Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BRAC-133 project will create nightmare for Fairfax County commuters

A rendering of the new DOD building
If the BRAC-133 project goes forward as planned, people living near the Mark Center in Alexandria can expect a traffic nightmare—and so can residents of Annandale and elsewhere in the region who must navigate through I-395 and other area roads to get to and from their jobs.

Residents of neighborhoods near the BRAC-133 project in Alexandria packed into a meeting Monday evening convened by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova and Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross to consider the impact of the development on Fairfax County residents. The City of Alexandria, its BRAC Advisory Group, and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) have been exploring possible solutions for the last couple of years, but this session was the first specifically for Fairfax County residents.

The BRAC-133 project will bring 6,400 Department of Defense employees to the Mark Center at the intersection of Beauregard Street and Seminary Road in Alexandria. The new employees are expected to move in next September, well before any transportation improvements will be implemented.

Residents of surrounding neighborhoods, like Lincolnia Hills & Heywood Glen and Seminary Hills, are concerned about Mark Center employees parking in their neighborhoods and commuters cutting through residential streets to avoid the traffic-clogged I-395 and other main roads.

Mark Canale, Fairfax County’s BRAC coordinator, told the audience at the Mason District Government Center last night that about 48 percent of the Mark Center employees will be traveling up I-395 from the south, and about 26 to 28 percent will be commuting through Fairfax County. Various plans have been developed to handle the increased traffic, but “there is no funding now to mitigate BRAC traffic impacts,” he said. He acknowledged the county is three years “behind the curve on this.”

Chris Gaspar, Moran’s legislative aide on Defense Department issues, said there’s a good chance Congress will pass a pending Defense authorization bill that includes an Moran’s amendment to limit parking at the BRAC-133 site to just 1,000 spaces until road improvements are in place. By limiting parking, Moran hopes to force DOD to pay for road improvements and provide incentives to encourage employees at the new building to use mass transit or telework.

Gaspar said if the measure passes, most of the 3,700 parking spaces already provided will have to be closed off, and DOD will not be allowed to lease parking facilities nearby. Moran’s office also is working with the city of Alexandria restrict parking on side streets to residents with permits. Gaspar said he hopes a report expected to be released in February by the DOD Inspector General investigating a 2008 environmental assessment of the proposed project will at least delay occupancy of the building. Moran had requested the IG report because he believes the environmental study, which predicted a minimal impact on transportation, contained serious errors.

If all 6,400 employees move in as scheduled in September 2011, “We know this will be a disaster,” Gaspar said. He estimates improvements around the BRAC site will cost $13 million to $15 million and would like to see DOD pay for them. “Delaying tactics would allow these improvements to be completed before occupancy,” he said.

Federal employees receive a subsidy for using Metro, and that will encourage some Mark Center employees to take advantage of a planned shuttle system between Metro stations and the new building, Gaspar said. But he said DOD’s estimate that 23 percent of Mark Center employees will use mass transit is not realistic. And, he added, test trip on a shuttle bus from the Franconia Metro station to the Mark Center took 50 minutes.

Abi Lerner, Alexandria’s deputy transportation director, said the city’s proposed short and long-term improvements “will not solve all the problems, but they will help.” Short-term improvements, such as turn lanes and reconfiguring traffic lanes, will take 18 months. Mid-term improvements will take 28 to 30 months. A long-term solution, like constructing a pedestrian bridge over Seminary Road from a bus stop at Southern Towers to the Mark Center, is at least three years away, Lerner said. Meanwhile, traffic will be held up as those people will have to walk across Seminary.

In Fairfax County, long-term solutions, like the redevelopment plan for Bailey’s Crossroads and the Columbia Pike street car line are many years away. Meanwhile, Bulova vowed to seek more transportation funding from the state and federal governments.

“In the short term, we need to figure out where the traffic is increasing,” Gross said. She proposed setting up a task force of local residents to explore traffic calming measures throughout in Mason District neighborhoods close to the Mark Center, such as speed humps and turn restrictions. Coordinating actions between Fairfax County and Alexandria will be challenging, she said, but the first step is starting the conversation in neighborhoods in Fairfax County. And noting that so many communities across the nation are losing thousands of jobs, Gross said, “I would much rather have this problem with the BRAC.”

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for keeping the community informed about this critical issue!

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  2. At least it looks like delaying the project will definitely help limit the amount of inconveniences we face with regard to parking and transportation by giving more time for improvements. Thanks to Mr. Gaspar and Moran's office for doing their homework to ensure the best outcome for us!

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  3. The move-in date in the article should read "by September 2011", rather than "in September 2010".

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  4. Loretta Prencipe12/9/10, 9:19 AM

    Ellie - Thanks for following the issue. You missed that Lincolnia Park residents were also in attendance. I pressed Penny Gross and Sharon Bulova to come to the table with some policy and ordinance fixes that would provide communities impacted by BRAC greater power and flexibility in traffic calming, parking control. Currently neighborhoods have to jump through too many hurdles to put traffic calming measures in place. In addition, neighborhoods have to show a traffic problem before even applying for parking control measures.

    The BoS knows this is coming. Let's get some fixes in the traffic calming and parking control instead of waiting for the traffic from BRAC.

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  5. Within two weeks after the BRAC opens, employees and service providers attempting ingress and egress to/from the complex will quickly realize that the I-95/236 ramps will be second best to the I-95/Seminary Road ramps. Has anyone looked at the I-95/236/Beauregard Street area lately? Current conditions are nearly comical; September is sure to bring us a scenerio that will have us all putting the heel of our hand to our forhead exclaiming "What were they thinking."

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