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A new study by the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board is calling on Congress to offer unused stimulus money to cover some of the costs of installing new infrastructure to deal with growth from the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Initiative while also suggesting local and state governments work together with the Department of Defense to shoulder the cost.
If the recommendations are implemented, it may provide a route for the state to offset some of the millions of dollars in transportation costs it is incurring to build and expand roads in response to the BRAC movement at Fort Knox.
The report was outlined Monday morning during a conference call in which members of the committee charged to produce the report addressed reporters about the traffic deluge surrounding 18 sites chosen as part of this round of BRAC and potential short-term and long-term solutions to reduce the burden and return roadways to pre-BRAC traffic conditions.
Specifically, the report looks heavily at urban areas where substantial construction is unlikely because of the metropolitan structure surrounding the posts and the lack of space for new building.
To gain an understanding of the type of traffic problems occurring because of BRAC, the committee chose six of the 18 sites affected and spoke with state and local officials as well as military officials in each locale to get an outline of the congestion and its source, said Joseph M. Sussman, committee chairman and JR East Professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.
The sites were chosen, according to the report, to develop a diverse range of civil transportation problems in areas where funding gaps are identified.
Three of the sites — Fort Belvoir, Va.; Fort Meade, Md.; and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. — are located in the region around Washington, D.C., where traffic congestion is already at a peak. The committee also examined Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Fort Bliss in Texas and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State.
In almost all cases, Sussman said, no true solutions have been identified to curb the new traffic load, with most transportation projects taking anywhere from nine to 20 years to complete after planning and environmental analyses are finished. And with September looming, it is “virtually tomorrow” when the sites and their surrounding communities are expected to finish their realignments and tackle the new population shift, he said.
“Normal planning and funding will not be adequate to make near-term improvements needed to avoid significant, even severe, added traffic congestion in some BRAC cases,” Sussman said in a prepared statement.
In Fort Knox’s case, work is under way to implement a number of new traffic projects, such as the Elizabethtown to Radcliff connector, which is expected to start this spring and could be completed by late 2013. In most cases, the projects are expected to be completed by 2014. Last year, the Kentucky General Assembly allocated about $150 million for new infrastructure related to BRAC — roughly $112 million for roads alone.
One of the suggestions made by the committee was for Congress to consider reallocating a portion of unused stimulus money to assist projects that could be initiated within a year and finished within three years in areas severely affected by BRAC.
When asked if some of the approved projects in the Hardin County area would qualify, Sussman said he was not certain and it would need to be addressed through negotiations between federal and state officials.
Another problem facing BRAC sites is the limited amount of aid provided by The Department of Defense for off-base transportation facilities, according to the report. The main source of DOD support —the Defense Access Roads program — is insufficient to help large urban areas because of the stringent criteria, which Sussman said calls for a doubling of traffic to qualify for money. While this may be possible in open-spaced rural areas, he said, it is all but impossible in a large urban area already prone to congestion.
In response, the committee has asked DOD to replace the requirement and take more responsibility for the BRAC-related projects because of the negative impact the initiative is making on communities. Sussman said this could be assessed with an impact fee. Thomas B. Deen, a transportation consultant with the National Research Council, said impact fees have been used for years in the private sector for large-scale economic developments and could be paid in a similar way by the DOD.
By the same token, Sussman said states and localities directly affected and benefiting from the BRAC movement will need to “pony up” and “pay their share” as a way of cooperation. The report also calls for better communication between the military and affected communities in coordinating and planning infrastructure improvements.
Traffic has been a problem for months along major thoroughfares in Hardin County as “the big inhale” unwinds in preparation of the Armor Center’s departure this year, but the partnership between the post and Hardin County communities has rarely been questioned. Col. Eric Schwartz, garrison commander at Fort Knox, recently praised the efforts of local and state officials to prepare for BRAC and regaled the progress of the post as it expects to finish the transformation under budget and without weakening the post’s effectiveness.
Stories like Fort Knox are the exception rather than the rule, according to Sussman. Of the six areas studied, only Fort Bliss had taken great strides to prepare in advance of the final arrival of new soldiers and dependents to the El Paso, Texas, area in 2012, according to the report. In doing so, Sussman said the state and community “took the bull by the horns” and identified a new segment of highway early in the process, finding funding and completing environmental reviews well in advance. The project is scheduled for completion by winter 2011, according to the report.
Improvements still are needed in El Paso, according to the project, but “the case shows how base growth can be accommodated when a community and state are committed to support the project and land is available for capacity expansion.”
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.