By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006
A top U.S. Army official pledged yesterday that the last section of the Fairfax County Parkway will be completed near Fort Belvoir before 22,000 workers arrive in September 2011 as part of the federal base realignment and closure plan.
Completion of the 35-mile parkway is regarded by local officials as crucial to absorbing the massive waves of new traffic headed to the post. The parkway is unfinished because of a disagreement between the state and the U.S. Army over who should build it.
"I'm confident that wise people can get together and figure how to do this," Keith E. Eastin, assistant secretary of the army for installations and environment, said at a hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform held in Springfield.
County officials said that the worker relocation plan for Fort Belvoir will pose a traffic nightmare for an area with a limited road system that is already choked with cars. Only one major road, Route 1 (Richmond Highway), serves the base. Top state and local political leaders attended the hearing, including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), and many of them criticized the Army for not doing enough to plan for additional traffic.
The final two-mile segment of the parkway, which links Route 7 in northern Fairfax to Route 1 in the southeast, would run through the Engineer Proving Ground, a wooded section of the base that was once a munitions testing site. Work was delayed on the road to allow the Army time to remove unexploded ordnance. But when underground oil contamination was discovered, the state, which normally would build the road, said it was barred by law from taking possession of polluted land. The Army proposed that the state build the road while the cleanup continued.
The Army's relocation plan calls for clustering 18,000 military and civilian workers at the proving ground, adding to the urgency of completing the parkway.
Eastin did not specifically describe how the impasse would be broken, nor did he directly address the question of the road's current design, which can handle only the commuters now heading to Belvoir. Nor did he commit the Army to improved highway interchanges and additional access points to the post that would also be necessary to accommodate traffic.
But he said his discussions with Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer have led him to believe that a timely solution can be worked out. "We'll have this built long before September 15, 2011," said Eastin, whose last government post was as senior State Department consultant to the Iraq Ministry of Environment.
Homer, who attended the hearing, was more guarded. He said that the state would do its best to finish the road but that "under current assumptions, it is inadequate to serve 18,000 people a day."
Under the realignment plan, the proving ground will become the new home of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, currently in Bethesda, and portions of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which will be added to the existing base hospital. The Army also favors the proving ground as the site of a new National Museum of the U.S. Army, though officials confirmed yesterday that another site on the base -- the North Post golf course -- will also be considered before a final decision is made.
Local politicians said they welcome the economic windfall that will come with thousands of new jobs but said that without major road improvements, the relocation would be a disaster.
Fairfax Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said he was asked at a recent community meeting what the Army was thinking when it formulated plans for Belvoir. "My reply then and now is, 'I don't have evidence that they were thinking.' "
In addition to completion of the parkway, the Army has identified about $600 million worth of other road projects that it says are essential to the relocation but that are mostly unfunded. These include additional or improved ramps off Interstate 95 to the proving ground, and improvements to the existing parkway between I-95 and Kingman Road.
Kaine, who has backed away from his earlier proposal to raise taxes by $1 billion to pay for road and transit projects, said he regretted having to ask the congressional delegation for help when the state's commitment remained in doubt.
"My mom and dad told me not to ask for help if I wasn't helping myself. . . . I know we're not doing what we need to do as a commonwealth," he said.
Other elected officials said the Army's current road plans are not nearly adequate and do not account for likely commuting patterns. Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax), a former state transportation secretary, said motorists are certain to use Backlick and Rolling roads to evade rush-hour traffic, raising safety issues that "will be costly to the state and forever change these neighborhoods."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the committee chairman, and Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said the five-year window for funding and completing the necessary road improvements is too narrow. Both pledged to try to change the BRAC deadline.
"We need to expand the timeline on this," Davis said. "We think it's just unrealistic."