Montgomery County won a $40 million Defense Department grant Monday, the final amount needed to build a pedestrian tunnel and high-speed Metro elevators to ease the pain of the massive relocation of thousands of workers and patients to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.

The money, on top of the $28 million already awarded, will fund the work to make it safer for about 7,000 pedestrians who cross state Route 355/Rockville Pike daily to get to Walter Reed from the National Institutes of Health side of the street. The work is also intended to eliminate the slowdowns for motorists and encourage more people to use transit.

More BRAC-related traffic improvements planned
Four intersection improvements are planned to offset added traffic from the BRAC relocation, with the work expected to be finished in 2017 and costing as much as $70 million. The projects include widening roads and adding turn lanes and through-lanes:
» Md. Route 185/Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road: under way
» Md. Route 355/Wisconsin Avenue and Jones Bridge Road: first phase under way
» Md. Route 187/Old Georgetown Road at West Cedar Lane: earliest start 2014
» Md. Route 355/Wisconsin Avenue between Woodmont Avenue and South Drive/Wood Road: earliest start 2014-2015
Source: Maryland State Highway Administration

"This funding is welcome news for the thousands of wounded warriors and their families who will use the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as well as Montgomery County's beleaguered commuters," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

The 2005 federal Base Realignment and Closure Act increased the number of workers at the medical center by nearly a third to 10,200 and doubled the number of visitors to 1 million each year.

Before then, about 3,000 pedestrians crossed Rockville Pike there each day, said Montgomery County BRAC coordinator Phil Alperson. But after the massive move, the number jumped to 7,000, he said. Additional development plans at the facility will continue to attract even more, he said.

"That's a serious pedestrian safety issue and gridlock issue," Alperson said.

The three planned high-speed elevators will take transit riders from the medical center side of the pike directly down to the platform level of the Medical Center Metro station, eliminating the need to cross the street, Alperson said.

But the project also includes the tunnel because not everyone who crosses the street uses Metrorail, which is on the NIH campus. Some are relying on Metrobus, Ride On or bicycles or are walking from nearby neighborhoods.

Separately, some $70 million in road improvements are planned at four intersections around the site, with turn lanes, road widening and through lanes. "Metro alone will not clear gridlock," Alperson said.

Some of the other intersection work is under way, said Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck, but it is not expected to be finished until at least 2017. The underpass and elevator work is expected to begin in 2013 and finish in December 2016, Alperson said.