Va. officials urged to sue over Mark Center move

Friday - 4/22/2011, 7:43am EDT

WFED's Jared Serbu

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By Jared Serbu
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Army should reexamine the traffic impact of moving more than 6,000 Defense Department workers to a new site in Alexandria, Va., the Pentagon's inspector general said in a new report.

The IG cited weaknesses in the environmental study that justified the move to the Mark Center.

The report is based on a new independent engineering assessment the IG had done by an outside firm, Acelsior. It found two major issues: the Army found that moving the new employees to the site would have "no significant impact" on traffic, it was using a traffic study conducted in 2008, and traffic has increased significantly since then.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said many of the intersections and highway ramps around the Mark Center already are jammed, before the new workers even arrive.

"And any street that is not clogged right now will be clogged as soon as this move takes place," he said during a press briefing about the report Thursday.

The second area of concern involves what the report calls "procedural and technical weaknesses" in the environmental assessment the Army conducted to evaluate the impacts of the Mark Center move. The IG found the Army's goal of having 40 percent of the new site's employees get to work by some other means than single occupancy vehicle might not be feasible.

Congress required the IG to conduct the review in a provision inserted into the 2011 Defense authorization bill by northern Virginia congressmen Gerry Connolly and Moran. Now that the results are in, Moran said they provide the foundation to take the Pentagon to court to halt or delay the move.

Moran said he had forwarded the report to local government leaders and had a lengthy telephone conversation with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). Moran said litigation initiated by state or local officials could lead to a court injunction and leave the workers in their current locations for the time being.

"The Army is now out of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act," he said. "From our point of view, this situation cannot be rectified before the September 15 deadline, when 6,400 people are supposed to be moved into this building."

The inspector general recommended that the Army conduct a new traffic assessment and revise its traffic management plan to address strategies it said the Army left out the first time around.

"[The traffic management plan] does not delineate a program of strategies to encourage the use of planned shuttle services to five Metrorail stations," the report stated. "The travel demand management strategies presented in the [traffic management plan] do not effectively address midday travel needs for commuters that will not have a car available and overflow parking. Anticipated Transportation Coordinator staffing appears to be insufficient for the range of services and programs described in the [traffic management plan] . Finally, the travel demand management program and its strategies may be misaligned with the employees' needs and preferences."

The Army concurred with some of the IG's findings. It agreed to reexamine its 2008 environmental assessment, but said that it would not conduct a new traffic analysis. The Army also is preparing its own, separate report to Congress on its move to the Mark Center.

DoD is moving employees, who come from several Defense agencies, from various sites around northern Virginia under this year's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) activities as part of the recommendations approved in 2005. The Army initially considered three sites before deciding on the privately-owned Mark Center, which will operate as an annex of the nearby Fort Belvoir.

One site was another complex called the Victory Center, also in Alexandria. The third, favored by Moran and Connolly, was an older, underutilized General Services Administration warehouse facility in Springfield, Va. Connolly said the major selling point for the GSA site was that unlike the Mark Center, it is adjacent to a Metro rail station.

"When I got to Congress I wrote to the new administration pleading with them to reconsider," Connolly said. "It's not an appropriate location, and it never was. It should have been put at the GSA site, which is served by mass transit. And now the Army's going to have to manage that. How it's going to get its workforce to this site is going to be a huge challenge for everybody, and there are no easy solutions, sadly."

Moran said sooner or later, the move to the Mark Center will happen, but he's hoping to delay the relocation to allow time for a new traffic management plan and additional construction projects to improve freeway access to the site. But he said the only realistic way to forestall the move is for local officials, and possibly local residents, to take the Defense Department to court.