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Paralyzed Roads Envisioned Near Belvoir

Squeezed between Route 1 and the Potomac River, Fort Belvoir has never been easy to reach. Route 1 traffic, shown here, is regularly congested.
Squeezed between Route 1 and the Potomac River, Fort Belvoir has never been easy to reach. Route 1 traffic, shown here, is regularly congested. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

As more details emerge about the Army's plan to bring 22,000 employees to Fort Belvoir, state and local officials are warning that it will create horrific gridlock in southern Fairfax County when there is no money to fix the inadequate road network in that area.

The Army is preparing to shift military and civilian employees from across the region to Fort Belvoir in the next five years as part of the federal base closure and realignment plan. In effect, the move will drop a workforce the size of the Pentagon's in one of the least accessible corners of the region.

"The I-95 and Route 1 corridors are already extremely congested, and adding significant new transportation demands in those corridors will have very extensive impacts," Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer said yesterday. "Providing adequate highway capacity to serve development of that magnitude is going to be extremely, extremely challenging. This is the most significant single land-use proposal on the table in the entire metropolitan area, without question."

Although some Fairfax residents have had a vague sense of what is headed their way, the bleak transportation reality is even clearer now with last week's release of the Army's proposal for situating the various agencies moving to Fort Belvoir, already Fairfax's largest employer.

The defining feature is to place most of the transferred workers -- about 18,000 -- at the Engineer Proving Ground, a mostly vacant 800-acre parcel a couple miles northwest of the post. Also slated for the proving ground, at a separate entrance, is a new Army history museum, possibly combined with a hotel and conference center that is expected to draw 1 million visitors a year.

Most of the employees and museum visitors are expected to arrive by Interstate 95 and its interchange with the Fairfax County Parkway. But that stretch of the parkway isn't built yet, delayed by a dispute over environmental cleanup. And an interchange can handle only about 1,500 cars an hour.

Homer and other worried state and local officials say the numbers just don't add up -- not even close.

But the Army says its plan presents the best hope for avoiding gridlock in the Fort Belvoir area because it diverts most of the new traffic away from the main post, which already has 23,000 employees and has never been easy to reach, squeezed between Route 1 (Richmond Highway) and the Potomac River. Studies by the Army's consultants show that Route 1 can handle only about 6,000 more cars a day. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, access to the post has tightened, with the addition of security checkpoints and the closure of a key road that crosses the post.

But the Army also acknowledges that the success of its plan to concentrate growth at the proving ground depends on transportation improvements for which little funding exists. The Army has identified 14 needed projects with a total price tag of $600 million; only about a quarter of those are funded.

"I'm not in the position to get the Army to pony up that kind of funding," said the post's commander, Col. Brian Lauritzen. "I am in a position to partner with local officials" to lobby the state or Congress for help, he added.

That won't be easy, Fairfax officials say. The Virginia legislature has been unable to agree on a major funding package for the state's existing transportation crisis, much less find money to address future problems, they point out.

And Congress is in no mood to put more money toward the plan, considering that one of the primary motivations for the base relocation process is to save money.


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