Study: Pentagon should pay for transportation improvements necessitated by BRAC

Traffic backs up during the morning rush at Route 1 and the Fairfax County Parkway near Fort Belvoir.
Traffic backs up during the morning rush at Route 1 and the Fairfax County Parkway near Fort Belvoir.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 7:53 PM

The Defense Department has shirked responsibility to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation improvements required as it transfers thousands of workers to Fort Belvoir, Fort Meade and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, according to a congressionally mandated study released Monday.

The Pentagon's decision to add tens of thousands of commuters this year to a region that has the most congested transportation system in the United States has placed an unfair burden on state and local governments, the study says.

"We here in Northern Virginia have been saying that for quite some time," said U.S. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.). "We want to be supportive of the Pentagon, but at the end of the day, we need the resources to mitigate the impact."

The report recommends that Congress consider a one-time allocation of new money or reprogram unused stimulus money to pay for transportation improvements.

"The process that the Pentagon has used is not fair and not appropriate," said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who requested the study. "Now you've got an independent validator saying to the Pentagon that this doesn't make sense. We're going to try to use this to make the case that there has to be federal responsibility."

The report by the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the transportation impact of 2005 decisions by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The commission decided to close some installations and transfer military and civilian personnel.

"We just don't have the resources to add capacity when they just drop these things out of the sky," said Ron Kirby, transportation planning director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "There are places in the region where this development would have been much more welcome. The DoD people are going to be caught in traffic as much as anybody else, so they had an incentive not to turn a blind eye to this."

Although the closings were nationwide, nowhere has the impact on transportation been more profound than in the Washington area. Citing security concerns, the Pentagon relocated thousands of jobs from inner-hub locations served by public transit to areas accessible only by car.

"Local roads serving Fort Belvoir, [the Bethesda medical center] and Fort Meade could approach, if not experience, lengthy queues of stalled traffic," the report says.

Predicting a "near perfect storm of problems," the report chastises the Pentagon for focusing primarily on problems within its bases without sufficient regard for the effects of decisions on surrounding areas.

"The affected communities did not have time, especially under current economic circumstances, to locate funds . . . to support the new demands on their transportation networks," the report says.

Under its guidelines, the Pentagon isn't required to help pay for transportation improvements surrounding a military base slated for growth unless its actions would cause congestion to double.

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