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Transit Group Wants New Bethesda Metro Entrance Before Escalator Rehab

Action Committee for Transit: "The south entrance is needed independent of the repairs and independent of the Purple Line, and the repairs make the project more urgent"

A county transit advocacy group is pushing for the planned south entrance to the Bethesda Metro to be completed before WMATA’s 2014 escalator rehabilitation project at the heavily-used station. But county transportation officials say the south entrance is dependant on plans for the Purple Line, the 16-mile light rail planned to connect Bethesda and New Carrollton which is as of yet unfunded.

The new would add a total of six high-speed elevators between the street level, the Red Line Metro station, and a planned Bethesda station on the Purple Line. The design of the new entrance is “inseparable” from the plans for the planned light rail, according to Gary Erenrich, of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

Conceptual designs for the light rail are finished, but the project is awaiting a stamp of approval from the Federal Transit Administration before it can move into preliminary engineering, the next phase of planning, Erenrich said.

But transit group Action Committee for Transit is advocating for the south entrance project to move forward independently of the Purple Line and before WMATA rehabilitates the escalators at Bethesda in 2014. Metro general manager Richard Sarles that the oft-bemoaned escalators, the subject of frequent breakdowns, are due to be replaced.

According to Ben Ross of ACT, a new entrance is needed sooner rather than later, especially in light of the 2014 rehabilitation project.

Ross said that without a new entrance, problems are likely during the maintenance project if one of the two functioning escalators not being rehabilitated breaks down. Riders would be forced to climb and descend a long Bethesda entrance escalator single-file if one escalator is out of service for the rehab project and workers are called to make repairs to a second escalator in the event one breaks down, Ross said.

“We had the same problem in Bethesda when they were re-doing the and it was pretty bad then, but it was not a bad climb,” Ross said. “The problem is people who will start climbing will get tired and go very slow and have to stop for a rest, and big crowds will gather at the bottom.”

ACT members handed leaflets to riders at the Bethesda Metro Tuesday advocating for the project to move forward sooner.

“The south entrance is needed independent of the repairs and independent of the Purple Line, and the repairs make the project more urgent,” Ross said. “Bethesda has developed to a point where one station entrance can’t handle the number of Metro riders…the escalator repairs are needed yesterday. But they make the [entrance project] delay really crazy.”

The south entrance project “has been on hiatus to some extent” as officials wait on the Purple Line to move forward, though there’s been no unusual delays, Erenrich said.

The project is funded by the county, managed by the Maryland Transit Administration and designed to WMATA standards.

About $5 million in design and $55 million in construction funds have been programmed for the project by the county, though it's expected to cost between $60 and $65 million. 

In January, construction funds for the new entrance werefrom fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2015.

The entrance project is so intertwined with the Purple Line plans it wouldn’t make sense to move forward with independently with the Red Line entrance escalators, Erenrich said. “We have a contract with MTA. They’re our consultants on this project, and they’re advancing this project parallel with the Purple Line,” said Erenrich said. “The two projects are inseparable.”

Cathy Asato, a Metro spokeswoman, said an identical escalator rehabilitation to Bethesda’s pending project is currently underway at Foggy Bottom. The station also has three entrance escalators, one of which is being rehabilitated at a time, and only one elevator.

“Yeah, it does get crowded, and sometimes there are backlogs, but for the most part it’s going pretty well,” Asato said.

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