Two suburban Washington, D.C., counties received some extra holiday cheer last week--$300 million in federal transportation improvement funding.
The windfall, included in the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Bill thanks to efforts by area Representatives Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is specifically directed at mitigating the expected impact of more than 26,000 workers being relocated to Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax County, Va., and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (an expansion of the existing Bethesda Naval Hospital) in Montgomery County, Md., under the Base Relocation and Closure (BRAC) program.
With less than two years to go before the scheduled September 2011 deadline for implementing BRAC, officials of both jurisdictions have worried that their existing transportation networks are not up to the task of handling the sudden influx of new commuters.
Ft. Belvoir, which is virtually inaccessible by anything other than vehicles, is due to add approximately 24,000 new workers with the addition of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's new headquarters and a new community hospital complex. Although stimulus funds are being used to complete the long-stalled Fairfax County Parkway, few consider the new roadway enough to offset the onslaught of new commuters and visitor to the post.
Although the Bethesda Medical Center does have Metrorail access, Montgomery County will still need to accommodate 2,500 new employees plus as many as one million out-patient visits a year. The resulting volume and irregular traffic patterns associated with these visits will almost certainly overwhelm the area’s, causing congestion to spill over into surrounding neighborhoods.
It will be up to the Dept. of Defense to determine specific projects for the appropriation, with a report on spending plans due to Congress by the end of March 2010.
According to the Washington Post, Fairfax County prefers its share go to widening nearby Route 1, which bisects Ft. Belvoir, and improving pedestrian access. Montgomery County has long sought to improve several intersections surrounding the Medical Center.
Both jurisdictions have also outlined long-term transportation improvements for their expanded military employment hubs, including a Metrorail spur to Ft. Belvoir and a new Beltway exit for the Medical Center. However, it’s unlikely these high-priced projects will receive any dollars from the current appropriation.
The $300-million outlay was justified by legislators as “health-related” defense spending, as both locations involve new medical facilities. (It probably didn’t hurt that those same legislators travel the same roads destined to bog down with new BRAC workers.)
But other U.S. localities facing similar challenges should not feel left out. The approved Defense Appropriations Bill also authorizes a $450,000 Transportation Research Board study of infrastructure needs and funding gaps in BRAC-affected communities nationwide.