After 10 years of controversy, the Montgomery County Council, residents of several neighborhoods and the county's department of transportation are nearing the end of their debate over what to do about a hilly, narrow stretch of Seven Locks Road.
Next Tuesday, when it comes up for a council hearing, a realignment of a portion just north of River Road in Bethesda is expected to be recommended by almost all concerned as an expensive but safe solution to the road's traffic safety and engineering problems.
Seven Locks Road starts at MacArthur Boulevard in Bethesda and ends 6 1/2 miles north at Falls Road in Rockville. Residents of neighborhoods along that two-lane roadway have maintained that it is twice as dangerous as other comparable roads in the state because of its steep grades, narrow and sharp curves and blind hills and intersections. The southernmost stretch between MacArthur and River is already being widened.
Last year the State Highway Administration recorded 62 accidents on Seven Locks. An average of 670 cars have been recorded during rush hours on the most heavily traveled stretch. And in 1980, there were 15 accidents at Seven Locks and River roads.
Ronald Welke, chief of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation's division of traffic engineering, said that neither road's accident nor rush-hour traffic rates are "unusual." But he said that, "in engineering terms," Seven Locks is "probably substandard in design."
Inge Enzinger, president of the Carderock Citizen's Association, was among those who took to the street this spring to publicize conditions on Seven Locks. Among the signs she posted north of River Road was one saying "No more blind curves."
"Every time I have to stop at the light coming down that hill," to the Seven Locks and River intersection, Enzinger said, "I close my eyes and pray."
The council's Committee on Transportation and Environment has recommended a westerly realignment of the road, known as the Hoenack alternative after an architect and property owner there who proposed it. Under that plan, the new Seven Locks would join River Road 300 feet west of the present intersection, avoiding the steep hill as well as an historic blacksmith's house, and rejoin the old Seven Locks 1,500 feet north of River.
It would follow the existing paving through Charred Oak Estates, taking a small piece of each lot. At worst, a lot would lose one-third of its buildable area. The Hoenacks don't stand to lose any property.
The county Department of Transportation estimates the overall project's construction and land costs on Seven Locks from MacArthur Boulevard to Green Twig Road at $3.5 million.