By BEN SWARTZ
WASHINGTON (Sept. 24, 2008)—Maryland has deferred more than $30 million in road improvements for the future Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, both of which are expecting huge influxes of personnel in the next three years.
The move is a part of a $1.1 billion reduction in transportation spending designed to close the state's budget gap of $432 million and soften the expected blow from the latest national economic downturn.
The Walter Reed Medical Center was slated to receive $45.3 million at the beginning of the year, and Fort Meade was to receive $47.9 million, but about a third of those funds were cut by the Maryland Transportation Administration.
The military facilities need the money to fund the design, improvement and construction of several major intersections to help alleviate traffic problems and prepare for planned changes resulting from the base realignment and closure process.
"They're using the two-thirds, glass-full analogy," said Montgomery County BRAC Coordinator Phil Alperson. "They're saying the money's been deferred, but the money will be restored and the project will continue on schedule."
Officials from the State Highway Administration have said they will continue intersection projects in the short-term and could restore the deferred funds later to complete the projects.
"There's no impact on these projects for the next 18 months, even with the deferral of this money," said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
After those 18 months, four projects in Bethesda and six in Fort Meade would be ready for construction, Buck said. However, because of the nation's recent economic downturn, there is no way of knowing when the deferred money will be returned to these projects, he said.
"This is only going to add to the continuing nightmare," said Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, chairwoman of the Transportation Committee. "I really think it's time for the state and the feds to reassess their priorities here and to come up with the cash to make the improvements. As it is, they're totally inadequate. We need far bigger improvements."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has asked for $6 million for road improvements at Bethesda and Fort Meade in the pending Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.
The current National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda will expand significantly in 2011 when it merges with Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The new center will create about 2,500 jobs, and bring about 2,000 more visitors a day to the area, a total of roughly 1 million more trips per year.
The intersections on Wisconsin Avenue are already some of the worst in Bethesda, county officials said. The traffic at these intersections during rush hour routinely backs up throughout Bethesda, Floreen said.
"These intersections are already failing or close to failing now," Alperson said. "And obviously there's going to be more traffic by 2011."
Traffic is a major issue at Fort Meade as well, according to Anne Arundel County officials.
Several Defense agencies, including the Defense Information Systems Agency, are expected to move to Fort Meade in the next several years. The expanding base is also to gain about 22,000 jobs by 2015 because of BRAC.
"The bulk of the BRAC growth will hit us within five years," said Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold. "To further delay this growth comes as very unwelcome news for us."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.