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Posts about Fort Meade

Transit


DoD begins encouraging transit for BRAC commuters

The Department of Defense is now promoting alternatives to to the more than 5,800 employees relocating to Fort Meade in August due to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) changes.


Odenton MARC station. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) headquarters is moving from the Pentagon in Virginia to Fort Meade in Maryland, and represents a substantial number of the relocated jobs. Unlike the the Pentagon, which is adjacent to Metro's Blue and Yellow lines and one of the largest bus hubs in Arlington, Fort Meade is nearly transit-inaccessible.

Approximately 25 MARC trains (PDF) on the Penn Line stop daily at nearby Odenton Station Monday through Friday. Several organizations on Fort Meade offer shuttle service from the station to their facilities, which are about two to five miles from the station.

Virginia-based DISA workers certainly have no reason to celebrate their commute being lengthened up to 30 miles each way due to the move. But the commute might not be as daunting as expected thanks to a couple of commuting options that DISA and other DoD Agencies are pushing to their employees.

For commuters who live near VRE stations, there is a cross honor agreement with MARC, allowing riders on inbound VRE trains a free transfer to outbound MARC trains.

If, for instance, riders are coming from Woodbridge and going to Fort Meade, they only need a ticket to Union Station, where they can then board an outbound MARC train to Odenton for free. This is still long commute with two transfers (VRE to MARC, MARC to shuttle), but with the federal mass transit subsidy recently being raised to $230 a month, it can be done for no additional money out-of-pocket.

For those who can get to Union Station via Metro or bus, MARC has the Transit Link Card (TLC). For $102 in addition to a MARC monthly pass ($125 for Union Station to Odenton), the TLC will offer unlimited monthly ridership on any service that accepts SmarTrip or Charm Cards.

The monthly cost for those going to Fort Meade via Odenton is $227, which again can be covered in full by the federal mass transit subsidy. Additionally, the TLC card can be used on weekends and holidays, making it fiscally advantageous for Fort Meade commuters to potentially give up their cars all together.

MARC's TLC can be used with Metro, Metrobus, DC Circulator, the future DC Streetcar, ART, CUE, DASH, Fairfax Connector, Loudon County Commuter Bus, OmniRide, Ride-On, TheBus, the Baltimore Subway and Light Rail, and any MTA bus. This connectivity makes it a highly viable option for Washington and Baltimore commuters to other BRAC sites, including Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which is also served by the MARC Penn Line.

Currently, MARC's TLC is the only way to get an unlimited use pass from Metro. MARC's TLC is the only pass that allows unlimited rides on multiple modes. Non-MARC Metro riders can use rail and bus passes which are fairly limited; several have recommended creating more flexible passes.

Will these services prevent a traffic nightmare from occurring? Probably not. MARC service is limited and does not run on weekends, and many employees relocating from Virginia are probably not keen on 2-hour commutes with multiple mode shifts.

DISA's move to Fort Meade isolates the agency from DoD headquarters and other related agencies in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, which in turn means more and longer commutes for meetings and conferences. This will also be the case with most agencies that are moving from the DC core to transit-poor exurbs in the BRAC as land in the city core sits undeveloped.

Nevertheless, the fact that the DoD is beginning to recognize the importance of mass transit's role in providing an efficient way for employees to reach their facilities is an important step in the right direction.

Transit


Can MARC serve Fort Meade?

Fort Meade is a transit black hole with growing traffic and horrible parking. I worked on Fort Meade for the better part of a decade. It made me hate commuting more than any Beltway traffic ever did. It is virtually impossible to get there without a car, and the parking is years of expansion beyond critical mass.


Savage MARC station. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The disastrous runoff and increasing traffic are wreaking havoc on the Patuxent River estuaries, and it is only going to get worse as Fort Meade receives almost 6,000 new BRAC jobs.

I have in the past called for Metro service to the base to service the 50,000 military, DoD, and contractors that work on the base and the adjacent facilities. And though that sure would be a nice connection, I am finally coming around to the reality that it would be more infrastructure investment that it would ever worth.

The fact remains, however, that the base and surrounding facilities are not served by the MARC lines that run by either side of it. What more an obvious solution than to put a connection between the two of them?


View MARC Meade Line in a larger map.

MARC trains could leave Union Station and follow the Camden Line to Savage, where half of the trains would continue along the current Camden Line, and the other half turn onto a spur going eastward along MD-32. The spur would connect to the Penn Line at Odenton and continue to Baltimore and beyond. Stops along the way could include National Business Park, NSA, and the Fort Meade main gate. New tracks would be about six and a half miles long. Portions could easily be constructed along defunct railroad rights-of-way.

The Camden Line, which runs along Route 1 all the way from DC to Baltimore, has several stations including Laurel, Muirkirk, and Riverdale Park which are struggling to implement transit-oriented development. The Camden Line, however, has by far the lowest level of service on the system, and that will still be the case when MARC's 2035 plan is complete. A Meade connection could allow more service on the southern half of the Camden Line, which could strengthen those TOD projects.

Best of all, this connection would bring a viable transit alternative to a growing facility with worsening traffic and catastrophic parking problems. It would bring regular, high capacity transit at a minimal infrastructure investment.

Transit


Is a Green Line extension wise?

Commenters raised a variety of objections to the possibility of extending the Green Line to Fort Meade, as Prince George's County is proposing.


Photo by morganglines.

Some argued that the corridor was not viable to support Metro, it was already served by the Camden Line of MARC, and that it's too far away from the city. For full disclosure, I am employed at Fort Meade, and I was stationed there while I was enlisted in the Army. But with of my experiences commuting there, I feel that a case can be made in support of the extension despite these arguments. Here are some responses to the major objections.

Upgrades to the MARC Camden Line would be a more suitable, cheaper alternative that would service the same areas.

The MARC stations closest to Fort Meade are Savage and Odenton. They are two and five miles, respectively, from the NSA main gate, and each three miles from the main gate of the fort. For comparison, the main intersection in Tysons Corner is less than three miles from Vienna and West Falls Church stations, but they are building the Silver Line specifically to serve this enormous job center. But shuttle buses from the existing Orange Line stations in Virginia are certainly not accepted as suitable transportation options for Tysons Corner.

According to the MARC Growth and Investment Plan (pdf), if all improvements to the Camden Line are made by the end of the improvements phase in 2035, the Camden Line will have a ridership capacity of 17,000/day. There are 50,000 jobs today on Fort Meade alone, not to mention the surrounding areas. BRAC jobs are coming, and that area could have 80,000+ jobs by 2035. With such a low capacity and no stations serving the base directly, this service would be grossly inferior next to a Green Line extension. Also, the current ridership of the Penn Line is 19,000/day. No stops on the Penn Line have induced serious transit-oriented development anywhere on the system where a Metro station is not present. Why should we expect the Camden Line to do so with lower ridership capacity?

The MARC Brunswick line also duplicates the part of the western branch of the Red Line. Twinbrook, Rockville, and Shady Grove are at similar distances from downtown as Laurel and Fort Meade. It would be far cheaper to shut down these three stations and operate MARC only, but there are no calls for that. MARC began operations in 1983, whereas these Metro stations opened after MARC began service on the corridor. And MARC's Brunswick Line offers more service than the Camden Line. Why is this sort of transit set-up acceptable in Montgomery County, but not Prince George's? Nowhere along that corridor is there a concentration of jobs like there is at Fort Meade.

Fort Meade would never allow a Metro station for security reasons.

Precedent has certainly been set for this with the heavily-used Metro station underneath the Pentagon. There are also proposals to extend the Blue or Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir. The new streetcars will serve Bolling AFB. I find it hard to believe that a transit station would be considered more dangerous than the thousands of cars entering and exiting the base every day.

Fort Meade would not generate the ridership to warrant a dedicated full service transit station.

Fort Meade is currently the largest job center in the State of Maryland, and after Tysons Corner and Downtown Washington, the third largest in the region. It is also the fastest growing. According to the 2000 James Bamford book Body of Secrets, the NSA has 30,000 employees. Most of those are at the Fort Meade facility, and it is safe to assume that those numbers have increased greatly since Bamford's pre-9/11 book was published. The hundreds of acres of parking on the NSA campus are filled to the brim on even an average workday. Certainly a direct-service transit station would be a welcome relief.

What about a light rail line connecting Columbia and Annapolis to MARC and Fort Meade?

It would probably be a good compliment to a Metro Line and MARC service, much like the Corridor Cities Transitway proposal would compliment existing Metro and MARC service in Rockville/Gaithersburg. It would not induce transit-oriented development along Route 1, and it would not improve Fort Meade's connectivity to other defense employment centers as much as the Green Line Extension. Furthermore, light rail would require a transfer for commuters coming from Baltimore and Washington, which is known to deter transit ridership.

Fort Meade is too far from the city center to warrant Metro service.

Compare:

  • The final station on the Silver Line, VA Route 772, is 30 track miles from Metro Center and 27 miles from the transfer at Rosslyn.
  • On the Red Line, Shady Grove station is 19 track miles from Metro Center, which is the closest transfer station. This does not take into account ACT's proposal to extend the Red Line 7 miles to Germantown.
  • Franconia to Metro Center on the Blue Line is 19 miles, and Virginia is proposing extensions several miles further south and west.
  • The Odenton Green Line station would be 29½ track miles from Gallery Place, 24½ from the transfer at Ft. Totten. If the line were to only go to Laurel (the extent of the proposal in the county's transportation plan), subtract 10 miles. But in my opinion, if the line were to go all the way to Laurel, it may as well go those last few miles for the sake of servicing a job center that rivals Tysons Corner in size and importance.
This corridor has the potential to grow Washington's urban fabric into Baltimore's urban fabric. This is a good thing. If Metro should extend 30 miles outside the center of the city in any direction, it should be towards Baltimore, its most prominent neighbor, the largest population and economic center in the state of Maryland, and the next big city along the Northeast corridor. The Silver Line, Red Line, and Blue Line punch into areas that 20 years ago had little beyond them other than farms. They're more like "greenfield" lines, whereas this Green Line Extension is more like a "brownfield line" repurposing existing development in a more transit friendly manner.

Fort Meade would be better served by Baltimore public transportation.

Debatable. Fort Meade would best be served by BOTH transportation systems. However, Fort Meade is a large government facility with mostly government-related jobs in its vicinity. Government, of course, is the leading "industry" of Washington, DC. Especially government defense. Jobs at Fort Meade are more closely related to jobs in the DC area than the Baltimore area for the most part. It makes more sense for a DC system to directly service this bustling defense job center. Of course, I certainly wouldn't object MTA light rail or rapid transit eventually serving the base as well.

Most employees at Fort Meade live in Howard and Anne Arundel Counties and would not benefit from the new transit line.

Anecdotally, I have several friends who "reverse commute" from Capitol Hill, Silver Spring, and Arlington to Fort Meade. Many also commute from Federal Hill and Canton up in Baltimore. But if our mass transit systems are to grow together, Fort Meade would be an ideal location, directly in between the downtowns of DC and Baltimore. Having worked at Fort Meade for 8 years, I've noticed that newer, younger employees tend to live closer to the cities and older employees settled in Howard and Anne Arundel. If city-dwelling youngsters choose to remain close to DC and Baltimore as the older "car generation" employees retire, this trend towards the cities will obviously increase over time. More importantly, if the base were directly served by mass transit, it stands to reason that new and existing employees would move to areas along the route that serves the base, much like we can expect workers at Tysons Corner to move toward areas closer to the Silver Line once it opens.

This area is different from Tysons Corner because it is further away from the city, and Tysons isn't served by any rail service at all.

As mentioned above, Tysons Corner is more closely served by Metro than Fort Meade is served by MARC. True, Tysons is closer to DC, but Fort Meade lies along the Northeast Corridor, arguably the most important corridor extending from Washington, DC. And Fort Meade is still pretty close to both DC and Baltimore, which, as mentioned above, makes it a logical place for Baltimore and Washington's transit systems to meet. Furthermore, job centers in Montgomery County along the western Red Line lie further outside the Beltway than Tysons and those areas are served by both Metro and MARC.

This area is different from the western Red Line Corridor because that area is a growing job center.

Fort Meade is in fact a growing job center. The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) will be moving 5,700 government jobs to Fort Meade. These will mostly be defense-related jobs that could benefit greatly from having a single-mode transit connection to other defense/government job centers in the DC area, such as the Pentagon, Fort Belvoir, Bethesda Medical Center, and Andrews AFB. Additionally, many stations on the western Red Line are used to connect into points south, hence there is little "reverse commuting" to Rockville and Gaithersburg. On the other hand, a job center at the end of the Green Line could certainly induce transit use in both directions during the rush hours.

The real purpose for the line is to bring transit to Kingdon Gould III's Konterra development. I don't want my tax dollars going toward giving a rich guy a bigger return on his investment.

It's very likely that pro-Konterra lobbyists pushed to include this measure in the Prince George's County Transportation Plan (1, 2). The plan's alignment, however, does not run through Konterra. It is about a mile from the planned town center. If a Metro station opens adjacent to the existing Muirkirk MARC station, perhaps it could induce better land use on the mile of office parks that separate the two locations. And even if it makes Mr. Gould a little richer, more efficient land use benefits a lot of people, not just the land owner.

Route 1 is not conducive to transit oriented development.

The Route 1 corridor is a commodity. From Mount Rainier to Laurel it is mostly traditionally-laid-out towns and neighborhoods. The stretch north of the Beltway lies directly between 1-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which could act act as natural growth boundaries for development. Route 1 has a Main Street feel in Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, and parts of College Park, then it deteriorates to strip malls until Laurel, where it becomes more of a Main Street again. Metro stations could induce growth that will tie all that good urbanism together, creating a giant Main Street from the DC line to the Patuxent River and perhaps a little beyond.

Laurel is a city of 20,000 people, too small and out-of-the-way to warrant Metro.

Commenter David C brought this up, comparing the size of Laurel to that of Bowie and suggesting extending the Blue Line through Bowie instead of the Green through Laurel. Incorporated Laurel proper was estimated in 2007 as having a population of about 21,600 compared to Bowie, which has over 50,000. But Bowie is far more spread out than Laurel because it has been annexing sprawling residential developments for decades. If Laurel City were to annex every community that had a Laurel zip code, its population would be close to 90,000 in a size roughly the same as incorporated Bowie. Laurel is a dense, centralized municipality that has been taking progressive transportation measures and has the potential to grow around a Metro station probably faster than anywhere else in Prince George's County. But like Kensington in Montgomery County, Laurel has not been able to induce as much transit-oriented development that the town could potentially support because it has a MARC station, not a Metro station. Bowie, on the other hand, is far more car-oriented, decentralized and sprawling. Laurel was on the radar to get a service when the plan for Metro was conceived. in the '60's, certainly it hasn't diminished in importance since then.

MARC can induce transit oriented development along Route 1.

Again, the Penn Line currently has higher ridership than the Camden Line will have in 2035 if all the improvements are made to the line. Nowhere on the Penn Line supports strong transit-oriented development without a Metro station there, not even Penn Station in downtown Baltimore. This is not an anomaly. Transit-oriented development has not occurred very much near standalone MARC stations.

Prince George's County has not proven that it can grow in a transit-friendly way around Metro stations.

This is true. Prince George's County has not implemented TOD well at any of the 15 Metro stations currently operating in the county. Many of the stations, however, are relatively new. All of the Green Line and the last two stations on the Blue Line have opened in the last 10 years, and good TOD takes time. Gallery Place/Chinatown was empty buildings and warehouses not too long ago. But the fact remains, Prince George's County has been slow moving on progressive development around transit. Fairfax County has notproven much better though, and yet the Silver Line is still being constructed largely there with bits in super-sprawly Loudon County

Prince George's County has initiatives (PDF) to improve land use around Metro, and the future looks good at stations like Suitland, Branch Avenue, New Carrollton (pdf), Capitol Heights (pdf), Addison Road, West Hyattsville, Prince George's Plaza, and Greenbelt. The county's development policies certainly are not the best, but they are progressively improving implementation of transit-oriented development.

Okay, fine. But it's too expensive.

No doubt any extension of Metro will cost billions of dollars. In Prince George's County, unfortunately, the many highway additions outlined by the Transportation Plan will be competing for that money. But "too expensive" almost kept the Orange Line out from under Wilson Boulevard and instead in the median of I-66. It very well may have kept the Silver Line from getting built. If Fort Meade is a job center with the size and importance comparable to Tyson's Corner, it is worth the investment.

Will it get built? Who knows. Should it be prioritized over other Metro expansions that could increase core capacity? Certainly not. But dismissing this plan because it is far out there, expensive, or could be served by inferior methods is a mistake. More importantly, Prince George's County has finally taken progressive stances to promote mass transit. Arguing it down is the quickest way to send that investment to another highway widening in a county notorious for dangerous pedestrian conditions and high rates of traffic deaths. As commenter Jasper pointed out, transit advocates ought to unite behind mass transit expansion, lest proposals like these be dropped for yet more highways.

Transit


Imagine the Green Line to Fort Meade

On Monday night, Prince George's County voted on its transportation master plan update, including a recommendation to extend the Green Line to Fort Meade.


Photo by Andrew|W.

The master plan calls for creating, extending, or widening several highways throughout the county, greenfield development outside the Beltway, and some other Cold War-era fixes to Prince George's transportation problems. The county's ample highways have been described to me by my coworkers as "the only thing worth visiting in Prince George's County". As a resident, I disagree wholeheartedly, but it is hard to dispute that many people use the B-W Parkway, I-95, US-50, MD-4, MD-5, and Indian Head Highway as through routes to get to "nicer" exurban communities in Howard, Anne Arundel, and Charles County.

The plan does, however, propose many transit improvements. Most notably, at least for Laurel residents like me, is the Green Line extension proposed through Beltsville, Laurel, and on to Fort Meade. The county's proposal for this extension doesn't cater directly to greenfield development like older proposals for the extension that followed I-95 to MD-32 on a circuitous route through southeastern Columbia en route to BWI. The route shown below follows the CSX corridor in Prince George's County, as indicated in the master plan. If the Green Line is extended to Fort Meade, it would probably look a lot like this:


View Green Line Extension in a larger map.

Here's a possible list of stations:

  • Beltsville (Baltimore Avenue and Powder Mill Road)
  • Muirkirk/Konterra (Baltimore Avenue at Muirkirk Road)
  • Laurel Lakes (Cherry Lane between Baltimore Avenue and MD 197)
  • Laurel (Main Street at First Street)
  • Savage/Annapolis Junction (Brock Bridge Road at Dorsey Run Road)
  • National Business Park (MD 32 and National Business Pkwy)
  • National Security Agency (MD 32 and Canine Road)
  • Fort Meade Main Gate (MD 32 and Mapes Road)
  • Odenton Town Center (Odenton Road and Morgan Drive)
Fort Meade is the largest job center in the state of Maryland, and it is currently unserved by transit. A Green Line extension would enable reverse commutes from Washington, DC and the Route 1 corridor while facilitating transit-oriented development along Route 1.

Servicing Fort Meade also would meet some of the transportation challenges presented by BRAC's relocation of 5,700 jobs to Fort Meade. Metro access to the base's facilities would eliminate the need for massive highway widening around this job center. The existing transit on the corridor, the MARC Camden Line, suffers from poor service because it shares tracks with the CSX freight trains, does not serve Fort Meade, and has not induced any TOD. This alignment would most likely overcome those shortcomings and better integrate northeastern Prince George's County into the urban fabric of the DC metropolitan area.

Cross-posted on Imagine, DC.

Roads


cArmy Base: Fort Meade

Military bases dot the landscape all around the Capital region. This is a unique presence, as many cities in America are largely defined by the one or two military bases near their boundaries, like Fayetteville, North Carolina; Pensacola, Florida; Kileen, Texas; Norfolk and even San Diego. Washington, DC, however, is home to the entire Federal Government, so a few military bases is pocket change in comparison. Among the most prominent is a WWI-era base halfway between DC and Baltimore called Fort George G. Meade.


Photo from the Army.

Nestled at the northeast corner of the junction of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and MD-32, Fort Meade is by far the largest single job center in the state of Maryland and, after Downtown and Tysons Corner, the third largest in the metro area, and this does not account for National Business Park, a huge complex of government contractor buildings right across the B-W Parkway. Fort Meade is home to tens of thousands of military personnel from all five branches, plus retirees. It houses several major Army units, including the Defense Information School, Defense Courier Service, and the US Army Field Band. The Environmental Protection Agency has a large facility, and let's not forget about the National Security Agency, which housed over 30,000 jobs according to James Bamford's 2000 book Body of Secrets. No doubt that number has increased in recent years. Additionally, 5,700 jobs are being relocated to Fort Meade in the Base Relocation and Closure.

The continued growth of the base is a big isssue, considering the institutional problems within the defense department when it comes to planning policy. The Pentagon, for example, sits atop two lines of Metro, yet it still has the largest surface parking lot in Arlington County. Fort Meade's total surface parking rivals (if not overtakes) FedEx Field's. This is particularly alarming considering the surface parking's negative effects on storm water runoff into the adjacent Patuxent Research Refuge (to the point where the NSA has an entire section devoted to it on its website). But the base's planning priority? Two 18 hole golf courses to "maintain soldiers' quality of life."

Surely with all these jobs, thousands of residents, and an explosion of growth in the near future, there must be some kind of transit node on the base, right? Not really.

The base is served by a single bus, a 24-seater that runs only twice in the morning and twice in the evening and serves only portions of the city of Laurel to the NSA's main gate. Various agencies on the base offer shuttles that run a few times a day from the Odenton and Savage MARC stations, which are two and five miles from the NSA main gate, respectively, and each three miles from the nearest regular base gate. It is literally illegal to walk any of those routes, as they are largely along MD-32, a freeway of interstate standards. Even servicemen living on base are likely to commute by car, as the base is so spread out that it is a long walk from any of the housing to any of the jobs on post, including almost all of the shopping and recreation amenities.

The first thing I did when I got stationed at Fort Meade? Buy a car. Sure, I wanted a car to go home and visit my family regularly. But I would not have been able to attend my morning physical training without a car. And this was when I lived in the battalion barracks!

So what do you care about a base 20 miles outside of DC? Consider that a traffic nightmare reaching the base would have a major impact on transportation between Baltimore and Washington. The economic impacts of the resulting disconnect between the two cities could be drastic. Ryan Avent considered the positive impacts that a high speed rail between DC and Baltimore would provide. Clogging the highways between the two cities would likely have the opposite effect.

I have often considered Fort Meade an ideal place for the Baltimore and Washington rail systems to meet. I know many detractors consider it wasteful to run the system all the way out to Fort Meade. But smaller jobs centers in Chantilly and Reston, similarly unserved by transit currently will be getting Silver Line service within a decade. And transportation implications in northwestern Fairfax County do not affect passage between two major cities. Other bases involved in the BRAC, such as Andrews AFB, Bolling AFB, Fort Belvoir, and Bethesda Naval Medical Center, have all had plenty of proposals thrown around to improve transit access to the bases (in some cases, like Bolling and Bethesda Naval, increasing existing transit efficiency). Fort Meade has not, despite the unique opportunity of potentially being able to serve the base by two major cities' transit systems. To alleviate traffic at enormous (50,000+) job centers, connector shuttles from commuter rails (i.e. a necessary modal shift) just won't do the trick. Perhaps for a Metro station, the NSA could donate some of it's 900+ acres of parking.

But today, long before ground will ever be broken on any kind of rail connections, wouldn't it at least be appropriate for Fort Meade to receive some sort of express bus service from Greenbelt Metro? Perhaps more regular service from towns like Columbia, Laurel, Odenton and Annapolis? A bus system for the base itself so that a young GI doesn't have to waste his first few paychecks on a new car?

It blows my mind that 18 year old privates are not allowed to drink alcohol, but they are expected to be mature enough to finance, purchase, insure, and properly operate their own heavy machinery, which they may legally store on base free of charge. Shame on Army bases across the country, but particularly Fort Meade, which has the resources nearby to outgrow ridiculous and deleterious planning policies. For a service known for moving on foot, the Army's bases certainly don't embrace any mode of transportation beyond the car.

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