Congress orders DoD to study Mark Center traffic

Friday - 12/24/2010, 2:22pm EST

By Jared Serbu
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Army must prepare and deliver to Congress a transportation plan for its planned relocation of thousands of personnel to Alexandria's Mark Center under text included in the defense authorization bill passed by Congress and sent to President Obama this week.

The plan must "assess the costs and programming of short, medium, and long-term projects, and the use of other methods of transportation that are necessary to maintain existing levels of service, and the proposed funding source to obtain such levels of service."

Congress also ordered the Pentagon's Inspector General to evaluate the process the Defense Department used in making its determination that the move to the site near I-395 and Seminary Road could be accomplished without significant impacts to traffic.

"On the face of it, that's flawed, that can't be, and when the Inspector General completes its objective report, we think that we may be able to delay and possibly even stop this move until there is adequate infrastructure in place," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) in a November interview with Federal News Radio.

The final language is somewhat weaker than a provision Moran first added to the bill in May. His original proposal would have capped parking at the facility to no more than 1,000 spaces in hopes of forcing the Army to develop a strategy to get DdD workers to and from the new work site without adding to the area's vehicle congestion.

The site was chosen following the 2005 round of recommendations by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission. Moran said 91 percent of the 6,400 workers would be moving from leased Arlington County office space where there is easy access to Metro and other public transportation. He said DoD used a flawed methodology when it concluded that the move could be made without creating traffic gridlock.

"They had things like having three green turning arrows against an oncoming solid green light," he said. "These things don't happen in reality. Maybe on paper, but it doesn't work in the real world."

The Congressional language does not require the Army to pay for improvements to infrastructure, although it does order it to propose a funding source that would maintain the "current level of service" at six neighboring intersections. Alexandria city officials and Moran have argued that DoD should pay for all necessary traffic improvements.

"Until you have the ability to get there without causing everyone else a one to two hour delay in their own commute, it seems to me that we should just stop this," he said. "It may become a lesson to the Pentagon that you need to take into consideration the needs of the neighborhood and perhaps be more responsive to the needs of that large northern Virginia community."

The Army must complete its report and deliver it to Congress within 90 days. That doesn't leave much time for changes to the planned relocation: under current law, all realignments and closures mandated under the 2005 BRAC process must be finished by September 15, 2011.

But DoD has previously indicated that many of its BRAC actions may go down to the wire. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that the Pentagon expected 230 out of the 800 installations affected by BRAC to finish their moves in the final two weeks before the deadline.

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