More than 20,000 defense personnel in the Washington region who today work in leased office space near Metro stations are scheduled to move next year as part of the 2005 BRAC decision.
When the moves occur, thousands more cars will be forced onto a road system with traffic that consistently ranks second worst in the nation. These new commuters will not only disrupt the military’s productivity, hundreds of thousands of area commuters who depend on Route 1 and I-395 to get to and from work could lose hours of their work day.
I voted against BRAC. The reasons for my decision then are more than justified now. Rather than save the money promised, the Government Accounting Office now estimates that it will cost $35 billion a 67 percent increase from what was originally estimated.
Of greatest concern is the transportation situation at what’s known as the BRAC 133 Project at the Mark Center in Alexandria. For anyone who travels I-395, this is the massive construction project just south of Seminary Road. Towering over the highway stand two multi-story towers one with 15 floors, the other with 17 set to house 6,400 employees from the Department of Defense’s Washington Headquarters Service. Within 18 months, this will cause chaos for commuters traveling I-395.
It could be and should have been prevented.
In late 2007, the Army was reviewing bids to provide office space for the WHS. Three potential sites were identified: The GSA warehouse at the Springfield Metro Center, the Victory Center on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, and the Mark Center.
The Springfield GSA warehouse site is where this project should have been built. The warehouse as it sits today is an incongruous use for the prime real estate.
Instead, the Army went with the least expensive and least transit-friendly option Mark Center.
During the site selection process, the Virginia Department of Transportation requested that they be able to review the traffic study prepared by the property’s owner, Duke Realty. They were told that the information was proprietary and could not be shared. Had it been shared, this project would have failed to meet minimum transportation standards. But the Army plays by its own rules.
It is inexcusable for a development of this magnitude to have avoided a public vetting process that would have exposed the environmental and transportation impact.
That proprietary study was released after the project’s approval and was found to contain glaring miscalculations. For example, it assumed the main entrance into the building off Seminary Road would consist of three left turn lanes that would use a green light instead of a green left turn arrow. Imagine the lines of cars trying to turn left from those lanes when oncoming traffic also has a green light!
In response to this traffic nightmare, VDOT was asked to study two specific mitigation options. Both are non-starters.
The first option would run a ramp directly off southbound I-395 into one of the three parking garages. But for security and logistical reasons, this would prove counterproductive and accommodates less than a third of the site’s traffic anyway.
The second option calls for a flyover ramp that would carry commuters traveling northbound on I-395 over the top of the southbound lane and around the western side of the Mark Center.
This should be a non-starter because the Winkler Botanical Preserve to the immediate west of the project would be wrecked. For those who’ve never been there, the Preserve is a one-of-a-kind nature preserve available to the public and used extensively for summer camps and by area schools. It exists thanks to the generosity of the Winkler family who turned prime real estate into the natural paradise it is today.
Due to the Preserve’s hilly topography, this road option would have to cut through a wide swath of the preserve and would overshadow all of it.
The preserve and its thousands of supporters should not be the ones to have to pay such a high, permanent price for the Army’s poor planning.
One potential solution that needs to be considered is the construction of a ramp that would fly over or through the center’s Remote Inspection Facility on the northeast corner of the site, linking it with what is now a private road within the complex running adjacent to Seminary Road.
RIF facilities are required on all military bases, in this case to inspect delivery trucks. But despite the Army’s creativity in designating the Mark Center as part of Ft. Belvoir, it’s simply not a military base. There’s no need for the facility when you are only talking about one office building complex with garages that are already secure.
If the Army has a better, less destructive option we need to hear it. Otherwise this WHS/BRAC move should be shelved or delayed well beyond 2011.
Jim Moran represents Virginia’s 8th District in the United States Congress.