Plan to Group 18,000 Workers Defended

Vehicles leave Fort Belvoir at rush hour. To ease traffic congestion worries, Fairfax County officials want a broader dispersal of incoming workers.
Vehicles leave Fort Belvoir at rush hour. To ease traffic congestion worries, Fairfax County officials want a broader dispersal of incoming workers. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006

Fort Belvoir's commander yesterday defended the Army's plan to cluster 18,000 military and civilian workers at the Engineer Proving Ground a couple miles from the post, discounting objections raised by Fairfax County leaders who fear a traffic disaster.

Col. Brian W. Lauritzen challenged critics who say the Army would be better off dispersing the 22,000 workers coming to Belvoir as part of the base realignment process, instead of concentrating most of them at the proving ground, an 800-acre parcel near Springfield. Fairfax officials say a broader dispersal between the proving ground and the 8,000-acre main post would help distribute the traffic impact of the move.

Lauritzen disputed this at a media briefing, arguing that focusing most of the new workers at the all-but-vacant proving ground was a dispersal of sorts, because the main post already has 22,000 workers. Route 1 (Richmond Highway), the primary access road to the post, is already overloaded, so it made sense to put the majority of new workers at the proving ground, which will be served mainly by Interstate 95 and the Fairfax County Parkway, he said.

"If you look at the total number, you can see that we actually are dispersing," he said. "You have to look at the whole equation."

The Army's proposal, released Thursday, represents a key step in the five-year realignment process, which must be completed by 2011. Under the plan, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Bethesda and Washington Headquarters Services would move to the proving ground, along with a new Army history museum. The biggest addition to the main post would be a new hospital that is to absorb elements of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Lauritzen said yesterday that there would be many more opportunities for the public to "take [its] best shot to poke holes in" the plan before it is finalized next year. But he made clear that the Army was unlikely to make any "drastic" changes, such as flipping around major elements of the plan.

"We believe this has the best opportunity for success," he said.

Fairfax officials say that they welcome the opportunities that the base realignment brings for revitalizing the southern county but that they fear there won't be funding for needed transportation improvements. Also weighing in this week were U.S. Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). "We remain concerned that this flawed process did not -- and still does not -- account for the severe transportation impact . . . to Belvoir and the surrounding area," they said in a statement.

Lauritzen said the Army recognized the need to try to find additional money, having identified $600 million in improvements around Fort Belvoir, of which only $175 million are funded. The funded projects include completion of the Fairfax County Parkway, which is still hung up over environmental cleanup issues.

The commander defended the decision to place the museum at the proving ground, which upset local officials hoping to have the museum at the main post, nearer other tourist attractions such as Mount Vernon. The museum would be easier for visitors to reach at the proving ground, just off I-95, Lauritzen said.

Fairfax officials also are upset about putting the hospital on the main post, saying it should have gone into a large federal warehouse within walking distance of the Franconia-Springfield Metro station. Lauritzen said the Army decided it was best to keep the hospital on the main post, partly because Army rules would have required building a clinic on the post if the hospital was moved off of it.

And the Army didn't want to place anything at the warehouse site, as well situated and underused as it is, because it's unclear whether the service would gain control of it, he said. "We can only work with what we own," he said.

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