Sidewalk Closure Signs Likely Coming Soon To Bethesda
Signage and better enforcement of sidewalk closures are coming to downtown Bethesda, according to a Council bill likely to be approved soon and county government officials.
The Council’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday gave its thumbs up to the bill, which will require any construction contractor who shuts down a sidewalk along a county road to post a sign with the duration of the closure, the permit number for the project and the county’s 311 line.
Officials from the county’s Department of Transportation — which approves the sidewalk closures — and Permitting Services — which enforces construction approvals — said they are throwing a lot more resources at the problem.
Many of the changes were described in a memo to concerned council members earlier this year. On Wednesday, Permitting Services Director Diane Schwartz Jones told the committee that inspectors will no longer “be passive waiting for the calls” complaining about the sidewalk closures.
The department has taken a vacant inspector position and moved it to focus on construction permitting issues in central business districts such as downtown Bethesda.
Schwartz Jones also said inspectors will now be going to the sites with sidewalk closures on the day those closures are supposed to end.
MCDOT’s Emil Wolanin said applications for the permit now require an affidavit from the construction contractor on the job — not just the behind-the-scenes engineer — in order to make sure the contractor understands the rules. Wolanin said there were cases in which contractors closed adjacent sidewalks to the one county staff expected.
A trip around booming downtown Bethesda will provide plenty of examples of sidewalk closures, on both county and state roadways.
Simultaneous construction of the 7770 Norfolk apartment and Bainbridge Bethesda across the street led to closures of sidewalks on each side of Fairmont Avenue last year. Crews working on the west side of the street set up a temporary traffic barrier to give pedestrians room to walk, which in turn made the road difficult to navigate for drivers.
The Woodmont Avenue closure during the Lot 31 construction project was permitted to last 24 months, but ended up taking 28 months before it was reopened. Meanwhile, the sidewalk on the south side of Bethesda Avenue was also closed off.
Sidewalks on two sides of the 8300 Wisconsin project are closed off during construction, though crews erected an overhead sidewalk cover on the Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk.
To deal with the problems and the changing schedules of construction crews, the county said it has set up a work group of staff from MCDOT, DPS and the Regional Service Center in downtown Bethesda — the county office that receives many resident complaints.
The Council hopes the signage bill will help too. If a sidewalk remains closed after the approved date, a call to 311 would help clear up the issue.