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MTA Would Like Decision On Apex Building By End Of The Year

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 5/15/2013, 10:00am  ET

Purple Line open house at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School

The recently raised possibility of razing a downtown Bethesda building has given new life to the idea of an underground Capital Crescent Trail crossing of Wisconsin Avenue, but Montgomery County Planners will have to work fast.

The Maryland Transit Administration must know of any changes at the Apex Building, under which the agency plans to build its Bethesda Purple Line station, by the end of the year, project manager Mike Madden said. With new state transportation funding from the recently passed gas tax, MTA officials want to nail down matching federal funding next year and open the system in 2020.

At a Purple Line open house on Tuesday at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Madden said the MTA would like to know more about the fate of the Apex Building in the next couple months.

“That could change the station. But there would be requirements in terms of us knowing by a certain time if that building was going to be demolished,” Madden said. “If that does happen, then the station, the Trail could possibly go under that building. There could be some changes, but it all depends on timing on whether they decide to tear that building down.”

The MTA and Montgomery County previously determined that rebuilding the Trail under the building and next to the light rail station would be too costly.

The existing plan for the station, which MTA projects will be the busiest in the 16-mile system by 2040 with 15,000 daily boardings, also includes a fan tower that some have worried will be an eyesore near the high-end retail development of Bethesda Row.

In April, the County Council’s Planning Committee recommended the Apex Building Minor Master Plan Amendment be moved up in the Planning Department’s work plan as part of its FY14 budget. Interim Planning Department director Rose Krasnow said the decision to raze the building could mean huge public benefit with a Bethesda Purple Line station that includes an underground Trail crossing.

Council staff Glenn Orlin said razing the building would allow for $5 or $6 million in savings at the county’s Bethesda Metro South Entrance project, according to a conservative estimate from the state.

But the Planning Department’s study of the idea will have to be done in the shortest time frame ever for a Master Plan of such consequence, Krasnow said. Planners must also figure out the actual intentions of the owner of the Apex Building, listed in real estate records as Potomac-based Vanguard Realty Group.

The open house on Tuesday, the fourth of five along the light rail’s route, included satellite photos of the entire $2.2 billion system’s alignment, all the way from New Carrollton to Bethesda. The MTA’s noise consultant also presented a comparison of how the light rail will sound compared to other types of trains and vehicles, similar to the presentation MTA made in February to Town of Chevy Chase residents.