Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Long-term forecast for Bethesda traffic looks rocky

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Bethesda is bracing for traffic to boom alongside development in the Rockville Pike corridor, as multiple projects already under way or on the horizon put a combined strain on roads.

More than 500,000 new commuters, visitors and residents will add to the gridlock on Rockville Pike.

The biggest project starts next month at the National Naval Medical Center. Navy Med will absorb about 2,500 employees and nearly a half million patients and visitors from Walter Reed Army Medical Center by 2011. Groundbreaking is slated for June.

According to the Navy’s traffic counts and projections included in an impact report, intersections up to 2.5 miles away will be crammed with extra vehicles due to the merger. The Navy has agreed to ask for federal money to pay for road projects such as turn lanes that would lessen the impact directly outside the base.

Across Rockville Pike, the National Institutes of Health will see changes on campus in the next few years. The agency’s master plan updated in 2005 foresaw its campus growing by about 3,000 employees between 2000 and 2015.

The agency is also partnering with the county on a stormwater retention pond. The 6-foot-deep pond will cover up to 3.3 acres on the southeast corner of the campus, and take as many as 2,000 dump truck loads of fill to create, according to NIH community liaison Dennis Coleman.

With the influx of visitors and employees, housing has become a top concern of county planners. Off-base lodging for Navy Med visitors has not yet been proposed or settled.

But county planners have approved a number of major residential developments in the Bethesda commercial business district. Many are condominiums under construction or opening their doors to new tenants. County records show about 2,500 new residential units going into downtown Bethesda.