Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

BRAC traffic questions unanswered

Hearings on Navy Med Master Plan could be held this fall

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Some neighbors of the National Naval Medical Center say the hospital should use shuttles to transport employees from parking lots, perhaps as far away as Germantown, to reduce traffic in Bethesda as the facility expands.

Community representatives and County Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) coordinator Phil Alperson said the goal is to reduce single-occupancy vehicles on roads around Navy Med that are already congested.

"Clearly this is a concept that hasn't been very thoroughly vetted or explored," said Ilaya Hopkins of the East Bethesda Citizens Association of satellite parking lots and shuttles.

A Navy Med spokesperson said the facility will focus on using the existing public transportation system to improve traffic conditions.

The new draft Master Plan for Navy Med, which includes the transportation management plan, was submitted to the National Capital Planning Commission last week. The commission could hold public hearings on the plan possibly in late September and October, according to Alperson.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, meanwhile, which would focus more on Montgomery County, could also hold hearings on the plan in October, he said.

"Over time, they've bent a lot. They've changed a lot. They've been very cooperative," Alperson said of Navy Med. "The Navy has realized they're part of the neighborhood too."

One of the major transportation questions surrounding Navy Med, as it prepares to merge with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center by September 2011, is encouraging new and current employees at the facility to use mass transit.

At the BRAC Implementation Committee meeting last month, Navy Med representatives said Department of Defense regulations could prevent them from running a shuttle service for employees to various transit points. Community leaders asked why Navy Med would encourage the use of mass transit but then fail to provide a shuttle service.

According to Alperson, Navy Med already runs a shuttle service for patients. The community would like the service to be expanded to accommodate employees as well. Defense Department regulations should not automatically prohibit an expanded shuttle service for employees, he said.

"They're very open to interpretation," Alperson said of the department's regulations.

Amy Rohlfs, a spokesperson for Navy Med, said in an e-mail that the facility was looking at all areas of public transportation to improve traffic, before September 2011 if possible.

"We are committed to work with local transportation authorities to see how public transportation can be expanded or adjusted such that it would facilitate greater access to the NNMC Campus," she said. "By using this approach we can take advantage of the existing system."

Hopkins said the community would support a satellite parking lot where Navy Med shuttles could pick up and drop off employees. She suggested Germantown as a possible location for such a parking lot.

This plan, she said, would in part achieve the primary goal of significantly cutting down on single-occupant vehicles on major roads in Bethesda around Navy Med.

"We're trying to encourage creative, out-of-the-box solutions that may not take major investment to implement, and may reap real benefits," she said.

Hopkins said several traffic reduction methods should be considered.

Navy Med said it has increased designated carpool parking and the number of bike racks to alleviate traffic problems, in addition to distributing more passes for the Metrorail.

Alperson also said that despite earlier reports that Navy Med had agreed to fund two new left-turn lanes near its entrance on Wisconsin Avenue for $1 million, it is unclear whether both turn lanes will ultimately be funded.

One from the southbound lane would turn into Navy Med's North Wood Gate entrance. The other from the northbound lane would turn into the National Institutes of Health's truck inspection facility.

"They're not committing to two turn lanes. They're not writing off the second lane either," Alperson said.

Rohlfs emphasized that ultimately, the state Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration control construction on roadways just outside the base. She said Navy Med would turn to SHA to determine what improvements to make near the North Wood Gate.

"We will rely on the State to tell us how best to support their efforts in concert with our objectives," said Rohlfs in an e-mail.