Alexandria Site Picked For 6,400 Army Jobs

About 18,000 vehicles enter Fort Belvoir each business day, and its inability to handle more prompted the site study.
About 18,000 vehicles enter Fort Belvoir each business day, and its inability to handle more prompted the site study. (U.s. Army, Fort Belvoir)
By Sandhya Somashekhar and Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Army officials announced yesterday that thousands of jobs originally destined for Fort Belvoir will be moved to an office complex to be built off Seminary Road in Alexandria, despite objections from state and Fairfax County officials who said that the plan will worsen traffic in the area.

After a year-long study of three locations in Alexandria and Fairfax, Army officials decided to put 6,400 workers at the Mark Center, a private development near Interstate 395 but miles from the nearest Metro station. It will save the federal and state governments hundreds of millions of dollars on construction, relocation and transportation improvements that would have had to be spent if either of the other sites had been chosen.

"It's the best value for the Army when we take into account its cost, its schedule, getting people into secure office space sooner and saving the government some money," said Assistant Army Secretary Keith E. Eastin. "And we're talking about millions of dollars."

Army officials said they would purchase the Mark Center by December and begin construction in January. The final cost will approach $1 billion, they said, about the same as the other sites.

The decision was lauded by Alexandria city officials, who said it will boost the local economy. They said it will also help offset the 7,200 jobs the city expected to lose under the Fort Belvoir realignment plan. U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R) said it will relieve traffic around Fort Belvoir and the nearby Engineer Proving Ground, where 8,500 jobs are still headed.

Fairfax and state officials had been sharply critical of the Mark Center, which they said was the least preferable of the three sites. It is about five miles away from the nearest Metro stations. They, along with state and congressional leaders, had lobbied for the office complex to be built in Springfield, on federally-owned land within a half-mile of Metro and Virginia Railway Express.

Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the Army has missed an opportunity to make the best decision for encouraging transit and also spurring an economic revival in downtown Springfield. Connolly also noted that Fairfax will feel the brunt of the new traffic, particularly on the interstates.

"Many if not most of these workers will be coming from the south," he said. "That means they can't access this site by the VRE, and it means they're going to be in their automobiles driving across our county and Prince William County. The two big losers in terms of congestion are Prince William and Fairfax, and we get none of the benefit."

But a General Services Administration warehouse sits on the Springfield property. The 1.2 million-square-foot wooden structure was built in 1953 and holds a myriad of items -- including hard-copy patents and spare windows for the Pentagon -- for a half-dozen federal agencies. GSA officials have said it could take years and more than $100 million to move the warehouse's contents.

The jobs are being shifted as part of a larger plan by Congress and the Army to move 20,000 Washington area workers, some of them in sensitive positions, to secure job sites outside the Capital Beltway. Most of the jobs will be shifted to Fort Belvoir and the nearby Engineer Proving Ground in southern Fairfax.

When the plan was announced in 2005, Virginia officials decried the likely adverse impact on traffic if thousands of motorists -- many of whom currently take mass transit to jobs in Arlington County -- piled onto interstates 95 and 395 and the Beltway.

Army officials agreed to consider other sites for at least a few thousand of the workers. Another location in the mix was the Victory Center, off Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria. Fairfax officials had said this was the second-best option because one office building was already under construction and the site is about a half-mile from the Van Dorn Street Metro station.

Peter Scholtz, a senior vice president for Duke Realty, which owns the Mark Center, said the property offered several key advantages. Because the land is unoccupied, the Army can construct the offices to its own specifications. It is adjacent to a large hotel and convention center, and it is within walking distance of homes and restaurants.

Eastin disagreed with Fairfax officials that the Mark Center is the least desirable spot regarding traffic management.

The Mark Center is adjacent to I-395, and the Army, together with Alexandria officials, is planning for buses to ferry commuters from parking lots, the King Street Metro station and VRE stations in the mornings and afternoons. They also are planning for a new exit from I-395 to Seminary Road only for high-occupancy vehicles, he said.

Eastin also cited the ability of Mark Center's developers to turn over the property in time for the Army to meet its September 2011 deadline. That factor has drawn criticism from local and state officials, who say the deadline could have been shifted to accommodate the best site.

Eastin countered that the deadline was a financial issue, too: Every month that the 6,400 jobs remain in leased office space, the Army is spending $2 million on rent, he said. The GSA warehouse site would have been ready 33 months late, costing the Army $66 million in additional rent, he said.

Some officials said anything is better than the original destination, Fort Belvoir, which even the Army agreed would not have been able to handle such an onslaught of traffic.

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