The Pentagon should spend more to ease stop-and-go traffic outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord and other growing military installations, the National Research Council recommended in a report released Monday.
That’s difficult, however, because the Defense Department has only one fund that pays for off-base roadwork, and the threshold to open that checkbook is generally out of reach for Lewis-McChord and other bases in urban areas, the study found.
In addition, civilian traffic projects often don’t rank as high for base officials, who have limited funds to spend on projects behind military gates that the Pentagon regards as essential for mission-readiness.
Steven Perrenot, Lewis-McChord’s public works director, told the researchers that off-base transportation work is a low priority compared with on-base needs such as barracks, range and training grounds, medical facilities, and utilities such as water, electrical and sewer.
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The study notes that “base commanders lack incentives, guidance, and resources to address the problems bases cause outside their gates.”
The report shows that the U.S. military is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to improve Lewis-McChord, but not on off-base roadwork.
The military spent $1.8 billion on capital projects at the base over the past three years, and it plans to spend another $2 billion over the next five.
Congress commissioned the study to analyze traffic impacts at six joint bases that are growing in size while other installations are in line to be closed or reduced.
Some of the six bases are located in densely populated areas, such as the Puget Sound and Fort Meade in suburban Washington, D.C. Lewis-McChord was the only base in the study west of Texas.
The base south of Tacoma swelled over the past decade, and the Army is prepping for even more growth there. By 2015, Lewis-McChord is expected to have 70 percent more military personnel than it had in 1990, the report says. More than 31,000 active-duty Army soldiers are stationed there now.
Despite the increasing numbers of soldiers, Interstate 5 capacity is much the same as it was before Lewis-McChord’s growth spurt began in earnest.
The state has identified about $1 billion in long-term capital projects it would need to ease I-5 traffic around Lewis-McChord. The study acknowledges that finding money for those improvements will be challenging as government agencies struggle to emerge from the recession.
“In any event, I-5, a critical link in the transportation network upon which JBLM is almost totally dependent, appears to be at the brink of expanded hours of stop-and-go operations that will compound delays and safety problems because of backups and loss of lane capacity on the interstate,” the study reads.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/military