NIH’s preferred alternative for development on its Bethesda campus keeps the current one parking space per two employee ratio, despite newer standards from the National Capital Planning Commission that call for fewer parking spots to encourage more use of transit.
NIH views the NCPC goal as unrealistic for NIH because of the high concentration of employees at the Bethesda Campus, and the wide geographical dispersion of its employees throughout the region. A Metro Station (Medical Center) is located on the campus; however, it does not adequately serve NIH’s employees’ transportation needs as many live beyond the areas served by mass transit alternatives.
Employees who live beyond the range of the radial Metro system do not have economical or efficient means of transportation alternatives. For example, east of the campus there is no mass transit cross connection between eastern Montgomery County and Prince George’s County where a significant number NIH employees live. Similarly, the significant numbers of employees who reside in Frederick, Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Calvert or St. Mary’s Counties, Baltimore, or Northern Virginia, have few, if any, mass transportation options. There are also a number of NIH employees that commute from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. NIH is committed to the previously accepted Transportation Management Plan and would continue to promote the reduction of traffic in the Bethesda area.
There are roughly 20,594 people who work on the campus today, making NIH the largest employer in Montgomery County.
It is now seeking community feedback on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is required for its 2013 Master Plan. That Master Plan would seek to demolish, renovate and rebuild more than a dozen buildings on the 310-acre campus to accommodate about 3,000 additional employees.
Those employees would come from NIH facilities off-campus, in leased office buildings and research facilities that account for the agency’s greatest costs.
New construction would also include new parking garages to replace surface lot parking. According to the Draft EIS, there are 10,302 total parking spaces on the NIH campus today. Without visitor spaces, that total number is 9,208.
Using the 9,208 number, the NIH says it is within the 0.50 parking space-to-employee ratio required. But that agreement was made in 1992.
The National Capital Planning Commission, which oversees development of federal land in the D.C. area, is now pushing the 0.33 ratio, something NIH says it simply cannot reach.
A 2012 study in the 408-page Draft EIS shows campus parking facilities were 95 percent full, with 9,744 vehicles parked on the campus in the peak hour between 10 and 11 a.m.
That means nearly 10,000 vehicles entering and exiting the NIH campus each day, a number Montgomery County officials would like to see go down.
In October 2012, NIH presented its Master Plan without the Draft EIS to the Montgomery County Planning Board. The Board has no binding legal authority over the planned development and parking accommodations, but that didn’t stop some Board commissioners from criticizing NIH’s unwillingness to seek the 0.33 ratio:
“There’s no rational reason that I’m aware of that you shouldn’t have a 3 to 1 ratio by this point,” Commissioner Casey Anderson told an NIH representative. “With due respect, maybe people shouldn’t live in West Virginia and work in Bethesda.”
In the Draft EIS, NIH reported more than half of its employees live in Montgomery County.
“Some of them live in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Cabin John and Kensington, and others reside in Gaithersburg and Germantown,” the Draft EIS reads. “Housing demand created by routine employee turnover and retirement is an important element in sustaining housing demand in Montgomery County, and this effect increases, as one gets closer to the campus.”
The NIH said it operates six shuttle bus service routes, three of which connect to locations outside of the campus at its office buildings on Rockledge Drive, at Mid-Pike Plaza and at Executive Plaza.
The Draft EIS also analyzes environmental, noise, light and construction effects the Master Plan might have on the surrounding area.
It’s in the middle of a 60-day comment period in which NIH will take observations and complaints to consider for its Final EIS. The comment period will end on May 23, 2014.
NIH is also hosting a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8 at Little Falls Library (5501 Massachusetts Ave.). During the meeting, NIH officials will take comments about the Draft EIS.
Comments can be sent to Valerie Nottingham, Division of Environmental Protection, National Institutes of Health, Building 13, Room 2S11, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892 or e-mailed tonihnepa[at]mail[dot]nih[dot]gov. Questions regarding the meeting can be directed to Mark Radtke, Environmental Protection Specialist, Division of Environmental Protection, National Institutes of Health, 301-496-7775. Questions about the meeting can also be sent via e-mail to the same address above.