County proposes underpass for Medical Center Metro
Pedestrian, bike path would cut under Rockville Pike
A nearly-flat pedestrian and bicycle passageway just below Rockville Pike could be the new Medical Center Metro entrance.
The county's $30 million "underpass" proposal would cut directly through the hill that crests between the National Institutes of Health and the National Naval Medical Center. It would also eliminate the need for 30-feet-deep tunnels and elevators under the road that have been previously proposed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to connect the east side of the pike with Metro.
The second entrance to the Metro station has been a priority since the announcement that the Walter Reed Army Medical Center will relocate from Washington, D.C. to Navy Med's campus in September 2011 as part of the nationwide Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. The new facility, which when combined with Navy Med will be called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, is expected to bring 2,500 new jobs to Bethesda.
In the future, the passageway could also be modified to allow emergency vehicles to pass quickly between NIH and Navy Med under the Pike, an idea that both facilities have discussed.
Construction for this option, which was submitted for a $20 million federal grant last week, could require a smaller version of the lane shifts drivers have experienced at the intersection of the Pike and Montrose Road in Rockville.
Phil Alperson, the county's BRAC coordinator, said the "underpass" option is the best plan for giving pedestrians and bikers a fast and safe way to cross the Pike.
"It doesn't treat them as second-class citizens," Phil Alperson, the county BRAC coordinator, told the BRAC Implementation Committee Sept. 15.
Alperson said the underpass would be the most attractive option for preventing pedestrians and bikers from trying to cross the Pike. It would be accessible at street level next to the current Medical Center Metro entrance but would not provide direct access to Metro fare gates.
Many pedestrians on the east side of the Pike would not wait for previously-discussed deep elevators, Alperson argued, while a deeper tunnel still would not provide direct access to the Metro station. The most popular entrance studied by WMATA earlier this year called for one set of elevators on each side of the Pike and a pedestrian tunnel under the road, and was estimated to cost $60 million.
Although the project might require temporary lane shifts on the Pike, it would not require closing the road, Alperson said.
The new option was prepared by the county's Department of Transportation based on a design drawn up by Clarke Construction, which has also done construction work in preparation for BRAC at Navy Med.
A decision on the $20 million federal grant application for the underpass will be announced in February of next year by federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. There is also a separate $20 million "placeholder" in the federal fiscal 2011 budget set aside for an east-side Medical Center Metro upgrade, although that figure has not been finalized or approved.
But a Navy Med representative criticized the county for not working on the plans with the hospital before submitting the grant.
"This hasn't been coordinated with the Navy that I know of," said David Oliveria, who is managing the BRAC process at Navy Med.
He later told Alperson that the county had put the Navy's "backs against the wall" by not working with Navy Med on the proposal. Oliveria also raised concerns about the extent the proposal would encroach on Navy Med's property near the fence on the east side of the Pike.
Community members had various reactions. While Ilaya Hopkins of the East Bethesda Citizens Association said the idea picked up on a lot of the community's concepts favoring multi-modal transportation, Ed Krauze of Bethesda Parkview Citizens Association worried that "some anti-terrorism regulator is going to shut this project down."
Meanwhile, a revised set of planned improvements for four major intersections around Navy Med should be unveiled at next month's BRAC implementation committee meeting, according to Edgar Gonzalez, a deputy director of transportation policy at the county Department of Transportation. The highest priority intersection is Cedar Lane and Rockville Pike, he said.