spell out exactly how the deal would work to avoid “changing the rules mid-game” for a prospective private company.
Henry Kay, MTA’s executive director for transit development, said the scope of the P3 isn’t that different from Denver’s Eagle P3 rail project or other P3s in Canada.
“We will always be present in managing this contract. Our name is on that train. Our logo is on that train,” Kay said. “It’s all written out, but it’s going to be up to us enforce. We are always going to have to be there to monitor.”
Unlike the Beltway HOT lanes in Virginia, the private concessionaire in the Purple Line project will not be paid through fares or system revenue. The state will issue a series of benchmark and milestone payments during construction and then “availability payments” through the course of the 30-year contract for operating the system.
The availability payments refer to the availability of all services to be outlined in the P3 agreement.
But there were still important questions, such as what would happen if the concessionaire decided to cut certain aspects of service to save money. Council staff member Glen Orlin asked what would happen if the concessionaire decided to cut off-peak service time from every 10 minutes to every 15 minutes to make more money than would be made from the availability payments.
“The reduction of the payment has to be large enough,” Kay said. “That is the kind of choice that they do not get to make.”
Kay said any cost savings not specifically outlined in the agreement would come from “behind-the-scenes” management strategies — such as how the company employs maintenance crews — that would not affect passengers.
The state is hoping for about $900 million in federal funding. The concessionaire would be expected to kick in anywhere from $400 million to $900 million during construction.
Kay said the working assumption is that Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties will kick in $110 million each, though that final contribution is uncertain. Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At large) questioned how the commitments the county has already made — such as buying up the Georgetown Branch Trail right-of-way and building the Bethesda Metro South Entrance — would factor in that final number.
“We would have had to buy the right-of-way. We would have had to construct the Bethesda Station Entrance,” Kay said. “At some point, it starts to become a statement that we make to the rest of the state. Calvert County benefits less from the Purple Line than Prince George’s County.”
Floreen agreed with Kay that the cost of rebuilding the Georgetown Branch Trail should be assumed by the county because the MTA likely wouldn’t have included it otherwise.
The Council’s Transportation Committee will continue worksessions on the Planning Board’s master plan for the BRT system on Friday.
Since the last meeting, when Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large) asked which existing roads are wide enough to hold the 10 proposed BRT corridors, planners did a “sketch-level review.”
Opponents are concerned the proposed system would require the taking of right-of-way that would infringe upon businesses and homes.
Planners found that where a median busway is recommended with lane repurposing, as is the case on MD 355 from White Flint to Bradley Boulevard, BRT “may be accommodated in some areas where existing medians are wider than normal, but this will not be true typically.”
Council staff took that analysis a level further and determined that the existing section of MD 355 from White Flint to Bradley Boulevard is not wide enough to hold a median bus station. Council staff found the proposed curb lane treatment for MD 355 south of Bradley Boulevard to the District line is wide enough.
Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) asked Planning Department staff where existing right-of-way would have to be increased to accommodate the proposed BRT corridors.
According to the staff report, there are only two segments where right-of-way would have to be increased from what’s in the existing master plan:
• University Boulevard between Piney Branch Road and Carroll Avenue: Additional right-of-way is recommended per the current Purple Line plans and the portion within the limits of the Long Branch Sector Plan restates what is recommended in that plan. No additional right-of-way beyond that is recommended for BRT.
• MD 355 South between 250′ south of Twinbrook Parkway and 200′ south of Hoya Street: The existing master plan recommends 134′ and the Draft Plan recommends a 150′ width that is expandable to 162′ through additional reservation for streetscape improvements. This is intended to duplicate the recommendations for MD 355 in the White Flint Sector Plan. While this additional right-of-way is not mandatory, the desire would be to have a consistent typical section through this commercial area
The Transportation Committee isn’t scheduled to make recommendations on the MD 355 South BRT corridor until a worksession next week.
But of interest is the Council staff’s recommendation for the US 29/Colesville Road BRT corridor in Silver Spring. Council staff is recommending the Council establish that the US 29 corridor end at the Silver Spring Transit Center, and not extend south to the District line:
However, there is no reason to carry these lanes further south than the Silver Spring Transit Center at Wayne Avenue until or unless the District ofColumbia wishes to create BRT service on 16th Street.
That idea could be a possibility for the MD 355 corridor, which is proposed to run all the way to the District line in Friendship Heights. Residents of the Chevy Chase West neighborhood, who have fought against the proposal, say the corridor should stop at Bradley Boulevard or even the Bethesda Metro station.
Also of note in the Council staff report is a recommendation against adding a Connecticut Avenue BRT corridor, as Councilmember March Elrich (D-At large) has encouraged.
Brookfield Properties, the company that bought 3 Bethesda Metro Center in 2011 for $150 million, alerted county officials earlier this year that it needed to do extensive repair work in the private garage under the office building.
That garage also extends under the Bethesda Metro bus bay, which serves MetroBus, Ride On, Bethesda Circulator and Metro kiss and ride customers. County officials were told the bus bay could be closed for as long as two years, meaning extensive accommodations would need to be made for bus access to the station.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman said Brookfield submitted a required traffic mitigation plan. The county then did not hear from Brookfield for months about the project, which was anticipated to start late this year.
Now, Hartman and Bethesda Urban Partnership Executive Director Dave Dabney say they have heard the renovation project may not require the bus bays to be closed.
On Wednesday, a Brookfield spokesperson didn’t say whether the project would close the bus bays.
“Brookfield is looking at ways to repair the garage at 3 Bethesda Metro Center that will minimally impact operations at the bus bay. These plans are currently being developed,” Brookfield spokesperson Patricia Bertuccio wrote in an email.
Brookfield must work with WMATA on plans for the project, since it affects Metro property. It’s unknown how those discussions have affected Brookfield’s plans for the renovation or if Metro’s upcoming escalator replacement project has any effect.
The Town has long been opposed to the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). The 16-mile route from Bethesda to New Carrollton would run part of the light rail system behind Town of Chevy Chase homes on the existing Georgetown Branch Trail.
In its comments to the MTA on the state’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, the Town said the “skyrocketing” in cost estimates since 2007 means the state should start the route selection process over. The MTA chose the route in 2009 in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
It hopes to start construction on the estimated $2.1 billion system in 2015, but a number of critical steps remain.
“A DEIS with flawed cost information, and a subsequent project selection based upon flawed (cost) information, can only be repaired at the draft level rather than in a final environmental impact statement since the FEIS only compared the selected project with a ‘no build option,’” Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda said in a statement.
The MTA estimated the project would cost $1 billion in 2007 and $1.5 billion in 2009.
The Town’s comments, which include detailed critiques of the FEIS technical reports, say the state never adequately evaluated the bus rapid transit option for the project. The Town also says the FEIS should be required to name specific properties where trees will be lost.
In his comments, Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) raised a number of specific noise, vibration and tree loss concerns from specific communities including the Town. Berliner has been a Purple Line supporter and said his support remains because, “on balance the Purple Line is in the larger public interest.”
“That said, I was and remain keenly aware that communities I represent are being asked to make a very large sacrifice.,” Berliner wrote. “They mourn the loss of the bucolic trail they love, the peace and quiet of their neighborhoods, and for those living immediately adjacent to the route, they are rightly concerned about the daily impacts on their homes and lives.”
Among issues Berliner addressed (the full letter is below):
- Vibration impacts to several properties where the vibration level will exceed maximum federal standards. Unlike the sounds walls the MTA has promised to mitigate noise, the FEIS does not require or specify vibration mitigation.
- Overhead wires. Berliner writes that he is against the use of overhead wires to power the light rail, because the wires would mean the loss of at least some tree canopy. He suggests battery-powered cars.
- Tree replacement. Berliner says the state’s requirement of replacing lost trees on a one-to-one basis is flawed and will not mean a tree canopy equal to what exists today. Berliner suggests a three-to-one reforestation policy similar to the one the county recently mandated for home teardown projects.
The Town also questioned the public-private partnership aspect of the Purple Line project, which has still yet to be approved.
The nonprofit Communities for Transit, a group lobbying for the 81-mile, 10-corridor BRT network proposed by the Planning Board, said 37 of 61 people who testified were “fully in support” of the system and another nine were supportive of the overall concept but had concerns about routes through specific neighborhoods.
The analysis says 15 people, less than a quarter of those who spoke, “fully opposed” bus rapid transit, or rapid transit system (RTS):
In a diverse county of nearly one million residents, it is noteworthy that most of the opposition to the RTS (10 of the 15 opponents) was concentrated in two neighborhoods: 1) the Woodmoor-Four Corners area of Route 29, and 2) the “Green Mile” area (aka the neighborhoods along Wisconsin Avenue between Bradley Blvd and Friendship Heights). Outside of these two areas, the tally of critics from the rest of Montgomery County (5 of the 61 speakers) falls to less than 10% of the residents who testified about rapid transit.
“The numbers are clear: the overwhelming majority of residents, environmental leaders, and business representatives who testified at the Montgomery County transit hearings fully supported a rapid transit solution,” Communities for Transit’s Scott Williamson said in a release. “Conventional wisdom dictates that it is easier to mobilize opponents for public hearings than it is to bring out supporters. But when it comes to rapid transit, Montgomery County residents are making it clear that they embrace transit as a potential solution to growing traffic problems.”
The County Council’s Transportation Committee will continue worksessions on specific corridors and treatments on Friday.
In the first two worksessions, much of the discussion has been about what exactly the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan allows for and doesn’t allow for. The County Department of Transportation would have to conduct its own traffic studies, planning and public approval process before implementing the system, but some of that work is already being budgeted for.
During the Sept. 24 hearing, Bienenfeld got into an argument with Councilmember Marc Elrich, who said her claim that the system would mean the taking of 3,000 properties were false.
Metro on Wednesday revealed new lighting and a new staircase the transit agency says is the first part of its renovation plans for the Bethesda Station.
In April, Metro announced it had chosen Bethesda for a pilot redesign that would bring high-output light fixtures, a stainless steel and light gray interior to replace “Metro brown” tiles, a thinner kiosk with digital panels for service information and new fare gates with next-generation technology for faster entry and exit.
For now, riders at the underground station will have brighter light strips over the mezzanine. The older “can” lights are out, similar to fixes made at Gallery Place and Judiciary Square.
The stairs from the mezzanine to the platform level opened on Wednesday. Combined, the improvements cost $700,000, which Metro said was under budget.
The stairs were an important fix at the station. Next month, work will begin on the replacement of one of the two mezzanine-to-platform escalators, the same one that was rehabilitated a few years ago.
The replacement escalator will be stainless steel to match with Metro’s “Station of the Future” pilot design. Last month, WMATA government relations officer Charlie Scott said designs for the pilot will go before the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in November.
In May, just weeks after Metro announced Bethesda would get the pilot project, the Washington Post reported WMATA architect Ivo Karadimov was already pulling back on some aspects of the design because of complaints from historic preservationists.
The Bethesda Station provides an opportunity for a new design because of the much more substantial work planned for next year. Metro will begin full replacement of the 20-year-old entrance escalators that run from the bus bay to the mezzanine. At 106 feet, the escalators are the second longest on the Metrorail system and among the longest in the Western Hemisphere.
Metro officials have warned that because of the escalator length and without much room to operate, the replacement process will be complicated.
Photos via Metro
ASHP Senior Vice President and COO David R. Witmer said the group, which owns the building and has offices in it, is working with the county’s Planning Department and Department of Economic Development.
In a press release on Tuesday, Witmer said the professional organization realizes the benefits a preferred Purple Line station would provide.
County and Purple Line planners say razing the Apex building before building the station below would allow for the county to build a Metro elevator connection on the same side of Elm Street and a separate biker tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue. It would also allow the state or private concessionaire to build a less cramped station platform.
But an economic study commissioned by the Planning Department found giving the ASHP more density in exchange for razing the building likely wouldn’t be enough to offset financial losses. The building is home to a number of successful, long-term tenants, including the Regal 10 movie theater, which opened in 1992 and has an estimated 350,000 annual ticket sales.
“While we were only recently approached by the County with the proposed plan to demolish the Apex Building to accommodate a revised plan for the future Purple Line station, we took immediate steps to assess the situation and begin the process of evaluating options,” Witmer said. “This is obviously a big decision that requires a thorough and detailed analysis to determine if selling the building and moving to a new location is in the best interest of our members.”
The ASHP has about 40,000 members and has owned the 7272 Wisconsin Ave. building for more than 20 years. The press release alludes to the group’s 200 employees at the building and the events it hosts in Bethesda that contribute to the “vibrancy and economic success of the area.”
The Planning Department’s outside economic analysis says $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to entice the group to sell or redevelop the building.
“We care a great deal about Bethesda and the County and are willing to entertain an agreement provided that it benefits all parties,” Witmer said. “We have a legal duty to our members and Board of Directors to conduct a thorough analysis of how the sale of the building and relocation of our operations would impact this organization. This is a complex and dynamic situation involving many players and it takes a certain amount of time, even at an expedited schedule, to research, review, and assess.”
Witmer indicated the ASHP had only been made aware of the plan a few weeks ago. Planning Department officials reported difficulty getting in touch with the building owner back in June.
There also appeared to be some confusion as to who actually owned the building. At the June hearing, Maryland Transit Administration Purple Line manager Mike Madden said the owners use the building as part of a retirement fund.
ASHP hired an attorney in early August to represent it in discussions with the county.
“We have been monitoring the County’s plans for the Purple Line for years, and have no objection to its construction,” explained Witmer. “Up until just a few weeks ago, the County’s plan was to construct the station below our building with no demolition, so this new plan requiring that ASHP decide by December 2013 whether or not to permit demolition of the Apex Building in less than two years is clearly a big change and ASHP needs adequate time to conduct the necessary due diligence.”
At a September hearing, Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson brought up the prospect of condemning the building. The County Council would have to approve any action on the fate of Apex, in a Mini Master Plan the Planning Department has labeled the Bethesda Purple Line Station.