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Costs Keep Bethesda Streetscaping On Hold

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A long-awaited plan to reinvigorate Bethesda sidewalks may have longer to wait, as funding issues continue to stand in the way.
Mark Anderson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/macmoov/4516368482/
A long-awaited plan to reinvigorate Bethesda sidewalks may have longer to wait, as funding issues continue to stand in the way.

In Maryland, a long-delayed project to install underground power lines, while adding lamp posts, benches and trees along Wisconsin Avenue north of the Bethesda Metro station is picking up steam, but it is a long way from completion.

"If you've walked down that strip, you see there are poles everywhere," says Montgomery County council VP Roger Beliner. "You can't get the pedestrian activity you want there."

In the mid 1990s, the Montgomery County council okayed the sweeping plan, but they have repeatedly deferred funding for the project, terming it a low priority.  Now, the county department of transportation wants to proceed, but the problem of cost has not gone away.  

Undergrounding power lines adds $15 million to the price tag. On top of that, there is the construction that will tear up one of the busiest roads in the county.

"We forecast the utility relocation, just for construction, is going to take four years," says Michael Mitchel, the project manager. "Businesses that are within the project corridor, or just a few blocks away, they could seek damages from the county for loss of revenue. It's hard for us to come up with a number, but conservatively we say it could be as high as $20 million."

The escalating price tag could mean the end of underground power lines, though councilwoman Nancy Floreen advises not to write the plan off completely: "This is the kind of thing if you don't do it, you regret it later. And I feel very responsible in that regard."

Council vice president Roger Berliner agrees: "Aesthetically, it's not pleasing. And it's been in our master plan.  So this is not some little hair-brained idea.  This is something the community fought for, and something that was supposed to be done back in 2005."

Berliner and his colleagues have asked the county department of transportation to ask whether private developers and/or PEPCO can help with the cost of undergrounding wires.

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