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Safety Project Gets OK

Multi-faceted emergency operations and transportation center moves forward.

It's on to the Planning Commission for a public safety, emergency operations and transportation center off West Ox Road and the Fairfax County Parkway. It got a thumbs-up, Tuesday night, from the Springfield District/Fairfax Center Land-Use Committee.

And not only will it unify state and county representatives in one place in the event of a crisis, natural disaster or other emergency, but it may even improve traffic flow in the vicinity.

The multi-faceted, public-use campus is Fairfax County's baby, but it involves other entities, as well, including VDOT and the state police. And county and state personnel designed the complex's master plan together.

Total price tag is not yet known, but the public safety building, alone, is estimated to cost nearly $80 million. So far, the county's earmarked $47 million toward the project.

The parcel is 78 acres along the southern and eastern edges of a 250-acre parcel. North of it is the county Fire and Rescue Training Academy, plus a VDOT maintenance facility; west of them is a closed landfill.

The county used some 1988 bond money to purchase 31 of the 78 acres along the southern boundary of the site for a future bus facility. But specific plans for this property didn't come together until July 2002 when Camp 30, a state-run prison camp on that land, closed. Here's what's planned:

<sh>Public Safety Center

<bt>The two-story, 142,000-square-foot, public safety and emergency operations center contains three main elements — a public safety communications center, a command center for 34 public-safety entities and a police forensics facility. VDOT's Northern Virginia headquarters and the Virginia State Police would be there, too.

The public safety communications and command-center areas would be 80,000 square feet total, with another 38,000 square feet for forensics. VDOT's portion would be 19,000 square feet and state police would have 5,000 square feet. The National Weather Service is a possible tenant, and 19,000 square feet are being considered for future building expansion.

* The county's 911 center is now housed in an old elementary school in Annandale. "We're receiving over 1.2 million calls a year, and the current 911 center can't handle them and can't be retrofitted to do so," explained professional engineer Hossein Malayeri, project manager with the county's Building Design Branch. The center now has 3,900 square feet, but will have 8,100 square feet in the new building.

* The command center would normally have a small staff. But in a crisis activation, representatives of nearly three dozen entities would converge here. They include: police, fire and rescue, health department, Virginia Power, American Red Cross, department of public works and environmental services, county executive's office, county public affairs office and Fairfax County Public Schools.

* The police forensics facility is currently divided between the Massey Building and a small annex near the jail. It can consolidate in a roomier space in the new facility.

<sh>VDOT building

<bt>This four-story structure is planned for the 16.4-acre site of the old Camp 30 and would become VDOT's Northern Virginia district office headquarters. It's now leasing space in the Avion Business Park in Chantilly.

Since September, planners enlarged this building by 22,000 square feet, for 195,000 square feet total. VDOT would occupy some 158,000 square feet, and state police administration, 22,000 square feet. The building would also house a 10,000-square-foot child-care center and a 5,000-square-foot cafeteria for VDOT employees.

<sh>Bus facility

<bt>Planned is a 49,500-square-foot building for county bus administration, maintenance and operations. Two structures were originally proposed, but they've not been combined into one — and their space could be doubled later, if necessary. Initially, 150 buses would be housed there, but there's room for 300.

The county Office of Transportation oversees the Fairfax Connector buses, but no bus facility currently exists for central and western Fairfax County. Having this site would enable residents of areas such as Centreville and Penderbrook to get to and from the Vienna Metro station.

ABOUT 600 people will be on the campus at any one time, working in three or four shifts. And if there's not enough room for surface parking, a parking structure is proposed.

Malayeri said a noise study showed no adverse effects on adjoining properties by the complex' uses, and a traffic study indicated minimal effect on peak-time, West Ox traffic. Mark Canale, with Fairfax DOT, organized a traffic task force to look at the three, signalized intersections at Route 29 and West Ox.

And a police and VDOT review of more than 300 accident reports there since 1996 showed that, after VDOT improvements, these intersections are no longer classified as problems. Regarding the complex, the task force recommended:

* Providing a free-flowing, right-turn lane/ramp from southbound West Ox to northbound Fairfax County Parkway. Said Canale: "This would pull westbound Route 29 traffic and southbound parkway traffic out of the right-turn lane on southbound West Ox."

* Re-striping the westbound Route 29 collector-distributor road that provides access to westbound Route 29 and southbound Fairfax County Parkway. Explained Canale: "This would change two through-lanes and a left-turn lane into a shared center lane for through and left-turn movements. It would handle southbound parkway traffic turning left."

Malayeri hopes for Planning Commission approval of the complex plan by the end of March. He then estimated 18 months for design and permits, 20 months for construction and a summer 2007 completion date.