If the implementation time table for bringing an additional 22,000-plus employees to Fort Belvoir is not changed by an act of Congress it is a transportation disaster in the making that will produce “a lose-lose” result for the Army, area residents, and the nation at large.
That was the consensus at the conclusion of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform field hearing chaired by U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11) last Thursday at Rolling Valley Elementary School in Springfield. “The BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure Report] process looked at the results strictly from the defense standpoint. Not the community impact,” said Davis in opening the three hour session.
“I argued vigorously against the proposed Army’s BRAC recommendations. I also voted to disapprove the Commission’s final recommendations. For Northern Virginia, the final result of the 2005 BRAC round is that 23,000 personnel, a force the size of the Pentagon, will be relocating to Fort Belvoir by 2011,” Davis said.
“The jobs coming to Fort Belvoir are very desirable,” he said. “But that will be of little consolation if the trade-off for these jobs is chaos on our roadways,” Davis added.
“I called these hearings to highlight what I believe is an unrealistic timeline and flawed planning process. It is my hope that doing so will provide justification for legislation that would allow the process to move along in a rational manner,” he said.
ALL THOSE WHO testified agreed that the primary concern to successful implementation was transportation and the lack of necessary highway improvement projects underway to accommodate the projected increase of an estimated “15,000 extra car trips per day.” Particular emphasis was focused on the long-overdue Fairfax County Parkway connector at Fort Belvoir’s Engineering Proving Grounds where the bulk of BRAC personnel is to be located.
“The Commonwealth faces almost insurmountable challenges to mitigate the obstacles that BRAC has created,” said U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) who co-chaired the field hearing with Davis.
Referring to 14 highway projects identified at the hearing, Moran noted, “These fourteen “required” projects are estimated to cost $626 million. To date, only three projects have identified funding sources. This funding begs the question: Who’s going to pay for the infrastructure improvements?”
During his testimony Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) said, “We are pleased with any decision to bring jobs to Northern Virginia. But, the question is can we successfully accommodate the new people coming to this area?”
He pointed out that, “Motorists traveling south to Prince William County and Fredericksburg on I-95 will face a three hour commute by 2010 without the addition of BRAC.” He cited BRAC implementation as one of the biggest challenges facing the Commonwealth.
“The current I-95 interchange near the EPG is not adequate to handle the proposed commuter increase,” Kaine said.
However, Kaine admitted the state is not carrying its share of the burden in building new transportation systems. “I hate to ask our federal delegation to do the heavy lifting when we are not carrying our share — and we are not,” he said.
“My mom and dad taught me not to ask for help if I wasn’t helping myself. We owe it to you [federal legislators] to do our share,” Kaine said.
FOLLOWING KAINE’S testimony a large panel composed of state and local leaders as well as representatives of the U.S. departments of defense and transportation testified on both the transportation impact of BRAC and the proposed relocation of the National Museum of The U.S. Army. BRAC is recommending the museum be situated adjacent to the EPG rather than the originally proposed site next to Belvoir’s Pence Gate on Route 1.
“This move is not about jobs or about environmental problems. It’s all about traffic — how to get people to and from the post. We are your neighbors. Your traffic problems are our traffic problems,” said Keith E. Eastin, assistant secretary of the Army.
That assessment was echoed by Jeffrey N. Shane, undersecretary of transportation for policy, U.S. DOT. “While we have a major problem here accentuated by BRAC, Northern Virginia has had a transportation problem for a long time. BRAC has actually given a wake up call,” Shane said.
“The EPG is anything but acceptable as the site for the museum. Putting the museum there is analogous to the proposal to put a major league baseball there and the community went berserk,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland.
“What we envisioned from the beginning was a historic destination in southeastern Fairfax County that would give families the chance to take a day or two to explore our country’s founding and the leaders and soldiers who helped create it,” Hyland testified.
The largest component of the BRAC relocation is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of nearly 18,000 personnel which has been scheduled for the EPG.
HYLAND’S ASSESSMENT was buttressed by Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman who led off by stating, “The Army leadership’s relocation proposal that is before us today is a lose-lose instead of a win-win proposal. The clearly understandable lose-lose here applies both to the existing community and to the thousands of Defense Department employees who will be stuck in traffic and unable to serve their country.”
Kauffman noted, “From the first day Secretary Eastin rolled out the Army’s plan, it came with an admitted funding gap of close to three-quarters of a billion dollars. If the Army can’t get its act together before another year passes, the Parkway will be missing in action when the BRAC deadline arrives.”
In justifying his recommendation that the museum be moved to EPG from Route 1, Eastin explained his decision by stating, “feelers were put out to the hotel and conference industry to build at the site of the museum” which would require more acreage than available next to Pence Gate. He then added, “We also suggested they build the museum.”
When Moran pointed out that when he introduced the museum appropriations legislation in Congress it was his intent that it be located at the Pence Gate site. Eastin replied, “The language was to put the museum at Belvoir. EPG is part of Belvoir.”
That brought forth a commitment from Moran to go back to Congress and further clarify “where the museum should be located.”
In the final analysis, both Davis and Moran agreed that the timetable for completion of the transportation requirements to meet the BRAC deadline was unrealistic. They both indicated the possibility of introducing legislation to extend the BRAC deadline now set for Sept. 15, 2011.