10 Minutes On Rockville Pike

Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) says it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to drive from downtown Bethesda to the Beltway/I-270 junction during rush hour on northbound 355.

The 1.5-mile stretch has become one of the region’s most notorious chokeholds, with added traffic traveling to and from the now-merged Walter Reed National Military Medical Center using intersections that local transportation officials said were already failing.

With both Walter Reed and across-the-street neighbor NIH planning to add employees over the next two decades, the federal government has provided millions in funding to help the Maryland State Highway Administration and Montgomery County try to lighten the traffic load.

We took a trip up Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue starting at 4:30 p.m., on the early end of the after-work rush hour. Starting with the left turn onto Wisconsin Avenue from Woodmont Avenue on the edge of downtown Bethesda, it took ten minutes and four seconds to get to the ramp for I-270 north, a distance of 1.6 miles.

The video, with facts, figures and details of some of the intersection and improvement projects to come, is above. If you don’t feel like reliving that commute, all of the information in the video is supplied after the jump.

4:30 p.m.: Turn left onto northbound Wisconsin Avenue/355 heading toward I-270.

Pull up to red light at intersection of Jones Bridge Road and Wisconsin Avenue/355.

NIH and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center are the No. 1 and No. 2 largest single employers, respectively, in Montgomery County. The secure campuses sit across six lanes of Wisconsin Avenue/355.

The federal government is providing $90 million in funding for pedestrian upgrades and improvements to four major area intersections.

The Maryland State Highway Administration will add a left turn lane from southbound Wisconsin Avenue/355 onto Jones Bridge Road, among other improvements. Completion of that project is expected this summer.

NIH plans to add 3,000 employees to its campus over the next 20 years. It is currently home to more than 20,000. County planners want NIH to meet the federal benchmark of one parking space for every three employees. The ratio is to encourage mass transit.

Green light, start moving north. Two minutes and 15 seconds have passed since turning onto Wisconsin Avenue/355.

Catch the green light at the intersection of South Drive and Rockville Pike/355.

The federal government is subsidizing a $68 million pedestrian tunnel project at the South Drive intersection. The tunnel will provide users of Metro’s Medical Center station with an uninterrupted crossing to the Military Medical Center campus. It will also include three high-speed elevators on the east side of 355 that will connect to the Metro platform 120 feet below.

Stopped in traffic, as the four-minute mark passes.

A Navy study estimated it takes 10 to 15 minutes to drive up the roughly 1.5-mile stretch in rush hour. Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) plans to add almost 1,000 workers to the base over the next decade. The Navy’s Environmental Impact Study says that could increase Rockville Pike/355 travel times by 15 seconds.

The six-minute mark passes stuck at a stop with a mile to go until the Beltway/I-270 junction.

Stopped at the red light at the intersection of North Wood Drive and Rockville Pike/355, where visitors and workers enter and exit through the Military Medical Center’s North Gate. The State Highway Administration increased the length of the left turn lane on southbound 355 that allows access to the gate.

Stopped at the red light at the intersection of Cedar Lane and Rockville Pike/355.

The State Highway Administration will begin widening Cedar Lane on both sides of 355 this fall, with periodic lane closures expected and complain in 2015. The final and last unfunded phase of the project involves adding a northbound right lane all the way to the Beltway, starting in summer of 2014.

The eight-minute mark passes.

Walter Reed’s move to Bethesda in 2011 is expected to help double the amount of visitors to the base to 1,000,000 per year. Transportation planners rated area intersections as “failing” before nearly 3,800 employees moved to the Bethesda base.

Eight minutes and 40 seconds since turning onto northbound 355, we cross Cedar Lane and head into much lighter traffic toward the Beltway/I-270 junction. The State Highway Administration will widen along the existing right-of-way to create a fourth lane extending to the Beltway.

We pass the ramps to the Beltway inner and outer loops and get to the ramp onto I-270 a little more than 10 minutes after turning onto northbound 355 from Woodmont Avenue.


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