Before tunnel arrives, council seeks safety measures for Forest Glen Road

Members suggest short-term pedestrian protections in the interim

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006


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While a pedestrian tunnel at Forest Glen Road and Georgia Avenue may be years away, a County Council committee has requested that more be done in the meantime for pedestrian safety at the busy intersection.

During an Oct. 26 hearing, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority presented a preliminary feasibility study to the Transportation and Environment Committee on a pedestrian tunnel running underneath Georgia Avenue.

The plan would run the tunnel from the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road to the corner near the Forest Glen Metro station. The preliminary cost estimate is around $10 million.

However, council members suggested some ideas for safety in the interim.

‘‘What I wanted them to do was look at simple things like signal timing, no-turn-on-red signs. ... Things of that nature would offer some short-term relief to the neighbors,” said Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park, chairwoman of the Transportation and Environment Committee, during a phone interview Monday.

While County Council members George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, Thomas E. Perez (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park and Floreen heard WMATA’s plan and agreed that the tunnel was important, nothing was decided on whether the project would find its way to a priority list for the next fiscal year.

‘‘I’m hopeful that we can move [the project] forward, but I can’t say what else is out there that we may need to focus on,” Floreen said. ‘‘But certainly it’s very deserving.”

The project will be up for review to be put on a priority list with the County Council and county executive in January. Priority lists give county officials an idea of the most important projects to be addressed that fiscal year and how funding would be distributed. The last time such lists were put together was a year ago.

Besides recommendations for more short-term improvements, including signage, signal timing and repainting of crosswalks, the council recommended that the State Highway Administration, the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation, and WMATA develop a comprehensive study of the intersection, including vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Nat Bottigheimer, director of planning for WMATA, presented the feasibility study of the pedestrian tunnel to the committee Oct. 26, and said his main focus was providing the background and description of the tunnel.

Bottigheimer said that WMATA was ready to work closely with the other parties involved, but that there was no indication as to when that would be.

‘‘We are all working together to find out what’s needed,” he said. ‘‘One step that has been taken is that we’ve prepared a scope of work for a study that can be done and we shared it with community and with the county. So there is an idea out there for steps to take.”

Adam Pagnucco, member of the Forest Estates Community Association and chairman of its subcommittee titled Crossing Georgia, said he was pleased with the optimism he heard from the council.

‘‘They did a good thing by holding that briefing,” Pagnucco said. ‘‘It was necessary ... and they seemed legitimately concerned and we commend them for that, but at some point we have to see some action on it.”

Pagnucco, who also manages his committee’s Web site, crossinggeorgia.com, said he has received support for this project from most politicians, including those running for office this week.

Jeff Waldstreicher, a candidate running for the Maryland House of Delegates representing District 18, said he attended the Oct. 26 briefing and believes the tunnel should be added to a priority list.

‘‘It’s a critical pedestrian safety issue,” Waldstreicher said. ‘‘There is no question that the transportation priorities on that list are important, but on last year’s list, the cheapest project was $30 million. So it’s not like this would have a tremendous impact on the total amount of the priority list.”

The tunnel has been an issue with the community for years, but was recently pushed to the forefront after the intersection was named the most congested in the county in a May report by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Joel S. Hawthorne, pastor at Montgomery Hills Baptist Church, said his congregation and school, which are located at the intersection, are very concerned with pedestrian safety. Hawthorne also said the church also houses the Siena School for students in grades 5 through 9. The students often cross Georgia Avenue to take the Metro.

‘‘I’ve just had people in my church tell me from time to time that they’ve had difficulties crossing the street,” Hawthorne said. ‘‘So many of the cars just don’t seem to pay attention to pedestrians.”

Pagnucco said he knows it is still early in the process, but is confident the tunnel will one day become a reality.

‘‘We know it will take a while, but we will be watching,” he said.