First in an occasional series looking at how the new White Flint will come together.
The White Flint Sector Plan calls for a new street grid, which will relieve congestion on Rockville Pike and provide more ways to walk, bike, or drive around White Flint. While many of the new streets will be built by private developers, like at Pike + Rose and North Bethesda Center, Montgomery County and the State of Maryland will be responsible for much of the heavy lifting.
The process of building a new street grid is complicated, involving many players and complex negotiations. “It’s very difficult to put a timeline together on most things in White Flint because they’re all interdependent,” says Dee Metz, the county’s White Flint implementation coordinator.
Montgomery County has divided the street grid into two halves on either side of Rockville Pike and refers to them as the Western Workaround and Eastern Workaround. On both sides, new and existing streets will get new, wider sidewalks, landscaping and street trees, and some bicycle accommodations. Utilities will be moved underground as well, reducing visual clutter and making it easier for street trees to grow.
Western Workaround: Could start by 2015
The first big street construction project in White Flint will be the Western Workaround, a network of new streets west of Rockville Pike. They include Market Street, a new east-west street between Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road, and shifting Executive Boulevard from its current intersection with Old Georgetown further east, so it can connect to a new street in Pike + Rose. The project also includes funds to rebuild Rockville Pike between Flanders Avenue and Hubbard Drive.
White Flint landowners will pay for the $98 million project through a special tax district created to fund the infrastructure needed to support the area’s redevelopment. So far, the project is at 35% design, which means some but not all of the minor details are being worked out. County transportation officials have been make any changes that would inconvenience drivers.
According to Metz, the county plans to start construction in Fiscal Year 2016, which starts in July 2015. However, there are still questions left unanswered. There are stormwater management issues with many of the new streets due to the slope of the land.
For the new street grid to work, the county will have to rebuild the existing intersections of Old Georgetown, Executive and Hoya Street, which officials estimate will cost between $30 and $40 million. But it isn’t funded, nor does it include rebuilding Hoya Street between Old Georgetown and Montrose, which is basically a service road today.
It’s also unclear how the county will get the land to build the new streets. Developers promised the county that they would dedicate the land to them as they redeveloped their properties, so there’s no money set aside for buying it. While Gables Residential has agreed to dedicate part of the site where they’re building apartments and retail, the owners of the VOB car dealership on Old Georgetown Road have no plans to redevelop anytime soon, putting the new Executive Boulevard in danger.
Metz notes that councilmembers and residents are starting to get impatient. “There was an assumption that things would be happening already,” she says. “That was never the case.”
Much of the funding and coordination issues will have to be figured out when the county council works on next year’s budget in the spring. Metz says there are currently discussions with County Executive Ike Leggett to get the intersection of Old Georgetown, Executive and Hoya funded sooner rather than later. Friends of White Flint has been an assertive advocate on this front.
Eastern Workaround: New bridge today, new streets later
Like its counterpart, the Eastern Workaround is a network of new streets on the east side of Rockville Pike. This $29 million project, also funded by White Flint landowners, would extend Executive Boulevard across Rockville Pike and just over a half-mile to Nebel Street. It would also build an 80-foot-long bridge over the White Flint Metro station to connect the future McGrath Boulevard, within the North Bethesda Center property, with Rockville Pike.
The county has budgeted money to build the bridge within the next year, though funds for the rest of the network have been pushed back at least 6 years. At least that will create time to figure out how and where to extend Executive Boulevard.
County transportation planners laid out the eastern stretch of Executive Boulevard so it straddled the existing property line, ensuring that landowners on each side of the street gave up equal amounts of land. But the State Highway Administration wants to shift the road slightly to the north because Rockville Pike, which they control, is at an angle. Moving the road would create an intersection closer to a 90-degree angle, which SHA planners argue is better for drivers. But this would place more of the road on the property of Fitzgerald Auto Malls, which is unwilling to give up additional land.
As a result, progress on the Eastern Workaround has slowed. “There are lots of private negotiations the county doesn’t control,” says Metz. The county and property owners are trying to find an alternative alignment that could spare Fitzgerald while appeasing the SHA.