ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) The Pentagon, in hopes of reducing predicted traffic jams as the naval hospital in Bethesda gets staff and patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has agreed to pay for work on two turn lanes along Rockville Pike, Montgomery County officials said.
Commuters and traffic planners have predicted gridlock as the campus grows. The Navy has obtained permission from the Department of Defense to bypass the normal appropriations process and pay for the turn lanes from existing funds.
The plan is estimated to cost a little more than $1 million. It will lengthen the southbound left-turn lane into the National Naval Medical Center’s North Wood Road gate and build a northbound left-turn lane into the grounds of the National Institutes of Health across the street.
The Navy must still find money for the project within its construction programs and Pentagon officials are considering a request to assist with much larger transportation improvements.
Montgomery leaders praised the turn-lane project as a valuable first step.
“I applaud DOD for recognizing that the success of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda will be due in significant part to relieving traffic and congestion in the surrounding neighborhoods,’’ Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said in a statement. “An especially positive element of this decision is that this particular project will not have to go through a cumbersome and lengthy process.’’
At first, the Navy said none of the $71 million in transportation projects around the naval hospital met the criteria for federal funding. But in the spring it indicated a willingness to change course.
The hospital’s expansion is part of the Pentagon’s base realignment and closure plan, known as BRAC. It is projected to double the number of annual patient visits to 1 million and add 2,500 employees. Plans call for closing Walter Reed in the District and transferring much of the care of wounded service members to Bethesda.
The Navy recommended to Defense Department officials that they approve funding for at least two transportation projects, the lane improvements and an addition to the Medical Center Metro station expected to cost $20 million to $25 million.
That project could include building a new entrance with high-speed elevators and a tunnel beneath Rockville Pike. It is under review.
A ruling on the Metro project could come late in August, Navy officials said, and would then go to Congress as part of the appropriations process.
In comparison, the Navy can go ahead with the turn-lane improvement as soon as it allots the money from funds approved for road-building.