Monday, September 15, 2014
Motorists who drive between the Capital Beltway and downtown Bethesda beware: That stretch of Wisconsin Avenue (Route 355), which already requires navigating orange construction barrels
, soon will get worse.
Some of the area’s road construction related to the major expansion at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2011 has been finished. Witness two new lanes on Connecticut Avenue to speed traffic between the Beltway and Jones Bridge Road in Chevy Chase.
Next comes Wisconsin Avenue’s turn. Cedar Lane is already torn up at Wisconsin, just south of the Beltway. In about a year, construction will begin on a pedestrian tunnel beneath Wisconsin that will carry people between the Walter Reed campus and the bus stops at the Medical Center Metro station across the street. At the same time, farther south on Wisconsin, work will begin to reconfigure a major intersection where Wisconsin converges with Jones Bridge, Center Drive and Woodmont Avenue.
The Defense Department’s base realignment at the Bethesda campus of the former National Naval Medical Center added about 3,000 new jobs to the military hospital — about a 44 percent percent jump from 8,000 jobs to more than 11,000 — and doubled the number of annual patient visits from 500,000 to 1 million.
The area was a traffic choke point before the expansion because the roads surrounding the 243-acre base — Wisconsin, Connecticut, Jones Bridge Road and Cedar Lane — also serve the headquarters for the National Institutes of Health, which is Montgomery County’s largest employer. (The county’s 2nd largest employer is Walter Reed.) They also carry traffic between the Beltway, the District and downtown Bethesda, as well as between Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, Kensington and Chevy Chase. More than 70,000 vehicles use the surrounding roads daily, according to state figures.
Phil Alperson, Montgomery’s coordinator for work related to the base realignment, said construction on both Wisconsin Avenue projects could begin in fall 2015. Meantime, workers will be moving underground utility lines, which could give it the feel of a construction zone.
Drivers will want to find alternate routes or build in more travel time, Alperson said.
When all the road work is finished — officials are aiming for 2017 for most of it — the area will still be traffic-clogged, Alperson said. Intersections now rated “F” for failing will still be about a “D.” Even so, he said, the goal isn’t to get rid of traffic — “You’re never going to get rid of traffic there,” Alperson said — but to help the area better absorb the additional vehicles that have come with the base expansion. Suburban Hospital, on Old Georgetown Road just west of Walter Reed and NIH, also has expansion plans.
“It’s not great, but just remember, there will be a lot more traffic there than there was,” Alperson said. “We’ll get less worse.”
The road work lagged behind Walter Reed’s expansion because state and local officials were waiting on approval of federal funding used to pay for most of the work.
Here’s a rundown of road work that’s underway, still to come or complete.
CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY OR STILL TO COME:
– Adding a dedicated right-turn lane on northbound Wisconsin between Walter Reed’s north gate and Cedar to carry traffic turning east onto Cedar toward Kensington. Estimated completion: 2016-2017
– Adding a new lane to Route 355 between Cedar Lane and Locust Hill Road, just south of the Beltway. Still pending release of federal funds.
– Changing configuration of intersection where Wisconsin meets with Jones Bridge, Center Drive and Woodmont Avenue. Start date not scheduled but likely in summer or fall 2015. Estimated completion: Uncertain but around 2016-2017.
– Tunneling beneath Wisconsin to build a pedestrian underpass to replace the existing crosswalk between the Medical Center Metro station on the west side of Wisconsin and Walter Reed on the east side. Also construction of a bank of high-speed elevators on the east side of Wisconsin to carry people directly between the military hospital and the underground Metro station. Start date not scheduled but likely in summer or fall 2015. Estimated completion: Uncertain but around 2016-2017.
– Adding third left-turn lane from eastbound Jones Bridge to northbound Connecticut, carrying afternoon and evening traffic from NIH and Walter Reed toward the Beltway. Also widening Jones Bridge east of Connecticut. No start date scheduled yet. Estimated completion: Fall 2016.
– Improving turn lanes between Old Georgetown Road and West Cedar Lane. Also improving bike path connections near intersection. Contractor can begin work by late September. Estimated completion: Summer 2015.
– Rockville Pike & Jones Bridge Road: Installed “dynamic signalling” that will add a second left-turn lane from southbound Wisconsin to eastbound Jones Bridge during the afternoon and evening rush for traffic trying to reach the Beltway via Connecticut. The hardware is in place, but when it will be up and running is
uncertain, Alperson said. Officials are considering delaying the new signalling until other construction work that will affect the intersection is complete.
– Connecticut Avenue: New right-turn lane added on southbound Connecticut to carry traffic between the Beltway and westbound Jones Bridge, heading toward Walter Reed and NIH. Also new northbound lane on Connecticut dedicated to traffic heading onto the Beltway.
– Walter Reed: Added entrance and exit lanes at campus gates to reduce back-ups.
– Pedestrian and bicyclist improvements: Sidewalks widened on Route 355, Jones Bridge, West Cedar and Cedar. Bike path signs added to Battery Lane, and Battery Lane resurfaced.
POSTED: 11:31:00 AM