Army's Transfer Plan Irks Fairfax

Route 1, the often-jammed major road to the main post. The Army says its plan would ease access to public transit.
Route 1, the often-jammed major road to the main post. The Army says its plan would ease access to public transit. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006

The Army proposed yesterday to locate most of the 22,000 military and civilian workers who are being transferred to Fort Belvoir at the nearby Engineer Proving Ground, going against the wishes of Fairfax County officials, who predicted a traffic nightmare in the congested area.

Army consultants on the federal base realignment and closure process recommended moving most of the agencies to the proving ground, a mostly wooded 800-acre parcel several miles from the post that was used as a munitions test site and is all but vacant. The major units proposed to move there include the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, now in Bethesda, and elements of the Washington Headquarters Service.

Also proposed for the proving ground is the new National Museum of the U.S. Army, which the Army had been leaning toward building on the main post. The most significant addition to the main post would be elements of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which would be combined with the base's hospital into a new facility.

Fairfax leaders had said they preferred for the agencies to be dispersed across the main post, the proving ground and a site adjacent to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station occupied by a federal government warehouse. A third option would have focused the agencies on the main post, where about 22,000 people already work.

Dispersing employees, Fairfax officials said, was the Army's best hope to avert the traffic disaster that many expect to result from the convergence of thousands of additional cars on southern Fairfax. Having 18,000 employees coming to work at a site that handles almost no traffic today is a recipe for trouble, county leaders said. Worse, they said, the Army has no guaranteed plan for paying for the $500 million in road improvements it acknowledges are needed to handle the new traffic. The main post is reached by only one major road, the often clogged Route 1.

"I'm dumbfounded," said Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). "They may have listened to us, but the proposal is black-and-white proof that the Pentagon has chosen to ignore us."

Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) sounded a similar note. "They have essentially brushed aside the many concerns the county put in front of them and decided to do what they wanted," he said. "If this were a developer coming to Fairfax County for a rezoning, I'd deny it in a heartbeat."

In its announcement, the Army said that it had taken local advice into account and that more opportunities for public comments will be available as the planning proceeds. The base realignment moves must be completed by 2011.

"We have listened closely to the concerns of the community during this early phase of the process, and we expect our community outreach will only intensify in the months ahead," Keith Eastin, the Army's assistant secretary for installations and environment, said in a statement.

The Army's consultants identified several advantages to concentrating most of the relocated workers at the proving ground. It is closer to the Metro and Virginia Railway Express stations and easier to link with public transit.

Because the proving ground is almost vacant now, it should be easier to develop the buildings needed for the agencies in a coherent, cost-effective manner there than if the agencies were sprinkled among the buildings on the main post. Placing the museum at the proving ground puts it closer to Interstate 95, making it more accessible for the expected 1 million visitors it is expected to draw each year.

Fairfax leaders questioned the parts of the proposal that the Army considers advantages. With no immediate prospect for extending Metro, the proximity to the station is of little value, they said. They conceded the opportunity to develop the proving ground in a coherent manner but said concentrating so much there undermined the Army's goal of overhauling the main post, which suffers from scattershot development.

They lamented that the Army decided not to use the warehouse site for the new hospital, as had been considered, saying patients would have had a much easier time getting to that site, adjacent to Metro, than they will going through the main post with its security checkpoints.

And they criticized the move of the Army museum to the western half of the proving ground, which the county had hoped to use as parkland. Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said removing the museum from Belvoir would hinder the county's hopes of linking it with other tourist sites, such as Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall.

"I'm dismayed," he said. "They eliminated our opportunity to have synergy" between the sites.

Alone in accepting the proposal among local officials was Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), who said putting so many employees at the proving ground would probably help with the revitalization of downtown Springfield. "People are going to come in to eat and shop. That's a good part of it," she said.

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