Drivers heading into downtown Bethesda a little after 9 a.m. Wednesday were in for a rude awakening.
Two of three southbound Wisconsin Avenue lanes were blocked off, causing the type of mini traffic-jam that’s become a frustrating reality around some area construction projects.
“People were just frustrated the lanes were closed, especially because there appeared to be no reason for it,” said Ken Hartman, a Montgomery County government official who runs the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.
Hartman said his office got a slew of complaints about the closures Wednesday.
“It’s a big frustration for us, so you can imagine how big of a frustration it is for residents,” Hartman said.
Lane and sidewalk closures for utility work or other tasks around downtown Bethesda construction sites have been a constant issue for the county—and a constant source of complaints as apartment and condominium development has picked up over the past few years.
Earlier this year, the heads of the county’s Department of Transportation and Department of Permitting Services said they’re instituting new rules and beefing up enforcement of approved temporary traffic control plans.
The county, though, has total control only over lane and sidewalk closures on county roads.
That means construction-related closures on major thoroughfares such as Wisconsin Avenue, Old Georgetown Road and East West Highway are approved and enforced by the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Hartman said county officials and the district engineer for the State Highway Administration agreed to hold staff meetings every two weeks to discuss upcoming closures and “develop a single process where an application comes in and where the review is shared by the county and the state.
“Hopefully, the county and the state will ultimately be able to enforce what the other one approves,” Hartman said. “We’re not there yet.”
Hartman said he asked the State Highway Administration why Wednesday’s closures of Wisconsin Avenue lanes were necessary. He also informed general contractor Donohoe Construction and 2nd District Police Commander Capt. David Falcinelli that the lanes were closed before the official end of morning rush hour at 9:30 a.m.
“Nobody should be blocking any lanes in rush hour,” Hartman said.
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