Lawmakers Seek to Push Back Fort Belvoir Realignment

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Several of Virginia's congressional leaders are continuing to push federal officials to consider alternatives to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's plan to move 21,000 Army personnel to Fort Belvoir by 2011.

As part of their strategy, the lawmakers hope to push back the deadline for the realignment process by at least two years so that the area can become better prepared to absorb the influx of traffic expected along Route 1, Interstate 95 and the network of secondary roads in southern Fairfax County.

"The timeline has always been unrealistic. . . . We've always said this will never work," Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-Va.) said. "We're trying to enlarge the BRAC envelope. We think we can move half that density. That will take a tremendous load off [Interstate] 95."

The lawmakers are also hoping to expand the development options for military office buildings, suggesting that the facilities should be built closer to Metro stops in Springfield. The Army's current plan calls for clustering 18,000 military and civilian workers at the Engineer Proving Grounds, not easily accessible by rail. The remaining 3,000 workers will be at the main post, east of Route 1.

Ideally, lawmakers said, moving them off the proving ground and closer to Metro stops would reduce traffic congestion in the eastern part of the county.

Davis, who is working closely with Rep. James P. Moran (D) and Sen. John Warner (R) on alternatives, said that amendments moving through the House and Senate appropriations process may allow some change in existing law, which mandates that the base realignment plan be completed by Sept. 15, 2011. They can also seek amendments to Defense Authorization bills every year.

"We'll get a shot at this every year through the appropriations process," Davis said. "We feel pretty good about our chances to do that."

Under the realignment, the proving ground will become the home of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, now in Bethesda, and portions of Walter Reed Army Medical Center that will be folded into the existing base hospital.

Army officials said that they are working as quickly as possible to address infrastructure issues but were bound to carry out BRAC mandates.

They have already pledged that the last section of the 35-mile Fairfax County Parkway will be completed near Fort Belvoir, which is regarded by local officials as crucial to absorbing new traffic headed to the post. The parkway is unfinished because of a disagreement between the state and Army over who should build the final section.

Donald Carr, director of public affairs for Fort Belvoir, said that the Army also was concerned about making sure transportation infrastructure was available by 2011. He added that efforts by Davis and others to place personnel near Metro was being studied. But, he said, the Army will continue to prepare for a 2011 arrival, unless Congress changes the law.

"All the planning is based on" Sept. 15, 2011, Carr said. "Congress and the president [are] the [ones] who made the law. If they change the law then everyone is going to have to change accordingly."

In addition, Virginia lawmakers are pushing the federal government to fully fund 14 transportation projects near Fort Belvoir -- worth an estimated $700 million -- to accommodate the anticipated workers. Hearings on the future of the projects are scheduled to begin in the next several weeks in a House Appropriations Subcommittee.

Moran, in particular, said he has become alarmed about money for the projects. Last week, House Democrats allocated $3 billion that had been earmarked for the realignment plan to other priorities, such as veteran health care. The shifting of funds, Moran said, was in response to House Republicans failing to fund several appropriations bills last year.

"If the military wants their BRAC plans to move as scheduled, they must put in place adequate transportation infrastructure plans at Fort Belvoir," he said in a statement. "We will continue to look for ways to hold the Army's feet to the fire on this issue as the 2011 implementation date approaches."

But, Davis said, the necessary funds for the transportation projects are secondary to the need to change where the new military buildings are built and the short amount of time the BRAC process calls for them to do it.

"Even if we had $700 million in the bank today, there's still no way we're going to be ready for BRAC," Davis said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company