After nearly two years of planning and contentious public meetings, the State Highway Administration is ready to start its 0.7-mile, $1.1 million sidewalk project on a section of Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase.
On Wednesday at the Chevy Chase Village Hall, state road officials presented the final design for the project along the so-called “Green Mile,” the stretch of Wisconsin Avenue that connects Friendship Heights with downtown Bethesda.
The sidewalk will go along the northbound side of the road, a stretch on the backside of a county club that includes four bus stops and worn dirt paths intertwined with trees. Construction will start in mid- to late-March and last about three months. The SHA won’t finish new tree plantings until the fall.
With the start of construction quickly approaching and a contractor already selected, the final design SHA officials presented Wednesday wasn’t up for debate.
That didn’t stop attendees at the meeting.
Some began arguing with each other as SHA officials, accustomed to taking the brunt of the criticism, attempted to keep the meeting on track.
The presentation wasn’t as contentious as a similar one last year, though it was clear some residents still don’t want the sidewalk because of the loss of trees and what they claimed was a lack of pedestrian need.
One woman who said she regularly uses Ride On’s Wisconsin Avenue route said she never sees riders get off at any of the Green Mile bus stops. Sidewalk supporters promptly pointed out that might be because there is no sidewalk or crossing there.
Since last year’s meeting, the SHA added a pedestrian crossing of Wisconsin Avenue at Chevy Chase Boulevard, a key factor that won the support of the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association on the west side of the Green Mile.
The SHA also reworked its plans and will pinch the eight-foot wide hiker-biker sidewalk to five- and six-feet in some places to save some of the existing healthy trees. The SHA will hand dig around some trees and install geotextile fabrics to protect root zones from new concrete.
In total, the SHA said it will maintain 11 trees of “substantial size” that were set to be chopped down at this time last year. The project will mean the loss of 58 trees along the stretch. The SHA will plant about 45 new trees in the area, with 36 planned for the southbound side of Wisconsin Avenue and 10 planned for a wider section near the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Bradley Lane.
Because the Green Mile includes elevations changes, the sidewalk will include two raised sections on top of a roughly four-and-a-half foot high retaining wall — a 180-foot long section that goes from Langrdum Lane to just south of De Russey Parkway and a 200-foot long section that starts just south of Norwood Drive and ends just south of Nottingham Drive.
Most of the stretch will have a grass buffer between the sidewalk and road curb between two- and five-feet wide.
The SHA is in talks with the Chevy Chase Country Club, which wants to reclaim a rarely used back entrance to its property, to make sure a new driveway entrance won’t interfere with the new sidewalk.
Lights at the crosswalk will be powered by a pedestrian push button. When a pedestrian pushes the button, flashing yellow lights will be activated to alert northbound and southbound drivers of a crossing pedestrian.
Drivers must stop to allow pedestrians to cross, according to state law. Some at the meeting said flashing yellow lights won’t be enough to make the crosswalk safe.
SHA officials said transportation engineers determined the yellow flashing lights were appropriate because of sightlines for drivers on Wisconsin Avenue.
“Your entire approach is from the point of view of the vehicle,” complained one resident.