Officials, residents debate funding for Mark Center upgrades

By Christy Goodman
Thursday, November 25, 2010; T19

Alexandria residents and officials are grappling with how to fund roads and emergency services in the West End, in preparation for the opening of a building that will house 6,400 federal workers by September.

"I believe we have a pretty serious challenge to find funding for fire and emergency medical services, extra traffic police services and the resources to pay $13 million to $15 million for short-term and midterm road improvements," said David Dexter, chairman of the BRAC-133 Advisory Group, at a meeting Wednesday.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials recommended new turning lanes, dedicated ramps to Interstate 395 and a pedestrian bridge to help improve traffic around the Mark Center, but they said there is no money to pay for such improvements.

The estimated cost of short- and midterm road improvements is $13 million to $15 million, Michael Snare, a design manager for Virginia MegaProjects, told the BRAC-133 Advisory Group. BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) is the reorganization of a military structure, and BRAC-133 is the designation given to the Mark Center.

The advisory group, composed of stakeholders affected by the relocation of the Washington Headquarters Service and other federal employees to the facility being built off Interstate 395 and Seminary Road, passed a resolution in support of future construction. The resolution said the federal government and Duke Realty, which owns and manages the Mark Center, should be responsible for the road work.

Dexter, who represents the Seminary West area, said taxpayers should not have to cover the costs, considering that they will probably have to foot the bill for emergency services.

Donald N. Buch, an at-large member of the group, disagreed. He read a section from the special-use permit for the site that releases the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and developers from paying for construction of a ramp into the facility from I-395 and "comparable" road improvements.

"It seems to me the city let these guys off the hook six years ago," said Buch, a Cameron Station resident.

Although group members disagreed, Jim Turkel, the corps' director of the BRAC moves related to Fort Belvoir, said Buch had a point.

"I think we have bent over backwards for this group," said Turkel, who listed several improvements the corps has paid for, including half the cost of a $250,000 traffic study. "We've been very active" in trying to find funding, he said.

The resolution passed with Turkel and a representative from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership abstaining and Duke Realty voting against it.

Money appropriated within BRAC funds could be accessed by the Army for the improvements, said Austin Durrer, chief of staff to Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). The congressman announced Wednesday that the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office is investigating the site's environmental assessment and transportation plan. The investigation will be conducted by Wight and Co. of Chicago.

Moran included the review and a cap on parking at the Mark Center development as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011, which awaits a Senate vote.

Also unfunded are $2 million in staffing and a new ambulance, Alexandria Fire Chief Adam Thiel said. He said the new building will increase the department's seven-to-eight-minute response time by four to 10 minutes. Security measures at the site will add to that time, he said.

"I'm telling you now, it is going to be a long wait," Thiel said.

Turkel said his legal counsel said municipal services paid for by property taxes cannot be reimbursed by the federal government. Moran and the city attorney are reviewing that opinion.

Officials are also discussing whether traffic control officers at the Mark Center would be funded the way a special event would, to make sure taxpayers don't fund this cost.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company