JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Traveling the roadways in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area can be challenging in the best-case scenario.

The Washington State Department of Transportation has several major construction projects ongoing for the Interstate 5 corridor for the foreseeable future. Add to that mix considerable road repair projects across the base itself, and the getting-from-here-to-there challenge starts pegging the stress meter.

According to WSDOT, one of those projects, the I-5 DuPont to Thorne Lane project, is designed "to relieve chronic traffic congestion and improve mobility along I-5 in the vicinity of Joint Base Lewis-McChord."

This project will add a lane in each direction and rebuild interchanges at Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane. Expect impacts to not only traffic on the interstate, but also all gates along I-5, as those that will not be directly affected by construction will be impacted by diverted traffic.

Base road projects are affecting the flow of traffic as well. The main "Liberty" Gate has been restricted to inbound traffic only for weeks now and will be through September as upgrades and repairs are done to pavement, lane alignment and access to the visitors' center.

There are transportation options that are useful, ongoing programs, and now is a great time to try them out to alleviate some of the burden of these traffic improvements.

GETTING HERE

"It's cool, and it's free," said Troy Patience, who works in informatics in Madigan Army Medical Center's Department of Clinical Investigation, about vanpooling. "I don't think people realize that it's free. They think there's some catch; there's no catch."

Patience should know, he's been a vanpooler from Thurston County for a decade. He has even received the occasional incentive for being a rider. Most transit organizations have rewards programs for regular commuters.

JBLM teams with local transit organizations to manage the GO Lewis-McChord program which facilitates GO Rideshare, comprising of vanpool and carpool information collected at golewismcchord.com. Local transit organizations Pierce Transit, serving Pierce County, and Intercity Transit serving Thurston County, manage vanpools. Established vanpools cover a variety of routes and schedules. There is also the option of establishing a new vanpool as well.

Pierce Transit's bus route 206 comes onto base through the Madigan Gate. Intercity Transit and the Sound Transit train system have connections to this Lakewood route.

All of the above services are covered under the federal government's Mass Transit Benefit Program available to employees. Madigan staff members have even used this program to pay for regular ferry passage. Whether used for vanpool, bus, train, or ferry, the $255 per month subsidy is available to all Department of Defense employees.

Carpooling, though not covered through some formal program, provides the benefits of reducing commuting costs, time (where carpool lanes exist), and stress while putting less emissions into the air. Check out rideshareonline.com to find a carpool.

Though not a regular commuting option, the Madigan-Bremerton shuttle does make getting to patient appointments between Madigan Army medical Center and Naval Hospital Bremerton a possibility without adding a car to the freeway. The free shuttle runs every three hours on weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., between the two facilities. Staff and visitors are welcome to ride if space is available.

GETTING AROUND

One of the largest concerns for commuters is how to get around a large campus once on site. There are options here, too.

GO Transit is the base shuttle. It has routes that service all areas of JBLM to include headquarters buildings, the Exchange, Lewis North, Madigan and McChord, all the way north to the State Route 512 Park and Ride. The weekday schedule brings a bus to each stop every 20 minutes between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. for most routes.

Evenings and weekends see the outer edges of the routes reduced somewhat and a 30- or 80-minute frequency, depending on day and time. Most stops have service until midnight Sundays through Thursdays, with hours extended to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Pierce Transit offers more information on routes, schedules, connections off base and an interactive map at the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation-maintained site: golewismcchord.com. There is also a free app, "OneBusAway," with live information available for smartphones. They can also be contacted by phone at 253-966-3939.

The third of the GO Lewis-McChord three programs is GO Bike. There are four fleet stations around base to check out a bike for use for a two-week period. Madigan's is with the troop headquarters at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Building 9059. Bikes are available to all service members, DoD civilians, contractors and dependents over the age of 18.

Getting around getting you down? JBLM, Madigan offer transportation options to tackle construction, congestion

Madigan has its own campus transit option as well. The Madigan Courtesy Shuttle services the campus with two vans circulating through the parking lots, the Brig. Gen. Turner Preventive Medicine building (Building 9025) and the Madigan Annex. They are a phone call away from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Numbers are 253-495-7110 and 253-691-9781.

"The service started small, with our security team and a golf cart," explained Jeremy O'Bryan, the Madigan Chief of Patient Experience. "Now, we have two fully branded people movers and two of the kindest gentlemen you'll meet to operate them."

The courtesy shuttle grew from sheer demand. The two vans drive more than 100 riders per day; that's over 2,000 a month.

"Whether people are coming in for appointments or other services, many need assistance," O'Bryan said. "The shuttle contributes to safer care and improved access -- ensuring patients don't exacerbate an injury or illness while walking through our parking areas."

All of these options are free and available to staff, patients and visitors.

WHEN LIFE HAPPENS

Another concern for commuters is what to do should some emergency arise during their workday when they have commuted to work and don't have their vehicle.

All service members and DoD employees are eligible for Emergency Ride Home on days they use alternative commute options to work. An unlimited mileage taxi ride home is paid on a reimbursable basis up to six times per year to accommodate illness, working late unexpectedly, unforeseen ride schedule changes and emergencies not related to work.

Patience has taken advantage of the emergency option a couple of times over the years, he said. He also pointed out that there is more flexibility to the program than people may think.

"You don't have to ride every day," he said.

One of his van's regular riders changed her schedule and no longer rides on Fridays. Choosing to stick with that van, she can still take advantage of the benefit the rest of the week, he added.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Madigan's Environmental Health Service is invested in managing the hospital's environmental impacts to include those stemming from vehicle emissions. Sonia Beare, an environmental protection specialist, is the employee trip coordinator. She is well-equipped with information, resources and can help with finding van and carpools, as well as other commuting options. Contact her at 253-968-4189 or sonia.k.beare.civ@mail.mil. The main EHS line will also provide information at 253-968-4331.