Beginning in September 2011, a projected 6,400 federal Army employees will embed themselves in Alexandria daily, beginning and ending their workdays with a commute to and from the Washington Headquarter Service at Mark Center on the citys West End. WHSs existence will no doubt be a boon for the citys economy particularly in the long-term, as that sector of the city surrounding the I-395 interchange at Seminary Road will see future redevelopment. In the short-term, the city will gain revenue from commuters via its existing restaurant and retail establishments, as well as an array of other benefits that will come from having guests on a daily and yearly basis.
Economic factors are significant to the success of WHS, but so too are quality of life issues. If the citys residents are unhappy with the final product, the luring of the Army site will have been in vain. The Mark Center site edges an existing community as well as the Winkler Botanical Reserve, a stronghold of green life in the middle of what is becoming an increasingly urban town. As if congestion issues in the area were not intimidating enough already, the Office of the City Manager performed a transportation analysis earlier this year and found that a direct access ramp from I-395 to Mark Center is necessary to accommodate the eventual blitz of Army administrators.
The ramps implications have certainly not been lost on city officials and staff. The BRAC / Mark Center Advisory Group, comprised of every stakeholder in the matter from neighborhood activists to Army Corps of Engineer officials to elected officials, are doing a thorough job of vetting the issues facing the neighborhood: Construction noise, altered vistas, increased traffic congestion and wildlife infringement, to name a few. The committee has nine points of principle stipulations of sort guiding their support of the ramp. They range from reducing traffic impacts to assuring funding from the federal government. Last night (after the Times deadline), the Transportation Commission held a public hearing to discuss the ramps possible shape and size options pertaining to the ramps construction.
It is good to see various stakeholders working together on the project in a thorough, transparent manner, but it would be helpful to start planning ahead to change the general mindset of daily commuting to further reduce congestion on an already deadlocked rush-hour highway. One of the advisory groups tenets is to provide amenities / incentives to encourage alternate transit use. Of course, it would be ideal to have a Metro station magically appear, or perhaps a streetcar line implemented, but these things are not so easily completed, particularly with state and local budget deficits.
Despite a highly advanced and connected marketplace, commuting to work remains at status quo. In the short-term, it would be helpful to start thinking and speaking out at public hearings and relevant meetings about incentives for telecommuting some days of the week, hopefully with an end of convincing the powers that be (i.e. federal, local and state governments and private corporations) to think differently about commuting. Contact one of your state delegates to see what can be done to incentivize businesses for congestion-reducing practices. All parties have an interest here; less road warriors mean less road construction and upkeep. Less commuting could mean more productive employees.
In the case of Mark Center, sure, less workers would mean marginally less economic advantages for the city. Being polite to guests is important, but so is recognizing and acting on the wishes of existing residents it has begun whose everyday lives will be altered by the sites development.