BRAC Costs Rise; Completion of Road Improvements Uncertain

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The federally ordered movement of Defense Department jobs around the Washington area is proving more costly than originally thought, and there is concern that road improvements to accommodate the additional traffic will not be made in time, worsening gridlock in a region that can hardly afford it.

Local officials say the projects will be completed by the Sept. 15, 2011, deadline, a coup given their massive scope (at least one will be larger than Tysons Corner Center) and their complexity (some are super-secret intelligence buildings).

The reorganization is the result of the Pentagon's 2005 base realignment and closure plan, an effort to streamline defense resources across the country and upgrade them to new security standards. Dozens of Defense Department buildings are being shuttered, and others are under construction in what the Government Accountability Office called the "biggest, most complex and costliest BRAC round ever."

"We are ready for BRAC," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said recently on WTOP radio. "We are able to accommodate the 40,000 to 60,000 jobs coming from BRAC. That is not to say that we'll have every intersection upgraded. That's not to say that we're as ready as we would be if we had unlimited dollars to invest in our highway and roads, transportation and school infrastructure."

The cost to implement the changes across the country jumped last year by $1.2 billion, according to a recent GAO report. The largest single increase was the cost of the headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency under construction at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, which rose by $350 million and now stands at more than $2.4 billion.

The Defense Department agency, which collects and analyzes spy satellite images, is consolidating six East Coast locations into a campus of 2.4 million square feet, which would be larger than Tysons. The projected completion date is Sept. 11, 2011 -- four days before the deadline -- which the report called "minimal schedule margin" that could "jeopardize maintaining the complex construction schedule."

The cost estimate increased because of "the enormity of the project on a compressed timeline" and an evolving design, said Jim Fasone, the campus's business manager. The contracts were awarded in late 2007, before the recent economic decline, which has led to a dramatic decrease in the cost of construction.

Once a site for the headquarters was finally chosen in 2007, an additional $38 million in road and site improvements had to be factored in, Fasone said. But since the GAO report was issued in January, officials were able to trim the budget so that the increase now stands at $275 million.

Other large projects include closing Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington and moving it to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and Fort Belvoir. Maryland's Fort Meade is gaining 5,400 workers and an estimated 5,000 family members. The population of Fort Belvoir would nearly double to about 45,000, and it is undergoing more than $4 billion worth of construction that would create more office space than exists at the Pentagon.

Traffic at Fort Belvoir is of paramount concern.

"There's no way the existing road system around Fort Belvoir could ever handle the traffic load they are going to have," said Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee).

Base officials are putting together a traffic plan, including ride-sharing, flexible hours and teleworking, to help ease the burden. In addition, Army officials last year decided to move 6,400 of the employees originally slated for Fort Belvoir to a site off Interstate 395 and Seminary Road in Alexandria. That has angered McKay and others, who said it will add more cars to one of the most clogged corridors in the region.

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