Updated: Defense Department ‘cooked the books’ to build BRAC buildings at Mark Center

Updated: Defense Department ‘cooked the books’ to build BRAC buildings at Mark Center
Mark Center (File photo)

Defense Department officials used bunk traffic studies to justify building a Pentagon annex in Alexandria and railroaded the project through anyway, according to a report from DoD’s Office of the Inspector General.

Calling the traffic mitigation plan “unreliable,” the report slams the Army for using traffic studies performed during national holidays, skewing the congestion data. The Army also neglected to include defense contractors — 31 percent of the 6,800 employees expected to occupy the buildings — in its traffic assessment.

“At some point enough is enough. There’s clear evidence that — and I don’t use this term lightly — people were cooking the books,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

The IG report confirms what Alexandria residents and elected officials already knew: the two high-rises known as BRAC looming over the Mark Center area of Alexandria were built on a site diametrically unsuited for nearly 7,000 commuters and their vehicles.

The buildings sit along I-395 in the center of the country’s worst congested region and are not Metro-accessible. Most DoD employees are moving — or have already moved — from Metro-accessible office buildings in Arlington.

Nearly half of the employees have already moved in and the next batch is scheduled for January. Moran wrote language into three separate House bills that would cap the number of usable parking spaces at 2,000 until traffic solutions are in place, but the Senate has yet to pass them.

“It would have been nice if that report came out six, seven or eight months ago,” Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said.

And though the barn door is wide open and the horses have fled, the IG report is not moot, said Rich Baier, director of the city’s transportation department. He believes it will pressure the Army to develop traffic improvements hand-in-hand with the city and state while thwarting single occupancy vehicles.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to say locating the BRAC was the transit-oriented development choice,” Baier said. “But you can almost think about this report as another sort of catalyst that says we need more modes [of transportation], more programs and more dollars for non-single occupancy vehicle travel.”

DoD denies any wrongdoing in the report, saying often that the City of Alexandria and the Virginia Department of Transportation condoned the traffic studies.

“Unfortunately the Army has had this attitude that this is the way we’re going to do it, come hell or high water,” Moran said. “You’re entitled to your opinion but you ought not to be entitled to your own set of facts.”

Moran blamed former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the traffic nightmare, saying it wasn’t fair for current employees to be punished, but that Alexandria residents and commuters shouldn’t foot the bill either.

“The Army created this mess. We’d like the Army to come up with some solutions,” Moran said.