Montgomery County and the state of Maryland had five years to prepare for the planned relocation of thousands of workers and patients to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. They did nothing about the extra traffic they knew would be generated by the Base Realignment and Closure consolidation until it was already upon them. Now they plan to do something worse than nothing: They plan to spend $11.8 million of federal BRAC money on what nearby residents are calling the "Death Lane."
The Washington Examiner has obtained a copy of a study of the proposed "auxiliary through lane" near the Rockville Pike/Cedar Lane intersection by independent traffic engineering consultant Joseph Cutro for the Locust Hill Citizens Association. Cutro's conclusion, affirmed by other traffic engineers, is that besides being "a total waste of taxpayer dollars," the proposed merge lane would significantly increase the number of sideswipe accidents while doing virtually nothing to ease traffic congestion.
If the "Death Lane" is built as planned, drivers heading northbound on Rockville Pike would be forced to merge back into heavy traffic, on a curve, after cresting a hill, while trying to avoid cars turning on to the pike from Locust Hill Road. This is the same dangerous stretch where a fatal Metrobus collision closed down the pike for eight hours in December.
Congestion benefits from this poorly designed block-and-a-half-long merge lane are virtually nonexistent. Cutro notes that if the State Highway Administration keeps the traffic signal at North Woods Road, the intersection immediately south of Cedar Lane, "the auxiliary through lane would have no value." But the SHA inexplicably plans to build the lane first and decide later whether to keep the traffic signal on.
This backward decision-making process makes even less sense when viewed in context. Five intersections around Walter Reed are currently graded "F" (which means they cause gridlock). SHA's own engineer admitted at a May 4 meeting that the "Death Lane" will result in a slight improvement to "D" (barely moving) at the Rockville Pike/Cedar Lane intersection, but that it will revert back to "F" within two or three years as volume increases. Yet SHA wants the Defense Department to shell out $6,000 per foot on this useless merge lane to nowhere.
The study's cost-benefit analysis, which the highway agency is currently reviewing, characterizes this project as "spending money just to make things worse." Surely the Department of Defense can come up with a much better use for nearly $12 million.