TAMPA — Visitors to MacDill Air Fore Base should add extra time to what can already be an exasperating commute to account for a new security policy requiring passes.
Previously, only a driver's license was required for visitors with military sponsors to enter.
But the base has updated its security policy, requiring anyone without an access pass to stop at the visitors center at the Dale Mabry Highway gate and get a pass before being allowed on base, said Air Force 2nd Lt. Patrick Gargan, a spokesman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing. He said the change was a response to an annual review and world events.
Base visitors said the process is relatively simple, but are concerned it's a knee-jerk reaction to events at other bases and could exacerbate congested traffic.
"It went smoothly and they treated us very properly," retired Air Force employee Linda Becker said last week. "But even if you're with a military member, you still have to come back in here and get a pass, which is bad on days when traffic is backed up all the way to the McDonald's" at Dale Mabry and Interbay Boulevard.
About 18,000 to 20,000 people pass through the gates at MacDill every day, Gargan said. Some are family members or friends, or arriving at the base for special events. Even before the new policy went into effect, traffic backlogs stretching from the gate down Dale Mabry in the morning were not unusual.
Now, under the policy, visitors have to navigate that traffic, then pull off at the traffic circle and go into the visitors center. The process is relatively streamlined inside: Take a number, wait for it to be called, approach one of the three or four open windows, provide the required information and leave with a certified pass.
Once visitors have their pass, they can re-enter the line of waiting cars at the traffic circle right before the Dale Mabry gate. Though wait time varies, visitors should allow a minimum of 10 minutes to park at the visitors center, receive their passes and re-enter the traffic line.
"I think it's essential," Rose Kinnon, who was sponsoring a visitor, said of the policy. "There's plenty of people getting on base that don't need to be getting on. But they need to make it public that it's not how it used to be."
The policy requires visitors at all gates to first acquire a pass from the visitors center at the Dale Mabry gate — meaning that people coming in through the Bayshore Boulevard gate will have to turn around and backtrack to Dale Mabry. Bayshore and Interbay boulevards are already congested, said lawyer Stephen Michelini, who has dealt with traffic issues around the base.
The potential increase in congestion could overwhelm an already gridlocked area.
"You're going to have to intervene and do something with traffic before it gets down there to the Bayshore gate," Michelini said. "Once people learn, it's not going to be that big of a deal. But the startup is going to be quite a surprise."
The policy was rolled out a couple weeks ago. No new signage along Dale Mabry or before the gate alerts travelers to the change, but there is a large sign at the visitors center informing guests of what documents are required, Gargan said. While wait time varies for each person, Gargan suggested budgeting extra time to acquire a temporary pass at the visitors center. Those seeking a temporary pass must be with a military sponsor and present a valid driver's license and pass a security check before gaining access. They must also provide a valid vehicle registration and proof of insurance if they are bringing their own car onto base.
"If it's their first time here or they haven't gone through the process in a while, it might be a good idea to plan a little extra time," Gargan said.
Nothing has been reported yet on the impact on traffic flow, Gargan said. Focus groups are in place at the gates to monitor and review the new process and about 15 airmen are working on the project, he said.
"It's important to remember we're trying to monitor wait times and keep seeking out ways to improve the process," Gargan said. "They've done a lot of work already as far as cutting down gate time. They're going to monitor it for awhile to make sure they're not over-changing things, and then they'll make another assessment after the holidays."
Caitlin Johnston may be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.