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Still Going Nowhere Fast

Even with thousands of jobs proposed to move to the Engineer Proving Ground, no clear plan is in sight for completion of the Fairfax County Parkway.

The Army wants to put 18,000 people to work on the Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield, according to a recommendation released nearly two weeks ago.

There is just one tiny question that remains unanswered: How are these people going to get to work on the EPG if the Fairfax County Parkway isn’t finished?

The parkway, which currently ends at the Franconia-Springfield Parkway and picks up again between Backlick Road and Route 1, is designed to be extended through the EPG. In fact, a blue Fairfax County Department of Transportation sign on Rolling Road proclaims the road's future alignment, just south of a small, gray iron sign with the letters “EPG” and an arrow pointing to the facility.

However, despite the announcement of thousands of jobs being moved to the site, there is still no definite plan to finish the road.

Currently, only “about 14 or 15 people in one agency” work at the EPG, said Don Carr, a public information officer from Fort Belvoir. “The need for the parkway to be completed has been there for some time, even before the BRAC announcement,” Carr said. “The announcement serves to emphasize the need to get it completed.”

For several years, the Army and the Virginia Department of Transportation have been struggling to reach an agreement as to who will build the road through the EPG, an 800-acre stretch of land where the Army used to train engineers. However, one site on the facility, known as M-26, was found to be contaminated from an oil spill, and the Environmental Protection Agency has not yet cleared it as safe for construction.

According to Bob Greaves, chief of the correction action program for the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the three contaminated sites, M-26, was cleared of contamination as of June 2006. Two other sites, one called M-27 and another, an old tank depository that was only found in January, are still considered polluted with gasoline.

"We've been working closely with the Army on the cleaning," said Greaves. However, the Army has used all the funding it set aside for cleaning up the two remaining areas and the process is "at a stand still."

The EPA "developed a plan and the Army is working on cleaning that area, but it was more contaminated than originally expected," Greaves said.

In the meantime, the Department of Defense is well aware of the need for the road, Carr said, and shares the concern about commuter traffic arriving at and exiting from the facility along with the thousands of others who drive on Interstate 95 during rush hours.

“The Army, VDOT and the EPA are working on issues of how the construction can get started,” Carr said.

Senator John Warner (R-VA) introduced legislation a few months ago that would “enable” the Army to build the road, Carr said, but “the only issue from the Army’s perspective in terms of coming from the headquarters level at the Pentagon.”

From Fairfax County’s side, the frustration has been building for some time, and Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) wants some answers. The 18,000 jobs planned for the EPG is “even more reason for the Army to get out of their own way with the project” of completing the Parkway, he said.

“First, we had difficulty in getting the Army to make the investment in thoroughly testing the area” for contamination and cleaning it up, Kauffman said. “Then there was the test of the Army saying they won’t build the road. Now we’ve got Congress giving them the power to build it.”

Kauffman said Fairfax County and VDOT are “ready to hand over the check” with state funding earmarked for the Parkway, but that day doesn’t seem to be planned for any time soon.

“We’ve been emphatically, dogmatically and with full ruffles and flourishes promised that the road will be built, but there’s no timeline,” Kauffman said. “We’ve had timelines before. We’ve had enough.”

Other road improvement projects in the area, including the expansion of Rolling Road from four lanes to six, have been put on the back burner until after the BRAC deadlines pass, currently set for September 2011, Kauffman said.

Without those improvements in addition to the completion of the Parkway, it seems that “reality is not seen to be part of factoring into the equation” of the Army’s plan.

“I don’t want to have the federal government get its own way. Whether it’s the EPA holding up the Army or vice versa, it’s still the federal government,” he said. “Without this road, the 18,000 people won’t be able to get there from here to any parts north, south, east or west.”

Fellow Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) agrees with Kauffman, adding "whoever is responsible should get their act together."

McConnell said she has met with representatives from both VDOT and the Army to try to find some sort of solution to the delay, but has been unsuccessful.

"This road should've been built years ago. There's no excuse for this," McConnell said. "The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to build it. Costs will keep going up."

She points the finger partially at VDOT, saying she "can't believe the state didn't have enough good attorneys so that if we get into another clean-up problem, the Army could take over the road. This needs to be taken care of."

As if all this weren't enough, there could be one other — slightly bigger — problem to deal with before the parkway is built: the original plan for the parkway was designed to accommodate between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs on that site.

"Eighteen thousand jobs is a very different story,” said Va. Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer.

In fact, the change is so dramatic, a traffic study is currently underway to determine if the parkway has to be redesigned, which would further delay the project, Homer said.

As for whether there is a stronger demand to get the parkway finished in advance of the BRAC deadline, Homer said that regardless of BRAC, “the Fairfax County Parkway is needed today.”

The parkway is just one part of a larger, regional transportation network, the strains on which need to be considered overall in order to find a solution to the extra commuters that will come to the region in the next few years, Homer said.

“As we get into the traffic study, we’ll get more into the traffic on I-95, Route 1 and the Franconia-Springfield Parkway,” Homer said. “The regional consequences of this plan are extensive.”

He believes, however, that the Army should be responsible for building the parkway, because, as the developer of the land parcel, “the Army ought to put in the roads and office structure to support” what he calls “a very significant land use proposal.”

Chris Reed, a VDOT spokesman who will be retiring this week, said he had hoped to see the day the Parkway was finished.

"We were supposed to start construction last summer," Reed said. Now he's uncertain whether the road will be built in time for the 2011 BRAC deadline.

"If they don't have this road in place in time for all those people, there's going to be a major problem," he said.