At an Impasse Over Va. Parkway's Missing Link
Sunday, August 27, 2006
The long-awaited completion of the Fairfax County Parkway is on indefinite hold because of a disagreement between the state of Virginia and the U.S. Army over who should build it.
The problems are related to old ordnance and other debris that need to be removed from a two-mile stretch of highway that runs through the Engineer Proving Ground at Fort Belvoir. The Army expected to finish clearing the site last year, but more contamination was found than expected, and it is now unclear when the cleanup will be done.
Virginia officials said they are prohibited by state law from building the highway until the site is environmentally sound. They will still pay for the road, but they want the Army to build it -- and they want it done soon, before thousands of workers are shifted to the area over the next five years as part of the Defense Department's base realignment and closure (BRAC) plan.
Army officials said they are not normally in the business of building public highways and have countered with a plan they said allows the state to build the road while the cleanup continues.
"When the process was started, there was the assumption that the road would be built, just like any other highway project, by VDOT," said Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R). "But over the last year or so, because every variable is controlled by the Army . . . the feeling among the Department of Transportation and the congressional delegation is that the Army really ought to be the one to do the project."
McDonnell said the state cannot take control of the property from the federal government until the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the cleanup.
"Our lawyers have been meeting regularly with the Army's top counsel," McDonnell said. "We have a cordial relationship. I think it would not be revealing a secret to say they didn't want to build the road because they are busy fighting two wars."
An Army spokesman said the remaining cleanup work could be done while Virginia builds the road. "While this position has not been approved by the EPA, they do not object to the concept," spokesman Dave Foster said.
The two-mile stretch of highway is the last link in a 35-mile parkway that runs from Route 7 in northern Fairfax County to Route 1 in the southeastern section of the county. The first section of the road opened in 1987. Other stretches opened nearly every year after that until 2001. By then, all but the two-mile section was complete.
County officials have said finishing the parkway is one of the most important transportation projects in Northern Virginia because it is a crucial connection to Fort Belvoir, where the Army plans to relocate many of its operations.
"It is going to be a transportation disaster if that parkway is not built before BRAC is to be implemented," said Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). "The Army knows it. Fairfax County knows it. The state knows it. We all know it. The money is there. The plan is there. Let's just do it."
The dispute is of such concern that Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has met with state and local officials and Army representatives in an effort to resolve it. Warner introduced legislation earlier this year "authorizing" the Army to build the highway. The bill was approved by the Senate in May and is in a conference committee.