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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BRAC: A Transit Nightmare

So there's this Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) thing going on, moving tons of jobs to bases that can't possibly handle the increased population, and it's going on all over our area. What's affected? Fort Meade, Fort Belvoir, Quantico, and Andrews AFB, for starters, are all juuuust far enough outside the city that they have no Metro connection and absolutely disgraceful transit options. Then there's Bethesda Naval Medical Center, which has its very own Red Line stop but chokes off the MD 355 corridor creating perennial traffic issues. Though fiscally I imagine it makes plenty of sense to consolidate military jobs, it's going to take a lot of growing pains for this gigantic realignment, which was initially announced in September of 2005.

Having served four years in the United States Army, I can assure all of you that I find most military bases damn near impossible to get to and get around without a car. Absolutely horrible. Why do think so many bases are surrounded by car dealerships? Every soldier needs a car. And every base at which I've been stationed, sergeants and petty officers warn their troops about getting ripped off by said car salesmen. I was once in a battalion where I was required to attend a briefing specific to this matter!

Let's start with getting TO the base. Fort Meade, which houses the National Security Agency, is getting approximately 5,000 new jobs. there are two MARC stations that "serve" Fort Meade, Odenton and Savage. In practice, both are miles from a base entrance, and there is virtually zero pedestrian access. There are shuttles that operate from the MARC stations, but this system is far more time consuming than driving and I don't believe that it encourages ridership much at all. If there is any kind of bus service, I didn't hear about it the four years I was stationed there. I know that Corridor Transit offers a bus to the NSA twice in the morning and twice in the evening. Yeah, that ought to handle the 30,000+ commuters there. I can't speak to Andrews, Quantico, or Belvoir, but I imagine the problems are similar to some degree of those at Fort Meade. But instead of bringing transit to these areas, the big lobby is to bring the Purple Line to Bethesda Medical Center even though it would better serve Bethesda's central business district. Priorities!

Next let's talk getting AROUND these bases. So great, a bus/train/shuttle dumps you off at the main gate to Fort Meade. You are likely miles from your office. Military bases, in my experience, exercise little to no land use economy whatsoever. For a military service that prides "beating feet" I did an awful lot of driving around Fort Meade when I was stationed there. The only thing centrally located on that base is the golf course! Wasted land and few sidewalks between buildings, much of it nowhere near the main entrance. No regular base shuttles. It was not uncommon for me to make 20+ car trips a day while I was stationed there.

Working for the Department of Defense at most facilities demands that you own a car. For me, the cost of owning a car (car payment + insurance + maintenance + gas to and from work only) is 20% of my take home salary. And I'm not exactly driving a Lexus.

Which is why I was not surprised when someone in my office confided in me that his electricity had been shut off because he had recently spent a great deal of money on some car troubles. He literally had to choose between getting to work and powering his home. And this is a GS-11 with a very modest mortgage who lives less than 5 miles from Fort Meade. The DoD doesn't fathom any other method of commuting besides the automobile. This is evident by looking at the amount of parking at the Pentagon, which has its own Metro Station served by two lines.

I have a couple ideas. Extend the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir. Extend the Green Line from Branch Avenue to Andrews AFB, or perhaps the Purple Line. Bring Metro up from Greenbelt to BWI with a stop at Fort Meade or the NSA. How about programs that encourage people moving to BRAC jobs to purchazse houses near transit lines that lead to their jobs? Developing the bases so that they can sustain a level of walkability from the main gates to the job centers? Imagine how fewer cars at checkpoints could be a good thing for bases. Hell, I even think military bases are good places to experiment with PRT to get people from transit to and around job centers on post. At this point, anything is better than the meager road widenings that have been announced.

6 comments:

Andrew said...

Quantico has a VRE station right near the town. Many functions are within a 10 min walk but there is no shuttle or bus system to get around the base beyond that.

Anonymous said...

The Blue Line can easily be extended to Ft. Belvoir along existing railroad tracks. I know this doesn't solve the problem of getting to the Proving Ground or getting around either part, but it's a quick and relatively inexpensive start.

Anonymous said...

And it's only going to get worse: since 9/11 security requirements and setbacks require such distances between buildings that you'll never get a walking environment...

Cavan said...

don't even bother with the giving the military bases transit access. It's just a waste and takes away from service to other places that already have demand and strained tansit service.
I'm not anti-military. I just don't think it's worth it until the DoD recognizes and changes its foul, expensive, inefficient land-use patterns.
They'll start to provide shuttles to existing train/Metro stations when none of their employees show up for work because they can't afford to.
Sad but true.

Dave Murphy said...

Cavan,

Fort Meade is the halfway mark between DC and Baltimore. It makes sense to put transit there, as it has more jobs then anywhere else in Central Maryland but is severely lacking in the transit department. Military TOD is a bold concept, but if they are trying it at Belvoir, they ought to try it at Meade, even if it means redesigning the entire base.

Squalish said...

The CIA's situation, a sea of parking overlooking the Potomac, is similar. I'm not sure whether the military is actively hostile to maximizing their density & encouraging transit (on the basis that they wouldn't be budgeted as much as other branches/agencies) or what. It's not like we're just talking about munitions dumps - base housing is built so far apart it can make the exurbs look like a metropolis.