Fort Belvoir Growth: With Work, We Can Benefit

(James M Thresher - Twp)
Thursday, August 31, 2006

The public has been bombarded with stories about the base realignment and closure decision to move 22,000 people into Fort Belvoir and the Engineering Proving Grounds, both in Fairfax County. These announcements have prompted frenzied reactions by some who believe they will be stifled by the additional traffic.

Although there is no doubt that this number of people is a problem, we are acting as though this is a phenomenon.

It is not. Many residents were not here, or may have forgotten, but there has been activity on the proving grounds the past 15 years. In 1990, Congress granted the Army secretary the right to convey to "any grantee . . . all or any portion of the EPG land to be developed."

Starting in 1991, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized two task forces to make recommendations on development of the land. On Dec. 27, 1993, I sent a letter to constituents in the Springfield District alerting them to the studies and public hearings.

Task force recommendations on transportation included a "people mover" -- a light rail concept from Fort Belvoir to the proving grounds and then on to the Springfield central business district with stops at VRE stations and Metro -- and suggestions that we widen to six lanes a section of the Fairfax County Parkway that borders the proving grounds to the Newington/Interstate 95 interchange, and possibly widen the parkway to eight lanes between Rolling Road and I-95. Plans varied from an initial 17 million square feet to a final plan of 5.9 million that the board adopted in July 2001.

A sizeable amount of land was set aside for parks. In view of the huge amount of land we have since acquired on the Lorton site for parks and recreation, this part of the plan should be revisited. Development of homes for people to live and work on the same site would solve some transportation problems. Our board stopped the Army three years ago from building additional houses at Fort Belvoir for Army personnel. We need to revisit this decision with the BRAC changes. The more we can keep people near their jobs, the fewer burdens we will have on our road and transit systems.

After 9/11, it became more critical, not only for budget but for security, for the Army to bring operational agencies in rented spaces in the Washington area to a central point such as Fort Belvoir and the proving grounds.

The public has been led to believe that 22,000 people will arrive in the Fort Belvoir area from everywhere and all at one time. Not so. The people coming are already working in the area, with more than 40 percent coming from homes to the south of us. Others live in Northern Virginia, with some in Maryland. The bulk will be traveling south against the heavy I-95 northbound traffic.

There is no doubt that we need transportation money to help us solve our congestion. The state has sent word that it has no money to help. That is hard to accept. Because we get 19 cents back on every tax dollar sent to Richmond, we should be able to look to the state for help, especially on transportation needs relating to this vital change.

I have battled for more than five years to get the Fairfax County Parkway built through the proving grounds. Both the money and design are ready, yet technicalities over whether old deposits of Army waste materials have been sufficiently cleaned has held the project up. It is hard to believe that VDOT's lawyers cannot draft an agreement to protect the state from an Army already prohibited by federal regulations from conveying contaminated property.

One last thing: The Army museum, wherever it is located, will cost more than $400 million. Help is needed. The fuss over a theme park is ludicrous. If anyone thinks in this day of computers and technology that families will come and visit a place where there is nothing more than relics in cases and inanimate objects displayed, then those folks have lost touch with reality.

I take the Army's leaders at their word that they have no intention to put a theme park adjacent to the museum. I ask the residents of Fairfax County not to mistake rhetoric as an accurate characterization of the Army's plans.

If there is a company willing to help the museum come "alive," I say, "Wonderful!" We have nothing in this county or the nation's capital that teaches our children about what our forefathers fought and died for from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq war. We have an opportunity to help pay for the Army museum and give our children a lesson in history.

We would have been devastated if a decision had been made to move all of those Army facilities out of our area, as has been done in other states, taking 22,000 jobs with them, leaving millions of square feet of empty office buildings and resulting in thousands of homes being put up for sale. We wouldn't have to worry about increased taxes on our homes, but rather how much the value of our property had dropped.

With this reality, why don't we stop this bickering, roll up our sleeves and work together to make this a plus for us and our Army.

The BRAC recommendation has been mandated by the president and Congress to be completed by 2011. Let's get the job done and be "doers" instead of "doubters."

Elaine McConnell, supervisor from southern Fairfax

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