2016 | News

Local Legislators Want Developers to Provide Info When Closing Sidewalks on State Roads

Second attempt at bill no longer includes advanced notice requirement

A sidewalk closure in Bethesda (file photo)

Aaron Kraut

Some local state lawmakers want developers and construction crews that get permission to close sidewalks along state roads to post signs with contact information and the expected duration of the closures.

A bill, introduced in the House of Delegates by Del. Marc Korman and co-sponsored by his fellow District 16 Dels. Bill Frick and Ariana Kelly, would require the information be posted on a sign at construction sites with closed sidewalks.

It’s meant to complement a Montgomery County sign posting requirement that went into effect last July.

The county law applies only to closed sidewalks along county roads. Korman said the state law is important for state-controlled roads such as Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road that run through some of the county’s more urban areas.

Those who get a permit to close a sidewalk from the State Highway Administration would have to post the information.

“For most people who are walking, there’s a lot of frustration with all the sidewalk closures in places like Bethesda and the Pike District, where we’re trying to create walkable communities,” Korman said.

Korman introduced a version of the bill last February, but that proposal didn’t make it out of committee. Korman said there wasn’t enough time to iron out concerns from builders about one of the bill’s requirements—that developers would have to provide advanced notice of a sidewalk closure to adjacent property owners and businesses.

That requirement was dropped from this year’s version of the bill, which will go before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Feb. 4. District 15 state Sen. Brian Feldman filed the bill in the Senate.

In May 2014, the owners of the Tyber Bierhaus bar and restaurant on Old Georgetown Road reported their business was hurt by the sudden closure of a stretch of Old Georgetown Road sidewalk to make way for construction of the Element 28 apartment building.

Korman said the contact information on signs will hopefully provide business owners affected by sidewalk closures someone to contact with questions or concerns.

“If you’re an adjacent business, you have somebody to call and say, ‘What’s going on?’” Korman said.

Korman said that over the past year, he has noticed more developers erecting temporary covers over sidewalks impacted by construction work.

Last summer, officials from the county’s Department of Permitting Services said a more intensive review of sidewalk closure permits in central business districts should lead to fewer intrusions.

“In some major cities, there’s always a covered walkway. The sidewalk is never lost,” Korman said. “This bill doesn’t require that and I actually hope someday we can go further and make things even easier for pedestrians. Right now, we can make their quality of life a little bit better.”