Transit activists and community leaders blasted the county executive’s proposed capital budget, which defers construction funds for a second entrance to the Bethesda Metro station on Wisconsin Avenue.
“I don’t think it’s a priority for them, and we would like it to be a priority,” said Tina Slater, president of Action Committee for Transit, an advocacy group dedicated to better public transportation. “There are a lot of people who live down at that end of the Metro, and it would be a lot shorter for them to take that south entrance.”
For Ben Ross, an ACT vice president who takes the Bethesda Metro most days, the station would shave at least five minutes off his commute. He said it also would make the station easier to reach for more residents.
The Bethesda station, which is on the Red Line, is the third-busiest station in Montgomery County, with about 10,800 average weekday boardings, said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority.
The $80 million second entrance would include high-speed elevators to connect riders at the corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue to the station.
It also would connect riders to the proposed Purple Line station and be built in coordination with the Purple Line, an unfunded $1.9 billion light rail that would connect Bethesda and New Carrollton.
“The construction monies are basically not in this budget because we do not know what the construction schedule is for the Purple Line,” said Patrick Lacefield, a county spokesman. “While we support the Metro entrance, we did not feel like we wanted to program the money and tie it up now, given that the Purple Line is not ready.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommended $4.21 billion budget allocates $5.63 million for planning and engineering through preliminary design of the second entrance. Leggett’s proposed six-year plan now goes to the County Council, which has final fiscal authority.
At the station on Tuesday, Bethesda resident Joan Bacharach said the Metro is in appalling condition. She said Bethesda needs a well-maintained system more than a second entrance.
“The whole system has a problem,” said Alan Erlich, a Bethesda resident and frequent user of the Bethesda Metro. “They’ve deferred maintenance.”
A second entrance would benefit businesses on the south side of Bethesda and improve congestion at the Bethesda station, said Heather Dlhopolsky, a vice president for the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. The chamber supports building the second entrance now.
“I think the southern end of Bethesda would be helped out,” she said. “That knocks three maybe four blocks off your commute.”
With escalators at the Bethesda Metro experiencing frequent breakdowns, Slater said a second entrance also would improve safety.
Between May 2010 and May 2011, the three Bethesda escalators each made Metro’s top 50 list of worst escalators, Stessel said. There are 588 escalators systemwide.
All three Bethesda escalators worked about 85 percent of the time.
The worst escalator was at the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metrorail station in Washington, D.C. It was functional about 53 percent of the year, he said.
The Bethesda escalators are scheduled to be replaced in early 2014. As there is only one entrance, they will be replaced one at a time at an unknown cost. The months-long project will be sent out as part of a competitive bidding process.
Stessel said escalators at the Foggy Bottom station were successfully replaced despite it having one entrance.
Ross worried about what would happen if one escalator was down for construction while another was out of order.
“Bethesda is a wonderful place because we do have the Metro,” Ross said. “We need to invest to be sure that it stays that way.”