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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)

A combination of state and federal money was designed to extend the Fairfax County Parkway and build new highway ramps in the Fort Belvoir area, as well as to add a fourth lane to I-95 along six miles between the parkway and Route 123. Elements of those projects are not yet complete.

Last month, Virginia revived its plan to create High Occupancy Toll lanes along I-95, though it sliced off most of the I-395 High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, north of the Beltway, from the original design. The HOT lanes project will add capacity to 29 miles of I-95. VDOT hopes to begin construction as early as next year. The project would take about three years to complete.

Northern nightmare

While announcing the revival of the HOT lanes project, Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton also moved to address a BRAC problem north of Belvoir that looms large in Fahrney's nightmares about September. Connaughton said Virginia will build a ramp from the HOV lanes on I-395 to Seminary Road in Alexandria, connecting with the Mark Center.

Two office towers at the Mark Center will be the work site for 6,400 defense employees, compared to about 35,000 at Fort Belvoir and the proving ground site, but it's a transportation knot that has proved difficult to cut.

An initial plan to build an HOV ramp into the Mark Center was dropped because of environmental concerns. Some short-term changes will improve driving access and egress to the center, but even those will not be complete till the end of 2013.

"Employees will be in place while we're trying to construct these improvements," Fahrney noted. That will limit roadwork hours, so that the commute doesn't become even worse.

Construction of the HOV ramp that Connaughton announced last month isn't likely to begin till 2012.

While planners are encouraging employees to arrive by bus and carpool, or to telecommute. More than half of the employees are likely to drive.

This fall, morning traffic on I-395 near Seminary Road will be even worse, in both directions, Fahrney said. The effects will be felt on local roads as well as regional highways. "The real problem will be in the evening," Fahrney said. He predicted that Mark Center employees will spend 14 to 18 minutes getting from their parking garage to I-395, where they will attempt to merge with the already heavy homebound traffic.

Next time

"Traffic studies should have come before the decisions on relocation were made," Fahrney said, channeling some of the conclusions drawn by the research task force about the need for greater coordination between federal and local governments with regard to future base realignment programs.

The task force focused on time and money. It advised future base commissions to bear in mind that local governments may need more than a decade to develop their transportation plans.

The Defense Department also "should accept more financial responsibility for problems it causes," the task force concluded. Those problems affect all commuters, including those trying to get to work at the defense installations.

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