Carol Embry said she’s been fighting for the completion of a small section on River Road in Potomac Village for 17 years.
“I tell people I was 50 years old when it started and now I have my Medicare card,” Embry said.
A public hearing March 31 at the Executive Office Building in Rockville was a necessary step, and likely one of the last, in making the sidewalk a reality. Hearing examiner Joseph Beach, the county’s chief operating officer, and Bruce Johnston of the Division of Capital Development at the Department of Public Works and Transportation’s presided over the hearing, at which several Potomac residents testified.
The examiners will make a recommendation to the county executive as to whether the project is in the public interest, and construction could start as early as this summer.
The proposed sidewalk on the north side of River Road would link an existing sidewalk that starts at Falls Road but ends abruptly in front of the Pepco property with the existing sidewalk that continues north from near the U.S. Post Office. A sloped, grassy area in front of the Bank of America and Chevy Chase Bank buildings currently leaves walkers choosing between climbing the grass slope or walking in the street, and makes no accommodation for people with disabilities or those with strollers.
The proposed concrete sidewalk would be five feet wide and 600 feet long, separated from the roadway by a narrow grass strip and would conform to Americans with Disabilities Act-requirements.
The project has been delayed by negotiations with Chevy Chase Bank to acquire the right-of-way in front of their property, but the county was very close to completing that deal, said Tom Riese of the office of real estate at DPWT.
However, even if the negotiations are not successful, approval of the project by the county executive would allow the county to take control of the land.
”Assuming the hearing officer says the go, then you just have to make the contacts and if you can’t reach agreement then you post the money in court and you can enter on the property. That’s the main reason for having this hearing. Otherwise you have to go to trial,” Riese said. Maybe if they’re saying, oh well we need this, this and that. They don’t have as much leverage … now.”
Both of the properties are owned by Louise Kubier and leased by the respective tenants, though Chevy Chase Bank is reportedly in negotiations to acquire their land.
The total cost of the project, including land acquisition, administration, and construction, is $134,200.
The public record for the hearing remains open through April 14, after which the examiner will write his report.
If the county executive approves the project, it will move to the County Council’s Transportation and Environment committee, and then to the full council. The acquisition plans must also be filed with the county attorney’s office.
RESIDENTS TESTIFYING at the hearing commented on the particular difficulty that the missing sidewalk poses for senior citizens who wish to walk in the village.
Mark Barnes, a resident of Lloyd Road said that he parks his car in Potomac Village and then walks around doing his errands on foot. “It wasn’t that big a deal until actually my parents came and started visiting and they wanted to the same thing but they didn’t have quite the same mobility,” he said. “A light went off in my head and I realized there could be some improvements.”
Lois Williams, who joined Embry in testifying on behalf of West Montgomery County Citizens Association, pointed out another advantage of installing the sidewalk. “We see this section of the sidewalk as increasing the number of students at Potomac Elementary School who could be walkers rather than bus-riders,” she said.
Sidewalk connectivity reduces traffic congestion by encouraging walking and, in particular, providing a safe route to the T2 bus stop on the south side of the village, Williams and others pointed out.
Embry, the sidewalk chair for West Montgomery County Citizens Association, said in an interview that she is exasperated by long process of trying to get the sidewalk approved, which has included numerous walk-throughs with county officials, including County Councilmember Howard Denis (R-1) in November, 2004, and then-County Council President Ike Leggett (D-At Large) in 1997.
“It’s long overdue, but we’re glad at this point,” Embry said.