By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007
The Army has agreed to dramatically scale back plans to move 22,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir in southeastern Fairfax County, averting a widely predicted traffic catastrophe and eliminating pressure on state and local officials to spend nearly $500 million in road and transit improvements.
Under an agreement with state officials, the Army would cap at about 8,500 the number of jobs to be moved from the Pentagon, Crystal City and other locations in the Washington area to Belvoir's isolated Engineering Proving Ground. An additional 3,500 jobs are still scheduled to move to Fort Belvoir's main post.
The number of jobs headed for the proving ground was set at 18,500 in 2005, when the Army and Congress orchestrated base closures and realignments to cut spending and comply with tighter security guidelines established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The jobs no longer bound for Belvoir would head instead to Springfield -- and a property within walking distance of Metro and Virginia Railway Express stations. The Army would tear down an empty General Services Administration warehouse near the Franconia-Springfield Station and build offices there, state and Army officials confirmed. Springfield, which is hoping for a revival, is closer to mass transit and major highways and could better absorb the increase than the area around Belvoir.
The news represents an enormous victory for Fairfax County and Virginia officials and for U.S. Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), all of whom pressured the Army to reconsider. Critics argued that many jobs were being shifted from Metro-accessible offices in Arlington County to an area ill-served by transit and that thousands of the positions are not of a sufficiently sensitive nature to justify the move to a more remote location.
"The Army deserves a lot of credit for trying to find creative solutions to a very challenging transportation and workforce problem," said Pierce R. Homer, Virginia's secretary of transportation. "The original proposal would have resulted in a four- to five-mile backup on I-95 every morning. They realized that they could not get their employees on and off the base in a timely fashion."
Few were optimistic that the Army would change course. Congress made few changes to the Pentagon's base closure and realignment recommendations in 2005. And this month, the Army released a final environmental review statement affirming its plans to move most of the jobs to the proving ground by Sept. 15, 2011.
"It's unprecedented to alter a BRAC decision," Moran said.
He said Army officials worried that even small changes would open up the entire nationwide base-closing plan to revision. But Springfield is near Fort Belvoir, and going there accomplishes the same goals.
"We limited the language because we didn't want to unravel the rest of the BRAC decision-making process," Moran said.
Set well back from Route 1, Fort Belvoir is better protected against truck bombs than much of the leased office space in Crystal City, but the post is served primarily by that single, congested highway. The nearby proving ground is served by even smaller thoroughfares, Backlick and Rolling roads.
The Army predicted in March that the shift of jobs to Belvoir and the proving ground would require at least $458 million in unfunded transportation improvements. That did not include completing the southern end of the Fairfax County Parkway or adding lanes to Interstate 95, for which Virginia already has allocated $223 million. Without the improvements, the Army predicted rush-hour traffic would be worse at nine intersections near Fort Belvoir. Near the proving ground at an 807-acre tract about two miles northwest of the post, there would be "severe congestion lasting 3-4 hours if there is no mitigation," an Army report concluded.
Altogether, about 12,000 jobs are now scheduled to move to Fort Belvoir and its proving ground. But the 8,500 jobs going to the proving ground are with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a 24-hour operation with irregular shifts, which will reduce the impact on the road network, Homer said.
In addition to shifting jobs away from Belvoir, yesterday's agreement calls for the federal government to oversee completion of the southern segment of the Fairfax County Parkway, a critical road link that will traverse Belvoir property. Whether Virginia or the federal government would oversee that project -- and assume liability for any environmental cleanup required on post property -- had been a sticking point between state and federal officials. Most of the jobs headed to Belvoir would move after the completion of the parkway, Moran said.
"The county and the citizens need the Fairfax County [Parkway] to make some sense out of the traffic situation in Northern Virginia," said Assistant Army Secretary Keith E. Eastin, who negotiated the agreement with Virginia. "We ought to cooperate between the Army and the State of Virginia to get that done.
The new agreement also invigorates plans to revitalize Springfield, an aging crossroads known primarily for the Mixing Bowl, the massive junction of Interstates 95, 495 and 395.
With thousands of federal workers destined to work within walking distance of the Metro station and with Springfield Mall soon to be rehabilitated, county officials, smart-growth advocates and property owners are likely to push harder to achieve a walkable, transit-oriented downtown Springfield.
"The economic revitalization of Springfield and the spinoff economic advantages are hard to calculate, but they're real," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Eastin said the Army would have to study the GSA property to make sure it is feasible to move the jobs there. He said a final agreement between Virginia and the Army should emerge within a month.
The agreement does not specify whether the movement of jobs from Arlington would still be completed by September 2011.
One issue not affected by the agreement is the future of Crystal City, which Arlington officials fear could become a ghost town once thousands of military jobs leave.
Arlington stands to lose 17,000 jobs -- more than any other jurisdiction in the country -- as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's 2005 recommendations. Of those jobs, 13,000 are in Crystal City, along with 3 million square feet of affected office space.