Concerns Over Gridlock in Bethesda Loom as BRAC Draws Near - Southern Maryland Headline News

Concerns Over Gridlock in Bethesda Loom as BRAC Draws Near


BETHESDA (Nov. 21, 2009) - Judith Wortman has lived in her house near Bethesda National Naval Medical Center for 37 years.

The noise and pollution are already bad, she said, and with new employees and patients coming to the hospital as part of military base closings, she's worried the influx of traffic and people will mean big problems.

"It's packed tight, this whole community," Wortman said.

At a meeting of the Governor's Subcabinet on Base Realignment and Closure Thursday, Wortman, community members, and state officials expressed concern about how expanding the hospital would affect traffic in the already overwhelmed area.

As mandated by BRAC, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington will relocate much of its operation to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center by September 2011. This will bring 2,500 employees to the hospital as well as create "1,900 estimated additional trips to the hospital campus per day," according to a recent study by the federal Government Accountability Office.

The merged facility will be renamed the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

In remarks to the subcabinet, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said the new employees at the medical center will simply be transferring from Walter Reed, meaning that they would likely not relocate to the Bethesda area.

Weighing both the lack of new Marylanders and the creation of additional traffic, Brown said that Bethesda was the one jurisdiction where "the burden outweighs the benefits" of BRAC.

"There's no doubt about that," Brown said, adding that the responsibility of caring for wounded members of the armed services was of the utmost importance.

To ease congestion in the area, officials presented numerous plans during the meeting, including widening the roads around the medical center as well as improving access for bicycles, pedestrians and those using public transportation.

But a large chunk of the funds to make these projects a reality are not available. According to a recent study by the GAO, Maryland will need to spend an additional $315 million to $470 million (on top of $95 million already allocated) statewide on transportation projects around the medical center, Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade to address traffic problems.

Andy Scott, the Maryland Department of Transportation official who coordinates BRAC activities, said the "the picture hasn't changed" since the GAO study, and that state and local officials as well as the military are looking for additional funding sources and working together to meet the most pressing needs first.

"We know we don't have enough money to do everything," Scott said, "and we're in the process of working with local governments and stakeholders to prioritize the highest needs."

One source of potential funds, Scott said, could come from the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program, which offers grants to state and local governments for transportation projects through the federal stimulus package.

The state has submitted five grant proposals under the TIGER program, including a request for $58 million to improve intersections around the three sites. But officials have said that states and localities nationwide have submitted $56 billion in grant applications for only $1.5 billion in available funding, making potential grant funding highly competitive. An announcement of grant winners is expected in early 2010.

Another potential funding source is the Defense Access Road program, which provides federal funding for transportation projects around military sites. Montgomery County has applied for $20 million from the program to build a pedestrian tunnel near the medical center. Officials have received positive signs that this funding will come through.

"Overall our approach remains the same," Scott said. "We're piecing together funds where we can get them."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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