Army Urged to Scatter Buildings
Fairfax Officials Worry About Effects of New Workers on Traffic

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006

Fairfax County leaders urged the Army yesterday to disperse as much as possible the 22,000 military and civilian personnel to be relocated to Fort Belvoir, saying that scattering people around the post is one of the few ways to ease the crushing local traffic congestion expected with the move.

Next month, the Army is scheduled to choose among three options for locating the agencies that are to be moved to Fort Belvoir by 2011 as part of the federal base realignment and closure process -- a decision all involved agree will have a major impact on southern Fairfax.

The agencies moving to Belvoir include the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, now in Bethesda; the successor to Walter Reed Army Medical Center; and a new Army museum.

One option would concentrate the new agencies at the center of the 8,000-acre post to create a dense, walkable "town center." The second option would concentrate the new buildings at the Engineer Proving Ground, a mostly vacant 800-acre parcel northwest of the fort and closer to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station.

The third option would scatter the new buildings at the main post and the proving ground, potentially even putting the museum or hospital at the site of a huge federal warehouse across from the proving ground, adjacent to the Metro station.

At a meeting of a base realignment advisory panel at the post yesterday, Fairfax leaders said they are so fearful of the effect of thousands of additional cars converging on the base that they would lean toward dispersing the new buildings.

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he realized that the Army had to consider other factors, including security, but said that transportation access was a "common interest" for the post and the surrounding area.

"If you can't get here, you're not protecting the public, and the functionality of the base is going to disintegrate," he said. "On first blush, the dispersal option makes the most sense."

No matter which option is chosen, the transportation challenges facing the Army and county came into even sharper focus yesterday. Consultants hired by the Army to oversee the relocation predict that the moves will mean an additional 17,000 cars arriving at the base, roughly double the current number -- which, though it may not have a major effect on regional commuting patterns, will be strongly felt in the post's immediate vicinity.

To prevent massive backups at the entry gates to the post, which have been closed to the public since the 2001 terrorist attacks, consultants are recommending funneling traffic into garages, away from other buildings, where workers would board shuttle buses, as is done at the Pentagon.

The consultants also are recommending that the Fairfax County Parkway be made the primary gateway into the post instead of Route 1 (Richmond Highway), a stoplight-heavy road that is overloaded. But the eastern end of the parkway from Interstate 95 to Route 1 is not completed, as the Army and state negotiate over who will do the work.

And even if it is completed in time for the relocation, there is no guarantee that the parkway -- and particularly the interchange with I-95, which many employees will use to reach the post -- will be able to handle the load. Pierce R. Homer, Virginia's secretary of transportation, reminded those at the meeting that an interchange ramp can handle only about 1,500 cars an hour.

And with the state legislature failing to agree on a roads funding package, he said, there is no hope for additional road capacity beyond a long-planned extra lane on I-95. "It's not an ideal situation," he said.

Consultants urged that officials give more consideration to extending Metro closer to the fort and maybe even using a defunct coal train line to bring transit onto the post. But that did not satisfy Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who, in one of his many criticisms of the planning process, noted that such improvements would not be ready in time for the relocation.

"You won't have the infrastructure in 2011 to support what's going on," he said. "That bothers me. You should have started yesterday, rather than making it part of a long-term plan."

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