Northern Virginia delegation demands action from defense secretary

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Northern Virginia delegation demands action from defense secretary
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The Washington region recently leapfrogged the competition and became the most traffic plagued area in the country, according to the latest Urban Mobility Report.
      
With 6,400 Defense Department employees relocating to the West End this September minus a metro station that dubious distinction could be safe for years to come.
      
In an effort to avoid being number one again, Northern Virginia’s congressional delegation recently signed a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, demanding the government’s military arm take responsibility for their move to Mark Center in Alexandria.
      
Congressmen Jim Moran (D-8) and Gerry Connolly (D-11) and Virginia Senators Mark Warner (D) and Jim Webb (D) asked Gates’ department to fund traffic improvements, subsidize local transit and public safety, and to delay the relocation of the Washington Headquarters Services until infrastructure is adequate.
       
“Our position is the Army can occupy [WHS], but only without degradation of current service,” said Chris Gaspar, Moran’s legislative assistant for military issues.”
      
Moran’s first attempt at limiting WHS parking spaces to delay the move-in failed. But he succeeded at getting language into the Defense Authorization Bill that directs DoD to submit a new transportation plan addressing the flow of personnel to and from the high-rises. The bill also mandates DoD find funds for projects that maintain service levels in the area.
      
But the bill does not address the waning ability of emergency responders around Mark Center. With nearly 4,000 more cars expected on the road a day, fire, police and paramedic vehicles will have a tough time handling calls, officials say. The letter to Gates urges DoD to update a multi-jurisdiction regional aid agreement for emergencies.
      
“Nine months from the full occupation of the Mark Center, northern Virginia remains woefully underprepared to respond to an incident without simultaneously jeopardizing the safety and security of the area’s other residents,” the letters states.
      
Alexandria has one fire station in the area and an agreement for tiered response from Arlington and Fairfax firefighters. Fairfax, the third tier, responded to 79 of 216 calls last year, according to statistics from the Fairfax County Fire Department; the closest jurisdictions could not respond in a timely manner more than one-third of the time.
      
“Local emergency resources are already stressed; the move of such a large number of employees would be overwhelming,” Gaspar said.
      
DoD and Alexandria transportation officials have been crafting a plan for months that would share refurbished DASH shuttle buses with defense employees on DoD’s dime. Expected to be completed by the end of January, the agreement has stalled, said Abi Lerner, deputy director of the transportation department.
      
“We have not received anything from DoD.” Lerner said Wednesday. “We talked to people there and they said that they need about 10 more days and they’ll get back to us. So I think at this time the ball is not in our court but in their court.”
      
Lerner said the city is running out of time. To have the shuttles running by August, they need to get the ball rolling on refurbishing the buses without using money from Alexandria’s coffers.
      
WHS officials had not responded to questions about the delay Thursday.
      
The letter’s tone reflected feelings of neglect on the delegation’s part. Officials worry the Northern Virginia constituency is not a major priority in DoD’s eyes, despite letters of assurance sent to the delegation from Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Lieutenant General Rick Lynch.
      
When Fort Belvoir employees were forced to relocate under the Base Realignment and Closure legislation, Congress gave the Army permission to seek out places like Mark Center and call it a Fort Belvoir satellite site, appeasing employees. Now DoD has no intentions of delaying the September 15 move-in date, Gaspar said. 
  
“It was convenient for the Army to come to the Congress when it would have impacted them severely,” Gaspar said. “Now they seem more concerned with sanctity of BRAC.”  

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