Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting to Bethesda's Medical Center


Most Bethesda residents have given little thought to crossing Wisconsin Avenue from Metro to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. But those that have get that inchworm-on-the-road feeling, and now that the facility is due to swell with thousands of new workers, urban planners are trying to do something about that. To that end, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will hold a public information session on Tuesday to discuss potential options to improve pedestrian interface with the 7 lanes of autobahn.

Thanks to a federal BRAC decision to close the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and consolidate it at Bethesda's National Naval Medical Center, Montgomery County officials and the surrounding community have been working together to prepare for the influx of 2,500 employees and half a million (annual) visitors and patients expected to frequent the new location beginning in September 2011. Tuesday's meeting will include information on proposed options to provide more efficient transit options.

The state had tasked Metro with completing the study after it received $20 million DOD grant to improve transit access to the medical center. In July of 2009, WMATA released an environmental impact study that detailed several options for moving people safely and efficiently from the Metro across Rt. 355. The study looked at options including an improved intersection, a shallow pedestrian tunnel, deep elevators and a below-ground mezzanine, a combo of shallow tunnel and deep elevator and even an elevated pedestrian bridge.

According to MCDOT Deputy Director Edgar Gonzalez, shortly after the Metro study the County applied for a share of the $1.5 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) funds, including options like pedestrian and bike crossings. To prepare for that award, MCDOT has undertaken its own environmental impact study, exploring a variety of options that, unlike the Metro study, are not restricted solely to pedestrian access. Gonzalez said the study has examined a range of options from pedestrian, to pedestrian and bikes, to having emergency vehicles connect between the NIH and Navy Medical.

Some local groups and residents have made serious and public accusations against MCDOT claiming secretive government plans and auto access via an underpass, but Gonzalez insists that claims of a 4-lane auto underpass are "totally inaccurate" and that the very idea of a "secret plan is stretching it."

You can find out for yourself at the meeting on tonight at 6:30 PM. The meeting will be at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center at 4805 Edgemoor Lane.

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