Naval Hospital Patients to Double
Move From Walter Reed to Bethesda Could Worsen Traffic, Add $70 Million in Road Work

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 10, 2007

The planned expansion of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda will add an estimated 2,200 workers and double the number of patients and visitors at the center's campus each year, increasing traffic in a congested area of Montgomery County, according to a draft report released by the Navy.

The report details the effects of relocating parts of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District to an expanded facility in Bethesda by 2011. The document identifies intersections on Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road, for instance, that will need to be widened to accommodate increased traffic.

What it does not spell out is who will pay for road improvements that county officials estimate could cost $70 million.

"The state budget is strapped; the county budget is strapped," said Phil Alperson, County Executive Isiah Leggett's Base Realignment and Closure coordinator. "This is a federal mandate, and ultimately the federal government has a moral obligation" to address its effect.

Under the 2005 BRAC recommendations, the Defense Department envisions the Bethesda campus as the country's "premier military health care command," with specialized facilities to treat the most seriously injured soldiers. Medical, education and administrative activities will be consolidated at the site, which will include a Center of Excellence to care for traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who represents Montgomery County, said yesterday that it was "important that the federal government shoulder some of the burden" of accommodating BRAC-related growth. The transportation spending bill making its way through Congress, he said, includes $2 million for a traffic study on the expansion of the Bethesda campus.

But, he said, the federal government is "not going to pay for things that the state and county planned to do anyway," such as improving long-congested intersections surrounding the medical center, bounded by Rockville Pike and Jones Bridge Road.

The scope of growth detailed in the report released Friday was not surprising to local and state officials, but the release gives residents and their representatives an official starting point to consider BRAC's impact on the community and what steps to take.

The study looks at two alternatives. One option would add 1.1 million square feet of facilities and renovate 508,000 square feet of existing space, costing $839 million. The other would build 1.2 million square feet and renovate approximately 423,000 square feet, with a price tag of $856 million. Both options would build an 824,000-square-foot parking facility to add 2,500 parking spaces.

County policymakers have anticipated development at the campus over the years but never envisioned such an influx of people inside the Capital Beltway at a hospital that operates around the clock and does not follow traditional commuting patterns. The 8,000-person staff at the medical center -- to be renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center -- would increase by 28 percent.

The expansion would add 1,862 patients and visitors on a typical weekday, or 484,000 people each year.

The study suggests ways to improve the flow of traffic inside the gates, such as expanding the number of lanes at the North Wood Road gate and widening Perimeter Road.

Maryland Transportation Department officials have been briefed on the report but declined to comment yesterday because they were continuing to review it, spokesman Jack Cahalan said.

In a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) last week, Leggett criticized the state's draft BRAC action plan for what he said was a failure to list specific projects designed to address "Maryland's only urban BRAC."

The state must "make sure that this BRAC does not fail because a wounded warrior or a surgeon cannot get to the hospital because their ambulance is mired in gridlock," Leggett wrote.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) said yesterday that the state is "well aware of the needs" in the county.

The $450 million increase in transportation funding approved in the special session, he said, means "we are going to see additional transportation projects funded" for the medical center area in the governor's budget blueprint next month.

Members of the public have 45 days to submit comments by e-mail by regular mail to BRAC NNMC, 8901 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md. 20889. To read the report online, go tohttp://www.montgomerycountymd.govand scroll to the BRAC link.

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