The U.S. Navy said Maryland should not plan on gaining control of “any” military property in Bethesda for the widening of the Capital Beltway.
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In a tersely-worded letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation, the U.S. Navy served notice that the state should not plan on gaining control of “any” military property in Bethesda for the widening of the Capital Beltway (I-495).
The letter also took the agency to task for not considering transit alternatives and the impacts of the pandemic on commuting patterns.
The Nov. 4 correspondence is among thousands of comments provided to MDOT during a just-completed public feedback period on the Hogan administration’s plan to add four “express toll lanes” to Interstates 495 and 270.
During testimony before a legislative panel on Friday, Transportation Secretary Greg Slater called the Navy’s objections “pretty significant and serious.” An influential local official agreed.
The two-page letter was signed by Capt. Mary S. Seymour, the Commanding Officer at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, a base whose main tenant is the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. A sprawling property across from the National Institutes of Health, NSA Bethesda fronts on MD 355 and borders the Beltway.
The Navy raises several objections to the state’s proposal to add four lanes to the two highways.
The letter chides MDOT for continuing to assert that it will take NSA Bethesda property for the project.
“As previously stated in multiple letters from the installation to MDOT, the Navy will not cede any property for the construction of this toll road,” Seymour writes. “Doing so would compromise Antiterrorism/Force Protection guidelines and impact the NSA Bethesda Mission. The Navy requests the project remove the property acquisition from consideration in the… analysis.”
The letter notes an “ongoing disagreement” between the state and Department of Defense over “right-of-way and fence line impacts” and finds MDOT’s “analysis of the construction footprint to be woefully inadequate.”
“The information in the [Draft Environmental Impact Statement] shows disruption to mission critical infrastructure on the northeast corner of the installation without providing any technical information on the potential size and duration of those impacts,” Seymour wrote.
“Impacts to those facilities and infrastructure will cause an immediate degradation of installation support services to Walter Reed Military Medical Center and mission critical construction. This is a direct contradiction to the DEIS assumption that “impacts to any individual facility would not alter access to or use of the hospital facilities.”
Echoing complaints from state legislators, local officials and members of the public, the Navy faults the state for failing to consider the potential benefits of increased transit. “This document is supposed to analyze a multi-modal transportation system, yet focuses exclusively on toll roads.”
In addition, the letter urged greater analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on both road and transit use. “These impacts are changing commuter behavior and should be reflected in this document,” Seymour told MDOT.
In an appearance before a House Transportation and Environment subcommittee on Friday, Slater, the state’s transportation chief, told lawmakers he had read the Navy’s letter.
“I think certainly some of the concerns that they’ve raised are pretty significant and serious,” he said….