Commute conundrum

Commute conundrum

Twenty minutes after leaving Franconia-Springfield Metro Station Wednesday morning in an off-duty DASH bus inching north on I-395, no one is surprised we havent gone even a mile. Were sitting in the mixing bowl during rush hour, about seven miles from our destination: the defense departments Washington Headquarters Service building at Mark Center.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) sits knowingly, leaning against a window as cars idle next to him. He is trying to prove a point: Alexandria and its surrounding jurisdictions dont have the infrastructure to deal with 3,800 more vehicles a day when WHS opens a year from now.

I feel as if Im watching grass grow faster than the traffics moving, Moran says. If we really wanted to prove our point wed wait until tomorrow when its supposed to rain.

The bus is a simulation. A daily shuttle or several could be a solution to the seemingly overbearing congestion problem heading Alexandrias way. City representatives are present, too, for more scientific purposes; theyre timing different routes from the station to test the shuttles feasibility. 

No representatives from the defense department attended.

Theyre not going to want to know the results of this test, Moran said.

If the congressman had his way, the 6,400 workers expected to occupy WHS would stay put in Crystal City near the metro station until a comprehensive traffic solution is reached. That could take five or more years, and the defense structure must be completed by September 2011 under BRAC federal law. 

DOD has the power to request congress extend that deadline, said one of Morans staffers.

In the meantime city officials hope a network of regional shuttle buses is the answer, but they need a commitment from DOD, financially and symbolically, said Sandy Modell, general manager of the Alexandria Transit Company. 

Whatever the response to the transit option, it will be a coordinated effort, she said. But right now the issue is not which transit system to use, but whether it will be transit at all.

Modell said the defense department is looking into procuring 40 private buses for its employees, but she hopes they will utilize and subsidize the regional infrastructure already in place albeit enhanced to handle the volume of workers expected.

We hope [DOD] will be responsive, Modell said.

Back on the bus, about 39 minutes after departing, we see the WHS building under construction on our left. But all we can do is wave at it as we pass by. Cars in the HOV lane zoom by us. The next off ramp for them doesnt come until the Pentagon. 

Theres no ramp to take us directly WHS so we grind on a little further and get off on Seminary Road, where we make what amounts to a 10-minute U-turn and arrive at the building site. The bus is parked 49 minutes and 30 seconds after leaving the station. Right now its anyones guess how 3,800 more cars will impact that figure. 

Were not going to immediately road-build our way out of this problem, said Alexandrias BRAC coordinator David Grover. We can do it with some resources we already have but money is going to be the driving force.

Moran believes DOD created the dilemma and should pay for the solution even if its a regional problem. Most of all, he just wants a solution to move forward, he said.

Weve got a problem and I hope we can fix it, said Moran. Its a small consolation to say I told you so.