'Infrastructure Summit' To Tackle School Overcrowding, Traffic In Bethesda

‘Infrastructure Summit’ To Tackle School Overcrowding, Traffic In Bethesda

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Hardly a plan for new development in Bethesda goes by without community concerns over school overcrowding or traffic congestion.

With those issues central to ongoing master plan revisions in downtown Bethesda and Westbard, Councilmember Roger Berliner is holding a one-day summit in which he hopes a group of government officials can educate the public and get resident input.

The event, “Infrastructure and Growth: Are We Keeping Pace?” is set for Saturday, March 7 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. in the cafeteria at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (4301 East-West Highway). It will include MCPS planner Bruce Crispell, Planning Department Director Gwen Wright and Glenn Orlin, the County Council’s chief transportation analyst.

“It has just been the undercurrent of conversations for years,” Berliner said. “I just felt like it was time to have an honest dialog with our public as well as our county leaders to see whether we are doing the best we can.”

The setting for the forum will also serve as a good example of the area’s infrastructure challenges.

B-CC High School is set for another addition to add capacity and address overcrowding. The project, which MCPS hopes will start in January 2016, would follow a similar addition and modernization effort that finished just 13 years ago.

MCPS officials have maintained that the school system’s surge in student population isn’t a function of new multi-family housing popping up around downtown Bethesda. It has become a concern in Westbard, where a developer hopes to build 500-700 new units (including townhouses) in another already overcrowded school cluster.

Planners have pitched a new elementary school site in the Westbard sector, though MCPS officials have expressed skepticism over whether there’s enough room to accommodate a new school building.

Berliner said he’s not sure if the March 7 forum will lead to changes in the traffic and school standards the county uses to evaluate master plans and development proposals.

“I’m going in with an open mind and not trying to pre-judge outcomes,” Berliner said. “I want a constructive dialog that focuses on solutions. Part of it is to make sure the public has as good an understanding as they possibly can as to how the system works today.”

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