Montgomery County planning officials approved a series of road upgrades planned for intersections near the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, which they contend will reduce congestion despite thousands of military workers and new patients descending on the hospital in just over a year.
By widening roads and adding turn lanes and traffic signals along Rockville Pike, Connecticut Avenue and Old Georgetown Road, officials expect to reduce rush-hour delays by 45 percent near the hospital.
About $100 million in federal money has been slated for improving the ailing intersections around the medical center -- expected to absorb 2,500 employees from the closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Some recommended improvements » Rockville Pike and Jones Bridge Road: convert the left southbound lane on Route 355 to a left-turn lane during the evening peak and add a right-turn lane on eastbound Center Drive. » Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane: install a half-signal at North Wood Road to stop northbound Route 355 traffic during the morning crunch. » Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road: construct an additional northbound lane from 300 feet north of Manor Road to the Capital Beltway. » Old Georgetown Road and Cedar Lane: Widen the alternate entrance to the NIH campus to allow two-way traffic.
About one of every five southbound vehicles on Rockville Pike in the area during the morning rush currently is bound for the medical center, according to state transportation estimates. And outpatient visits could double to nearly 1 million each year with the throng of military employees.
Officials have focused on improving access to the hospital, the National Institutes of Health -- just across Rockville Pike -- and the Medical Center Metro station.
But area residents say they are being forgotten.
"We've talked about traffic; we've talked about service; but we need to talk about community," said Ken Strickland, president of the Chevy Chase Valley Citizens Association, urging planning board members to put up more resistance to the plans.
Homeowners, particularly along Connecticut Avenue, worry traffic will literally end up on their doorstep.
The planning board voted against proposed changes to the Connecticut Avenue intersection, saying it needed more information. However, the board can only make recommendations, and the state can go ahead with plans if it chooses.
County planning officials also recommended landscaping and accessibility improvements along the roads, as well as finishing the southern part of the North Bethesda Trail.