BRAC woes grow among Bethesda stakeholders
Concerns about completion dates, money increase
The state and county began planning for Walter Reed Military Medical Center in 2005, when Congress mandated its relocation to Bethesda. Five years later, officials need more time and money.
With less than a year until the medical center's move from Washington, D.C., to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda is complete, some of the people most intimately involved with the Base Realignment and Closure project are feeling frustrated by the unknowns associated with such a large-scale project.
Phil Alperson, BRAC coordinator for Montgomery County, said he and other members of the BRAC Implementation Committee, which brings together the county, state and federal agencies managing the projects and communities affected by the change, are concerned that projects meant to address additional traffic will not be done before the hospital merger and that there is not enough money to pay for it all.
"We know that September 2011 is going to roll around and we're not going to be ready," Alperson said. "And that's very concerning."
Sidewalk and bicycle paths will be ready by September, said Edgar Gonzalez, a deputy director in the department. The county paid $5.4 million for those improvements.
The Metro access project and the state department of transportation's four intersection improvement projects will not be ready in time.
Planners have yet to select a design for the pedestrian access project at the Medical Center station on Rockville Pike. Options include $1 million-worth of road crossing improvements to a road renovation that would send the road below ground for a street level crossing and could cost as much as $73 million, Gonzalez said.
The design will require federal approval, which Gonzalez said he will seek in November.
The federal department of defense has set aside $20 million for the Metro project.
April 2012 is the earliest the state's intersection projects could be complete, said Andrew Scott, who oversees BRAC activity for the state department of transportation.
The state has set aside $34 million for those projects, but will need more money to get the work done.
The U.S. House of Representatives' copy of next year's budget includes $300 million for transportation projects in communities that have BRAC impacted military hospitals, which could include Bethesda, Fort Belvoir and a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas. The money is not included in the Senate bill.
The appropriation is the county's best shot at federal money, some say, but the hospital has missed out before. The same amount was approved in last year's defense budget, but was put in the wrong account and was inaccessible.
"We need to start working on the facts we have, not the assumptions we're making," said Ken Strickland, who serves on the BRAC Implementation Committee as a representative of the Chevy Chase View Citizens Association.
The state department of transportation had planned to talk in October about whether to move forward with a tiered implementation plan, which would start construction on prioritized projects with the money available, or wait until there was enough money to pay for all the improvements.
"We're not at the point where we need to limit our work to Tier 1," said Scott. "We're continuing to work on all with the hopes of getting the department of defense funding."
Scott said the state department of transportation is prepared to start the projects even if the money, which would come under the department of defense budget, falls through.