A transit advocacy group in Montgomery County wants new elevators put in sooner than scheduled at Bethesda Metro station because members worry that plans to install new escalators will face hiccups and cause severe crowding and long lines.
The Action Committee for Transit said long lines could result while the new escalators are being installed if one of the units that remains in service during the work breaks down.
“Every now and then one of those two escalators is going to break down and then you’re down to one that has to be stopped and be used as a stairway,” said Ben Ross, vice president of ACT. There will “be a big crowd and people have to walk up it slowly because it is so deep.”
That’s a situation that’s already familiar to commuters who have been plagued by escalator breakdowns at the station, which only has one entrance.
On Tuesday, ACT passed out more than 5,000 fliers at the Bethesda station asking riders to write to the Montgomery County Council to voice their concerns.
Their proposal: Build the new south entrance with elevators sooner rather than later.
Those plans are on the drawing board as part of the proposal to build a 16-mile light rail Purple Line to connect Bethesda with New Carrollton. The Purple Line, a state project, is estimated to cost $1.93 billion and is awaiting federal approval to enter preliminary engineering. That decision is expected soon, but it’s unclear where construction money for the Purple Line would come from. The project would rely on both federal and state contributions.
The elevators would give riders access to the Purple Line and Metro’s Red Line from Elm Street. The elevators would take riders down to the Purple Line, which will run partially underground in downtown Bethesda, and to Metro’s Red Line. The Red Line would be about 10 stories below the Purple Line underground.
Montgomery County is funding the proposed $60 million elevator project.
But transit advocates complain that Montgomery is delaying the elevator project, which the county says is inaccurate.
The elevator design is being done “in tandem with the Purple Line,” said Esther Bowring, a spokeswoman for Montgomery’s transportation department.
“It would be like building an elevator before you have a building,” she said.
She said if the elevators were built before work started on the Purple Line, they would have to be shut down while the line is being built.
Gary Erenrich, special assistant to the director for Metro affairs in Montgomery, said the two projects have to “meet and work together.”
Consultants for the Maryland Transit Administration are working on developing the Purple Line and the details of the elevators at Bethesda, he said.
“We’ve only done conceptual design of the whole Purple Line,” he said. “We haven’t done any engineering.We believe the [elevator] project has to be under construction at the same time as the Purple Line because of the proximity of the work and the inter-relationships.”
Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, said in an e-mail that “a second entrance at Bethesda station will be good for our customers by improving access and easing congestion at the existing station entrance.”
The transit authority has a plan to spend more than $150 million to rehabilitate and install new escalators and elevators throughout its system. Metro officials also recently decided to contract out work to maintain escalators on the Orange Line from Rosslyn to Vienna stations.
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