Montgomery County on Feb. 25 dedication the “MD 355 Crossing Project” in Bethesda that will enhance capacity and improve pedestrian and bicycle safety access to the Medical Center Metrorail Station. The new crossing connects the west and east sides of MD 355/Rockville Pike between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC).
At the dedication ceremonies, the underpass under MD355/Rockville Pike was renamed to honor Phil Alperson, a Silver Spring native who was a leader in the effort to establish and complete the project. Mr. Alperson, who died in May 2020, served on the staff of Chris Van Hollen, who was then a Congressman and is now a U.S. Senator. Mr. Alperson later worked for the Montgomery County Government as its military installations / BRAC coordinator.
At the ceremonies, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich was joined by Senator Van Hollen, County Council President Gabe Albornoz and Councilmembers Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando. The ceremonies also included Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bethesda Commanding Officer Captain Scott Switzer, Acting NIH Principal Deputy Director Tara Schwetz, Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation (OLDCC) Director Patrick O’Brien and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Implementation Committee Co-Chair Deborah Michaels and members of the Alperson family.
The project was directed by the County Department of Transportation.
“This is one of the most important improvements to pedestrian safety in Montgomery County in recent years,” said County Executive Elrich. “MD355/Rockville Pike at the NIH and Walter Reed Metro station has been a dangerous intersection for generations, and the employees and visitors of these critical institutions deserved better. I am grateful for all the partnerships and hard work that went into completing this project. And it is appropriate that this pedestrian underpass is going to be named after the late Phillip Richard Alperson, the former Montgomery County Government employee and key Capitol Hill aide, well-known for getting things done for his County and country.”
Construction of the complex project took about five years and includes an underpass below MD 355 that provides pedestrians and cyclists a safe means of crossing the busy roadway. The project also includes a new 120-foot-deep high-speed elevators, emergency stairs creating direct access between the station and the east side of MD 355 and a new elevator and staircase between the existing Metrorail platform and mezzanine level.
The project involved deep excavation that was done by drilling and blasting through rock. In addition, the project included roadway surface improvements such as a traffic signal, pavement resurfacing, sidewalk/bike path and median work. Stormwater management facilities also were completed.
“Phil was an eternal optimist with a purpose. He knew in his heart that our work in the Congress could help people in Maryland and across the country,” said Senator Van Hollen. “He believed that government had the ability to deliver meaningful results for our community and nation. He also rightly believed that we have an enduring obligation to provide world-class medical care to our men and women in uniform and to our veterans. The completion of this important project—which will make it easier for our dedicated civil servants to provide that care and for our military personnel and veterans to access it—is a testament to that commitment. His legacy of public service, commitment to our military and vision for a greater Maryland will live on, not only through the completion and dedication of this project he helped make a reality, but through his family, friends, and colleagues who carry his spirit and commitment to ‘The Alperson Way’ with them each day.”
The underpass provides a safe crossing between WRNMMC, NIH and the Medical Center Metro kiss-and-ride area served by Montgomery County’s Ride On bus service. NSA Bethesda and WRNMMC were established in 2011 and became the second-largest employer in Montgomery County.
“It’s been a challenge for everyone involved to get this project planned, funded, constructed, and completed,” said Captain Switzer. “We’re grateful for all of that hard work, however, since our service members, staff, patients, students, and visitors now have a much safer path to access our installation.”
The County's largest employer is NIH, which is located on the opposite side of the street. Thousands of people cross MD 355 daily to get back and forth between the campuses and to the Medical Center Metro located on the NIH side of MD 355.
Over multiple years, the Maryland Congressional Delegation secured $28 million in Federal appropriations for the project from the Defense Access Road program within the Department of Defense budget and added another $40 million for the Department of Defense OLDCC for transportation projects at BRAC-impacted military medical facilities. OLDCC also provided a $34 million supplementary award in 2016, bringing total funding for the project to more than $102 million. Additionally, the Crossing Project has been combined with the State Highway Administration’s Intersection Improvement Project at MD 355/Jones Bridge Road that was funded with a $4.8 million grant from OLDCC.
“More than a decade in the making, this pedestrian tunnel is a welcome addition to the interconnected worlds of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin. “Our brave troops and their families, Federal workers, other local commuters and residents will be safer because we fought for this critical federal infrastructure project. As a delegation, Team Maryland has been united in our efforts to deliver Federal investments to the places where it best supports our residents, workers and local communities.”
Pre-COVID-19 numbers indicate that Medical Center Metro Station accommodated around 11,000 Metro riders daily. With more than 7,000 pedestrians crossing MD 355 to get to the Metro stop, Ride On and shared-use path on the west side of MD-355.
“Phil Alperson was an extraordinary public servant with over three decades of honorable service to the people of Montgomery County and Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Montgomery County Government,” said Congressman Jamie Raskin. “Though we miss him sharply, we can still feel his unwavering commitment to our community to this day. Phil worked for years on the MD 355 Crossing Project, and naming the pedestrian underpass in his honor is a beautiful and touching way to honor his enduring legacy.”
The County Department of Transportation funded an environmental assessment and led the design and construction of the project. Additional coordinating agencies included the U.S. Navy, WRNMMC, NIH, Federal Highway Administration, Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration and WMATA.
“The BRAC Maryland 355 Crossing Project has successfully reimagined this intersection to better support the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and surrounding community,” said Congressman John Sarbanes. “For years, I have worked alongside members of the Maryland delegation to advance this project and improve the efficiency and safety of traffic around the facility. Today, it is only fitting that we honor the memory of Philip Alperson, a passionate advocate for the community, as we come together to mark the completion of this effort.”
Council President Albornoz said the naming of the pedestrian crossing for Mr. Alperson is a fitting tribute.
"Today we honor one of our most dedicated and passionate public servants in Montgomery County," said Council President Albornoz. “Phil Alperson has devoted his entire career to serving others and through his vision, has made a lasting impact in people’s lives. By dedicating the MD 355 Crossing Project in his name, this is a wonderful tribute to his legacy and the importance of public service, building bridges and community connection. Pedestrians and cyclists alike will be able to safely travel to their destinations for generations to come.”
A video on the construction project can be viewed here. Additional details on the project can be found at https://md355crossing.com/.