Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Council President Mike Knapp, representing the full Council, today urged the Federal government to do more to address the impacts that moving Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Bethesda will have on the County. Leggett and Knapp expressed concern that 2,500 new employees and about 1,800 additional daily visits to the medical facilities will result in traffic gridlock in an area that already suffers serious traffic congestion.
In their letter to Rear Admiral Richard R. Jeffries, the commanding officer at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC), Leggett and Knapp expressed concern that the government’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) does not accurately or sufficiently reflect the impacts that the expanded facility will have on the surrounding community and road network or the federal government’s responsibility to mitigate them. Under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. will move most of its functions to the campus of NNMC.
In the letter, Leggett and Knapp said, “Montgomery County proudly supports the mission of this BRAC action. The County and Navy must work as partners to ensure that the action fulfills its mission and is accomplished in a manner that is compatible with the NNMC’s urban environment. Regrettably, the Draft EIS fails to acknowledge the significant and detrimental impacts of this BRAC action on the community that surrounds NNMC. Failure to acknowledge and take decisive action to mitigate impacts on the environment and transportation network will impede the mission of this BRAC action.”
Leggett and Knapp said that the Navy’s Draft EIS fails to fully acknowledge the consequences of the BRAC action in such a densely populated urban environment. They assert that the Navy has not assumed its fair share of responsibility in dealing with BRAC impacts, particularly by wrongly denying the applicability of funding under the Defense Access Road program, which is designed specifically to address these types of BRAC actions.
Leggett and Knapp provided detailed comments on the Draft EIS from six County agencies: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT), the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services and the County’s BRAC Implementation Committee, an advisory board of community leaders and government officials.
“It is important to note that as a BRAC action, there are many impacts of this federally imposed ‘unfunded mandate’ on state and local facilities,” said DPWT Director Arthur Holmes, Jr. “With no direct federal funding in the project to offset the costs of those impacts, the state and local governments must bear an added financial burden of ‘up-front costs’ to support the federal action. Particularly from a transportation standpoint, the BRAC action should be adequately funded by the federal government and Department of Defense to provide direct funding for the identified off-site traffic improvements.”
Agency comments conclude that important data in the Draft EIS is lacking, inconsistent, unsubstantiated or poorly explained in many instances, resulting in the Draft EIS downplaying the increased traffic that will be created in surrounding neighborhoods during and after construction. These impacts will affect the flow of traffic and emergency vehicles in the area, and could impede the success of the mission that BRAC is designed to promote.
The Navy will review all comments received on the Draft EIS and release a Final EIS later this spring. Leggett and Knapp said that the Final EIS should address the following transportation improvements and recommendations, which they consider essential:
1. Conduct a fast-tracked study of the Maryland Route 355 Corridor that includes intersection improvements along Wisconsin Avenue, Old Georgetown Road and Connecticut Avenue at Cedar Lane and Jones Bridge Road; the widening of Maryland Route 355 to include turn and through lanes near NNMC; the addition of shoulders to provide access for emergency vehicles and pedestrian medians; and an evaluation of a grade separated interchange at Maryland Route MD 355 and Cedar Lane;
2. Fast-track construction of an entrance to Metro’s Red Line Medical Center station on the east side of Maryland Route 355 to enhance transit use and provide pedestrian connectivity. Alternatively, construct a pedestrian bridge over Maryland Route 355 in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);
3. Place greater emphasis in the Final EIS on the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway projects in the County’s Master Plan;
4. Expand shuttle bus service provided by NNMC for its employees and secure a commitment from NNMC to work with the State and County to identify suitable outlying locations for park-and-ride shuttle lots;
5. Implement measures to ensure safe pedestrian access to and around the NNMC and NIH campuses, including sidewalk and signaling improvements, which must be a priority. Implement, in its entirety, the pedestrian/bicycle master plan for the area;
6. Conduct an evaluation by the State Highway Administration of the feasibility and benefit derived by providing slip ramps as part of its Maryland Route 355 Corridor Study. The Draft EIS dismisses a proposed I-495 Beltway Slip Ramp directly to the NNMC campus. This long-term project could help alleviate congestion on local roads that serve NNMC; and
7. Institute a robust Transportation Management Plan (TMP) by the Navy that encourages alternative means of transportation, reduces parking spaces and discourages single occupancy vehicles. The Draft EIS includes generic elements of a potential TMP but does not commit to a site-specific TMP.
Leggett and Knapp said, “We are proud of our role, and look forward to a cordial collaboration with the Navy to ensure the success of this mission to provide the best medical care to our country’s servicemen and servicewomen.”
# # #
To view letter to Rear Admiral Jeffries, go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/pio/pdfs/jeffries_ltr.pdf
# # #