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Leggett tries again to defund Bethesda Metro entrance

In last year's county budget, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett proposed delaying funding for a new entrance to the Bethesda Metro station. The County Council restored funding in last year's final budget, but the Leggett administration resubmitted a similar misguided proposal for this fiscal year.


The new Bethesda Metro entrance would be an elevator bank that connects with the southern end of the platform. Photo by Gautam Rishi on flickr.

The Bethesda Metro station was originally designed to accommodate a southern entrance. A bank of high-speed elevators would transport passengers to street level, like in Friendship Heights. When built, the Purple Line will also use the new elevators as both an entrance to its station and as a convenient direct transfer to and from the Red Line.

The county has always planned to finance this new entrance on its own, because it will benefit Red Line riders on the day it opens, Purple Line or no.

In addition to offering an alternative when the existing escalators are out of service, it will bring the station up to modern safety standards by providing a second entrance for emergency personnel and a second evacuation route in the event of an emergency.

Sadly, Maryland does not yet have the funds lined up for its portion of the Purple Line costs, and Leggett is citing potential Purple Line delays as a reason to postpone the Metro entrance as well. From the Bethesda Patch:

"Due to the current lack of state construction funding for these projects, this reduction is not likely to cause a delay in the project," read the county release announcing the CIP amendments.
This statement is very puzzling because County Executive Leggett has been an excellent advocate for increasing transportation revenue at the state level, teaming with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, both counties' state delegations, and other counties' delegations.

Governor O'Malley has made it clear that a significant piece of the increased transportation revenues would go towards constructing the Purple Line. One would think that the Leggett Administration would be more publicly optimistic about future state revenues, based on its own hard work.

Further, the Maryland MTA has already stated that construction on the entrance would have to begin by 2016 in order to meet a projected 2020 start of operations for the Purple Line. Last year's budget kept the project on schedule to break ground by 2016. Any delay would put the project too far behind schedule to be open when the Purple Line begins operation, if the Purple Line gets the funding it needs.

This proposal continues the pattern with this administration of trying to defund smart growth-oriented projects while proposing lavish spending on sprawl-oriented road projects.

When the County Council restored the Metro entrance funding during the 2012 budgeting process, it deferred some wasteful new road projects the Leggett administration has proposed. Those include building Montrose Parkway East, and widening Snouffer School Road and Goshen Road in Gaithersburg. It's unclear if the Gaithersburg area road widenings are linked to the M-83 "Zombie Road" proposal that MCDOT continues to study.

The County Executive's office now wants to defer the Metro funding, though for less time than in last year's proposal, and restore many of these same road projects.

Just like last year, the County Council can rein in the county Department of Transportation's least considered road-widening impulses. It's up to us to contact them and let them know that the electorate supports smart growth and economic development projects, such as the new Bethesda Metro entrance.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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I do agree it's a shame that funding for the second entrance to the Bethesda Metro is not just a de-facto project regardless of the Purple Line because Bethesda continues to grow, and the list of approved and un-built projects, plus currently planned projects is huge, and really needs an additional entrance point.

I'm less optimistic the State of Maryland will actually come up with meaningful transportation revenue, because there is no politically painless way of doing it, and although a possible outcome of this year's general assembly is letting Counties set their own increase in gas or sales taxes for use on local transportation priorities, something as big as the purple line would need revenue increases from more than Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties to work, unless the state took out public debt to pay for the purple line, and any additional money from the local tax increases was tied to a longer term pay-back of the bonds (a change from the norm where Montgomery County revenue is used elsewhere in the state). That means the chance of further purple line delay is high.

I do disagree with the blanket statement that all road widening is sprawl-centric. The M-83 (Mid county highway/Snowden farm Pkway connection)is probably the most sprawl inducing and the Snouffer School road widening number two (both would provide access for unbuilt projects. However the Goshen Road widening is less to accommodate new growth and more to relieve an existing congestion problem. Finally the Montrose Parkway East is critical in the implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan to create a new city in that location, It's not realistic to think everyone who lives or works in the new White Flint will take public transit, and the existing traffic as it is needs a grade separated way to cross the train tracks, and most certainly will as the development continues.

by Gull on Jan 22, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

The "unbuilt projects" that you are referencing are sprawl, and they rely on rode widenings like this to be built. That is the very essence of "sprawl inducing".

Furthermore, The effect of constructing the south entrance in Bethesda will ostensibly similar to constructing a whole other station. It greatly increases the foot print of real estate within walking distance to the station. The Montrose Parkway, on the other hand, is going to cut off walkability at White Flint station, effectively having the opposite effect. So if the Montrose Parkway is built, you are correct in saying it is not realistic to think people there will take public transit. The infrastructure will be against them.

by Dave Murphy on Jan 22, 2013 4:37 pm • linkreport

even if they have elevators they need to have stairs and/or escalators too. we all know the elevators will be broken half the time and smell like urine the other half. I'd rather walk up 5 flights of stairs than deal with that (while realizing it's a gift to be healthy enough for that choice).

by sbc on Jan 22, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

@Gull However the Goshen Road widening is less to accommodate new growth and more to relieve an existing congestion problem.

When has road widening provided more than temporary "relief" for congestion?

by Miriam on Jan 22, 2013 7:42 pm • linkreport

Oh MD, you have it so easy. You have to deal with defunding a metro entrance and have time to be angry about it. Meanwhile, in VA, the statecommonwealth extorts NoVa constantly on its past promises on an entire line. And in DC, well there is no vision to even get to something new there.

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2013 8:38 pm • linkreport

Speaking of added Metro station entrances, whatever happened to the plan in Arlington County to add a second entrance on the Glebe Rd side of Ballston Station?

by Transport. on Jan 23, 2013 12:03 am • linkreport

@sbc Try the Jennifer Street elevators at Friendship. There are 4 of them, with 2 working most of the time, and smell like daisies.

by fongfong on Jan 23, 2013 8:41 am • linkreport

@ Miriam, the relief may not last for ever, and I never did say I supported the Goshen project, however I do not think it's fair to classify the project as supporting sprawl, as I see supporting sprawl as making the construction of new development possible. Not at least providing for existing development goes against the premise of Maryland's smart growth polices and the priority funding areas.

@Dave, I agree the construction of a south entrance to the Bethesda metro is great for increasing the walkable distance to the station. Next tackle there is to update the Bethesda sector plan to recognize this, as in the area of the proposed Purple Line/south entrance, the allowed height and density is already in transition to lower intensity uses, as the plan was based on the old single entrance point. I know there is a lot of concern over Montrose Parkway cutting off the walkability in the area, although the parkway also divides White Flint from Twinbrook. If the metric were just getting people to the closest metro, the parkway does not harm them. If we're concerned about a cohesive neighborhood, then the parkway may be a problem, but it's all yet to be seen. Thinking that everyone will take transit who lives in the White Flint/Twinbrook area if additional road improvements are not made is a pipe dream, and will likely hinder the area from reaching the full development potential. Not everyone moves to these urban TOD communities just for the transit, others still drive to work but enjoy living in an otherwise more urban environment. Likewise not everyone employed in a TOD will live there or take transit to work.

by Gull on Jan 23, 2013 8:50 am • linkreport

Having walked up the 172 immobile escalator risers at Bethesda a number of times, and having ridden the high-speed elevators at Forest Glen many times, I can say from experience that high-speed elevators at Bethesda (and Medical Center and probably several other stations) are essential.

by Chris on Jan 23, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

It's also worth mentioning that the current ADA-accessible entrances to the Bethesda Metro suck. It's easily one of the most convoluted, obscure, and unreliable entry/egress points in the whole system. (And don't even think about trying to bring a bike with you!)

Even for pedestrians, the current Bethesda Metro entrance is one of the weirder and less convenient ones in the system.

Adding a second entrance with more elevators would go a long way toward making things better for passengers at the station. The extra tax revenue from the new development opportunities that a second entrance would bring should make the project an unquestionable slam dunk for the county. They're fools for not making it a priority.

by andrew on Jan 23, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

GGW - thanks for the nice photograph of the Bethesda station when it still had light!

by Tracey Johnstone on Jan 23, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

@Andrew - agreed. Every time I see confused cyclists on Wisconsin Avenue by the hotel, they're looking for the elevator to the station.

The Bethesda bus depot may be shut down for *2 years* for construction. That makes the safety issues of having a secondary exit/entrance even more important.

by Ronit on Jan 23, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

Andrew, you are correct on the elevator location. People have NO clue where it is and the sign is not helpful - especially if you are in a wheelchair. There's no getting there if you're in a wheelchair. The current situation is completely unacceptable.

by Tracey Johnstone on Jan 23, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

@Cavan Wilk

"The Bethesda Metro station was originally designed to accommodate a southern entrance."

What documentation do you have that proves this to be true. I know WMATA built provisions into many of the stations to accommodate future additional entrances to existing mezzanines and provisions to add future second mezzanine with at least one surface entrance to others. However I have never heard of there being a future mezzanine and surface entrance provision being built in the Bethesda station.

by Sand Box John on Jan 23, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

John - There are knock-out panels at the south end of the station. You can see them by looking to the right across the tracks.

by Ben Ross on Jan 23, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

Bethesda is quite deep, and a real bear if even a single escalator is out. Have they considered multiple stages with a small landing, so a single escalator outage does not mean you have to walk the entire length.

by SJE on Jan 23, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

SJE, I saw a terrible sight one night - ALL the escalators AT RUSH HOUR were out of commission. One of the employees was holding people back at the base so that the escalator could be cleared before another employee waiting at the top could start it up. Well, one of the poor souls making the climb was an elderly woman. When she got to about halfway, she slowed down considerably and had to rest a couple of times - all the while a bunch of high school aged boys were heckling her from the base of the escalator - and the WMATA employee made no effort to stop them.

A few years back a fellow died of a heart attack making the climb.

Then there was the case on Thanksgiving Day when the 'down' escalator was not working. People carrying heavy and awkward casserole dishes were having an awful time getting down and they, too, had to stop and rest. The two employees in the booth didn't seem to notice or care. WMATA doesn't seem to have any contingency plans for escalator problems at the station.

by Tracey Johnstone on Jan 23, 2013 6:14 pm • linkreport

@ Tracey J:ALL the escalators AT RUSH HOUR were out of commission.

Oh, I saw that this morning in Rosslyn. Both up escalators were out, there was a huge line for the elevator. Many people had to rest going up as Rosslyn is the second deepest. When I came at the exit, two typical metro employees were chatting while watching the crowd climb up the stairs. No sign of action.

by Jasper on Jan 23, 2013 8:35 pm • linkreport

Does anyone here know why the L'Enfant Plaza up escalators were not functioning on Inauguration Day? The news reports said it created a massive back up onto the platform.

Surely that's a serious safety issue?

Were the escalators turned off or were they broken - anyone know?

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 23, 2013 10:29 pm • linkreport

@Ben Ross:

I will admit I haven't been in the station in lot of years.

However I would have made a mental note of the existence of a knockout in the vault arch if it were easily visible.

The couple of picture I found on the web show no evidence of the presents of knockouts on the west side of the arch near the south end.

Mind you the arch vault is composed of 4 X 72 precast concrete segments of witch any group of lower segments can be removed and replaced to accommodate an entrance passageway.

by Sand Box John on Jan 23, 2013 11:48 pm • linkreport

Sand Box John, the "knock-out panel" looks just like any other end of any other underground platform. The key is that there's air behind the wall rather than earth. When the station was built, the space that's now behind the wall was excavated in anticipation of adding a new entrance in the future. The second entrance was part of some of the preliminary plans for the station but was deleted before groundbreaking to save money.

by Cavan on Jan 24, 2013 10:47 am • linkreport

Cavan, in Bethesda, the knock out panels actually do look different from the others.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 24, 2013 10:50 am • linkreport

County Executive Ike Leggett is committed to expanding transit and committed to the Purple Line project. That’s why it was so surprising to read this post implying otherwise. Montgomery County has authorized the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to proceed with the design of the new entrance to the Bethesda Metro station. Both design and construction of the elevators will be paid 100 percent by Montgomery County. The bottom line is that it makes the most sense to keep the new entrance on the same schedule as the unfunded Purple Line. MTA has told the County it is fine with this approach.

Is it possible to build the entrance elevators independently of the Purple Line design? Yes – but only at significantly increased cost and greater risk. It is estimated the additional cost to the County could be $25 million. And, the County would have to absorb all possible risks associated with the structural integrity, possible temporary relocation of offices and potential damages to the Apex Building located above. This makes no sense.

The County has a finite amount of money to devote to capital projects. Setting aside money in the capital budget before it is needed only bumps other projects, such as transit or school construction, that may be ready to go.

Mr. Leggett’s commitment to the Purple Line and a new entrance to the Bethesda Metro is clear. Let’s just do it in a way that is most cost effective.

by Patrick Lacefield on Jan 25, 2013 9:45 am • linkreport

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