Ped access at Medical Center now secret "traffic and pedestrian" project
The saga of the Medical Center Metro access project just gets stranger and stranger.
On Tuesday, we reported that Montgomery County had suddenly, and without notice, changed its TIGER grant request for pedestrian access to the Medical Center Metro station into a grade-separated vehicular tunnel, morphing the wording from "pedestrian access" to "multi-modal underpass." Now, in a supplemental filing, Montgomery County has again renamed it as a "traffic mitigation and pedestrian access" project, reflecting a new alternative not in Metro's study. Most bizarrely, that alternative is completely secret.
Here's the filing. Page 9 discusses the alternatives Metro studied. Then, on page 10, is the secret plan: a redacted page that reads, "The project design was submitted to Montgomery County by Clark Construction Group, LLC, a private enterprise located in Bethesda, Maryland. The project, if funded, will be subject to open bidding. ... The designs are proprietary and are subject to Federal Register guidelines for TIGER Grant applications pertaining to Confidential Business Information."
Apparently the TIGER grant process allows jurisdictions to file some confidential information. I doubt, however, that the intent of the regulations was to allow a government to keep its actual intentions secret. Montgomery County officials have still not responded to my questions about how wide this proposed roadway would be, or how close it would be to the existing Metro station entrance.
The filing also makes some bizarre arguments about the other, more pedestrian alternatives. They correctly argue that a simple underpass wouldn't work, as most riders would simply continue to cross the street. Why go down some stairs and back up when you can go straight across? But this applies just as much to a vehicular underpass. The stairs won't be there, but it'd still be a longer path, dark, and full of loud buses and/or cars.
Meanwhile, they pooh-pooh the direct elevator access, saying that it "would provide minimal access for certain commuters, such as those arriving by bus to the Metro Station or neighborhood pedestrians approaching NNMC from the west." So? Those are the commuters who already can use the existing entrance on the west side, and the existing buses enter directly into the station. Are they really arguing that the new entrance alternative isn't worthwhile because only the people on the side without an entrance need it? You could certainly argue the same for the underpass, which won't serve anyone walking from the neighborhood, anyone entering Metro from NIH, anyone trying to get on the Metro in Ballston, or any residents of Shaker Heights, Ohio on their daily commutes.
What Montgomery County DOT is really saying is that they believe redesigning the area to separate all modes and move cars faster is the top priority. Their suggested design would indeed separate modes, but that's the wrong approach. If the intersection gets clogged with pedestrians crossing the street and cars driving by, don't move pedestrians out of the way of the cars; give the pedestrians a better and faster route. The direct station access would do just that.
The Montgomery County Council should step in and ask the County Executive, first, to reveal the general details of the plan. Specific construction cost estimates or other actually proprietary details, instead of the plan itself, can remain proprietary. Second, they should make it County policy that the
pedestrian tunnel Metro entrance is the locally preferred alternative for this project.
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