Worries grow about Defense Department base traffic

Virginia is not alone in the logistical shuffle. Military adjudication workers will be relocated to this new facility at Fort Meade, Md.
Virginia is not alone in the logistical shuffle. Military adjudication workers will be relocated to this new facility at Fort Meade, Md. (Susan Biddle)
By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 8:06 PM

Unless the schedule changes, crucial parts of the region's transportation network won't be ready to handle the demand from commuters converging on new employment centers this year as part of the Defense Department's base realignment program.

Several of the locations are far from major transit hubs, and the moves are scheduled to take place by Sept. 15.

"That's virtually tomorrow in terms of making [transportation] enhancements," said Joseph M. Sussman last month as a task force he chairs released a report criticizing the plan to send thousands more commuters to sites in the Washington suburbs.

"The regional transportation system is already strained under existing traffic volumes" he said. "Adding tens of thousands of commuters implies that conditions can only worsen."

The congressionally mandated report by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the federal government spend more money on easing the traffic impacts, but it's almost certainly too late for this fall's commuters.

In fact there never was enough time to accommodate the relocations to suburban locales such as Fort Belvoir and the Mark Center in Virginia and the National Naval Medical Center and Fort Meade in Maryland. The decisions by the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) were made in 2005.

Road and transit improvements designed to handle major increases in commuter traffic take much longer. Planners need to figure out what they can do; build public support; do formal studies on the traffic and environmental impacts; rebuild public support for revised plans; apply for funding; do preliminary engineering; then build the projects. Just ask anyone associated with the origins of Maryland's Intercounty Connector, if they're still alive.

It's the reality facing Tom Fahrney, who has coordinated the Virginia Department of Transportation's response to the base realignment program since 2007. In his dream world, he'd be on vacation when the redeployment is completed this September. And so would you.

But that's not likely to happen. What is more likely is that commuters who normally endure September Shock as other drivers return from summer vacations and crowd the roads will find that experience inflated. Typically, drivers adjust after a few weeks, sometimes selecting new routes or new departure times, and sometimes just renewing their emotional pact with traffic congestion.

Much has been done to prepare the transportation network. Virginia has committed about $400 million to address the impact of the redeployment, but there's still much to do. Today let's focus on the challenges confronting the commonwealth.

DOD Main Street

While Fahrney's range is statewide, an inevitable focus is on the Interstate 95/395 corridor, which serves the Pentagon, Fort Belvoir's main post and Engineer Proving Ground, the Mark Center and Quantico, five centers that will employ about 84,000 people.

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