A Costly Shuffle

In this region, the military realignment hailed by political leaders is more a matter of job relocation than job creation. Although the economic benefits might be questionable, the strains in store for roadways are beyond doubt.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 16, 2007; Page C01

Heralded as an economic boon, the Pentagon's base realignment plan will be an expensive game of musical chairs for the Washington region, with more than 90 percent of the region's 30,000 new military jobs coming from somewhere else around the Capital Beltway.

Political leaders, especially in Maryland, rejoiced two years ago when the Pentagon recommended consolidating thousands of military and civilian jobs at the region's bases. Now those leaders, concerned about strain on an already stressed road network, are scrambling to come up with billions of dollars in road and other infrastructure improvements needed for the job shifts coming in 2011.

Soldiers in uniforms from various eras carry ceremonial shovels used to break ground on a 120-bed hospital to be built at the expanding Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County.
Soldiers in uniforms from various eras carry ceremonial shovels used to break ground on a 120-bed hospital to be built at the expanding Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

Although a short-term boost is expected for the construction industry -- which will be building $7 billion in new roads, offices and hospital facilities for the base expansions -- the long-term economic benefits to the region are "clearly not of a scale you would expect given this amount of movement," said Stephen S. Fuller, director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis.

"We're mainly moving people around."

In some cases, the workers will arrive long before road projects are finished, leaving congestion that could stretch for miles. "The bulk of the jobs are coming in the next three to four years," said Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who is preparing for a traffic onslaught in Bethesda and Anne Arundel County. "In transportation planning terms, that's tomorrow morning."

Such forecasts have had a sobering effect on local officials, particularly in Fairfax County, where more than 19,000 workers, and their cars, will arrive in three years. "Clearly, it's a tremendous economic boost for Fort Belvoir," Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said. "But now, looking at reality, it's going to be a tremendous amount of congestion until they get the infrastructure in place."

Fort Belvoir is gaining more jobs than any other military installation in the country, and 95 percent of those moving to the Army post are coming from offices in Rosslyn, Reston, Bethesda and, particularly, Crystal City.

"What you're talking about is 19,000 jobs that are already here, if you're talking about the national capital region," said Donald N. Carr, a spokesman for Fort Belvoir.

Similarly, the vast bulk of the 5,700 government jobs moving to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel are coming from elsewhere in the region, largely from Northern Virginia, said Col. Kenneth McCreedy, the post commander. Of as many as 2,500 additional medical and hospital workers headed to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, almost all will come from the closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District.

Area leaders have also touted a "multiplier" effect from the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure that is expected to generate more than 30,000 private-industry defense jobs. But planners suspect that many of these jobs will come from elsewhere in the region, as well.

Although Fort Belvoir and Fort Meade will benefit, "much of this impact from BRAC relocations into the area comes at the expense of the rest of the Washington metropolitan economy," two research institutes associated with GMU concluded in a July report. Arlington County and Alexandria together are losing more than 17,000 jobs and are seeking state aid to cushion the blow.

Initial predictions for housing gains and shifts in school population might not materialize, as surveys show that many workers will simply change their commute rather than uproot from homes and schools.

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