Montgomery County has wrapped up their study of multimodal access to Navy Med and ended up recommending a combination of new elevators to the Metro and a pedestrian and bicycle underpass. But there’s only enough funding for one. Which will it be?

Preferred alternative (2B).

The Montgomery County Planning Board will discuss this issue at a public meeting tonight. They should listen to their staff recommendation and put the elevators first.

The elevators will do the most to encourage non-automotive commuting to the facility, which will combine the operations of Bethesda Naval and Walter Reed. The Medical Center Metro has only one entrance, on the west side of Rockville Pike in front of NIH. Riders going to the hospital have to exit and then cross the busy MD-355 at grade.

WMATA studied station access and evaluated the possibility of a pedestrian underpass, a pedestrian overpass, or new elevators on the Navy Med side. However, Montgomery County DOT seemed more focused on making this into a highway interchange to speed traffic, first applying for a TIGER grant using a “secret plan” from Clark Construction to create an underpass that was more a vehicular tunnel than a pedestrian and bicycle path, and then undertaking a study that evaluated a number of interchange-style options.

“Secret plan” (left) and diamond interchange (right) options.

Fortunately, on November 23, “a consensus among local, state, and federal stakeholder agency representatives” chose Alternative 2B, which combines the elevators with the underpass. That will cost $60 million, which the House version of the defense appropriations bill provides for, but the Senate version only has $20 million.

If it is necessary to only build half of this alternative, the Planning Board staff suggest building the elevators, which is “more effective at reducing pedestrian travel times and at enhancing Metrorail evacuation, while reducing nearly as many pedestrian conflicts.” While “reducing pedestrian conflicts” is traffic engineer shorthand for “getting pedestrians out of the way so cars can go faster,” the sentence is saying that the elevator is just about as good even by the metric of moving the cars and is much better for pedestrians.

It was looking for a while like the Medical Center area would turn into a giant highway interchange, but . Whichever stakeholder really pushed for this — enlightened MCDOT staff, Congressman Van Hollen’s office, the Department of Defense, or someone else — thanks. There’s just one more key decision to make: put the elevator first on the priority list for whatever funds come out of Congress.

Update: Ben Ross reports that the Planning Board did in fact endorse the staff recommendation and prioritized the elevator over the underpass.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.