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Traffic has gone from bad to worse near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Over the past five months 14,000 soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the base is set to expand by 50% more soldiers by 2016 (from 23,000 to 36,000), bringing the total number of soldiers, civilians, and dependents at JBLM to well over 50,000 people.  This Redmond-sized contingent of people mostly reside off-base along a narrowed stretch of I-5 (SR 512 to Nisqually)with no HOV lanes and only skeletal (at best) transit service.  Travel demand has increased markedly and tempers are short, prompting nervous press releases from WSDOT announcing “immediate actions” that amount to little more than signal timing improvements.  Everyone knew this storm was coming, but the scale of the backups seems to have caught base officials as well as WSDOT off-guard.  This may now be the single worst traffic area in Washington State.

Yet soldiers and civilians alike haven’t had many other options, and what is a ‘last mile’ problem elsewhere is a ‘last 5 miles’ problem on base, ringed by mandatory security checks.  In short, transit currently has little chance to compete for mode share. (Tacoma Tomorrow blogger Evan Siroky had an excellent post series earlier this year covering many of these same issues.)  Over the years, Pierce Transit has worked diligently with base officials to design useful routes with limited resources, yet results have been continually disappointing.  Three local routes currently enter the base, #206 (Lakewood-Tillicum-Madigan Hospital), #207 (Madigan Hospital-Ft. Lewis), and #300 (Tacoma Mall-SR512 P&R-McChord Commissary).  While #206 and #300 both exceed 1,000 riders per day and meet PT service standards, PT’s planners tell me that very few of those riders actually enter the base.  The only intra-base route (#207) is PT’s least-ridden route, averaging only 36 boardings daily for an hourly service.

Longer term, a series of infrastructure investments have been planned for some time, and WSDOT recently released a Transportation Alternatives Analysis that proposes spending over $1B on widening and new ramps for I-5.  Transit receives only a cursory mention, and the planners seem to assume that nothing cost-effective can be done to get JBLM to lower its SOV/VMT levels.  Given the dismal fiscal situation government faces at all levels, it is clear that capital-intensive projects will be difficult to fund and complete, however badly they are needed.  Yet the sheer scale of this problem — cultural, structural, fiscal — prohibits thinking small.  What should be done? What should transit advocates push for?  To get the conversation going, my initial suggestions are after the jump… 

(1.  Collect sales tax on the base. Currently sales tax is not collected at the Px and the Commissary.  Not only does this hurt neighboring retailers, but it also means on-base purchases don’t contribute to Pierce Transit’s revenues.

(2.  Build Transit/HOV lanes all the way to Olympia. Currently Pierce County has no HOV on I-5, except for a short section due to open on October 2nd on northbound I-5 from Port of Tacoma Rd to the King County line.

(3.  Olympia-Tacoma Express buses should have flyer stops on I-5. Currently the 600-series express buses make no stops between Lacey and SR 512, directly bypassing both the largest employer along the route and its worst source of congestion.  While a stop at DuPont P&R would not be very useful without a base-operated shuttle, I-5 flyer stops at the main gates would incur low capital costs.  Beyond the flyer stops, there is significant ridership potential for commuter routes into Madigan, Ft. Lewis, and McChord.  Once on base, these could have flexible routing along the main arterials based on demand.

(4. Olympia and Lacey should join Sound Transit.  JBLM is already in the Sound Transit district yet they only receive indirect service, a unidirectional commuter route to Seattle that bypasses Tacoma completely (ST 592).  Traffic to and from JBLM is a bi-directional, all-day phenomenon, and if anything more demand comes from Lacey and Olympia.  Pierce Transit has struggled to provide effective service given JBLM’s location at the fringe of PT’s service area, and Intercity Transit has neither the means nor desire to provide service since the base lies entirely within Pierce County.  Having the urbanized areas of Thurston County join the Sound Transit district could facilitate local service, I-5 limited-stop service, expansion of the present 600-series express, and perhaps super-express buses (Olympia-Tacoma-Seattle only).  For the base, limited-stop service would be the most useful, with service levels and stop spacing analogous to ST 574.  

(5. Once the Point Defiance Bypass is complete, Sounder should be extended by two further stations (41st Division Drive and DuPont), and additional reverse trips should be added.  The bypass should be seen not only as a benefit for Amtrak, but also as a major business opportunity to get people onto trains from the JBLM corridor.  Expediting a Sounder extension to DuPont makes alot of sense, as would a Cascades stop.  Despite the need for new ROW, eventually we need all-day, bi-directional Sounder service to Lacey and Olympia.  Effective commuter rail should naturally mature into interurban service over time.  Of course, it would help if Lakewood and DuPont didn’t vehemently oppose the bypass,  recently winning a two-year delay.

(6.  Work to change the culture in which a soldier returning from deployment buys a car immediately.  Travel down South Tacoma Way and you will be greeted by large auto lots full of soldiers, framed by banners proclaiming, “Financing for Soldiers…E1 and Up!” Sources at JBLM tell me that most returning soldiers buy a new car within a month of arrival, and many of the poorer soldiers are taken advantage of by accepting poor credit terms.

(7.  More bike lanes and bike parking.  Lewis-McChord is spread out, mostly flat, and has thousands of young women and men who are required to stay in good physical shape.  It is a good location for additional bicycle facilities, especially if intra-base transit is not feasible in the near term.  The current bike lanes on Jackson and Pendleton Avenues are readily usable, but few seem to notice.

(8.  JBLM must contribute financially to mitigation efforts.  Though executive orders from Presidents Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama all require reduced CO2 emissions from transportation in the armed forces and the implementation of Environmental Management Systems via ISO 14001 standards, employee transportation has been neglected in the targets for reduced emissions, and thus no funding is available for transportation services not directly related to combat and fleet vehicles.  The result is that JBLM expects, with legal justification, the state to pick up the tab for improvements.  The legal framework must be shifted in such a way that the Department of Defense is permitted to contribute to a broader range of infrastructure improvements.

*Disclaimer…the author is jointly employed by Pierce Transit, the City of Tacoma, and Pierce County (grant funded) to reduce single-occupancy commuting at the Port of Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Any opinions expressed are solely his own.*

100 Replies to “The Lewis-McChord Conundrum”

  1. Spontaneous observation that popped into my head as I read the sensible (excluding #4 & #5) recommendations (especially #6) above:

    As a former member of the military, where limits on freedom, mandatory group transportation, and use of high tech equipment are pervasive, I can see how soldiers and their families are going to be a tough group to sell on the idea of using buses instead of cars to move around off-duty.

    1. You bring up a good point. Another point is that military personnel and their families come and go every few years, so it will take longer to sell it to the military community because you are always trying to convince someone who just moved to the base.

    2. And another issue falls from that. The military itself has huge powers to fix any problem, thanks to their command structure. Just tell their members what to do. It’s a power not many municipalities have. Want to implement a functional on-base biking plan? Tell people to ride bikes. It’s that simple. Want to reduce traffic? Subsidize the bus, charge for parking, and tell people you want, say, 40% ridership by next Oct 1. It will get done.

    3. Not to mention that as military personnel, they are on-call 24-hours per day and can be called in at any time of the day.

  2. Zach,
    Your point #6, you want to work to change the culture where soldiers run out and buy a new car right away after a deployment or upon arrival at the base? Good luck with that! I agree it would be a good thing for the soldiers to wait, because they are often taken advantage of, as you mention. I just don’t think it is likely to happen.
    I do like your point #5 though, but it will be a long time coming.

  3. This has been a problem for over 15 years. We’ve always known that it’s a giant bottleneck through Ft. Lewis because a majority of travelers cannot exit the freeway because they’re not military. So instead of having your usual ebb and flow of traffic entering and exiting, there is a large stretch where everyone must fit and stay on the freeway. I don’t see how WSDOT can fix this with better signal timing and ramp meters.

    The only alternative is to go well east into rural Pierce County and take Highway 507 around the far side of the base which is 2 lanes and backs up for miles when I-5 is clogged.

    1. I just betcha that WSDOT will be planning a freeway through the back of Pierce/Thurston counties. Just you watch!

      1. Oddly enough, they have. I have an old map from the 60s that shows I-705 continuing south to Spanaway, and on google maps you can see ghost ramps where highway 7 splits off and a diamond shaped piece of land on SR-512 right after where the current interchange with SR-7 is.

    2. How about having one long C/D road through the base to keep JBLM traffic off the main travel lanes, say by extending the lane that ends around Thorne Lane (I think that’s what it’s called) now?

  4. #1 will never happen.

    Public transport isn’t always great fit for miltary people who positively have to be ontime. I doubt a First Sergeant would put up with “my bus was late” as an excuse for missing formation.

    1. If service was frequent enough this wouldn’t be an excuse. A base is a major destination, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have this kind of frequency, except for failure to properly invest in working transit. A good transit system is more time-reliable than driving, even when it takes longer than driving does on a good day.

      1. A base is a major destination, but do you realize how big the base is? And how spread out it is? A bus that took me to the PX still meant a 30 minute walk to my Company.

        It’s hard to densify a military base. Even with the ranges being out in the Reservation, you’re going to need a certain amount of space per unit for Parade Fields and spaces for physical training.

      2. [Arch] Density is actually something the military is looking at right now, along with putting new bases closer to urban areas. There’s no reason we can’t build reasonably dense buildings in a cluster.

      3. New bases? BRAC (Base Realignment And Closing) is all about closing posts, not opening any new ones).

        And possibly some posts can be dense, but no way an Infantry Post like Lewis can. Improvements can be made, but the job requires space.

      4. There is one huge way that JBLM can densify and that is in the housing area. I heard a couple of years ago that they are going to add over a 1,000 pre-manufactured homes (mobile homes.) Instead they should be adding at least medium rise condos/apartments.

      5. should be adding at least medium rise condos/apartments.

        Already doing that just south of the commissary. Housing for infantry is pretty dense; it’s called barracks. North Fort is a huge “village” of 3-4 story barracks fairly tightly clustered. I’d say it’s easily twice the density of the WWII barracks they replaced which also packed a lot of people in a fairly tight area.

      6. The base needs its own INTERNAL mass transit system. Seriously.

        This is important for security as well as for other reasons. Currently the base just allows any old soldier-operated car all over the base? What the Sam Hill? That’s not security. Gah, the number of evil schemes one could easily deploy against that base if one owned a car dealership….

        Well, so, anyway, the base needs its own military operated bus system for internal circulation, and there’s no reason not to extend it out of the base. And I think that would obviate most of the complaints about “what do I tell my commander if I’m late”.

    2. But they probably can’t be on time in the current situation either because traffic bottlenecks so much! Is “I was caught in traffic” a better excuse than “the bus was late”?

      The most thing is probably changing the culture and that is probably absolutely also the hardest thing to do. If they were actually demanding transit it might be more apt to exist.

      AND I agree that we need bidirectional service. There definitely people who commute TO the base from the north. In fact, this seems vaguely more likely a scenario to me than people commuting from base to Seattle.

      1. Many, many, many take the DC Metro. The Pentagon parking lots are massive, but they don’t actually fill up…. that is one incredibly busy Metro station, though.

  5. Many decades ago, Ft. Lewis (before the JBLM thing) was an open base believe it or not. No security checkpoint was required to enter most portions of the base. Ft. Lewis is vast, most of it wilderness. Many a boy scout regional jamboree was spent in the backwoods of Ft. Lewis.

    You are very correct in that the culture of the car is very ingrained around military bases and part of it I would surmise is the very real sense of freedom a car offers a soldier who lead very regimented lives on base. A car gives the freedom to live off base and be able to report back on duty.

    The other factor that is somewhat unique in the south Puget Sound region is that the area is home to a huge number of military retirees. Perhaps more so than most areas of the country, our veterans have chosen to retire in this area because they have continued access to the regions bases for trips to the PX/BX, Commissaries and health care systems, and recreation facilities. All of this adds up to natural congestion.

    Of course JBLM has secure checkpoints which would make a seamless transit system challenging. But my recollection from my military brat days were that there were base operated bus systems so us brats could get around from the housing to the BX or the pool or theaters.

    I totally agree that Olympia/Lacey and Thurston county transit systems should join Sound Transit. It’s long long over due. Thurston county is the bedroom community to JBLM and Pierce county. Frankly, we need to get frequent Sound Transit solutions all the way from Seattle to Olympia because that is a real commute pattern.

    1. The downside to incorporating Olympia and Lacey into ST is that you’re adding more votes against any ST package that doesn’t include Thurston county rail. That might not be so much of a problem for ST3 if we’re ready to extend Sounder all the way to Olympia in that one package (which would likely gobble up a good chunk of Pierce’s money and potentially jeopardize extending Link much further south), but Link to Olympia is much longer term if we should do it at all. (Not that an Olympia version of Tacoma Link would be a bad idea, and Olympians might still vote for ST3 for the bus improvements, but I doubt we’ll be ready to extend Link to Olympia even in ST5.)

      1. Yeah I think a better solution would be to have Thurston County form its own transit district that would raise funds then hand them over to ST for construction and operation. That way ballot measures wouldn’t be weighed down by Thurston County, but they could still get service. Also, most of Eastern Pierce County should be deannexed from the district; not only do they pull down the vote for transit measure, but it’s unfair to make them pay for something that doesn’t serve them as well.

      2. Link to Olympia would be hugely wasteful. There’s no “there” there along the route and there never will be because of the base and the wildlife refuge.

        Sounder makes sense because of the limited ROW for the freeway (although it sounds like WSDOT is dreaming of spending a few billion it doesn’t have there).

        The problem with Sounder to Oly is that Centennial Station is no place for a commuter train. Sounder would have to penetrate the city center and the only way in is the roundabout UP line past the brewery. The NP ROW along Pacific Avenue is historico.

  6. I’m not sure I understand why the military itself can’t be part of the solution. In a command and control culture, there is a lot that can be done to affect employee behavior! Start and stop times can be controlled and staggered, for one. Check out the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for contrast – where innovative programs have been fostered like the worker-driver bus (operated by Kitsap Transit – see Why assume that the military cannot be a partner in reducing its transportation impact?

    1. Apparently many of the top brass at JBLM are very interested in comprehensive planning on everything from widening to transit, and we’re optimistic that breakthroughs are possible in the next year or two. In the past leadership has not been behind any non-SOV improvements.

  7. Offering people working on base a U-pass type subsidized pass product might help convince people to try transit while also providing some help for Pierce Transit. Oh, and charging for parking would certainly aid in changing the culture. Are military bases subject to the same CTR laws as other large employers?

    1. ORCA is probably out of the question for now, but hopefully someday. And yes, my grant-funded job is entirely due to the fact that JBLM is CTR-affected and currently has a very high drive-alone rate.

      1. As for parking, I was told (though without an official count) that there are 1.5 spaces per person on base, all of them free. Charging for parking is not on the horizon.

  8. I’ve worked on this very issue at several other different bases in Alaska, Washington, California, and Colorado. There is no easy solution.

    It is my experience that military bases are not a big transit market and should not be treated that way.

    Operationally, getting onto bases is a PITA and anytime there’s an orange alert, buses can’t go on base. The delays at the gates are such that it makes the service inherently unreliable – severely reducing the attractiveness to riders. Moreover, there are dramatic changes in demand as folks deploy and come back.

    The solution is not for PT, ST, or IT to take the lead on this – it’s for the military to do this and partner with the agencies. The military has matching funds for bus improvements onto base. There are several routes operated by Monterey-Salinas Transit that are only running because of the DoD subsidy. My understanding is that the base commanders there made that happen. That’s the only place where I’ve seen this work. I know of one other base where the general was not interested and thus it didn’t happen.

    I just don’t think flyer stops here are the answer – unless they can be constructed so you’re not waiting in the loooooong line of cars waiting to access the signal.

    1. In Chicago the METRA stops at the navy base and people use it for leave.

      At Camp Pendleton two local buses go through the base, and at least one of them serves the Amtrak/commuter rail station in Oceanside. I don’t know how many people ride those buses. There are also intra-base buses.

      It’s just unfortunate that Pugetopolis doesn’t have a METRA-like system, and that the base is not even near downtown Tacoma but south Tacoma so it’s seen as the fringes of the transit market.

      1. Talk with most agencies that run buses on bases – if they have them at all. They are consistently among the worst performing routes the system operates.

        There’s a huge difference in having Metra for leave versus trying to serve the all-day base market.

        It’s a tough nut to crack

  9. A lot of stuff here. Some of the suggestions are sound, however:

    – I’m fairly sure that states and counties are constitutionally prevented from levying taxes on a federal installation.
    – This deserves its own post, but enlarging the ST district just brings more transit averse voters whose appetites will exceed their tax contribution. I don’t want to make it any harder to pass ST3 someday.
    – You say “build HOV lanes” but I say “paint HOV lanes.” In the current environment there is no excuse for preserving SOV capacity at all costs.

    More broadly, this is exactly the scenario where carpoplijg and vanpooling are optimal, because it sidesteps all the issues with running transit on base. Paint the HOV lanes, but also establish incentives on base to accomplish the mode shift.

    1. Ft. Bragg tried HOV lanes at Yadkin Gate last year and they didn’t last a month. People are just too spread out both on post and off for carpooling to work except for during lunch.

    2. Carpooling and vanpooling are the low-hanging fruit, yes, and they can tap into the existing federal voucher program. Without gate or lane priority, there’s just not much of an incentive.

      If ST were to expand I would only want it in Olympia and Lacey themselves, not Yelm, et al. Dilution of the pro-transit vote is a real concern, but given that Thurston just passed its ballot iniative and the fact that everyone (and I mean everyone) is fed up with traffic in the corridor, I think the electoral prospects for an ST vote are pretty decent.

  10. A few comments from someone who used to be stationed at Lewis (1/23 INF 3-2 SBCT) and commuted from S. Bellevue.

    Traffic has always been a problem. In the mornings it wasn’t so bad as I left the house at 4:45. I would be clear to the gate, but have enough time to make it to my Company by 5:45. In the afternoons it was freaking horrible. My Company was on the other side of the airfield and it’s no shit taken me half an hour just to get to the gate, backups from merging onto I-5 were pushed that far back. It’s taken over 2.5 hours for me to get home multiple times. And God help me if it was raining. Growing up on the Gulf Coast I’m used to daily Thunder Storms coming off the Gulf near daily during the summer. Even driven in some Tropic Storms a little Cat I Hurricane. I didn’t expect that, but I also didn’t expect traffic to slow down to 20 freakin miles per hour on the Interstate if the rain gets harder than the lowest setting of people’s windshield wipers!

    Bases are tax free. That isn’t going to change, you are wasting time and effort trying to change that. One base couldn’t do it, you’d have to go to the Pentagon.

    Transit for soldiers is always going to be a problem. When work hours are 5:45am-UTC (until task complete) it’s just hard to plan a transit system around that. And when you only have an hour to hour and half to shit, shower, shave and eat between PT (physical training) and 9’clock formation, you aren’t going to have time to wait around for a bus if you live off post. Lunch is a bit more steady, but even that is not a guarantee.

    100% ID checks mean that there is always going to be a bottle neck at the gates.

    Lewis is spread out. Not just that Main Post and North Post are separated, but even within these areas everything is spread out. You’ll have stuff for your Battalion within walking distance, but most everything else is going to driving distance away. And considering all the gear we need to do anything, a bike is pretty much out of the question.

    1. Perhaps some military-funded buses could be lined up to wait for whenever UTC comes, buses that wouldn’t have a set time (and probably wouldn’t be useful for anyone but soldiers) but still be a viable option for soldiers?

      1. There are already buses you can ‘check out’ (every company has to have a few people Licencend on Buses) But how are you going to get people to their off post housing? Not only is the post spread out, but people live everywhere from Seattle to Olympia…

    2. Why on Earth isn’t there an *internal* high-frequency bus system, run by the base for the soldiers, matched to the soldiers’ schedules?

      That could be extended off base with *off-base checkpoints* for bus boarding. I know, unimaginable, right? Sigh.

  11. Sorry to do three posts in a row, but another little anecdote.

    Driving is such a problem here on Ft. Bragg that the 82nd Airborne has one of those big electronic billboards over on Gruber Road in 82nd Land. There is a countdown on for days since last traffic fatality. When the count gets to 82, everyone in Division gets a free 4-day. It’s happened I think once since I got here in March 09.

  12. I’ve been on a lot of bases lately, and I think they’re the perfect case for transit. As long as you’re willing to put real effort into the problem.

    Here’s how I’d handle it:
    1. Traffic is your friend. Don’t expand the highways, convert lanes to HOV. But do it at the same time as the following.
    2. Charge for parking. Zach says it isn’t on the horizon, but there’s no reason it can’t be. It costs us taxpayers for the parking spots, and they should have to pay for them. Treat it like uniforms: give them a travel stipend, then charge for parking. See how many decide to spend their travel stipend on something other than parking.
    3. Barrier-free bus service to the gate. Simple walk-on security, like any federal building.
    4. Large bike parking area right inside the gate. You can get anywhere on base in 5 minutes on a bike, and it’s useful for much more than the morning commute. Bases can also be the safest place in the world to bike, as speed limits are generally around 15mph.
    6. Continuous on-base bus service on rainy days. Just run in a circle around the edge of the base. This one’s optional – how do people get around the base when it rains now? Tell me it isn’t by car. If our military can’t handle a bit of rain…
    7. Long term, build taller buildings all in a cluster. It will improve operation efficiency as well as travel efficiency.
    8. The housing office should be well versed on good locations for housing near bus stops. This is tough for anyone shopping for a home to figure out, and probably doubly so for someone that just moved to the area.

    1. You do understand that the military is not a 9-5 right? So you’re prepared to provide peak level service 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

      Seriously, it’s not going to happen.

      1. For a few lines, if all of these measures are put into action? Sure I’m prepared for that. We’re talking a very large population. I’m not sure how the numbers compare, but Microsoft feels it’s justified to run their own independent bus service for their campus. There should be the ridership to justify a few lines running more buses.

      2. Microsoft runs a normal 9-5, Monday through Friday though don’t they? The same can’t be said for the military. We’re talking 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

        Do you really understand what running peak service for those kind of hours would entail?

      3. Actually you’d be surprised how much of the operations actually are 9-5. Certainly that was the crush time at the hospital which other than flight ops would be one of the more 24/7 based services. The same rush hour peaks are seen on I-5 through the base area as you’d experience in Bellevue. I do understand, I grew up in the system. My step dad was a JAG officer… 9-5.

      4. Office types maybe, but Lewis is home to 3rd, 4th, and 5th Stryker Brigades, 4th Battalion SOAR, 2nd Ranger Batt, as well as 1st Group Special Forces. Those guys DON’T have regular hours.

      5. “Hours” for combat divisions are very different when deployed. Night training on base is very limited. Plus the support personnel for those divisions exceeds the number of active combat solders. They all access the bank, the PX, commissary, legal services, etc. during normal business hours. Even MAMC is packed to the point of people parking out on the street on weekdays but has an abundance of parking at night and weekend days you can at least find open spots.

      6. Uh… not quite sure what you are trying to say.

        But working odd hours was QUITE common when I was Infantry and at Lewis (07-09). You don’t have to be out in the field or at a night range to be working odd hours, could be a GI Party in the Barracks, a 100% inventory, upcoming equipment inspections, or the host of things the crop up quite frequently.

      7. [Anc] I don’t think we need peak level service 24×7. Just run hourly service in the middle of the night. If there are positions that require being at the base immediately in the middle of the night, that justifies personal vehicles for those positions*. But can 40% of the base operate using peak level service during common hours plus hourly service beyond that? I’m guessing the number is more like 80%.

        * I can imagine creative carpooling setups for even these positions. Anything from requiring all such positions to live on a certain bus line to an ad-hoc midnight carpool system to zipcars. But the fact is, we probably don’t care much about cars on the road at 2am.

      8. The military can afford to provide peak level distributor service around the base 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Seriously, have you looked at military budgets?

    2. Matt, I think you left out:

      5. Shared pool of free bikes for on-base use in the vast bike parking areas.

      1. Now THAT is a great idea. Although if you were to ban POVs for PFCs and below, you’d need to really ramp up BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers). Bragg imports in single females from surrounding colleges for certain date nights to Sports USA here, but Club North (aka Club Chub) sucks at Lewis.

      2. Ahem. I have to say this reminds me of one of the problems with the US military: the Army *still* has actual gender quotas restricting the number of women in the military, which are completely illegal practically everywhere else in the US, and certainly in the US government.

        (One of the results is that you can bet that an average female soldier is better at her job, smarter, stronger, etc. than about 3/4 of male soldiers. Letting in far fewer women than men means the ones you let in have to meet higher standards.)

        The idea of importing single *females* from colleges (but not single males, eh?!) is gross and shows how far the military has to go to be a modern organization.

    3. There would need to be a bus gateway at the security checkpoints where public transit can drop off passengers who proceed through the checkpoints on foot to waiting on-base buses.

      It’s been about 20 years since I’ve been on either McChord or Lewis but I remember that it will take far more than 5 minutes to get anywhere on either portion of JBLM on a bike.

      As for densifying bases, I think there would be some serious resistance to that for simple military reasons. Clusters of buildings (and tall ones) are vulnerable to attack. Further, on most bases I’ve been on, the buildings are not typically built near the entrances.

      I like the idea of a transportation stipend and incentives not to use cars on base. If as Anc says that there are serious traffic jams on base at JBLM then I think that is something the Pentagon should seriously look at. I think a military grant to surrounding transit systems to help alleviate these problems would go along way to both helping the infrastructure of the host communities and helping to meet conservation and environmental targets.

      If either by Military grant or a combination of an ST3 vote that would extend Sounder commuter trains to South Puget Sound area then frequent trains to the base would be a real help here as well. Part of this consideration is if there is an Alert, how would G.I.’s get to their post quickly? The transit agencies would need to be able to respond in an alert fashion such as dispatching bus shuttles from various points. Lakewood, Tacoma Dome Station, Puyallup, Lacey, or other places where large numbers of G.I.’s are located possibly with police escort and signal priority. Question for active duty types, in an Alert situation, would soldiers and airmen typically remain on post then?

      The other consideration for improving the transportation infrastructure is that the area was already attractive to semiconductor fabrication plants and could be ripe for similar industries to expand. Frequent Sounder and Sound Transit services would really solidify the region economically.

      1. I should have stated that 5 minutes was an estimate – I haven’t been on base and don’t know first hand. But I can ride to work 3 miles away in just over 10 minutes – tell me most locations aren’t 3 miles apart from each other. If so, no wonder everyone drives – how else do you get across the base?

        The densifying comment seems rational. I know they currently build in space between buildings to leave room to build replacement buildings before demolishing the old ones, but I didn’t think about the security side. That being said, I’m sure they can densify more than they have.

      2. Last week I biked from Madigan to Dupont (5 miles) )in 25 minutes. The cars were queued back for the full 5 miles, and I beat them by probably 10 minutes.

      3. No, they don’t leave space between buildings to build new ones. They simply build in a new spot (like the new MAMC that replaced the old single story wards with more grass and hallway than bed space) or they flatten big chunks and start over. The space left between is to improve the quality of life. Madigan, although a mega hospital has grounds like a park (and parking like a super mall but that’s another issue). On rare occasions like the old brick buildings on McChord they actually go in and do a full renovation.

  13. How about no POV on base for anyone E3 or O2 and Below (yes I can pick on officers as well)
    Have dedicated on base only bus routes that stop near the main gates, with flyer stops near the other side of the main gates

    if someone with no on base POV privilages needs to get something on base that they can not cary, they can go up the chain and get help.

    Posiably the on base busses will have dedicated “Cargo” space

    just some thoughts

    How close does the Point Defiance bypas come to the base?

    Lor Scara

    1. “How close does the Point Defiance bypas come to the base?”

      I believe it’s just across I-5 from the main gate.

      1. The bypass is directly adjacent to the entire JBLM corridor, just across I-5. I’m amazed we’re not planning for a station, either at Liberty Gate or DuPont.

      2. Say what “is” the main gate now? The one at Ft. Lewis or the one at McChord or have they reconfigured the whole thing? or what? :-)

      3. Yes, there is an at grade crossing just west of the main Fort Lewis gate. It’s also not more than a half mile or so from the McChord Main gate where the tracks cross Bridgeport Way. There’s also significant employment now at Dupont with the huge State Farm office being the anchor. Really though I don’t see a train as being much use since the collection basin doesn’t fit the demand. There are no new gates but several have been closed or are open on a limited basis because of the cost and concerns over security.

    2. How about no POV on base for anyone E3 or O2 and Below

      So you expect everyone to schlep groceries from the commissary to quarters on the buses understanding that many families have both parents on active duty or otherwise employed. And that said commissary has much more restricted hours than a private sector store. The military is trying hard to recruit and retain personnel, not drive them away. Besides, the traffic once you’re on base isn’t bad at all and a lot of people do live on base. Why penalize them?

  14. One weekend this summer, on a trip to Mt. St. Helens, I got stuck in that mess…it was agonizing. So, on the way back north I tested out a new “shortcut” using US101, SR3 and the Seattle – Bremerton ferry. I don’t know if it saved any time, but it definitely helped my sanity.

  15. The problem with point #1 is the base is not technically part of the state of Washington. It’s a Federal reservation, not subject to state laws. Changing this would require an act of Congress, which simply isn’t going to happen…

  16. I grew up haunting the bases as a military brat from the time I was in 3rd grade until leaving for college. That was 30 years ago. I was down a couple of weeks ago as my mum was at Madigan. Holy cow, what a difference. The Madigan gate was more backed up than the Main gate. North Fort, heading in/out of Steilacoom was insane. McChord only has the Main Gate and I think the Spannaway gate isn’t open weekends and the gate near the old NORAD building is permanently closed. Fort Lewis is building a lot more housing on base. I saw a few PT buses but no on base military buses; although I know that they still exist as there was an article about a hydrogen power research project that is on going. One thing the joint base has is land in abundance. I think expansion of on base housing is the best way to easy the I-5 crunch. And crunch it is! I think the base should adopt the Microsoft model and hire a contract provider to run buses. They now contract out all of the security at the gates instead of using MPs.

    1. Mind you (and showing my age) it’s been about 40 years since I lived at McChord, but isn’t the gate by NORAD the one between base housing and the base? Obviously time marches on but something must have changed in the equation. Are they making people get on the freeway and enter via the main gate? Or did the bulldoze the whole lot of those houses?

      1. No, the gate by the old NORAD building is the one that would take you back to Woodbrook or out to Spannaway/Parkland. It’s next to the old railroad tracks and close to the end of the runway. The housing gate you are talking about has moved. All housing is now inside the gate (the gate moved). Plus you can no longer get off I-5 at Gravelly Lake and go east to Spannaway (hence the push for the “cross base” highway”). These changes were a direct response to 9-11. New housing has also been built close to where the old gate locate by the golf course was at the base of the hill where the MARS antennas are.

    2. “They now contract out all of the security at the gates instead of using MPs.”

      Oh good grief.

      You do realize that this renders the security next to pointless? Why not just eliminate it all and let anyone in or out whenever they like?


  17. I don’t know how easy it will be to get people who work on the base itself to use any mode other than SOV, but I would reckon that, even though there’s a ton of traffic there, the majority of it is people who don’t work at the base, but simply live south of there and work/shop north or vice versa. So offering good transit to Dupont, Lacey, and Olympia, in the form of better express buses now and Sounder later, will go a long ways towards increasing transit modeshare. Although, of course, it probably wouldn’t dramatically decrease traffic, as we’ve talked about the perils of saying that transit decreases traffic here before.

    1. While hitchhiking is looked askance much of the time in our society, I remember driving by the (I think now closed) Naval airbase in Mountain View California and seeing a shelter and bench near the freeway with a sign inviting people to give a sailor a ride. I think community involvement needs to be part of the mix.

  18. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and well knowing the realitys of the ridership onto the post in the process. While there are a lot of nice things, i think a good starting point would be to build a intermodal station with P&R lot at 41st division drive. You can have Amtrak and Sounder stop there, along with the Olympia buses, and extend the 592,594 to there as well. That is a “cheap” solution, since this is a milatary facility a simple structure serving as depot/ticketing/waiting room will suffice. In addition, should funds permit it would be easy to have a couple of routes going on post from there as well (serving the residences, and madigan, reliving PT of those dutys).

    Long term i think you need the Army to either construct P&R lots, or find excess capasity either in private or public parking lots and run commuter buses on post. A great contracting oppt for the Army as well. Also, they should look at adjusting the schedule for their morning muster, plus work with ST to take advantage of Sounder service to the post as well, either by adding trainsets or adjusting schedules to make use of equipment on a reverse commute. And finally While we all love nice well designed facilitys and equipment, the main audience here is government employees. Disclamer, i am a public servant but i think that many public facilitys are more than utilitarian. And this is something that should these plans ever come to fruition should be taken into account. Keeping the design utilitarian will the cost down, while still providing pleasent facilities.

    And lets not forget capasity improvements to I-5 as well. You can only do so much. Its time to extend the HOV lanes atleast to DuPont, and add a 4th general purpose lane through there as well. If you go south of there you’re going through wetlands which might be an expensive proposition, but someday will have to do be done.

  19. In the long run, we are going to have to significantly shrink the military, as it is what is bankrupting us. That might mean that places like Lewis/McChord shrink significantly, or grow to become a handful of megabases. Unfortunately, it’s hard to plan any sort of infrastructure until our leaders recognize economic realities.

  20. There are several different markets here and it’s important not to conflate them:

    – soldiers and civilians coming from Thurston Co., ie the peak direction, essentially 6:30 to 5 or 9 to 5.
    – same, but coming from Lakewood and thus contra-peak.
    – spouses that live on post but head to jobs in Tacoma or even Seattle.
    And then at off-peak times:
    – retirees and families living off post and using the on-base services
    – carless single soldiers getting off post to have some fun.

    The solutions for each of these are really different, and if congestion is the problem I’m not sure anyone is going to make the last two a priority.

    The first and third can be mitigated cheaply by adding a stop.on services traveling through on I-5, probably with some sort of shuttle service. All three would be helped by a proper set of car- and vanpool incentives.

    1. My wife works on the base, and she needs a car just to get around and do her job most days. People are talking like everything is close together, but she works in the middle of main post, and often needs to do work out on North Fort or at McChord. She thinks a lot of the other civilians on the base would have the same problem. The govt. would have to provide more vehicles for employees to use during the day- real cars, not electrics, because electrics can’t go fast enough or hold enough charge to get you to McChord and back, which would mean more parking (she laughed at the 1.5 spaces. She said it’s so bad at the headquarters, people park illegally and don’t even get ticketted). She said the only way she could bike or take public transit would be a really good on-base public transit system that connected to a really good off-base transit system. We only live a few miles from base, but it would take her 3 transfers to get home if she took the buses available now- and that’s after at least 15 minute walk to the bus stop and up to an hour wait for the next bus.

      1. Just a small quibble about electrics. They can be faster than internal combustion engine cars and can be built to have ranges in the 300 mile range more than enough for full day use. I don’t know what you drive now, but chances are you probably don’t want to put it up against a Tesla Roadster or the forthcoming Model S. The same electronics package will go into the forthcoming Smart electric.

        Quite frankly that would be something that the military could do to spur innovation would be to require a class of vehicles used for official business/light cargo be electric/zero emission with charge stations through out the base. Given that such a large percentage of the electrical generation in the region is carbon neutral this would be a big boon.

      2. Electrics probably wouldn’t be cut out for constant errand running. They require too much maintenance. How about compressed natural gas?

      3. Kyle, what are you basing that on? The only risk factor that I’m aware of is a potential battery replacement. But they’re likely going to be warrantied for the reasonable life of the car say 7 years. During that time, the electric motor is not likely to require any maintenance. You’ll have maintenance like hydraulic system, tires, washer fluid.

        I know from first hand with my hybrid, it’s not the electric motor that’s required maintenance, its the gas portion and some other obscure parts that support the cvt that have been costly. Zero dollars so far for the electric portion.

        As for compressed NG, I suppose if you used it in conjunction with a fuel cell, you’d get acceptable levels of carbon emissions, but when you have the potential of nearly zero, why not go that route?

      4. Kyle, you clearly don’t know anything about electrics. One of their major benefits is that they require very *little* maintenance. They also don’t care if you do lots and lots of stop-and-start driving.

        What they’re *bad* for is long continuous driving, terrible for a long-haul truck for instance — this is because of battery capacity.

        The military could easily put up dozens of charging stations at every building in the entire base complex and buy a *fleet* of electric vehicles for driving around the base (within the base only).

      5. I’m basing it on my father’s experience with EVs as a meter-reader for the local utility. They weren’t good for lots of stop-and-go trips; they’d break down far too frequently. The utility switched their fleet to CNGs for that reason.

    2. One your first point as I have tried to explain, for most people in the Military it isn’t as simple as that.

      Your 0630 for instance. That is the time at which the flag is raised. The 1SG will take his Report from the platoons at about 0628 so that everyone is ready to go when the Reveille sounds everyone is ready to go to Attention and Present Arms. If you are not there when the Report is given you are considered Out of Ranks.

      However, that is just for the Company level. The platoon Sergeants and HQ have a morning briefing at 0600 at where he will be asked if he’s ‘up’, so if you aren’t there before that he looks bad and you are going to get into trouble at the Platoon level. Now your Squad Leader is going to have to give a report of his squad a few minutes before the Platoon Sergeant goes to that briefing so you’re going to need to be there at around 0545 in order to not into trouble at the squad level.

  21. People forget that the original rational for the Interstate Highway system was for military mobility. Our use of it is a bonus. Of course in the expanse of 5+ decades, it’s turned out a little differently.

    1. That was a smokescreen to justify the huge federal investment. There is no way the main roads out of an area (and in some cases the only roads through an area) were seriously intended to be mainly for the military. I-90 was built on top of an existing US highway.

  22. This is the military’s problem, make the military fix it. They have the means to provide transit, and the ability to force people to use it. Why should we spend money to increase capacity when five years down the road they might decide to cut the base in half or triple it in size?

    These bases certainly provide jobs, and there’s no doubt they are vital for our defense efforts, but they also pay no property tax, and they provide special challenges to the nearby communities, particularly when it comes to law enforcement, education, and social services. They need to step up and solve this problem.

  23. It took me a hour to drive on I-5 through Fort Lewis the day that this article was posted, and as a carpool, a carpool lane would have been nice start. If we can’t tax the base, how about tolling I-5 and using the money for transit expansion and HOV lanes, we are all slowing down to a crawl anyways :)

    Having worked on the base a couple of days, I can see how a bus system could be utilized by the office clusters (which often had 7am-4pm standard hours) and the hospital, but not for the troops traveling around to different training regimes. Also, I sat in enough inter-base traffic that the couple of guys I saw tooling around on bikes were often making better time than me, so improve the bike infrastructure.

  24. Order Soldiers to ride bikes? Really? Unless YOU plan on buying them, that’s a non-starter. Lewis recently maid improvements on 41st (the main entry road at the main gate). I thought they were putting in sidewalks (which would allow Soldiers and dependents to get to/from housing and PX/Commissary. I was surprised to see that instead they put in flower/shrub beds! The sidewalks around the HQ were improved, however.

    Getting back to bikes, I like in DuPont and am about 7-8 miles to my office, but rarely avail myself of that as I don’t want to die. Other writers are correct in that there are few bike lanes on post. For the younger troops, a bicycle is impractical because when your leadership says get to point B, waiting for them to get there by bike doesn’t cut it.

    As for a higher density of buildings, well, then someone better plan parking ramps. Look at Madigan. Look at almost any post building and you’ll see parking along roads, on the grass and anywhere else a car will fit.

    Having a bus drop off at the main gate is impractical as well, as getting from there to your unit is highly impractical, and the number of shuttle buses needed on-post would be crazy.

    Instead of wasting money on that silly light rail in Seattle, why disn’t you all run it down the I-5 corridor? Maybe out to Puyallup and down to Lacey? Run that sucker raised down the center of I-5? Or double-level the highway like San Antonio did on I-10?

    I realize it rubs northwesterners to see so many cars being driven by one Soldier. But if you haven’t been in the military, then you can’t appreciate being a troopie on-post and being expected to be at multiple training sites within given timeframes. Getting rid of cars ISN’T going to happen.

    For me personally in DuPont, I’d love to have safe bike lanes on post. My time in Germany spoiled me.

    Oh yeah. For the guy who says the military is bankrupting us: Are you nuts? They’re the reason you are even here to say that. Take a look at: the war on drugs or education. Or the Department of Energy. Or the new healthcare bill.

    And Matt the Engineer: “You can get anywhere on base in 5 minutes on a bike, and it’s useful for much more than the morning commute. Bases can also be the safest place in the world to bike, as speed limits are generally around 15mph.”

    WHAT? I can get from my office to anywhere on base in five minutes? At 15MPH??? I can’t get anywhere in my CAR in 5 minutes. And default speed is usually 25MPH, 35 max. Bases are NOT the safest places to bike. Obviously you haven’t been on a base, much less Lewis-McChod. Perimeter busses? You’re killing me.

    Oh, so much more that could be said…

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