With the BRAC transition only months away and the county facing a $300 million budget shortfall, the BRAC Implementation Committee is asking County Executive Isiah Leggett not to cut funding for programs that encourage commuters out of their cars.
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.
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.
At a Feb. 15 meeting, the committee heard a presentation from Sandra Brecher of the county Department of Transportation’s division of transit services. Brecher outlined the division’s work in partnering with the county’s four transportation management districts — urbanized areas the county has targeted to promote alternative transportation including Bethesda and Friendship Heights — to promote alternative commuting options like carpooling, biking and public transportation to cut back on traffic congestion.
With the county’s looming budget shortfall, the committee wrote Feb. 18 to Leggett to support continued funding of the programs, known as transportation demand management. “Short term budget cuts in these programs would lead to much larger long term costs to rebuild the public trust, not to mention the many years of increased traffic congestion while this confidence is rebuilt,” the letter read.
Some county-funded programs have already seen cuts, including the Super Fare Share program, in which the county shared the cost of workers’ alternative transportation with employers in transportation management districts.
With planned that won’t be complete by the time of the BRAC transition and an that could help improve Metro access to the National Naval Medical Center, the committee pointed to the transportation demand management programs already in place as cost-effective ways to encourage commuters out of their cars and reduce BRAC-related congestion.
The committee agreed that the community would need to pitch in to help ease the BRAC transition. “This is a lifestyle change,” said Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, at the meeting. “Even if we had all the money we wanted, it’s going to be a long time before things get better.”
The fiscal 2012 budget is currently under review, and residents are being asked to weigh in on their budget priorities.
Read the full text of the letter to the right.