Construction at BRAC intersections could begin this summer
State to start with Rockville Pike, Jones Bridge Road, Connecticut Avenue projects
Construction at three intersections near the new Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda could begin this summer.
The Maryland Department of Transportation in December committed to moving forward with the projects, estimated to cost $111 million.
It also released a concrete schedule for the early stages of work. The decision is a departure from the ambiguity that has surrounded the projects as the hospital's September 2011 opening nears and funding remains in question.
The department will use $38 million in state and federal funds to improve three intersections near the hospital Rockville Pike at Jones Bridge Road, Rockville Pike at Cedar Lane and Connecticut Avenue at Jones Bridge Road.
Engineers hope this will help avoid the gridlock experts fear will result from the merger of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center. Work at a fourth intersection, Cedar Lane and Old Georgetown Road, is not included in the first phase of construction plans because it is the least congested.
"It's really not a choice anymore. It's not a choice we have to act," said Phil Alperson, Montgomery County's BRAC coordinator.
State officials had been hoping to obtain part of a $300 million federal appropriation for hospitals affected by BRAC. Last week, Congress approved a spending bill without funding for those road improvements.
The U.S. Senate had stripped the $300 million from the U.S. House of Representatives' version of a spending bill needed to keep government running until March. The money was previously approved in the fiscal 2010 budget, but was unavailable because of an accounting error. Three hospitals, including Navy Med, would have qualified for the funding.
Now, representatives will have to wait until Congress begins work on the budget in the next few months to propose the item again. The fiscal 2011 appropriations bill could be the last chance to secure major federal funding before the hospital opens in 2011.
"If you wait on the funding, you don't know how long you're going to wait," Alperson said. "We don't know when we'll get it we don't know if we'll get it."
It would be better for state construction crews to wait the projects could be completed more efficiently and with less disruption if done all at once, said Andrew Scott, who has been overseeing the improvements for the state Department of Transportation. But a construction plan that allows projects to be completed in stages could provide at least some immediate relief, he said. The hospital merger is expected to double the number of annual visits to the Bethesda campus, to 1 million.
"We reached a point where we didn't want to delay the project based on uncertainty [of funding]," Scott said.
The first phase of the state's three-part plan calls for utility relocation to begin at Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road in August.
The earliest any of the first stage of work would be done is June 2012, when road signal work is scheduled to be completed at Rockville Pike and Jones Bridge Road. The last of the first stage of work, at Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane, will not be done until November 2014.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation will have completed its sidewalk and bike path projects when the hospital opens in September. That work is estimated at $5.7 million.
"The pieces are starting to fall into place the challenge is how those pieces are going to fit together," said Ilaya Hopkins, a member of the Coalition of Military Medical Center Neighbors who serves on the BRAC Implementation Committee.
Hopkins said she is concerned the neighborhoods that surround the hospital campus will be most affected by the construction and that the outcome of the work will not necessarily benefit those who live nearby.
An example is the Metro project, she said. Hopkins echoed other residents' concern that the preferred design for the Metro project an underground walkway to cross the street and high speed elevators to the Medical Center Metro platform will not improve safety for people who cross Rockville Pike at street level.
That project, estimated at $48 million to $58 million, could also be completed in stages, with the pedestrian tunnel and elevators built separately.