Montgomery County Council members added $68.174 million to the county’s budget Tuesday for the construction of a pedestrian underpass beneath Rockville Pike in Bethesda.
The underpass would connect the Medical Center Metrorail station at the National Institutes of Health on southbound Rockville Pike to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, located across the street.
The project will be paid for in money given to Montgomery County by the Department of Defense between two separate grants, the most recent of which was approved Nov. 1.
The council voted unanimously to approve the funding Tuesday. Construction for the project is expected to start in July, said Deputy Council Staff Director Glenn Orlin. It is expected to open two years later.
The underpass is planned to reduce the foot traffic from Metro users and bus riders across Rockville Pike, thereby improving safety and congestion at that section of the road, according to the project’s description. According to Navy data, 43 percent of the 10,500 who work at the medical center drive to work, the rest rely on Metrorail, buses, or carpools.
Road closures as a result of this project will be announced next year.
Traffic on Rockville Pike near the hospital is expected to increase from the Sept. 15 merger of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The merger, a result of the 2005 federal Base Realignment and Closure Act, which is consolidating military bases nationwide, will double the number of annual visits to the Bethesda military hospital to 1 million.