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.”
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
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.
Woodmont Rooftop Bar To Be Named “Roof” — Tommy Joe’s owner Alan Pohoryles, who hopes to open a two-level bar and restaurant at the building under construction on the corner of Cordell and Norfolk Avenues, decided on a straightforward name around what will be place’s signature characteristic. [Bethesda Patch]
Residents Not Happy With Highway Plan For Montrose Road East — Residents and other members of the White Flint Implementation Committee are unhappy with plans revealed by the State Highway Administration on Monday night for the eastward extension of Montrose Parkway toward Veirs Mill Road. The route would connect the north end of White Flint with Rockville, Aspen Hill and mid-county. [Friends of White Flint]
Montgomery County Might Have To Refund $72.5 million in collected taxes — If the Maryland Court of Appeals does not reconsider its ruling on out-of-state tax credits for county taxes, Montgomery would be on the hook for taxes collected in 2009, 2010 and 2011. [The Gazette]
Montgomery Cops To Get A Raise — Montgomery County Police will get their first raise in four years, a 2.1 percent bump starting July 1. [Washington Examiner]
Flickr photo by Rootchopper
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.
Officials in charge of a Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk project promised less of an environmental impact on Chevy Chase’s “Green Mile” than first feared during a public meeting on Monday.
But in a packed room of the Somerset Town Hall, the long controversial issue seemed as divisive as ever. The State Highway Administration wants to build a 0.7-mile, $1.2 million sidewalk to connect bus stops on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Grafton Street and Bradley Lane.
“Why do we need this at all? We feel we are being railroaded,” said one resident against the sidewalk proposal. “I have trouble understanding where this demand is coming from. Clearly there is a very strong demand from people that are bikers.”
Cyclists were just one group involved in the discussion, which at times devolved into heated arguments between a crowd of about 60 people split by a variety of interests.
A number of cyclists from neighborhoods just south of Chevy Chase spoke up in favor of the sidewalk. They argued it would allow less experienced riders a way to get from Friendship Heights to downtown Bethesda without risking safety on the busy road, more important with the coming introduction of Capital Bikeshare.
Some Chevy Chase residents said they were opposed to the sidewalk because they can’t envision anybody using it, especially without the promise of additional crosswalks that would encourage east-to-west movement across Wisconsin Avenue.
There were plenty of Chevy Chase residents who said the sidewalk was necessary to connect the four bus stops in the stretch.
“I think it is very sad and unfortunately laughable the square chunk of concrete that northbound riders are faced with when they get off the bus,” said one resident in favor of the sidewalk.
“I think people are living in the past,” another said. “How could you not have sidewalks on both sides of Wisconsin Avenue?”
An environmental group and cycling organization are at odds over the project, which would mean the removal of 53 trees along a three-quarter-mile stretch of the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Grafton Street and Bradley Lane. The tree removal would allow for an eight-foot shared-use sidewalk.
The Little Falls Watershed Alliance says County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) will attend tonight’s meeting (7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 4511 Cumberland Ave.). The group is against the proposed $1.5 million sidewalk because it says the removal of the 53 trees will hurt the already fragile watershed.
Berliner has urged the SHA to take measures to protect the trees, which would not be replaced on the same strip because the curb is not big enough according to SHA regulations. The LFWA has proposed an alternative plan for new bus pads and a smaller section of sidewalk.
Now, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association is urging area cyclists to rally in support of the sidewalk, which would be federally funded:
While too narrow to be considered a shared-use path, the sidewalk would provide a safe place for pedestrians to access the three bus stops on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue. In addition, bicyclists who do not feel comfortable riding on the road could carefully use the sidewalk. With Capital Bikeshare expanding in both Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, a safe place to ride along Wisconsin Ave. is especially important.
The sidewalk would connect Friendship Heights and Bethesda, two major pedestrian areas. In September, the SHA announced it would be removing five large, decaying elm trees along the Green Mile.
Photo via State Highway Administration
Because of pavement temperatures below 20 degrees, the SHA will not pre-treat roads using salt brine that could freeze. Salt from Thursday’s snow removal operations remains on many roadways but SHA officials still warn of slippery and icy conditions during the Friday evening rush.
“We ask that all drivers take their time traveling Friday afternoon and plan ahead. It will be important to watch the weather and time your travel to avoid driving during the snow storm. Rush hour and winter precipitation are a terrible combination since SHA’s snow removal efforts can be severely hampered by traffic, crashes and disabled vehicles – making it difficult for crews to salt and plow the highways,” SHA administration Melinda Peters said in a press release.
The SHA also said schools are likely to adjust their schedules to give its crews space to work. Montgomery County Schools will close two-and-a-half hours early today.
Some more tips for this afternoon’s drive:
• Fill your gas tank, make sure you have window washer fluid, an ice scraper, a charged cell phone and an alternate travel plan should crashes or other incidents block your normal route.
• Listen to commercial traffic reports so you know the latest traffic impacts. Call 511 using a hands-free device.
• If snow starts mid-day, considerer delaying travel until after the snow stops. SHA crews work to achieve bare pavement within four hours after a storm stops. If you do travel, have realistic expectation and be patient.
• Drive focused – Maryland law prohibits hand-held cell phone use and texting while driving.
• Buckle up! It’s the law in Maryland and your number one defense in a crash.
• Move over to an adjacent travel lane away from emergency personnel – a new Maryland law requires it.
• Allow extra time for unexpected delays.
• Slow down and pay attention, avoiding distractions such as cell-phone use, changing CDs and eating. Observe all posted speed limits.
After issuing a Winter Storm Warning of as much as five inches of snow for Montgomery County, the National Weather Service now says the area is under a Winter Storm Advisory, meaning one to three inches of accumulation:
… WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 10 AM THIS MORNING TO 1 AM EST FRIDAY…
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON HAS ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW… WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 10 AM THIS MORNING TO 1 AM EST FRIDAY. THE WINTER STORM WATCH IS NO LONGER IN EFFECT.
* PRECIPITATION TYPE… SNOW.
* ACCUMULATIONS… 1 TO 3 INCHES.
* TIMING… OCCASIONAL RAIN THIS MORNING WILL MIX WITH AND THEN CHANGE TO SNOW EARLY THIS AFTERNOON. PERIODS OF SNOW ARE POSSIBLE IN THE LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING. SNOW MAY BE LOCALLY HEAVY AT TIMES… ESPECIALLY SOUTH OF WASHINGTON DC. SNOW WILL COME TO AN END TONIGHT.
* TEMPERATURES… IN THE MID 30S.
* WINDS… NORTHWEST 5 TO 10 MPH.
* IMPACTS… ROADS MAY BECOME SNOW COVERED… ESPECIALLY DURING THE EVENING RUSH HOUR.
A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW MEANS THAT PERIODS OF SNOW WILL CAUSE PRIMARILY TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. BE PREPARED FOR SNOW COVERED ROADS AND LIMITED VISIBILITIES… AND USE CAUTION WHILE DRIVING.
The State Highway Administration is warning drivers to be cautious in the afternoon rush hour. SHA crews will not be able to apply salt brine to the roads before any snow because the storm will likely start as rain.
“Many commuters, especially south of Baltimore, should get into work with little difficulty, but may experience wintry conditions by Thursday afternoon’s rush hour. Each of us needs to assume the worst and have a plan,” SHA administrator Melinda B. Peters said in a press release. “Storms during afternoon rush hours pose certain challenges because SHA snow plows are driving in rush hour traffic, making snow clearing more difficult. If the forecast calls for snow during any commute and you want to avoid hours of traffic congestion, it is best to leave early, telecommute or stay late until the snow stops.”
An exclusive right turn lane on southbound Connecticut Avenue from the Beltway to Jones Bridge Road should be done later this year and an extra right lane on northbound Rockville Pike from Cedar Lane to the Beltway is the last BRAC-related road project awaiting federal funding.
State Highway Administration officials updated a meeting of the Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee on Tuesday night at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center with status updates on federally funded projects at the four major intersections around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the National Institues of Health.
The area has become a traffic chokehold as workers file in and out of both secure facilities. SHA has received millions in grant funding from the Defense Department to widen intersections, add lanes and make sidewalk improvements.
Barb Solberg gave updates on each intersection. Construction timelines in SHA terms indicate actual roadway construction, Solberg said. In many cases, disruptions occur earlier because of work on underground utilities:
Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road — Phase 1, the new southbound lane on Connecticut Avenue from the Beltway to Jones Bridge Road, is under construction now and should be complete this summer or fall. Phase 2, the addition of a northbound Connecticut Avenue lane in the existing median to the Beltway, is under construction and should also be complete this summer or fall.
SHA has a separate contract out for the widening of Jones Bridge Road to the south, which would allow for another left turn lane to northbound Connecticut Avenue for the evening rush. Construction on that is expected to begin in fall of 2014.
Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane — Phases 1 and 2 include adding a lane on West Cedar Lane and increasing the length of the left turn lane just south of the intersection that allows access to the Military Medical Center’s North Gate. Phase 3 is the widening of Cedar Lane on both sides of Rockville Pike and should start in fall 2013 and finish in fall of 2015. It will include periodic closures of Cedar Lane.
Phase 4, the last project awaiting federal funding, will extend the lane SHA is adding to northbound Rockville Pike all the way to the Beltway. Solberg said the funding application should go out in the next couple months and construction should start in summer 2014 and finish in winter of 2015 or 2016.
Old Georgetown Road and West Cedar Lane — The first project to receive federal funding will add a right turn lane for drivers turning north onto Old Georgetown Road. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2014 and finish a year later.
Rockville Pike and Jones Bridge Road — SHA is going to convert one of the thru lanes on southbound Rockville Pike to a left turn lane onto Jones Bridge Road. Solberg said construction started in January 2012 and should be complete by this summer. The rest of that intersection’s improvements involve sidewalk work that will be a part of the upcoming Rockville Pike pedestrian tunnel project.
Montgomery County BRAC coordinator Phil Alperson noted none of the federal funding for these projects is threatened by sequestration fears or budget talks on Capitol Hill.
Photo via TrafficLand.com.
SHA representatives are scheduled to speak during the next meeting of the Walter Reed BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Integration Committee starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane).
Many of the projects, including utility and pavement work at Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane and an intersection widening and lane construction at Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road, are being paid for with help from grants from the Department of Defense.
A schedule of all projects is available on the Montgomery County website.
The SHA will also give a presentation on post-construction landscape designs for the Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road project.
The meeting will also include briefings from the county’s BRAC coordinator and neighborhood representatives.
For more information, visit Montgomery County’s BRAC website.
Winter Weather Advisory Coming Tonight — The National Weather Service says a storm system will bring a wintry mix starting tonight and continuing Saturday to Central Maryland and the greater Washington area. [National Weather Service]
Third Person Dies From Christmas Eve Beltway Crash — A third passenger in a car that hydroplaned across the outer loop of the Beltway near Connecticut Avenue on Monday night died, according to Maryland State Police. [The Gazette]
Rockville Pike Water Main Work Continues — The two left lanes of southbound Rockville Pike just north of Cedar Lane remained closed early this morning, as WSSC crews continue to repair a broken water main and sinkhole. The State Highway Administration has been doing significant underground utility work there, including the installation of a 20- to 25-foot deep hole to replace the previous WSSC sewer line. [SHA via Twitter]
Flickr photo by nori127
Leggett Says Ambulance Ride Information Will Be Secure — As Montgomery County begins County Executive Isiah Leggett’s “ambulance fee,” Leggett said billing and personal information of those who use ambulances will be kept private. The fee will charge insurance companies and out-of-county residents for ambulance rides starting in January. [The Gazette]
State Leaders Ask For Gas Tax Raise, Assault Weapons Ban — Local statehouse representatives said they will be looking to raise the gas tax this General Assembly to help pay for transportation projects such as the Purple Line. State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) will also look to get his package of assault gun controls passed. [Washington Post]
Trash/Recycling Center Closed Next Week — The county’s Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station will close at 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31 and will be closed all day on Tuesday, Jan. 1.
State Highway Administration Responding to Wintry Mix — The State Highway Administration issued a list of things to keep with you while driving in icy winter weather. [State Highway Administration]
Flickr photo by ehpien
The 365,000 speed tickets issued by mobile speed camera units in Maryland work zones is a significant improvement from the nearly half a million tickets issued last year, though AAA Mid-Atlantic did say fewer large-scale construction projects likely had a lot to do with that number.
On the stretch of the Beltway in Silver Spring between New Hampshire Avenue and University Bouelvard, 41,641 speeding tickets were issued from January through the end of November. That’s in addition to the 30,986 speeding tickets issued there from August 2011 through December 2011.
The state was working on the Northwest Branch bridge with a posted 55 mph speed limit. Vehicles traveling 12 mph over that limit were subject to the $40 citations.
Still, AAA Mid-Atlantic said there was a noticeable percentage decrease in the number of drivers speeding in work zones. The group says its analysis of state figures shows fewer than two out of every 100 drivers were caught speeding. The state began issuing speed tickets in work zones three years ago.
Since, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s John Townsend says work zone fatalities have declined 67 percent, crashes are down 16.8 percent and the number of injured persons is down almost 12 percent.
The State Highway Administration has two Bethesda-area projects underway (the Jones Bridge Road/Connecticut Avenue widening and the Wisconsin Avenue/Cedar Lane intersection improvement). More are on the way, including Walter Reed-related projects at Jones Bridge Road and at West Cedar Lane and Old Georgetown Road.
The Defense Department will provide Maryland with $18.3 million for work on a Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road intersection improvement project, members of the state’s congressional delegation announced today.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Senators Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D) said the grant is the second of four they expect to be awarded to the state for traffic-mitigation issues around the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The Maryland Department of Transportation got a $7.3 million grant in September for a BRAC-related intersection upgrade at Old Georgetown Road and West Cedar Lane.
The State Highway Administration will manage the $23.1 million project.
Statements from Van Hollen, Mikulski and Cardin follow:
“Our community is proud to be the home of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In order to make sure it is a world-class center of excellence for our veterans, we must ensure patients, families, and base personnel are able to access the facility. We must also reduce BRAC-related congestion in the surrounding community,” said Congressman Van Hollen. “This funding will help do just that. It’s a win-win for everyone and key to making a successful transition at the new Walter Reed.”
“I fought in the Senate to BRAC-proof Maryland’s bases, now I am working to BRAC-ready our transportation systems. Our troops fight overseas to protect our freedom, they shouldn’t have to fight traffic to get the care they’ve earned when they get back,” said Senator Mikulski, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which funds the Department of Defense. “The Walter Reed National Military Center at Bethesda will be the frontline in delivering care to our wounded warriors. I am proud to partner with my Team Maryland colleagues to make BRAC a success and secure the federal funding needed to meet the increased demands on our community.”
“This additional funding will make a difference for the thousands of wounded warriors and their families who will use the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as well as Montgomery County’s beleaguered commuters,” said Senator Cardin. “As a delegation, we have been united in our efforts to ensure federal support for the expanded medical facility and the tens of thousands of new military and civilian jobs being brought to our state through the BRAC process. I am pleased that we will be able to provide much-needed road upgrades to improve safety and reduce BRAC-related congestion.”
Photo via TrafficLand.com