A Navy traffic study may not offer a complete picture as to how traffic has worsened near Walter Reed Bethesda since the BRAC transition last year, county BRAC coordinator Phil Alperson said at a Thursday Planning Board hearing.
Thursday, proposed construction at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, the campus of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, went before the Montgomery County Planning Board for an advisory review.
As a part of the federally-mandated Base Realignment and Closure process, a portion of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center merged with the military hospital last year, prompting an uptick in employees and visitors and a host of traffic concerns for thoroughfares around the base.
The campus also houses the Uniformed Services University, where proposed developments include adding a new 341,000 square foot research and education facility and a 400-space parking structure. In addition, proposals for improvements to Walter Reed hospital facilities call for constructing a new five-story, 573,000 square foot medical facility and a 500-space underground parking garage.
The Navy recently concluded a draft environmental impact statement that examines impacts of the proposed construction, available for review online. As a part of the draft EIS, a traffic study concluded that the upgrades would add no more than 15 seconds to commute times on thoroughfares around the military hospital by 2018.
Those estimates took into account traffic mitigation measures that are in the works to help relieve congestion, including intersection improvements and a pedestrian tunnel and elevator project that will ease access to the Medical Center Metro station.
The traffic study also looked at the impact of the proposed construction on 17 intersections around the base, concluding it would negatively impact some intersections, but wouldn’t cause an increase in intersections that are currently flagged as “failing.”
The study found that post-BRAC traffic hasn't had a significant impact on the area, Alperson said. The study, however, couldn’t derive accurate traffic readings because Alperson said.
“In my view, post-BRAC traffic counts do not reflect the true nature of current traffic around the Medical Center,” Alperson said. “Traffic right now is dramatically worse than it was before.”
In addition, he said that intersections rated as failing before the BRAC transition would continue to be rated “F” post-BRAC, even though traffic conditions may have significantly worsened there.
Alperson also questioned whether the facility upgrades may draw more employees than projected to the base. Over the next 10 years, 925 new employees are expected to start work at the base, bringing the number of staff employed there to 12,611, according to a Washington Post report.
But Alperson pointed out that the total number of employees brought to the base during the BRAC transition last year was higher than originally planned – an extra 3,600 people now work on campus, more than the originally projected number of 2,500, he said.
Nonetheless, Alperson said the Navy is to be commended for its efforts to encourage employees out of their cars.
According to a Navy presentation Thursday, since 2008, the number of employees using mass transit at the base has risen from 11 to 44 percent, registered carpools went from 100 to 450, and the number of staff driving to work in their cars alone dropped from 72 percent to 39.5 percent.
One parking spot is available for about every 3.22 employees at the base, according to the presentation – significantly less available parking than neighboring NIH provides for its employees.
The NIH master plan also went before the board for review Thursday, and commissioners called on the federal research facility to reduce parking spaces at the site.
Do you think traffic on the Rockville Pike has worsened since last year’s BRAC transition? Tell us in the comments.