Navy: Proposed Walter Reed expansion would have no significant effect on traffic -- Gazette.Net


A major expansion proposed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center would add as much as 17 seconds onto a commute through major intersections near the base, according to a presentation by Capt. Fritz Kass, commanding officer for Naval Support Activity Bethesda.

Kass outlined potential construction projects, and highlighted a traffic study that found construction would cause minimal effects off-base, at the Walter Reed BRAC Implementation Committee meeting Sept. 18.

On Sept. 14, the U.S. Navy released a draft environmental impact statement that analyzes the effects of expanding the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and enhancing medical facilities on campus. Construction would occur between 2013 and 2018.

The university expansion would see construction of a new education and research building and as many as 400 new parking spaces in an above-ground garage. It would also modernize space in three university buildings.

As part of the medical facilities development, five buildings would be demolished, with a new building constructed in their footprint. Temporary medical facilities on campus would ensure patient services would not be interrupted. Construction would include a five-story medical facilities building and improved access for injured veterans.

Also proposed is a 500-space, underground parking garage for patients and visitors, whose visits will be spread throughout the day, said Jeff Miller, transportation program manager for Naval Support Activity Bethesda. Alternatives include three additional sites on campus.

The traffic study evaluated the effect all construction alternatives, including no new constructions at 17 intersections at Rockville Pike, Cedar Lane and Jones Bridge Road.

It also took into account increased traffic from other public and private developments, including at the National Institutes of Health, said Bill Sadlon, EIS project manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington.

Vehicle delay at an intersection is measured by level of service grades A through F. Although the level of service at some intersections would decrease, none would shift to a failing level of service, according to the EIS.

Kass said the traffic study also determined BRAC has had less of an effect than was predicted in 2008. Fewer cars are on the road than was predicted in 2008, according to the presentation. Data was collected in October 2011, from 5:30 to 9 a.m., and 3 to 6:30 p.m.

“We certainly didn’t underpredict,” Kass said.

Rush hour has evolved as a result of BRAC, extending later into the evening because people wait longer to go home, said County BRAC Coordinator Phil Alperson. He said traffic from BRAC is not as severe in the morning because the Navy rush hour ends earlier, but some people try to avoid downtown Bethesda entirely.

“The backups tend to be longer, particularly in the afternoon,” he said. “They try to stay away, and that is very concerning to the business community in Bethesda, because they don’t want people to be scared away.”

The traffic study will be reviewed during the next several weeks by State Highway Administration staff, which will provide comment, SHA spokesman David Buck wrote in an email.

Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda merged September 2011 into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as part of the 2005 federal Base Realignment and Closure Act, which called for closing and consolidating hundreds of military facilities nationwide.

The merger brought 2,500 additional employees, for a total of about 10,500, to the campus and doubled the number of annual visits to 1 million.

Public hearings on the EIS are scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 4 and 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 11 at at the Pooks Hill Marriott, 5151 Pooks Hill Road, Bethesda.

A final decision on the construction plans will be made by the Secretary of the Navy or their designee, after releasing a final environmental impact statement, according to the EIS.

That decision is expected in April, depending on a variety of factors, including the number of comments received, said Joe Macri, a spokesman for Naval Support Activity Bethesda.

Comments on the draft EIS must be submitted or postmarked by Oct. 29 to or Joseph Macri NSA Bethesda Public Affairs Office 890-1 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20889.