- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Second of two parts

The Washington area has seen the beginning of dramatic growth as federal agencies build new office space and the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) moves forward. One of the local entities seeing speedy growth is Fort George G. Meade. By 2011, nearly 22,000 jobs will be established on the post.

“Maryland was a big winner in the 2005 BRAC,” said Andrew J. Scott, special assistant to the secretary for economic development in the Maryland Department of Transportation. “Maryland as a state has taken a comprehensive approach to it. We’ve come up with a state BRAC action plan with local input looking at the local plans. We’re really in the process now of implementing. Planning’s over.”

By itself, the BRAC effort will relocate 5,700 jobs to Fort Meade. The development of work space by other federal agencies — such as the National Security Agency — and the Army’s expansion plans will bring even more jobs to the fort.

According to Robert C. Leib, special assistant for BRAC/education in Anne Arundel County, the regional growth committee — which is made up of eight counties and two cities — is also planning ahead for the expected rise in residential and transportation needs.

Several studies have been done to determine where the incoming people may put down their roots. Laurel alone could expect eventually to have nearly 260 new homeowners.

“Over the next three to five years, we believe you’re going to have up to 900 households relocate into the Odenton-BWI corridor. We believe 700 households will relocate into the Crofton-Waugh Chapel-Piney Orchard corridor,” Mr. Leib said.

The Mountain Road corridor, the Annapolis area and the southern end of Anne Arundel County are expected to have nearly 1,000 households take up residence.

Federal agencies are offering workers many benefits for moving. For example, the Defense Information Systems Agency is offering its employees a large package of assistance with moving costs. “What they’d be telling you right now,” Mr. Leib said, “is if you move your household to Maryland, we’ll pay you to 1) move your household goods. We’ll pay for 90 days’ storage, and, oh, by the way, if you need 90 days more, we’ll pay you for that, too. We’ll also give you up to 10 percent of the sales price of your home in Virginia and up to 5 percent of the sales price in Maryland.”

Mr. Leib said he thinks this is a terrific package to get workers to look at moving rather than commuting to Fort Meade. Even so, the housing slump of the past two years has made the relocation process slower than first anticipated. Homeowners are not as eager to sell when the value of their homes has dropped.

“Three years ago, we thought we’d have a good relocation chunk early in this process,” Mr. Leib said. “We now believe it’s going to be a commuting process early on.”

Tens of thousands of new workers, whether commuting or living in the Fort Meade area, will mean a substantial growth in the demands made on the transportation infrastructure.

“A little bit before the BRAC action plan, within the Department of Transportation, we did a traffic impact study looking at each of the major installations that were gaining jobs and those that had a major BRAC consolidation going on. Bethesda, Fort Meade and the Aberdeen Proving Ground were the big three in the state in terms of the job impacts,” Mr. Scott explained.

Around Fort Meade, Mr. Scott said traffic modeling was used to identify the transportation hot spots. “We’ve narrowed it down to six priority intersections. Our intent is to design improvements that can be implemented quickly.”

Building or expanding roads are major projects that can take eight to 15 years, according to Mr. Scott. Each project must have its own extensive study done under the National Environmental Protection Act, and the study alone takes years. Long-term plans, such as widening Maryland 175 and Maryland 198 are in the works, but the state also has focused on short-term goals that can be built relatively rapidly.

Those six intersections present their own challenges. “The bottom line is, even with those six hot spots, even narrowing our focus to that, we don’t have enough funds to build all of them,” Mr. Scott said.

A modest intersection improvement can cost upward of $30 million, and neither the state government nor the federal government has enough money to pour into all these projects.

“The State Highway Trust Fund is on life support,” Mr. Leib said. “The Federal Highway Trust Fund is even worse.”

Mr. Scott said, “Basically, we’ve really taken a beating in the economy like everyone else. We had to defer $2.1 billion in projects. We’re pursuing multiple sources of revenue. Basically, there’s no silver bullet to fund all of this at once.”

With enough money to move one project forward, the key question becomes, what is that project?

According to Mr. Scott, discussions between the state and Anne Arundel County are leaning toward the improvement of the Maryland 175/Disney/Ridge Road Project. “That seems to be emerging as the priority.” Mr. Scott was quick to add that this is still in discussion, and no decision has been finalized.

The Department of Defense has been of some help in getting funding. “There is a federal DOD fund that can be used for off-site improvements,” Mr. Scott said. “It’s called the Defense Access Roads Program. There are very strict criteria as to what will qualify. Basically, the Department of Defense wants to spend its dollars on defense, not on roads. But the local garrisons are helping us try to make that case, so that’s another source of revenue we’re pursuing.”

Roads are only one aspect of the transportation questions. “One important thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is MARC,” Mr. Scott said.

The Maryland Area Regional Commuter train system runs two lines between Washington and areas north of Baltimore. “MARC is really a central part of our BRAC strategy at the state level because you’re touching two of the major installations — Fort Meade and Aberdeen.”

The problem being explored is how to get federal workers from the MARC station to their offices in the heart of the installations.

“It’s very challenging to serve these installations because they’re so big,” Mr. Scott said. “People use transit when it’s convenient.”

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, access to military facilities and federal centers has been severely restricted, and commuter or shuttle buses can’t get on base very easily. “We want to negotiate arrangements with the garrisons to get the buses through security,” Mr. Scott said. “Pre-9/11, it was a lot easier for transit agencies to get their buses on.”

Discussions are continuing to make MARC a viable and attractive alternative for the incoming work force that will be in place by 2011.

“Our strategy is multimodal, meaning BRAC is like any other challenge to Maryland,” Mr. Scott said. “You can’t do it all with roads; you can’t do it all with transit. You need to consider smart growth.”

• Nathanael T. Miller is a writer living in Prince George’s County.

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