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Officials Aim to Improve Medical Campus Access

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Transportation officials are studying several options to make it easier for people to get from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda to the Metro station.

The Medical Center Metro station, which also serves that National Institutes of Health, is a few dozen yards from the entrance to the medical center campus. But in between are several lanes of Rockville Pike that can be difficult and dangerous to navigate on foot, officials said.

The area is going to have even more traffic -- pedestrian and vehicular -- once the Walter Reed Army Medical Center closes by September 2011 as part of the Pentagon's base realignment and closure process. Officials estimate that the new medical facility, to be called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, will add 2,500 workers and have 10,500 total. Visits to the campus could double from 500,000 to 1 million annually, officials said.

Right now, about 3,000 people a day cross Rockville Pike to reach the campus, said Phil Alperson, Montgomery County's BRAC coordinator. That could double after the consolidation, he said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration is working to improve several of the intersections in the area. And now Metro is studying how it can encourage more people to use public transportation to reach the campus.

One of the ideas is to improve the crosswalk by adding signs, better signaling and an expanded median, said Robin McElhenny-Smith, Metro's program manger for station area planning. Another is to build a 100-foot tunnel that would connect the campus to the Metro station via three high-speed elevators.

Other options are a pedestrian tunnel or overpass that connects the east and west sides of Rockville Pike. Yet another option would have both the pedestrian tunnel and the high-speed elevators, which could cost as much as $60 million.

Metro officials did not provide cost estimates for other options, saying they were under review. And they could not provide an estimate for when the project might be completed. But the Defense Department recently budgeted $20 million for fiscal 2011, which would need to be approved by Congress. Officials were heartened by the progress.

"The fact that DOD has put this in the budget is key in moving this forward," Alperson said.

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