BETHESDA – Denise Nelson said she’s seen it all before.
Several years ago, when the National Institutes of Health campus was being expanded, the government promised traffic solutions. They didn’t happen.
“The people who live here are locked in. We don’t even leave during rush hour,” said Nelson, who lives in the Maple Wood/Alta Vista neighborhood.
Worried the congestion is being overlooked again, Nelson spoke up Wednesday at the first public meeting since the Navy released a report detailing the impact of an expanded National Naval Medical Center, which is across the street from NIH in Bethesda.
The December report reviewed the overall impact of a planned combination of the Bethesda Naval Medical Center and parts of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center under the military’s Base Realignment and Closure process.
While the Navy looked at everything from pollution to wildlife habitat, the 40 or so residents at the public hearing worried most about traffic caused by the expected influx of 2,200 workers and 1,800 patients and visitors each day.
The final hearing was held Thursday night, but comments may be submitted in writing until Jan. 28.
Residents questioned the Navy study, saying its traffic solutions were inadequate.
The major roads have been gridlocked since the NIH expanded, Nelson said, and side roads are being used as short cuts.
“It is most urgent that the traffic is something to be considered on the side roads, not just on those main intersections,” Nelson said.
Navy contractors studied 27 intersections and recommended widening intersections and adding turn lanes along Rockville Pike, Old Georgetown Road and Connecticut Ave, along with widening the gates and Perimeter Road on the hospital campus.
Two of the intersections most affected by the BRAC changes will be Rockville Pike-Cedar Lane, and Jones Bridge Road-Connecticut Avenue.
Currently, 3,713 cars pass through, without turning right, at Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane during the morning and afternoon rush hours combined. In 2011, that is expected to grow to 3,832 cars during the morning and afternoon rush hours, according to the Navy report. At Jones Bridge Road and Connecticut Avenue, during the afternoon rush hour, 1,927 cars pass through the intersection, but that’s expected to jump 67 cars to 1,994 each hour by 2011.
Fay Raland has lived in the area for 39 years and said traffic has only been getting worse. She said the Navy’s recommendations won’t be enough to handle the impending increase of cars.
“It boggles your mind to even think of it,” Raland said.
Raland and Nelson’s view was bolstered Thursday by the Montgomery County Planning Board. It agreed the Navy’s report was incomplete, according to statement from the panel released late Thursday. The board recommended the Navy do more analysis and look for alternatives to car travel.
The Navy examined off-site traffic even though any improvements to the surrounding public roads are the responsibility of Montgomery County and the state of Maryland. It’s Navy policy to only fund road construction if expansion doubles traffic on a road within a year, causing a security issue.
Others at the hearing questioned the Navy’s assumption that workers from Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., will not move because of its nearness to Bethesda.
Malcolm Rivkin, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Maryland University College with a background in environmental impact studies, said his personal experiences make him think the Navy’s guess is wrong.
“If this laughable assumption comes true in the short run, what’s the situation in 10 to 15 years?” Rivkin said. “Many professional and service employees will want to live within striking distance of their jobs.”
Others at the meeting were also concerned about hospital and community security, as the campus might be a terrorist target.
Navy representatives didn’t answer questions during the meeting. Capt. Mike Malanoski said each statement will be reviewed and addressed in a final report.
“Everyone has a different way to interpret stuff,” Malanoski said. “There are an awful lot of numbers.”