Army officials revisit Belvoir plan

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An agreement announced July 27 will conclude a years-long dispute over the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway and sets in motion a possible Holy Grail solution for distributing new federal workers coming to Fort Belvoir.

High-level officials from Virginia, the Department of the Army, and the Federal Highway Administration agreed in early May to several conditions that would allow greater cooperation in completing projects related to workforce realignments at Fort Belvoir.

Under the agreement, formalized last Friday in a letter from Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer, the Army will complete the missing segment of the Fairfax County Parkway that is planned to run through the old Engineer Proving Ground. The Federal Highway Administration will also play a role in helping direct federal funds toward the effort.

Homer said the agreement came after months of negotiations, ending in an uncommon commonsense solution.

As local Fairfax officials have been complaining for months, the Armys proposal to move workers to its main post site and proving grounds would create innumerable traffic headaches, which included the possibility of four or five extra miles of backed-up traffic on I-95, Homer said, if all workers were located at the proving ground as planned.

We tried to make the point to the Army that what they had planned wasnt going to work, Homer said. At the end of the day, there was some serious arithmetic, and, for regulatory reasons or workforce reasons or simple traffic, those answers were very, very compelling.

The original plans for locating workers to Fort Belvoir as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision would have placed 18,000 workers at the proving ground. However, that amount of workers and all the associated cars would exceed the parkways capacity and scuttle the design already approved.

So, the Army agreed to cap the number of workers that would go to the proving ground, also part of the July 27 agreement. Now only 8,500 workers will go to the proving ground, which in turn means that the rest must go elsewhere.

One proposal that has been continually put forward is to place the remainder of the workforce at a federal warehouse site near the Springfield-Franconia Metro station, also situated near the confluence of several major highways. However, a problem with designating the site for use by the Army has stymied the idea.

The answer may lie in the soon-to-be-considered defense appropriations bill in the House of Representatives, due to be voted on later this week. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th) said it boils down to renaming the warehouse site as part of Fort Belvoir. U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th) also supported the measure.

By expanding the definition of Fort Belvoir, we can put those people at the Metro site, Moran said.

As part of Belvoirs Environmental Impact Statement, a study was required to evaluate how the GSA warehouses could be used as part of the base realignment. Of the three options in that study, Davis said, the best option would limit the number of employees to the GSA site to 3,000.

The statement said that, with that many workers on the GSA site, it would cost about $5 million in transportation improvements, a meager sum when compared to the $100 million and more than six years of road construction if 9,500 were moved to the site.

Of the remaining workers, Davis said he and Moran have been in talks with the owners of the Victory Center, a property on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria City near the Van Dorn Metro station.

Austin Durrer, spokesman for Moran, said the Victory Center could hold up to 6,000 people, which would include the construction of a new adjacent building on the property. 

A final decision on where to situate all workers is yet to be made by the Army, said Fort Belvoir spokesman Don Carr, and the decision may include a move to defer deciding where to put workers for the time being.

Moran credited the Army, saying changes would not likely have happened without an altered attitude at the Pentagon under a new secretary of defense.

Though the move is not officially possible until the entire bill is voted on and confirmed by both the House and Senate, Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D) said the die has been cast.

Kauffman, who is not seeking another term on the county board, has long been a proponent of splitting up the mass of workers slated to come to Fort Belvoir by 2011.

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