More Funds Urged For Roads as Navy Hospital Expands

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007

State and local officials warned yesterday that without increases in money for road projects, the planned expansion of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda will result in "nightmare" congestion near the hospital.

Montgomery County officials hope the state will undertake millions in major road improvements, including widening Wisconsin Avenue and improving intersections at Connecticut Avenue, Jones Bridge Road and Cedar Lane.

But Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said at a meeting in Rockville yesterday that the state faces a $40 billion shortfall in transportation needs over the next 20 years. Without more money, "we are literally unable to add new projects," he said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has proposed raising $400 million in annual revenue for Maryland's transportation trust fund, and the General Assembly will consider increasing taxes and fees at a special session this month that the governor called to address the state's $1.7 billion shortfall.

"We need immediate action from the General Assembly," said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who was chairman of the meeting of the Maryland Base Realignment and Closure subcabinet. "There are a lot of new projects that we need to fund."

As part of the 2005 BRAC recommendations approved by the White House and Congress, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District will shut down and be replaced by 2011 with an expanded facility in Bethesda. Medical, educational and administrative activities will be consolidated at the naval hospital, which will be renamed the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and will become what the Department of Defense envisions as the country's premier military medical facility.

The roads near the hospital -- "already bursting at the seams" says County Executive Isiah Leggett -- could face a 25 percent increase in traffic, officials said yesterday.

Complicating preparations is the Navy's delay in releasing a draft environmental impact study on the expansion, officials said. The report was expected in June, but the date was pushed to this month, then December. "We're all anxiously awaiting the draft," Porcari said.

David K. Oliveria, the BRAC program manager for the Navy hospital, said the delay resulted from the Pentagon's efforts to improve medical services in response to news reports that revealed problems in the long-term care of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed.

As the flagship for military medical services, the expanded Bethesda facility would assume Walter Reed's lead role in treating casualties from Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts. "It would mean having to provide more than we planned under the original BRAC," Oliveria said in a recent interview.

Oliveria said the Navy's environmental report cannot be finalized until the Pentagon decides which services should be moved to Bethesda and which should go to other facilities, particularly a new Army hospital planned at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County.

Regardless, Oliveria said, the size of the staff at Bethesda, which has 8,000 workers, would not increase by more than 2,500, the limit the Navy set in its initial proposals last year.

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