Bucks for Bethesda and Belvoir

Though the defense appropriations bill, which again has proved pork is king (and Pennsylvania lawmaker John Murtha is its prince), lawmakers may have gotten one small item very right: It looks like $300 million is headed to Maryland and Virginia to help unsnarl two big transportation dilemmas.

The last Base Realignment and Closure go-around gave the axe to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The venerable old soldier-of-a-hospital and its surrounding acreage have become crowded and barely accessible in Washington, D.C.’s northwest quadrant. The new Walter Reed will move out a few miles to the National Naval Medical Center campus, Bethesda Md. Reports say it is set to open in 2011 and brings with it a reported 2,500 new jobs, though we’re unclear if that is in addition to current staffing.

As the D.C. region continues to become home to more residents and businesses, travel can be a challenge any time of day. Bethesda is convenient to Interstate 495, but the multi-lane access via Wisconsin Ave. is essentially a game of chicken. More entrances and access lanes will be needed.

A portion of the funding will go to improve four intersections around the base, install a pedestrian tunnel under Rockville Pike to connect the Medical Center Metro to the joint campus. Maryland transportation officials may find they have underestimated the area’s transportation needs. Opening a new hospital is no small feat.

On a larger scale, a considerable swath of the U.S. Army is relocating to the Army’s Fort Belvoir. Though just a few miles outside Washington, the immense base has been a backwater and a challenge to reach via crowed U.S. 1 and Interstate 95. Many of its entrances sit closed, casualties of stepped-up post-Sept 11 security. The result has been longer commutes and escalating frustration.

Add another 20,000 or so cars each day and you have one very unhappy workforce.

Area Rep. Jim Moran, who tends to overstate, has been brutally accurate in his assessments of the Belvoir snarl. Though rush hours may not increase the 3-4 hours he predicts, an absolute traffic nightmare is in the offing. Maryland’s needs pale in comparison. Estimates for bucks to ease Belvoir’s transportation woes have exceeded $400 million. Moran expects traffic to snail out to I-95, 2 miles or so from the post.

In a region where many plan their lives around traffic, not so many may be willing to pay the price for job stability in traffic purgatory.

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