Federal Funds Secured for BRAC-Related Transportation Improvements
New bike lanes and an underground pedestrian walkway under Route 355 will help ease traffic congestion when the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center moves in with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda later this year.
When the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center opens in Bethesda this September—bringing with it 2,500 more employees and a half a million more visitors each year to the National Naval Medical Center campus—new transportation infrastructure will be in the works, thanks to $300 million in funds set aside by Congress last week to ease transitions brought about by federally-mandated Base Realignment and Closure activities.
The funds—which will be shared with a few other BRAC projects across the nation—will be used in Bethesda to upgrade public access to the National Naval Medical Center, the National Institutes of Health, and, come September, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“Shovel-ready” infrastructure improvements (as described by Patrick O’Neill, chairman of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and the BRAC Implementation Committee) can all proceed now that the funding is in place.
Those improvements include adding bike lanes to Maryland state Route 355, upgrading entrances and exits to the Bethesda Medical Center Metro station, setting up off-site parking for staff and visitors (with shuttle buses connecting parking lots to the campus), and constructing an underground pedestrian walkway connecting the National Naval Medical Center on the east of Route 355 to the National Institutes of Health and the Metro station on the west.
“The work being done at NIH is the best in the world,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., at a press conference yesterday announcing the availability of the funds for BRAC activities in Bethesda.
“But we need to get people off the road ... which is incredibly dangerous,” he continued.
Building the infrastructure will take time, but “we’ve got the money in the federal checkbook,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who—as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee—was instrumental in securing the funds.
With all of the extra commuters and visitors expected to descend upon the medical centers in September, local residents have been worried about how an area already dense with traffic congestion will handle the influx of more vehicles.
“The transit system is ... (already) busy because we’re an economic magnet, because we have jobs,” Cardin said.
But with the additional traffic to come in the fall, “we’re talking about traffic congestion that will impact the entire county,” said Maryland County Executive Isiah Leggett at the press conference.
And with doctors, emergency vehicles and patients—many of them wounded soldiers being treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center—needing quick access to the medical centers, it is imperative that the traffic be running smoothly, Mikulski said.
Mikulski added that the “transition time will be testy, there’s no doubt about that,” as the kinks in a new transportation plan are worked out.
“The initial transition may be a little difficult because of the timing, make no mistake about it—it’s a transitional challenge,” Leggett cautioned.
“It’s transitional, it’s temporary—but keep in mind, every day it will be getting better,” Mikulski said.
“We’re proactively doing as much as we can, increasing carpooling and increasing bike and pedestrian access” to the medical centers, said Neil Pederson, of the Maryland State Highway Administration. The aim is to get more employees of the medical centers to take public or alternative forms of transportation to work.
A new bike lane on Route 355 is complete, and work is being done to construct bike lanes on Jones Bridge Road and Cedar Lane. They should be ready by the end of September, he said.
No financial incentives have been planned for those who use public or other alternative forms of transportation to commute to the medical centers.
But, “I think (avoiding) the traffic ... will be enough” of an incentive, Mikulski said.