Federal Funding, Future of BRAC Implementation Committee Discussed
The status of federal funds for the project is still unclear.
The status of federal funding for transportation improvements and the future structure of the BRAC Implementation Committee were among the topics of discussion at the committee's Tuesday evening meeting.
The committee, made up of stakeholders from the community and a variety of state and local agencies as well as the Navy, meets monthly to discuss impacts of the relocation of a portion of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, slated for September 2011.
The move is part of the federal Base Realignment and Closure process, and the combination of the facilities will result in what will be known as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The new facility will draw up to 2,500 new employees to Bethesda, along with visitors of wounded servicemen and -women being treated at the facility, and the committee is tasked with reviewing transportation improvements in preparation for the increase in traffic the move will bring.
The two facilities have already gradually begun to merge their operations, according to Phil Alperson, Montgomery County BRAC coordinator.
When it comes to federal funding for transportation projects that will ease the transition, $20 million has been allotted for Metro improvements in a federal fiscal 2011 defense appropriations bill, which hasn't yet been passed by Congress, Alperson said.
That money would go toward plans to improve access between the Medical Center Metro station and the National Naval Medical Center, but those plans are still amorphous depending on the amount of federal funding received.
Alperson said he is confident the $20 million will come through for the Metro projects — conceptual plans include a shallow pedestrian tunnel under Rockville Pike and deep elevators to ease access. However, still in question is a $300 million appropriation earmarked to go toward transportation improvements around military medical facilities affected by BRAC.
The only facilities of that kind are in Bethesda, Fort Belvoir, Va., and possibly a facility in San Antonio, Texas, Alperson said. The money was appropriated and passed into law in a fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill, but since the funds were marked to come from a Department of Defense healthcare operations account, the Defense Department couldn't shell out the cash, Alperson said.
"After the law was passed, DOD said, 'You're telling us to spend health care dollars for state and local transportation projects. That doesn't compute,'" he said.
After being approved by a subcommittee, the language is likely to be included into a House version of the fiscal 2011 defense appropriations bill that would reassign the money to come from the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment, an office that exists to help BRAC-affected communities. OEA provides the grant that funds Alperson's work as county BRAC coordinator. But whether the language will pass into law isn't yet known, Alperson said.
Also discussed at the meeting was the future structure of the committee itself.
The committee, which was instated in 2007 by County Executive Isiah Leggett, was originally intended to disband in September 2011 after the BRAC transition. But since the committee was formed to review projects to mitigate BRAC-related traffic, much will hinge on whether those projects are underway in September of 2011, and much of that hinges on the federal funds.
With bikeway and pedestrian improvement projects on the way and intersection improvements being looked at by the State Highway Administration, Alperson said the "wild card" were the Metro improvement projects.
Alperson and the committee discussed the potential for temporarily extending the committee after September of 2011 and another proposal that would allow the committee to continue on as a subgroup of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board. That board advises the county executive and Montgomery County Council on regional issues in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area and includes committees focusing on quality of life, land use, public safety and transportation.
The committee decided to wait until more information on funding is available to determine the future of the group.
"The bottom line is, since we don't know about the funding, we don't know about the design for Metro," Alperson said. "That will dictate where we are."
Also discussed at the meeting was a plan to install a shared-use path along West Cedar Lane as part of BRAC-related transportation improvements, approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board last week. The path would be a part of a network of off-road bicycle improvements along Cedar Lane, Old Georgetown Road, Rockville Pike and Jones Bridge Road, according to a Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission staff report.
Some raised concerns that the path would be too narrow and too close to adjacent utility poles, while others suggested it should be built in conjunction with traffic calming techniques. When pedestrians and cyclists are encouraged to use a path near a road, "speeding becomes more of an important issue," said Richard Hoye of Action Committee for Transit, who attended the meeting.