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Vol. LXIII, No. 13
June 24, 2011
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Brace Yourself for BRAC-Associated Commuting Challenges

On the front page...

The majority will arrive by car and they aren’t waiting until September to get here.

Officially, as part of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, the National Naval Medical Center across the street will become Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) on Sept. 15. The new Walter Reed is expected to add approximately 4,300 daily commuters, including nearly 1 million patient visits annually—a doubling of the current rate. Many of these patients and the staff to support them are already beginning to arrive.

Although the increase seems daunting, when viewed against the current 77,000 daily commuters in this area, it amounts to only a 6 percent increase. If NIH staff and others do their part to reduce traffic congestion, everyone benefits and we reduce the chance of gridlock, says the Office of Research Services.

What Can You Do?

As employees, consider teleworking, flexible and alternative work schedules, off-peak commuting, Transhare and alternative commuting options such as vanpool, carpool, bicycles, Metrorail and NIH shuttle, public and subscription bus services. Each option gets one more car off the road during peak periods.

Continued...

BRAC is predicted to add 4,300 commuters to a daily total of 77,000 commuters in the vicinity of NIH and the new Walter Reed.
BRAC is predicted to add 4,300 commuters to a daily total of 77,000 commuters in the vicinity of NIH and the new Walter Reed.

Utilizing one or more of these strategies helps make the roads accessible, lowers utility, parking, rent and Transhare costs and improves air quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If you look at it strictly from a personal standpoint, with a federal pay freeze and rising gas prices, reducing commuting costs keeps more money in your pocket. In addition, there are health and work/life benefits resulting from less commuter stress, reduced risk of accidents and the advantage of social distancing when fellow employees are ill.

Transhare—The NIH Transhare program is the single most effective tool to reduce traffic congestion around NIH. This environmentally friendly means of commuting allows for up to $230 per month in a tax-free commuter subsidy by using public transportation options such as Metrorail, Metrobus, Ride-On, vanpools, carpools and other public transportation tools.

Carpool and vanpool members have the added benefit of convenient, reserved parking spaces on campus and, where applicable, the use of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on public roads. For vanpool, fuel costs are split among the riders.

Currently, more than 5,000 employees are enrolled in Transhare. The program is open to all qualified NIH federal employees.

Telework/Flexible Work Schedules—In light of the recently enacted Telework Improvement Act as well as advances in technology, many employees can work from home for at least a portion of the pay period. It can be especially beneficial for tasks requiring concentration such as scientific writing and scientific literature research. Telework and flexible work options lead to higher employee retention and morale and less absenteeism. Patients find less congested roads. Non-teleworkers find more ample parking.

NIH Bicycle Subsidy Program—Just introduced in June, the subsidy allows for $20 per month to qualified federal employees who bike to work and surrender their parking permits and do not participate in the NIH Transhare program.

Tunnel Under Pike To Ease Pedestrian Access

BRAC is predicted to add 4,300 commuters to a daily total of 77,000 commuters in the vicinity of NIH and the new Walter Reed.

A pedestrian tunnel under Rockville Pike is in the planning stages, near the South Dr. intersection. The tunnel would allow for safer pedestrian access between the new Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center and NIH. This “Multi-Modal Crossing Project” also includes a new, high-speed elevator from the Medical Center Metro station to the east side of the roadway and an emergency egress stairwell.

The shallow tunnel scheme segregates pedestrian traffic and bicyclists from vehicles on Rockville Pike and was unanimously selected from dozens of designs by a group consisting of county, state and federal representatives and citizens. The plan also includes intersection improvements including a pedestrian “refuge island” on Rockville Pike and realigned crosswalks to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians not using the tunnel.

Off-Peak Commuting—The variation in traffic between peak and non-peak commuting is startling. Employees can further consider teleworking for a portion of the workday and commute during off-peak hours.

NIH Shuttle Buses—With open parking spaces on the main campus becoming a rare commodity, if you work in leased facilities in Montgomery County and need to come to the main campus, the shuttle bus is your best option. In addition, if you need to attend a meeting at a leased facility, you are encouraged to use shuttles to reduce congestion, pollution and parking challenges.   

The Mid-Pike Commuter Parking Lot and shuttle route continue to be a viable option with 150 parking spaces and a number of bicycle racks for employees to use free of charge. The shuttle operates throughout the day from 5:40 a.m. to 6:56 p.m. The lot is conveniently located along Rockville Pike at the Montrose Rd. intersection. Employees who live within walking distance are welcome to catch the shuttle. The shuttle stops at the Medical Center Metro station, Bldgs. 31, 10 and Natcher.

Choose Your Route Wisely—If employees need to drive to the Bethesda campus, NIH recommends avoiding the Rockville Pike/Cedar Ln. intersection if possible. It is considered to be the most congested intersection in Montgomery County and is projected to get even worse until the State Highway Administration completes planned road improvements later in this decade.

If arriving to campus from points east, use Connecticut Ave. to Jones Bridge Rd. If arriving from points north or west, use Old Georgetown Rd.  

The South Dr./Old Georgetown gate reopened to employees on June 13 for outbound traffic from 3 to 7 p.m. This change should lighten the burden of exiting the campus during the afternoon/ evening rush hour.

Be Considerate—Have your badge ready to scan when you reach an NIH gate. It makes a big difference for everyone, especially those behind you, if an employee doesn’t delay entry by searching through briefcase or purse to find the badge once reaching the card reader.

Ultimately, it will be up to each employee to determine which strategies work best in his or her own situation.

What Is NIH Doing?

NIH meets regularly with state, local and federal officials to plan measures to alleviate overall congestion in the area. State and county funds are now available for road improvements set to commence later this year. A number of these projects have already begun. Even though these projects will be done predominantly during off hours, they still create their own temporary disruptions—and even after completion, the traffic will still exceed capacity. The FY 2011 federal budget includes $300 million available for BRAC-impacted military medical facilities. Maryland hopes to receive one-third or more of these funds to complete all phases of the projected roadway traffic improvements.

Finally, the Office of Research Services and the Office of Research Facilities have developed a web site, http://traffic.nih.gov, to inform you of the various roadway improvement projects and to offer tools and resources to help with your commuting choices. The site includes timelines on construction projects, more about BRAC and handy widgets to map your best commute routes, complete with live traffic cameras across the region.NIHRecord Icon


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