Montgomery County and federal officials dedicated a new pedestrian tunnel under Md. 355 on Friday in Bethesda. The tunnel connects the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to the Medical Center Metro station. Credit: Photos by Dan Schere

Montgomery County and federal officials on Friday dedicated a new pedestrian underpass that connects the east and west sides of Md. 355.

The underpass is aimed at helping employees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center get across the road and for access to the nearby Medical Center Metro station.

“This is a really important intersection,” County Executive Marc Elrich said on Friday. “It’s an important improvement for residents of Montgomery County, people who work in Montgomery County [and] particularly for people who access this station. … These are our largest employers in Montgomery County, just in case you’re wondering.”

NIH is the largest employer in Montgomery County, followed by Naval Support Activity Bethesda and Walter Reed, according to U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office. According to a press release from his office, about 7,000 people were crossing the road daily before the COVID-19 pandemic, and about 11,000 people per day were using the Metro station.

On Friday, Elrich said four pedestrians and six bicyclists have been injured at the intersection in the last six years, and there have been seven serious vehicle crashes. Experts in Vision Zero, a goal to eliminate road injuries and deaths, have identified it as one of the most dangerous intersections in the county, he said.

County Council President Gabe Albornoz, who walked to Friday’s event from his home, said the underpass will be a key to ensuring pedestrian safety.

“It has never been more important for our federal, state and local partners to advance projects like this that ensures the safety of all of our residents,” he said.

The pedestrian tunnel can be accessed by both stairs and elevators. It contains a collage of various pictures on each wall.

The tunnel is named in memory of Phil Alperson, a staffer in Van Hollen’s office during his time in the House. Alperson later worked in the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and helped coordinate the project, according to a press release.

Alperson died in 2020.

County Transportation Director Chris Conklin said on Friday that the tunnel project was supported with federal funding largely drawn from the Department of Defense. The county managed design and construction and worked with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to integrate it into the existing Metro station.

The project cost more than $108 million, according to the county’s capital budget. More than 95% of the funding came from the federal government and the rest came from the state.

Van Hollen, representatives from NIH and the military, and members of Alperson’s family were at Friday’s ceremony.

Van Hollen said on Friday that Alperson was persistent in making sure the money for the project was put into an appropriations bill one year.

Van Hollen said Alperson’s dedication to the Md. 355 crossing project was an example of his optimism and commitment to public service.

“He believed that public service was a virtue, and believed in the power of the federal government to do really good things…,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

Dan Schere

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com.