Report: Defense funding needed to ease BRAC-related traffic congestion

A carpenter works on barracks at Fort Belvoir, Va. A carpenter works on barracks at Fort Belvoir, Va. Marc Barnes/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Defense Department should provide more support for transportation infrastructure in areas affected by its base consolidation initiative, according to a new report.

In a congressionally mandated study released Monday, the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board found that Defense's 2005 Base Realignment and Closure project is worsening traffic in already congested metropolitan areas. Personnel are moving faster than transportation infrastructure can be developed, and improvements needed to handle the extra demand are costly, the report found.

The board's Committee on Federal Funding of Transportation Improvements in BRAC Cases, which prepared the report, recommended Congress authorize a one-time appropriation of unused stimulus funds for critical transportation projects that would reduce congestion within three years. The committee also called on Defense to take more responsibility for developing roads and transit systems, a role generally left to state and local governments.

Defense Access Roads, the department's only off-base transportation program, is inadequate in congested areas because it requires traffic to double before providing project funding, the report found. In addition, the program does not fund transit services common in urban areas. Defense instead should establish an impact fee to pay for its share of metropolitan road improvements and create a separate program to pay for transit services, according to the committee.

"We're not simply talking about a mile outside Defense," said Joseph Sussman, committee chairman and professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We're talking about a more regional approach to understanding the congestion impacts that would occur as a result of movements into congested areas. … We're talking on the scale of miles."

Defense also should encourage telework, off-peak travel and carpooling, and offer financial incentives for base commanders who use these tools, the committee suggested.

According to Sussman, the funding required for new projects would vary by area, along with the amount both Defense and local transportation budgets would commit. In each case, a regional survey of the congestion caused by movements into BRAC bases and better communication between military and civilian officials would ameliorate some of the impact, he said.

"We're arguing for an even-handed approach," said Sussman. "DoD won't be funding the whole thing. There will also be local investments. We're not suggesting DoD cover everything but rather a cooperative effort."

Three areas in the National Capital Region are particular causes for concern, the committee found. Fort Belvoir in Virginia already is severely congested and lacks transit services. Environmental concerns and a lack of funding hamper development around the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Finally, Fort Meade in Maryland has limited public transit, and road improvement projects remain unfunded.

All BRAC moves must be completed by Sept. 15.

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