On a visit Tuesday to Lakewood, Sen. Patty Murray announced a $250,000 grant to fund a South Sound regional planning group that works with Joint Base Lewis-McChord to ease the impacts of military growth in Pierce and Thurston counties.
The money from the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment buys at least another year for the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership. That group previously funded a 2010 study that analyzed Lewis-McChord’s effects on services including health care, traffic and crime.
The partnership brings together about 15 local government and military agencies. Together, they prioritize projects that could help civilian communities adjust to the Army’s growing ranks south of Tacoma. The group has representatives from schools, social services agencies and city governments.
Its work helps lobby for public projects, such as an upcoming $5.7 million improvement to the “Freedom Bridge” off the Berkeley Street exit from Interstate 5 to Lakewood and Madigan Army Medical Center. The partnership also helped make the case for the construction of two new schools on Lewis-McChord.
“Speaking as one voice in tight budgets is always the best thing to do,” Murray said at a partnership meeting Tuesday.
Lewis-McChord is the nation’s third-largest military installation. It grew rapidly over the past decade and now has more than 42,000 service members, including more than 34,000 active-duty soldiers. In 2003, Fort Lewis had about 19,000 active-duty soldiers.
Lakewood Mayor Doug Richardson teased Murray about one of the region’s primary goals for Lewis-McChord: a road that would connect the Air Force side of the base at McChord Air Field to the Army buildings known as Lewis Main.
The road would ease traffic on I-5 because people living on the base would not have to get on the highway to travel between McChord and Lewis.
“Did you bring a check for that?” Richardson joked.
“That’ll take some work,” Murray replied.