At Fort Belvoir, A View Toward A Busier Post

Added Jobs May Transform A Corner of Fairfax County

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008; Page C01

Fort Belvoir, already the largest employer in Fairfax County, has begun a massive expansion that would nearly double the population of the sprawling post and make it one of the largest Army installations in the country.

Over the next few years, the post is expected to undergo more than $4 billion worth of construction to create more office space than exists at the Pentagon, including a 120-bed hospital, a wounded warriors transition center and the headquarters for several military and intelligence agencies.

Belvoir's main post, off Interstate 95 near Mount Vernon, is also the preferred site for the planned National Museum of the U.S. Army, a tourist attraction that is expected to draw a million visitors a year.

"It's absolutely incredible," said Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). "Fort Belvoir before was a very busy place. But now, with all that is proposed and is starting to happen, all of a sudden it becomes not just a large town but a small city. It's almost a metamorphosis of Fort Belvoir into what I would call a mega-base."

Some officials fear that the massive growth will clog area roads that are already overwhelmed with traffic. Belvoir has a population of 24,000. But others say it could also help stunt the effect of the economic downturn, which has brought so much construction in the region to a halt. And with defense contractors expected to cluster around the post, the expansion could provide an economic spark to an area that has largely been overlooked by developers, officials said.

The changes at Belvoir are largely the result of the Defense Department's 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, which is moving more jobs to Belvoir than to any other military installation in the country.

Once the transformation is complete, Fort Belvoir will have the fifth-largest military population, excluding families, of any installation in the country, according to the Army. But unlike the other bases, such as Fort Hood and Fort Bragg, which are home to major Army divisions such as the 1st Cavalry and the 82nd Airborne, Belvoir will be populated mostly with federal employees and civilian contractors. Their mission is not to fight but to provide the support, logistics and intelligence for those who do.

In an effort to reduce traffic to the main post, officials have divided the new development into three sites: the main post, which occupies 12.25 square miles on the banks of the Potomac River; the Engineer Proving Ground a couple of miles inland; and a yet-to-be built office complex off Interstate 395 and Seminary Road in Alexandria.

In all, 3,400 jobs are coming to the main post. There will be 8,500 more at the nearby proving ground.

Originally, about 6,400 more workers from the Washington Headquarters Service were slated to move to the proving ground. But because of fears that existing roads could not handle such an influx of people -- the nearest Metro stop is a few miles away -- the Army decided to move those workers to the Fort Belvoir office complex off I-395.

The county has estimated the need for $1.3 billion in road improvements to accommodate the base's growth, Hyland said. But so far, "the money is not there," he said. "We're looking to the federal government to help us make this work, but it's been a challenge."

By law, the BRAC development is to be completed by September 2011 and is "going to take place regardless of what's happening in the economy," said Gerald L. Gordon, president and chief executive of the Fairfax County Economic Development Corp. "Since the economy is struggling and there's [very little] construction, it will help offset that. The small business and retail shops may have gone out of business in the absence of something like this."

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