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Transportation Officials Hear Feedback on South Bethesda Metro Station Entrance

Some transit advocates don't want to wait on the Purple Line to build new entrance.

When it comes to constructing the planned south entrance to the Bethesda Metro station, for many, it’s the sooner the better.

The station is the third busiest in Montgomery County. There about 10,730 weekday boardings, with the majority of those commuters arriving on foot. The station also has high bike use. Many say the station’s current entrance and elevator isn’t enough to meet demand.

“I try to avoid using the station at rush hour, but my job requires it,” said Beryl Neurmal, a downtown Bethesda resident who uses a wheelchair and relies on transit to commute to her job in downtown D.C. The current elevator can be difficult for her to maneuver when it gets crowded during rush hour, she said. “I just do what I can – I try not to get bumped or jostled.”

Because it’s the station’s only elevator, when it’s out of service, she needs to get off at a different station and use the bus to get home. “At Friendship Heights, if the elevator breaks down on the Western Avenue side, I know I can go to Jennifer Street,” Neurmal said.

A new on the south side of Elm Street, west of Wisconsin Avenue, would add a total of six high-speed elevators between the street level, the Red Line Metro station, and a planned station on the Purple Line. Plans also call for emergency stairs from the Metro to Elm Street, a pedestrian passageway to the Red Line station, and a new mezzanine to access the Red Line station.

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. At a meeting last week, transportation officials displayed conceptual designs, listened to feedback from residents, and laid out a new design timeline. Preliminary design is set for the spring to fall of 2011 and the final design for the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2012. A construction timeline is yet to be determined.

Though it’s moving forward as an independent project to access the Red Line station, “We need to coordinate design and construction with the Purple Line,” said Gary Erenrich, of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

The planned 16-mile light rail line is still waiting on some federal funds and a construction timeline remains unclear.

Without the Purple Line, not as many elevators would be required, Erenrich said. If the project were to move forward independently of the Purple Line, “The risk would be you build two elevators and then all of a sudden the Purple Line comes along,” Erenrich said.

Some at the meeting, however, felt that the project should move forward regardless of the status of the Purple Line. “I think they should just go ahead and build it,” said Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit, who attended the meeting. “They don’t necessarily need to put in all six elevators until the Purple Line [is constructed.]”

Richard Hoye, another member of the Action committee for Transit, also said the need for the new entrance was an immediate one. Hoye, who lives in Bethesda and doesn’t own a car, said the station’s current elevator is slow and crowded and can be difficult to maneuver with a bike. “This will help to further pedestrianize Bethesda,” he said.

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