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Patrick O'Neil's Letter to the Editor re BRAC Appears in Washington Post

The Washington Post

The following Letter to the Editor appeared in the February 20, 2011 edition of The Washington Post:

Bethesda braces for a BRAC traffic nightmare

By Patrick L. O’Neil, Bethesda

On Sept. 15, the gates will open at the new Walter Reed Medical Center on the campus of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. But will anyone be able to get there?

The new Walter Reed sits in the heart of the region’s most congested commuter corridors along Rockville Pike, Connecticut Avenue, Old Georgetown Road and Jones Bridge Road. Starting with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) consolidation at Naval Medical in September, the congestion is going to get worse — a lot worse. Think last month’s snow-related traffic nightmare, except as a regular occurrence.

When federal BRAC legislation mandated that Walter Reed combine its operations with Navy Medical to better serve the nation’s wounded warriors, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase business community welcomed the news, with one caveat — it had to be done right. By all accounts, the expanded medical facilities will allow our most deserving patients to receive the highest level of care. Congress has invested billions of dollars to provide state-of-the-art equipment and resources to aid their recovery. But Congress has failed to provide the necessary resources that will allow caregivers and families of wounded service personnel, who are critical to that recovery, the ability to reach the campus in a timely manner.

In broad terms, Bethesda is bracing for thousands of new employees, and over 500,000 more patients and visitors each year because of BRAC. Already-intolerable gridlock will become nightmarish. Shovel-ready plans have been devised that could mitigate these BRAC impacts on the surrounding transportation infrastructure. However, Congress has refused to properly fund them.

To be fair, our local congressman, Chris Van Hollen, has shown exemplary leadership in trying to get the needed funding. But we need his colleagues to get on board, and soon. Without congressional action, what the country is left with is a first-class medical center with seemingly Third World access outside the gates.

The writer is chairman of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.



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