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Posted at 10:30 PM ET, 02/19/2011

Bethesda braces for a BRAC traffic nightmare

By Patrick L. O’Neil, Bethesda

On Sept. 15, the gates will open at the new Walter Reed Medical Center on the campus of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. But will anyone be able to get there?

The new Walter Reed sits in the heart of the region’s most congested commuter corridors along Rockville Pike, Connecticut Avenue, Old Georgetown Road and Jones Bridge Road. Starting with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) consolidation at Naval Medical in September, the congestion is going to get worse — a lot worse. Think last month’s snow-related traffic nightmare, except as a regular occurrence.

When federal BRAC legislation mandated that Walter Reed combine its operations with Navy Medical to better serve the nation’s wounded warriors, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase business community welcomed the news, with one caveat — it had to be done right. By all accounts, the expanded medical facilities will allow our most deserving patients to receive the highest level of care. Congress has invested billions of dollars to provide state-of-the-art equipment and resources to aid their recovery. But Congress has failed to provide the necessary resources that will allow caregivers and families of wounded service personnel, who are critical to that recovery, the ability to reach the campus in a timely manner.

In broad terms, Bethesda is bracing for thousands of new employees, and over 500,000 more patients and visitors each year because of BRAC. Already-intolerable gridlock will become nightmarish. Shovel-ready plans have been devised that could mitigate these BRAC impacts on the surrounding transportation infrastructure. However, Congress has refused to properly fund them.

To be fair, our local congressman, Chris Van Hollen, has shown exemplary leadership in trying to get the needed funding. But we need his colleagues to get on board, and soon. Without congressional action, what the country is left with is a first-class medical center with seemingly Third World access outside the gates.

The writer is chairman of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.

By Patrick L. O’Neil, Bethesda  | February 19, 2011; 10:30 PM ET
Categories:  Maryland, Montgomery County, traffic, transportation  
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Comments

Well said, Mr. O'Neil. You truly are a man for others. Your "yeoman" efforts on this project have been a great sevice to the wounded warriors we owe the most and to the people of Bethesda.

Moreover, your call for more resources is poignant and worthy of support. Especially as Congress considers cuts to Veterans.

Unfortunately, the wounded warriors who will receive care at Bethesda, and their visiting loved ones - no doubt the people to whom we all owe the most - have been shortchanged. A small group of people near the hospital, and the politicians they elected, killed the best option to stop this traffic nightmare.

The best solution to this problem was to provide our wounded warriors off- and on-ramp access for the facility directly from the Beltway. This option was on the table, but quickly disregarded. Politicians made it disappear.

The traffic problem could have been completely solved with direct ramps. Our servicemen and women would have received something from us they earned: easy access to care.

But the NIMBYs of Bethesda, shrouded in wet-lands protection, would not make such a sacrafice to their nearby parkland. To them, the idea of an offramp was a non-starter. And their elected leaders kow-towed to them like unpatriotic weaklings.

NIMBY beat our wounded warriors.

Do our servicemen and women, who fought and lost life and limb for us, not deserve such a small sacrafice from some the people of Bethesda?

Do those who gave the most not deserve their own ramp?

Notable to this epic slap-in-the-face to our servicemembers is that DHS and the FHA have acted swiftly to ensure direct access ramps linking the new DHS headquarters in Southeast DC and the Anacostia Freeway. This work driveway for federal employees who have not seen combat or lost limb or life while serving their country. All the while the neighbors there, who suffer a 35% unemployment rate, are begging for local street access in the name of economic development.

Congress should rethink these traffic outlays, and perhaps swap the project money.

Posted by: tcs1999 | February 19, 2011 11:35 PM | Report abuse

One wonders what community tcs1999 is describing. Bethesda has long been friendly host to two very large federal medical facilities, both of which have expanded greatly during the past decade. Since Tcs1999 seems not to have noticed that NIH and adjacent NNMC are also located within developed communities along the most congested stretch of highway in the county, his NIMBY insult to the community hardly seems justified.

Posted by: Cassopolis | February 20, 2011 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Cass: My information comes from atttending countless BRAC meetings, and more locally, the Bethesda Naval meetings. I am describing, specifically, the neighbors on the north sida of the Naval Medical Center who specifically fought the direct ramp option. As a result of the protests, the rest of the surrounding area, and presumably you, will suffer with traffic congestion.

Moreover, the information I provided is based on direct discusions with former Montgomery County Executive Duncan, the former economic development directors for the county and state, and the former leader of the Bethesda team that tried in vain to make this project intergrate better into your community, my friend.

President Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System for the specific reason of moving our military troops. Of that top priority, our wounded warriors are prioriy number one. No excetions, right? Your comparing them to the work at NIH as you have is a disservice or a case of not understanding my point.

This is a case of social injustice that will negativly impact most residents surrounding the campus.

In the name of those servicemen who have given the most, and in the name of those in Southeast who have the least, flipping the funding for direct access ramps for newly opening federal facilities is the right thing to do. Traffic congestion is a secondary issue I'd be willing to use to get congressional action to relieve your pain and sufering - and that of or troops.

Posted by: tcs1999 | February 20, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

This military veteran is unimpressed by attempts to insert "wounded warriors" into debates of land use and traffic issues.

Posted by: Cassopolis | February 20, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Cas,

Chairman O'Neil stated "BRAC legislation mandated that Walter Reed combine its operations with Navy Medical to better serve the nation’s wounded warriors."

Since that is the overall goal, I'm a bit shocked that a vet would glibly try to describe these writings as "attempts to insert" these men and women of valor into the topic of a military hospital.

Your thinking of this more, as you say, a "land use and congestion issue" is, as I replied earlier "a disservice to them and [you] not understanding [the] point."

Clearly, it's both.

Posted by: tcs1999 | February 21, 2011 5:19 AM | Report abuse

No one has been closer to Nancy Pelosi than Chris Van Hollen during her reign as Speaker of the House. Yet with all that proximity to power he could not get the Federal Government to do what it was supposed to do for the increased traffic through Bethesda caused by BRAC. Please! If Van Hollen wanted to get this done it would have been done. He wasn't going to expend his political capital on his constituents. Yet the BCC Chairman is so cowed by the absolute power of the Democrats in Bethesda, MoCo and Blue Maryland that he still has to praise Van Hollen for failing his constituents. Does the scene from Animal House with Kevin Bacon saying "Thank you sir, may I have another" come to mind? The Ruling Democrats abuse Bethesda from Rockville, Annapolis and Washington with high taxes, and zero solutions to the traffic congestion the Feds create. In spite of this decade long reality, the Bethesda business community can't get on their knees fast enough to praise their abusers. Bethesda needs an intervention. Bethesda Business people should get off their knees and stand up to these people on the county, state and Federal level. Ff for no other reason the view is better is on your feet than on your knees.

Posted by: JerryCave | February 22, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

I am writing to address a couple of misstatements above:

To tcs1999
Your statement “the neighbors on the north sida of the Naval Medical Center who specifically fought the direct ramp option” is not correct. You cite conversations with former CE Doug Duncan and others who have not been a part of this BRAC that was passed into law in 2005.

If you go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/brac and look at Community Involvement, you will see that as early as the scoping period and EIS in 2006 and 2007 and first BRAC Implementation Committee meetings, neighbors, including those north of the base, advocated for direct access from the Beltway to the base.

The State eventually, in 2009, wrote a white paper on the issue and, together with County officials, chose not to pursue this option. It was not because of local opposition.

The communities surrounding the base have been supportive of making this BRAC work from the beginning and, despite the fact that we will bear the brunt of the impact, have worked to find the best solutions for the whole transportation system in the area – including better pedestrian and bike facilities, improved access to the metro and intersection modifications. See www.cmmcn.org for more.

To JerryCave
Congressman Van Hollen has been supportive of making this BRAC work for all involved since the beginning. Not only did he help secure the original $300 million in a DoD FY10 appropriation, he has since gotten the language inserted into HR bills on continuing resolutions not once but TWICE. The efforts die in the Senate.

The Bethesda Business community knows what is at stake if gridlock and congestion get any worse in the area. They have worked with residents and the many life-enhancing institutions in the surrounding area as active participants on the BRAC Implementation Committee and other ad hoc groups to make sure we have coordinated plans, are leveraging limited resources and can educate elected officials at all levels of government – county, state and federal – of the importance of collaborating to make this BRAC work. If it doesn’t, we fail to support our wounded warriors and MoCo will miss an incredible opportunity to embrace these federal installations as part of the broader community.

Posted by: ilayaromehopkins | February 23, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

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