$500,000 for Old Mill?

$500,000 for Old Mill?

Closed road keeps tensions high.

The issue of replacing the closed Woodlawn Road — that connected Telegraph Road and Route 1 through Fort Belvoir — with a redesigned two-lane Old Mill Road boiled over again last week at a Board of Supervisors Fort Belvoir Committee meeting.

The controversy was exacerbated by a joint news release from the offices of U.S. Representatives James P. Moran (D-8) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-11) dated July 22: "... the fiscal year 2005 Military Appropriations bill was approved ... which included a $500,000 request ... to relieve severe traffic congestion in the Fort Belvoir community."

It continued, "The $500,000 appropriation will be directed toward interim improvements" and "will help kick-start efforts to re-connect communities and travel routes adversely affected by concerns related to Sept. 11." The release continued, "This money represents important progress in our efforts to address the traffic problems near Fort Belvoir."

When asked for clarification, Drew Crockett in Davis' office said, "There were interim projects. Things they can do while trying to deal with the problems of building Old Mill Road. This helps to kick start those things."

Mount Vernon District and Lee District supervisors Gerald "Gerry" Hyland and Dana Kauffman have no idea what the $500,000 was intended to accomplish or what the "interim improvements" referred to. Confusion was also expressed by Donald N. Carr, director of public affairs for Fort Belvoir.

"There are no interim improvements we've asked for. The Army's focus is to get on with the Old Mill Road project. What was agreed to in March is a go and the Army has put money in place for the Old Mill Road extension," Carr said.

"The Army has already put $1.3 million with the Federal Highway Administration to get the two-lane new extension of Old Mill Road connector for Route 1 and Telegraph Road underway. Our goal is to have it completed by 2008," Carr said.

Tim Aiken, legislative director for Moran, said, "The $500,000 is actually intended for design and environmental work for the Old Mill Road project. However, it has only been approved by the House at this point. The use of the term 'interim improvements' was incorrect in our news release."

THE PLAN TO BUILD only a two-lane road is another bone of contention with both Hyland and Kauffman. "On our long range plan prior to 9/11, Woodlawn Road was to have been a four-lane road. Now would be the time to bite that bullet and make Old Mill Road a four-lane road," Hyland said.

"If their [the Army] position is to replace two lanes with two lanes I can understand. Funding is always a problem. But, at the very least they should plan for a four-lane road and set aside enough right-of-way for a four-lane road in the future. And, we expect the Army to fund it all," Hyland said.

Kauffman also cited the county's Comprehensive Plan. "It always called for Woodlawn Road to be four lane. To look at this as a two-lane road is extremely dangerous for both the county and the military," he said.

"We hope to have a letter to the Congressional Delegation approved at our Aug. 2 Board of Supervisors' meeting stating our desire for a four-lane road," Kauffman said. "For all the talk about base closures it looks as if the projections for Fort Belvoir is for it to become much larger in population."

Kauffman pointed out that Fort Belvoir is now the county's largest employer and "we want to keep it that way," he said. "I would remind the Army that the tooth fairy is not going to build the roads they need for continued growth and success. State government has already projected a 24 percent cut in secondary road construction."

Concern about Fort Belvoir's future growth arose from the July 19 committee meeting when, in answer to a question about the base's updating of their master plan, it was projected future personnel could increase by 15,000 to 30,000. But, this is all conjecture, according to Carr.

"THE MASTER PLAN is working on a possible increase of three to six million square feet of administrative space being constructed on base in the next 20 years. By Army standards every three million square feet of office space calculates to approximately 15,000 people. That's how they arrived at 15,000 to 30,000 people," Carr said.

"The only reason that personnel figure and additional space projection is in there is to keep the master plan in focus. No commander knows what's coming and going until the Base Realignment and Closure Report comes out next year. The 15,000 to 30,000 is merely a mark on the wall," he said.

Belvoir's present master plan is 11 years old, having been completed in 1993. It reflects no considerations for events triggered by the 9/11 attacks, according to Carr. The updated master plan is scheduled for completion in September.

During a meeting last winter, the Army unveiled a Connector Road Feasibility Study that presented seven possible scenarios for replacing Woodlawn Road which was closed, along with a portion of Beulah Road, due to heightened security as a result of 9/11.

At that meeting, Jeff Moran of Tetra Tech, the contractor for the road replacement study, said, "Our job has been to evaluate possible scenarios that are technically and environmentally feasible." Tetra Tech works under the Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

It had been the position of Hyland and Kauffman, supported by the Board of Supervisors, that Woodlawn Road be reopened with force protection "hardening" measures to meet military security concerns. That was rejected by the Army.

At a March 12 meeting on Capital Hill, involving Moran, Davis, Hyland, Kauffman and both Virginia senators, the Army announced that it would not reopen Woodlawn Road but rather replace it with a reconfigured Old Mill Road. Army officials at that meeting said, "There is no practical means by which the 'hardened' Woodlawn Road can be reopened."

At that time Carr said, "Building a temporary solution would cost time and money that would be better invested in a permanent solution. We consider this (Old Mill Road) the permanent solution to the closed Woodlawn Road."