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Vol. LXIV, No. 21
October 12, 2012
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‘Promises Made, Promises Kept’
Funding Arrives for Metro Tunnel, Safer Pike Crossings

When a $40 million check arrives for a project to improve access to NIH and its cross-Pike neighbor, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, fanfare is appropriate.

“This is really a case of promises made, promises kept,” said Mikulski.
“This is really a case of promises made, promises kept,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

That is why on Sept. 24 at the Gateway Center, NIH hosted Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), all of whom, as “Team Maryland,” were instrumental in gaining federal money for a project to build a pedestrian tunnel under Rockville Pike at the Medical Center Metro station and make other transportation improvements.

When the Army’s long-standing Walter Reed hospital facility in Washington, D.C., was closed as part of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program and relocated to the National Naval Medical Center, Maryland’s congressional delegation went to work to assure that the arrival of some 2,500 new employees and up to 1 million patients and visitors per year would not unduly harm an already overstressed transportation system.

It took years of effort, the delegation reported, and the cooperation of the Senate, House and Department of Defense to obtain the funding; the Pentagon does not normally disburse funds “outside the fence” of its facilities in order to mitigate BRAC-related problems. Overall, almost $90 million has been pledged to the county and state for a variety of transportation improvements.

“This is really a case of promises made, promises kept,” said Mikulski, adding that the money assures safer travel for veterans and military families and will create some 600 new construction jobs. She said another $7 million will go to the Maryland State Highway Administration for extra turn lanes and other upgrades to one of the four major intersections slated for improvement in the vicinity.

“Our warriors who are fighting for freedom around the world shouldn’t have to fight the traffic when they get back home,” said Cardin.

On hand Sept. 24 for a symbolic check presentation at the Gateway
On hand Sept. 24 for a symbolic check presentation at the Gateway Center were (from l) Andy Stern, chair of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce; Sen. Ben Cardin; Mikulski; Rep. Chris Van Hollen; WMATA General Manager Rich Sarles; Montgomery County transportation chief Art Holmes; and Roger Berliner, president of the Montgomery County Council.

Van Hollen said the tunnel project, which will include 3 high-speed deep-shaft elevators on the Walter Reed side of the Pike, “symbolically reinforces the ties between NIH and Walter Reed. I believe these collaborations will continue to bear great fruit.” He said the funding addresses four priorities: allowing soldiers access to Walter Reed, enhancing the commutes of the medical staff who treat veterans, improving NIH’ers’ commutes and smoothing travel for the local community.

Rich Sarles, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said the project “assures a much more convenient operation” for trains and buses. He said there has been an 8 percent increase in local traffic in the past 2 years and expects “significant improvement in ridership in this area.”

Before BRAC relocation officially began in September 2011, some 3,000 pedestrians crossed Rockville Pike at South Dr. daily, said Art Holmes, director of the Montgomery County department of transportation. By 2020, an estimated 7,000 pedestrians would do so, crossing 6 lanes of traffic on which 50,000 vehicles now travel daily.

“We can’t make the traffic disappear,” said Holmes, a veteran who himself has taken advantage of health care at Walter Reed, “but we can make it work better.” He expects the project to take “a couple or 3 years…There will be some disruptions, but we are now in run mode. We are moving.”—Rich McManus

Cardin Van Hollen

“Team Maryland” included Cardin (l), Van Hollen (r) and Mikulski, who made the case that BRAC disruptions to local infrastructure should be mitigated by federal funds.

Photos: Bill Branson

 


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