A sidewalk section and southbound lane on Wisconsin Avenue have shut down and could stay that way for up to six months during demolition work at the Apex building site in downtown Bethesda.
Already, County Council President Roger Berliner and State Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) have stepped in to lodge their objection to the closures.
The developer, Carr Properties, is directing pedestrians and motorists around the work zone that will extend to the right southbound lane and west sidewalk between Elm Street and 7224 Wisconsin Ave., according to a notice. The state has also allowed Carr to shut the southbound center lane at night after rush hour.
Carr is demolishing the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. to clear space for a 937,000-square-foot high-rise of apartments and offices.
In a letter to state officials, Berliner and Korman wrote that they agree with closures for the safety of pedestrians and motorists. However, they questioned the need to cut off access for so long and called on the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) to take another look at the developer’s permit.
“Too often in Bethesda and other urban areas of Montgomery County, the State and County have allowed sidewalks to be closed for demolition and construction activities and these public spaces have been used merely as staging areas for equipment, not for the demolition or construction activity itself,” Berliner and Korman wrote. “While such closures may be unavoidable on a short-term basis, they are unacceptable for a six-month period.”
The letter went on to state that the sidewalk closure has already inconvenienced pedestrians and created safety concerns by forcing people to cross Wisconsin Avenue mid-block. The letter suggested that SHA officials should make sure the shutdown was necessary for demolition activity rather than staging and should explore alternatives such as letting pedestrians use the closed lane on Wisconsin Avenue.
The issue of sidewalk closures has long been a subject of debate in the county, particularly in Bethesda. In 2015 the County Council passed a law requiring that construction crews post signs during sidewalk closures. The signs should tell people how long the sidewalk will be off-limits and provide the permit holder’s contact information. Korman introduced a similar proposal that would apply to state roads but wasn’t able to secure its passage.
The new building at the Apex site will include up to 480 apartments and an office tower, and accommodate the underground light-rail station for the Purple Line. Carr’s notice indicated that the sidewalk closure for the demolition would start on June 2 and that a flagging operation and signs would redirect pedestrians and drivers. The nighttime closure of the middle lane on Wisconsin Avenue will begin in July.
The developer is also planning to close the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel below Wisconsin Avenue during construction. Carr needs a county permit to shut down the tunnel, and the approval process is on hold until the developer submits a proposed path for rerouting pedestrians, said Tim Cupples, a county transportation designer.
The tunnel will likely remain closed for several years during the redevelopment project, Cupples said.
Representatives from Carr were not available to comment on whether sidewalk and lane closures will be needed during the two-plus years the building will be under construction.
Images showing plan for apartment and office complex at Apex site in downtown Bethesda. Via Montgomery County Planning Department.