Maryland plans to widen Rockville Pike

Bethesda residents living in the shadow of the new Walter Reed hospital fear the impact several years' worth of road construction may have on their homes, and in some cases, their own front lawns.

State officials are planning $19 million in upgrades to the intersection of Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane to handle the extra traffic from the newly expanded Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, including adding a lane to Rockville Pike for several blocks north of Cedar Lane.

Patient visits are expected to double to 1 million annually at the Bethesda hospital since it absorbed the old Walter Reed in D.C. The consolidation was a part of the Army's Base Realignment and Closure plan, better known as BRAC.

Residents of Locust Hill, some of whom live on a service road parallel to Rockville Pike, worry the project may push the road back into their lawns.

"We don't know whether this extension of the highway will consume the land between the access road and the highway," resident Don Willard said.

And construction could cut off dozens of residents from the only access point they have to their own homes, he said.

The state already owns the first several feet of property in the yards along the service road, according to Phil Alperson, BRAC coordinator for Montgomery County. But project designs haven't reached a point where officials can say how much land is needed to widen Rockville Pike, he said.

Even a small loss of property might not be worth the price of traffic, according to Jim Turner, president of the Locust Hill Civic Association.

"At best, SHA models show an extra lane would cut off about eight seconds of the outbound commute," Turner said. "That doesn't seem like a very efficient use of $19 million."

Alperson said the cost of doing nothing could be far worse. Traffic is already categorized as failing at the intersection, and an extra northbound lane, even if only for a few blocks, would make leaving the hospital much smoother, he said.

Residents also need to consider all the projects at stake -- state officials plan to improve three other intersections, and the county plans to build an underground tunnel connecting Walter Reed with the Medical Center Metro station, located on the opposite side of Rockville Pike at the National Institutes of Health campus.

"The net at the end of the day is traffic will be better than it is now, even if there's more cars on the road because of BRAC," Alperson said.