Almost two weeks after a meeting on Capitol Hill, there’s no sure sign that the Fairfax County Parkway’s completion is any closer to becoming a reality.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has plans to complete a two-mile segment of the roadway through the Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield. The site was formerly used by the Army for training practices for engineers. However, the work has been delayed because of some concerns over ground pollution in two sections of the EPG, which the Environmental Protection Agency had predicted would take 900 days to clean.
“Essentially, we have a situation where the Army doesn’t want to build the missing portion of the road,” said Gerry Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
During the meeting, held in the office of U.S. Sen. John Warner (R) and attended by U.S. Representative Tom Davis (R-11), representatives from the EPA and the Army, Pierce Homer, Secretary of Transportation for VDOT, made an offer to the Army: Build the road and VDOT will take it over once it's completed.
“If the Army would agree to build the road, VDOT would turn over the $86 million set aside for it to be used so long as the Army paid in any additional costs,” Connolly said. Once the road was completed, VDOT would assume control of the road and maintain it like all other roadways in the state, he said.
“Senator Warner asked if the Army could be made to build the road though legislation,” said Mark Canale, transportation planner and project manager for the Fairfax County Parkway through the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. “Chairman Connolly said he liked that idea and that it might actually be the simplest way” to build the road.
CLEANING UP the two sites, known as M-26 and M-27 and which cover about two acres, is “taking too long,” Canale said.
When the EPA tested the soil near M-26 last year, levels of petroleum were found in the soil and groundwater that were considered too high to allow construction to beging. The Army had previously spent $10 million cleaning the site, removing unexploded ordinances left over from when the 800 acre site was used to train Army engineers.
The Army estimates that, if it assumed control of the cleaning process, it could be completed by May or June.
“The EPA isn’t as optimistic,” Canale said. “There was a third site found that will take much longer to clean up and will also need clearance before the road can be built. The earliest they think the land can be transferred is the end of the year.”
Underneath all this frustration about the road to nowhere, Canale said, is the urgency to get it completed in time for the estimated 21,000 workers coming to Fort Belvoir as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
“All three Congressional representatives said BRAC changes are pushing up the need for a solution,” Canale said. “They gave a pretty unified message that the Army should build the road when they’re done cleaning the ground.”
AT THE END of the meeting, he said, there was “no commitment from the Army” to any plan.
Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) said there’s plenty of blame to go around in determining who’s at fault for the lack of progress of the parkway.
“I am thoroughly disgusted,” she said. “I don’t know who to blame but I don’t think it’s the Army. They have been unable to get an agreement from VDOT about the transfer of land and now we’ve got 22,000 people coming to work at Belvoir and we don’t have a road for them to drive on.”
McConnell said she’s been working on getting the parkway completed for about five years, watching as the Army has put forth proposals to start working on either end of the parkway extension while the cleaning process continues.
“There are so many complications here, I’m just disgusted with the whole thing. This is a critical road and we need it,” she said. “We are nowhere near a decision.”
Connolly agreed that the BRAC changes are making the need for the parkway more urgent but feels the Army is holding up the work.
“We have an agreement that they won’t have to do anything but build the road, but they’re balking at the idea,” he said.
Following the meeting, Connolly feels some progress was made, but it may not be enough.
“This road must be done,” he said. “It’s in the Army’s best interest and I think they understand that.”
Dave Foster, a spokesman for the Army, said the Army is currently working to clean up the EPG area and "expedite the transfer of the property... by early June."
In a written statement, Foster said the Army is working with state agencies to "complete a Memorandum of Agreement and other supporting documents that will facilitate the transfer and provide written assurances that the Army will provide remediation for any additional contamination that might be detected once the Commonwealth begins construction."
In other words, the Army is not able, or is unwilling, to build the road, but would rather transfer the EPG to VDOT and let them complete the parkway.