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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Bethesda 'Death Lane' should be DOA

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Sequestration has forced the Department of Defense to ground fighter squadrons, scale back troop training and mothball navy vessels. So it should be easy to cancel a poorly designed, $11.8 million road project that will trim less than seven seconds from the commute of workers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health.

Bethesda residents who live near the Rockville Pike/Cedar Lane intersection are vociferously opposed to the block-and-a-half-long merge lane that independent traffic engineering consultant Joseph Cutro has warned would "significantly increase the number of sideswipe accidents while doing virtually nothing to ease traffic congestion."

But at a March 19 meeting of the Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee, officials from the Maryland State Highway Administration seemed hell-bent on proceeding with the Phase 4 "Death Lane" anyway, despite serious flaws documented in Cutro's report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Examiner.

Cutro points out that the current design appears to violate "all geometric requirements of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials." Using the same computer program as SHA, he documented other errors, including SHA's "overly generous Lane Utilization Factor" that compromises the state's conclusions.

SHA engineers admitted at the March 19 BRAC Integration Committee meeting that they did not use standard deviation to measure traffic flow. They're also still relying on an outdated traffic count study from 2009, which itself was based on 2007 figures. SHA's claim -- that nearby construction makes a 6-year-old pre-BRAC study a more accurate reflection of current traffic demand than its own March 2012 count -- is debatable. And it doesn't explain why the agency has not publicly released the results of last summer's soil-testing study to determine whether the fill dirt beneath Rockville Pike can handle the extra load.

SHA also pretended to do a noise study. But it was conducted for just one hour on the southbound side of Rockville Pike during the morning rush, when traffic is barely moving thanks to a security check bottleneck extending all the way from the Capital Beltway to the Walter Reed/NIH campus. Residents say noise on the other side of the pike during the evening rush, when cars and trucks must quickly accelerate uphill after they clear the Cedar Lane intersection, has been measured at 80 decibels -- comparable to a factory floor.

Surely, a sequestered Pentagon can find a better use for $11.8 million.

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