Large new apartment and retail buildings that residents fear will bring unbearable levels of traffic to Connecticut Avenue have been the focus of much debate surrounding the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan.
On Monday, the County Council’s Planning Committee will examine something that’s perhaps scarier.
Three of the four major intersections in Chevy Chase Lake are forecast to fail the county’s traffic standard even with the completion of an ongoing intersection improvement, even with the planned Purple Line light rail station and even if the area was to undergo no development at all.
That leaves the Committee with a difficult balancing act as it institutes a new master plan for the area of Connecticut Avenue between Jones Bridge Road and Chevy Chase Lake Drive. It also buoys developers who argue projected congestion on the road is predominantly caused by existing thru-traffic, though residents and at least one councilmember question how the new development proposed in the Sector Plan wouldn’t add a significant amount of cars.
According to a Council staff report, the Committee can assume the Purple Line station will entice a much higher amount of people to ditch their cars in favor of mass transit, reduce the amount of proposed development or add more lanes and make other road fixes to increase traffic capacity.
It could also just raise the traffic standards to make the intersections compatible, an idea councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large) panned in March during the Committee’s first worksession on Chevy Chase Lake.
The most likely scenario is a combination of those options.
Deputy Council Staff Director Glenn Orlin recommended raising the traffic standard slightly with the rationale that the Purple Line station would serve as a reasonable alternative to drivers who choose to continue driving. The recommendation also includes a few adjustments to intersections and a last-ditch option to ease congestion with an additional turn lane at East-West Highway and Connecticut Avenue.
The full description of the potential intersection changes are in pages 5-7 of the Council staff report below.
The Planning Committee is meeting at 2 p.m. on Monday, a meeting that will be televised live on County Cable Montgomery.
Montgomery County’s bikeway coordinator said an extension of the Bethesda Trolley Trail in North Bethesda should be complete by September and it will use a street marking unique to many suburban areas.
Patricia Shepherd told the White Flint Implementation Committee on Monday that the county is prepared to begin a .29-mile extension of the trail from the northern terminus of its off-road portion at Edson Lane along Woodglen Drive to Nicholson Lane.
The Bethesda Trolley Trail is a six-mile route meant to connect the Twinbrook Metro station in Rockville with downtown Bethesda through White Flint. The off-road portion of the Trail, which includes bridges over the Beltway and I-270, runs to just south of NIH at Battery Lane.
The development of North Bethesda Market has led to concerns from bikers who use the Trail on Woodglen. A Whole Foods supermarket, parking garage entrances and curbside parking can make navigating the area difficult.
The county’s Department of Transportation hopes shifting a shared-use sidewalk from the Whole Foods side of the street to the west side of the street will help things. The county is waiting for WSSC to finish a project in the area. Then, it will remove the existing five-foot concrete sidewalk on the west side of Woodglen and add an eight-food shared-use path in its place.
In a move Shepherd said could become more common in downtown Bethesda with the introduction of Capital Bikeshare, the county will apply new lane markings to the street called sharrows. The markings mean bikers can use the full lane, just like the driver of a car.
MCDOT will remove six curbside parking spots from the street to help widen the lane, which will make it possible for cars and bikes to travel the roadway side-by-side.
Shepherd said cyclists were concerned that a traditional bike lane to the outside of regular traffic could lead to collisions with car doors that fling open in street parking spaces. She also said its important to connect the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Wall Park, which is just to the northwest of Woodglen Drive.
Montgomery County transportation officials want to shrink lane widths, build curb extensions at intersections and offer off-peak hour street parking to create the urban, pedestrian feel developers and some residents crave for White Flint’s new road network.
But the objective of moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible remains, especially when it comes to State Highway Administration road planners who have authority over Old Georgetown Road.
In preliminary designs of the Western Workaround presented on Monday, a realigned Executive Boulevard would have less space for bikes than some hoped. A 40 mph speed limit along six-lane Old Georgetown worried White Flint Sector Plan supporters who see that design as more suited for the area’s existing strip mall shopping centers than the mixed-use, street retail and shops that are coming.
The success of White Flint as a connected, walkable community could hinge on the delicate balancing act of thru lanes, rights-of-way, sidewalk widths, traffic projections and capital funding. And if state transportation engineers don’t budge, don’t be surprised to see developers or other stakeholders lobby state political leaders for changes.
“We are quite sensitive to the Sector Plan’s vision and want to provide an environment that will be pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and encouraging people to get out of their vehicles,” said Montgomery County Transportation Engineering chief Bruce Johnston. “We’re modifying the road code standard, trying to incorporate that vision. …The [State Highway Administration] staff we work with has authority to trump us.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic says cuts in federal government spending are forcing Washington-area residents to cut down on their holiday travel plans this Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the summer travel season.
About 874,000 area residents will travel 50 miles or more during the four-day holiday travel period, AAA Mid-Atlantic said, a 2 percent drop from last year.
The organization thinks a lot of that has to do with sequestration, as workers take a “wait-and-see attitude” to federal spending cuts.
“The wonder is so many area residents are still traveling despite the fact furlough notices are going out June 5, and the reality of workers coping with the payroll tax hike,” AAA Mid-Atlantic’s John Townsend III said in a release. “More than ever before, area travelers are relying on highways for their holiday getaways. Yet the vast majority of vacationers will see increasing gasoline prices along the way.”
AAA projects Washingtonians will spend an average of $867 on their Memorial Day weekend trips, about 16 percent of which will go to fuel and transportation costs. A third of travelers will hit the beach or Chesapeake Bay and more than half will visit friends or family.
AAA’s forecast predicts air travel will decrease by 10 percent over the period, which starts Thursday and ends Monday. The drop in automobile travel is a lot less pronounced, at just 0.7 percent.
Dee Metz, the Montgomery County’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator, told two groups of residents, developers and other stakeholders this week that the county hopes to present the plans for the new street network, called the western workaround, at the June meeting of the Implementation Committee.
There is $98 million worth of transportation design and construction programmed into the county’s FY13-FY18 capital budget for road projects in the western section of the White Flint Sector, including the new east-to-west Market Street that will connect Old Georgetown Road to a realigned Executive Boulevard.
The new section of Executive Boulevard will be built through the parking lot of the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center and cross Old Georgetown Road into the Pike & Rose development, now under construction at Mid-Pike Plaza.
Metz said the road design got held up several months as the county worked to get SHA to agree on fewer turn lanes and other design features more conducive to the walkable, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere county planners and developers seek for White Flint.
“The situation is the state does have a lot of influence over it. They typically have to approve any of our intersections with state roads,” Metz said on Monday at the Implementation Committee meeting. “We didn’t just want to go ahead and roll over and do what the state wanted us to do. Even though the design has been held up, we’re still on schedule to make it to the same construction timeline that we’ve had in the CIP program all along.”
Metz and Evan Goldman, from Rockville-based developer Federal Realty, indicated the SHA was more interested in a design that would move the most cars.
“The state has really dug in on certain principles that are really antithetical to urbanism,” Goldman said. Federal Realty is building the mixed-use Pike & Rose project.
Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike are state roads.
“They wanted eight-inch curbs. We want six-inch curbs. They’re showing cycle tracks, but we want buffers. These are the comments that we’re giving to them,” Metz said. “I think we’re making progress even though as I said this is somewhat a new way of approaching development.”
Photo via Friends of White Flint
Leventhal was in Bethesda on Monday to talk about his trenching bill, introduced earlier this year, that would require MCDOT to adopt a five-year plan for the renovation, repair and replacement of streets and roads as a way to avoid the digging, patching up and then possible re-digging of streets by different utilities such as Washington Gas, Pepco or WSSC.
Leventhal said the bill would help the county avoid situations like it had last year in Silver Spring, where a road that had been resurfaced was set to undergo trenching and patching work from WSSC just months later. He thinks the coordination could allow different agencies and utilities to plan their work for the same time, minimizing disruptions and saving costs in the long term.
“It’s about sharing the costs,” Leventhal said.
Kelly Gibson Caplan, a community outreach representative for Washington Gas, said lowering costs was the main reason Washington Gas has expressed support for the proposal. Leventhal said he was surprised at MCDOT’s apparent opposition to the bill and characterized WSSC and Pepco’s reaction as “benign neglect.”
Members of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, which was having its monthly meeting, seemed receptive to the idea. The group had already cited it in a list of FY14 budget priorities it presented to the County Council last week.
Street Sweeping Set For Downtown — The county’s annual street sweeping program will hit downtown Bethesda roads starting later this week through next Tuesday, according to signs posted on Woodmont Avenue on Monday. For the full schedule, check the county’s street sweeping route map and schedule. [Montgomery County Department of Transportation]
House of Delegates Approves Lockheed Hotel Tax Exemption Bill — Mirroring the vast State Senate support of the proposal, the House of Delegates yesterday approved a hotel/motel tax exemption for Lockheed Martin’s training center and hotel in Bethesda with a landslide vote. Del. Bill Frick (D-Dist. 16) voted against the exemption despite his earlier support for the measure, which was blocked at the county government level by the Montgomery County Council. [Maryland Juice]
Rebuilding Together Honors Brewer — The nonprofit that helps repair old homes so low-income homeowners can remain in them honored land-use attorney and philanthropist Robby Brewer at an event last week. [Bethesda Magazine]
Council Budget Hearings Start Today — Today’s County Council session will include the first of five scheduled public hearings over the next three days on County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed FY 14 budget. The first hearing is today at 7 p.m. All hearings are in the Council Office Building’s Third Floor Hearing Room in Rockville. [Montgomery County Council]
The Department of Environmental Protection is also involved in the effort, which officials hopes means the removal of salt, dirt, torn up asphalt and other debris after the winter snow season. The county expects to remove about 2,000 tons of materials from 4,000 curb miles that could otherwise end up in streams.
“Street sweeping is an important part of the County’s efforts to improve water quality in our local streams and reduce pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay,” MCDOT director Art Holmes said in a press release. “Street sweeping not only improves the appearance of our neighborhoods, it also protects the environment by keeping salt, sand and other debris out of our storm drains, our stormwater management facilities and our streams.”
Sings will be posted in neighborhoods a few days before street sweeping begins. Officials want residents to move their parked cars from streets on those days to allow for a wider area of cleaning.
The layout and schedule of street sweeping operations are available on the county website. Some are scheduled for one day, others over a range of two, three or four days. Street sweepers are scheduled to hit Woodmont Triangle and surrounding neighborhoods on May 14, the Wilson Lane and Arlington Road neighborhoods from April 9-April 11 and areas east of Wisconsin Avenue on April 11 and April 12.
UPDATE 5:25 p.m. For Bethesda residents near Potomac or for those who frequent the Cabin John area, be cognizant of a paving project on Seven Locks Road that could mean temporary lane closures starting
on April 1 in July.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center director Ken Hartman says MCDOT has pushed the project to July from its original start date on or about April 1.
MCDOT will repair and resurface Seven Locks Road in Potomac between Montrose Road and Tuckerman Lane.
The project is expected to take six weeks, depending on the weather.
The road won’t be closed, but watch for lane closures and parking restrictions that MCDOT will post as work gets closer. Crews will work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.
A section of Seven Locks Road from Bradley Boulevard Democracy Boulevard underwent repaving three years ago. Last year, MCDOT milled and re-paved a section of the road from River Road to MacArthur Boulevard.
For more information about the project, contact MCDOT project manager James Kisner at 240-777-7631 and to report specific road repair issues and potholes, contact the MCDOT Customer Service Center at 240-777-6000.
Photo via Montgomery County Department of Transportation
A group of homeowners near Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane think an additional lane of traffic designed to lighten the rush hour load won’t live up to its purpose, and they don’t want the disruptions they fear will come with it.
The residents, many who live north of Cedar Lane and on the east side of Rockville Pike on a service road, questioned many aspects of a State Highway Administration presentation on the project at a Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee meeting on Tuesday.
The Locust Hill Citizens Association hired their own traffic consultant to refute SHA’s findings and residents said the SHA’s noise study didn’t come close to the 80 decibels of sound they’ve measured from afternoon northbound traffic.
One homeowner even claimed the existing road can sound as loud as the Verizon Center during a Washington Capitals hockey game. Another demanded to know the standard deviation SHA used for its traffic studies.
SHA wants to build the project, known as Phase 4 of the Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane intersection improvement, in order to help mitigate the increased afternoon rush hour traffic from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and NIH to the Beltway and I-270.
The project, for which federal funds have not yet been released, would add an additional lane on Rockville Pike north of Cedar Lane to a point just north of Locust Hill Road. It would also include an extra lane from North Wood Road to Cedar Lane that would allow for traffic leaving the Military Medical Center base to have a free right-hand turn lane.
With SHA’s original traffic counts from 2007, the no-build scenario would mean an average delay of about three minutes per vehicle in the afternoon peak hour, a Level of Service grade of F. Phases 1-3 of the project (already funded and some already underway) would reduce that delay to one minute and the addition of Phase 4 would reduce the delay to 52.4 seconds per vehicle, a Level of Service grade of D.
A 2012 SHA count determined shorter delays for all scenarios, but SHA analysts discounted that study because heavy congestion didn’t allow as many vehicles to pass through the study area.
Richard Levine, president of the Locust Hill Citizens Association, said the project is not worth tearing up the existing sidewalk and other construction challenges. Residents opposed to Phase 4 say the major chokehold is south of Cedar Lane, not north of it.
One resident said vehicles, free of the bumper-to-bumper traffic south of Cedar Lane, will ramp up in speed and volume once they get through the intersection and closer to the Beltway and I-270 ramps.
An SHA representative said studies showed widening Rockville Pike south of North Wood Road would not provide corridor travel time savings.
“It would be a long run safety and environmental hazard. It would also be extremely complex and disruptive to build. An $11 million budget for ripping out a wooded hillside, replacing it with a retaining wall that will take years to build,” Levine said. “It would be a complex, expensive, disruptive, unsafe project for which no real reason exists. It’s not worth it. And in this day of budget constraints, to build something that’s doesn’t have a purpose is something that’s simply wrong and uncalled for.”
The project is scheduled to begin in mid to late 2014, pending the release of federal funds.
Tomorrow, that will likely change, giving the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration a late first test of the winter with a predicted three to eight inches of snow in the Bethesda area.
The MCDOT this year is debuting a countywide GPS system that pre-programs snow clearing routes for plow operators with a special SIM card. The change was one of a few detailed at the county’s annual “Snow Summit,” in November.
Some things to remember about the county’s snow plow operations if you find your street covered with snow on Wednesday morning:
When snow begins to cover roads, salt crews spread salt on all main County roads and emergency routes.
When snow accumulates to three inches, plowing and salting crews continue to clear all main County roads and emergency routes.
Once the snow stops, crews begin plowing neighborhood roads.
Also, the county offers a real-time map of its progress on all roads, which can be viewed at the MCDOT Storm Operations page.
Screenshot via MCDOT
CORRECTION: The added right lane on northbound 355 after Cedar Lane will extend to a point just north of Locust Hill Road, not all the way to the Beltway junction.
Also a clarification: $40 million of the referenced $90 million in federal funding will go toward the pedestrian tunnel crossing at the South Drive intersection. The federal government is providing another approximately $28 million from a separate fund for the project, bringing the rough cost to $68 million. The approximate federal haul for the four intersection projects is $50 million, plus $9.4 million in earmarks from FY 2008-2010.
ORIGINAL POST: Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) says it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to drive from downtown Bethesda to the Beltway/I-270 junction during rush hour on northbound 355.
The 1.5-mile stretch has become one of the region’s most notorious chokeholds, with added traffic traveling to and from the now-merged Walter Reed National Military Medical Center using intersections that local transportation officials said were already failing.
With both Walter Reed and across-the-street neighbor NIH planning to add employees over the next two decades, the federal government has provided millions in funding to help the Maryland State Highway Administration and Montgomery County try to lighten the traffic load.
We took a trip up Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue starting at 4:30 p.m., on the early end of the after-work rush hour. Starting with the left turn onto Wisconsin Avenue from Woodmont Avenue on the edge of downtown Bethesda, it took ten minutes and four seconds to get to the ramp for I-270 north, a distance of 1.6 miles.
The video, with facts, figures and details of some of the intersection and improvement projects to come, is above. If you don’t feel like reliving that commute, all of the information in the video is supplied after the jump.
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for Montgomery County until 8 p.m., with one to two inches of snow expected and less than an inch of accumulation forecasted for the Bethesda area.
Roads will be slippery from snow and sleet, which could cause traffic issues this afternoon and evening. Northern Montgomery County is expected to get most of the accumulation on the roads (one to two inches).
… WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EST THIS EVENING…
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON HAS ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW AND SLEET… WHICH IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EST THIS EVENING.
* PRECIPITATION TYPE… SNOW AND SLEET.
* PRECIPITATION TYPE AND TIMING… SNOW WILL BEGIN EARLY THIS AFTERNOON. SNOW WILL MIX WITH SLEET AND RAIN AT TIMES BEFORE TAPERING OFF THIS EVENING.
* ACCUMULATIONS… 1 TO 2 INCHES ACROSS NORTHERN MONTGOMERY… NORTHERN HOWARD AND NORTHERN BALTIMORE COUNTIES. LESS THAN AN INCH ELSEWHERE.
* TEMPERATURES… LOWER TO MIDDLE 30S.
* WINDS… SOUTHEAST 5 MPH OR LESS.
* IMPACTS… UNTREATED ROADS MAY BECOME SNOW COVERED AND SLIPPERY IN SPOTS… ESPECIALLY ACROSS THE HIGHER ELEVATIONS OF NORTHERN MONTGOMERY… NORTHERN HOWARD AND NORTHERN BALTIMORE COUNTIES.
THIS WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY MEANS THAT PERIODS OF SNOW AND SLEET WILL CAUSE TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. BE PREPARED FOR SLIPPERY ROADS AND LIMITED VISIBILITIES… AND USE CAUTION WHILE DRIVING.
The State Highway Administration is warning drivers that a mix of rain and slushy snow this afternoon could make today’s after-work rush hour more sloppy than usual.
The SHA says drivers should plan for a longer than usual commute home, despite pavement temperatures that are generally above freezing. While the SHA says that should initially prevent accumulation on roads, officials want people to slow down for slippery conditions.
The SHA will not pre-treat any of its roads with salt brine because above-freezing air temperatures mean the storm will likely start with rain, which would wash away any preventative road treatment. SHA trucks will be put into action if and when the snow starts. Today’s press release claimed more than 360,000 tons of salt stocked up and ready to use this winter.
Last week, Montgomery County Department of Transportation officials gathered at their Bethesda Depot with SHA representatives, contractors and municipal snow plowing crews for their annual “snow summit.” Forecasters are predicting a more snowy than usual winter for the D.C. area.
In the press release, SHA Administrator Melinda Peters said today’s potential first snow of the winter could pose a serious challenge:
Rush hour and snow is a bad combination for commuters and for highway crews. This is central Maryland’s first winter weather this season and although it may be light, the timing couldn’t be worse. SHA crews will treat the roads with salt when it starts snowing but keep in mind, those trucks are in the same traffic on the same roads as commuters and there may be many places where the salt never reaches the road. Pavement temperatures should be warm enough that it doesn’t stick but there are no guarantees. Please give our crews space to treat roadways and plan for a potentially rough commute.
Rock Spring Centre Hits Snag — The planned development, which was to feature a luxury movie theater and other retail on a 53-acre site at Rockledge Drive and Rock Spring Drive, will be without one major developer that had hoped to move it forward. Peterson Cos. pulled out of the project because the company could not agree to a lease with the two families that own the site. [Washington Post]
Bethesda Group Collects Leftover Halloween Candy For Troops — Treats-4-Troops is a Bethesda-based nonprofit that collects extra Halloween candy for troops overseas. The candy drive runs through this weekend and candy can be donated at a number of locations including Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow, Nov. 3. [WTOP]
Road Work To Watch Out For This Weekend — From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, the State Highway Administration will close one northbound and one southbound lane of Rockville Pike from about 100 feet south of Cedar Lane to 800 feet north of Cedar Lane for resurfacing. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., SHA will close one southbound lane of Rockville Pike between Strathmore Avenue and Cedar Croft Lane for resurfacing. [@BracMoCoMd]
Flickr photo by Raoul Pop