The county departments in charge of permitting say they’re tightening up when it comes to long-term closures of downtown Bethesda sidewalks for construction projects.
In a memo last month, the heads of the Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and Department of Permitting Services (DPS) said they’re instituting new rules and beefing up enforcement of approved temporary traffic control plans (or TTCPs).
The plans, approved by MCDOT and enforced by DPS, are what developers and contractors use for long-term sidewalk closures when construction projects pose safety risks or just need the extra space.
After a lengthy review requested by Councilmember Roger Berliner, MCDOT and DPS determined that there have been sidewalk access issues related to downtown Bethesda’s many construction projects.
“For example, the TTCP is submitted by the permittee and may or may not have been approved by the general contractor responsible for the schedule,” wrote MCDOT Acting Director Al Roshdieh and DPS Director Diane Schwartz Jones. “Schedule changes during construction and sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances that result in longer construction schedules or out of sequence delivers, pours, and other construction. These circumstance can result in some of the problems that we have been seine in Bethesda.”
Those problems include sidewalk closures that haven’t been approved in a TTCP, sidewalk closures that last longer than approved in the TTCP, simultaneous sidewalk closures on the same street related to different projects and sidewalk closures without the TTCP-required “traffic control devices.”
The memo didn’t provide specific examples of sidewalk closures that violated approved permits.
But a trip around booming downtown Bethesda will provide plenty of examples of sidewalk closures, approved or otherwise.
Simultaneous construction of the 7770 Norfolk apartment and Bainbridge Bethesda across the street led to closures of sidewalks on each side of Fairmont Avenue last year. Crews working on the west side of the street set up a temporary traffic barrier to give pedestrians room to walk, which in turn made the road difficult to navigate for drivers.
The Woodmont Avenue closure during the Lot 31 construction project was permitted to last 24 months, but ended up taking 28 months before it was reopened. Meanwhile, the sidewalk on the south side of Bethesda Avenue was also closed off.
Sidewalks on three sides of the 8300 Wisconsin project are closed off during construction, though crews erected an overhead sidewalk cover on the Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk.
To deal with the problems and the changing schedules of construction crews, the county said it has set up a work group of staff from MCDOT, DPS and the Regional Service Center in downtown Bethesda — the county office that receives many resident complaints.
The work group will meet regularly and DPS has reallocated an existing position to focus on field inspections of downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring construction sites.
There will also be new requirements in the TTCP process.
Permit holders must provide a construction schedule, detailed table showing the duration of sidewalk and lane closures, affidavit confirming they understand the rules and post a sign as part of any closure saying, “This sidewalk to be re-opened no later than xx/xx/xx. Call 311 if not opened by this date.”
If any construction schedule changes happen, the permit holder must notify the county work group immediately.
The signage will likely be approved as part of a county bill that will go to public hearing on Tuesday. District 16 delegates introduced a similar measure in Annapolis that would require the same signage requirements on state roads such as Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road.
PDF: DOT, DPS On Sidewalk Closure Changes