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Hundreds cry foul at BRAC town hall

Hundreds of Fairfax County residents, worried about increased traffic congestion near the Defense Department's new facility set to open next year in Alexandria, pleaded with federal and local officials Thursday night to delay the move.

About 6,400 people are slated to start work at Alexandria's Mark Center, a $1.4 billion facility located near Interstate 395, on Sept. 15, 2011. The site was selected by Army planners and engineers chiefly out of security concerns and was part of the government's 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission plan.

An environmental dispute stalled plans for an exit ramp at I-395 and the site selection of the Mark Center, which lacks nearby public transit, has prompted a sizable backlash by local officials and residents who say it will overwhelm already-clogged roadways.

"It will be wholly intolerable for that number of people attempt to move (to Alexandria's Mark Center)," U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) told about 200 gathered at the town hall meeting, which was held in the auditorium of Francis C. Hammond Middle School on Seminary Road in Alexandria.

Jennifer Porter, who lives in Alexandria about two miles from the Mark Center, said her neighborhood would become nearly impossible to navigate when the flood of new Defense workers arrive next fall.

"I have difficulty getting out onto Seminary Road now," Porter said. "If I didn't have to earn a living, I guess I could take on the Army myself."

At various points, those in attendance yelled, booed and hissed at several Army representatives, including L. Jerry Hansen, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army. Hansen said plans for shuttle bus service, slug lines, staggered work hours, carpooling and at-home or satellite tele-working will help alleviate traffic.

By Derek Kravitz  | September 16, 2010; 9:35 PM ET
Categories:  BRAC, Commuting, Congestion, Construction, Driving, Transportation Politics, Virginia  
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I attended the meeting and for the most part I thought the crowd was reasonably respectful, if perhaps a bit too focused on pointless issues such as whether the City of Alexandria engaged in an adequate public process for approval of the building (I mean, look, it's been built--it's time to stop screaming about whether it should have been built and move on to trying to address the traffic, although those of you who live in Alexandria could certainly vote out your City Council). The one lady who started yelling and screaming about the Army giving people in Afghanistan all sorts of rights they don't give people in the USA was rather offensive and wasted everyone's time. I was the person in the red shirt who spoke right after her (saying "I'm not sure how to follow that one") and asked the question about building an HOV ramp on the south side of the Seminary Road interchange. The VDOT gentleman gave a good answer to my question, but I found it rather astonishing that they are only now exploring the idea of such a ramp such that it will take three to five years to get it through the NEPA process and the other regulatory hurdles. They've known for several years that this structure was to be constructed. They should have started the process for getting this ramp approved back when they approved the construction of the building.

Posted by: 1995hoo | September 16, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

I feel for the resident living in the immediate area but using the woe is me, the sky is falling approach will help no one...Imagine how workers there will feel having to come and go there every day from Md. and other areas....

Adjustments will be made and let's be thankful those people have jobs to go matter where expansion was going it is still the old NIMBY attitude unless you live & and are lucky to work there...

Posted by: pentagon40 | September 16, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

I used to live in Seminary Towers, directly opposite this monstrosity, and work in the area as well. One morning last year I was greeted by the sound of a pile driver at 7 a.m., and this did not stop for weeks. There was a small amount of coverage about this project in the WaPo, so no one in the neighborhood (and it used to be a neighborhood) really had any idea what was about to happen. There was almost no information posted on the City of Alexandria website at that time, and my calls and email complaints went unanswered. The noise and dirt from the construction were intolerable to me and so I spent a lot of time and effort and found another place to live, quite close by, and I still enjoy the George Mason Drive/Seminary commute every day.
It was only much later that information about the approval process and all that involved, starting with the huge financial benefit to JBG and Duke Realty, going to the Army ignoring the City's increasingly impotent pleas, and the utter lack of planning involved became available on the city's website. It's there now, but it's heartbreaking to read.
Jim Moran is horning in quite a bit late in this process. I say to him, Rep Moran, WHERE WERE YOU when this started? Why on earth should anyone believe that you will have any positive influence on this nightmare now, when you weren't anywhere at all starting in 2004 when this project was approved?
There were and still are plenty of other places to move this horror to, but no, it has to be set up in the worst possible location so that two big private companies can get rich. Which leads me to my last sarcastic question:
Washington Post, where were you? You used to have the well-earned reputation for investigative journalism. You wanted to offer more regional coverage and so backed away from news of national significance. Yet here was a scandal brewing on your doorstep and you ignored it in the four years when it could have been stopped. Now you think you have a story? Are you kidding?

Posted by: jody43jody | September 17, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

the brown people are coming

the brown people are coming

Posted by: jiji1 | September 17, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

The impact of moving 6400 workers to the new BRAC building at Seminary Rd will be felt by every person who commutes via 395. Anyone who has ever driven on this road during morning or evening rush doesn't need a traffic study to tell them that. Even adding the 70+ bus trips that would be needed to shuttle even half of the DOD employees from the Pentagon and Franconia metro will have an effect. We should all thank the folks who are trying to address this problem now rather than waiting until September 15, 2011 and ending up with traffic gridlock to rival the recent nightmare in China. Those of us who live to the southwest of DC are already handicapped by being in the Metro deadzone (just look at a Metro map and you'll see what I mean). I applaud Congressman Moran for his efforts to help us now. Let's hope he's successful.

Posted by: Zoomer1 | September 17, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Why does this article refer to "hundreds of Fairfax County residents" when the facility will be in the City of Alexandria, the forum was held in the City of Alexandria, and the people most affected by the change will be residents of the City of Alexandria? Does Dr. Gridlock not care about Alexandria City residents, or does he not know the difference between Fairfax and Alexandria?

Posted by: stoneji | September 20, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

There are no winners here. The Army wanted to move everyone to Belvoir. Local politicians, including Moran, pushed to have them use the engineer proving ground. When that was changed, local politicians argued that putting them all at the engineer proving ground would cause too much congestion in one area. So, the local congressional delegation, including Moran, came up with the great idea of using the Mark Center site for part of the move. A LOT of people argued that because of the I-395 / Seminary interchange and the intersection of Seminary / Beauregard, this would be a traffic nightmare. The local politicians decided to earmark $144 million for road improvements in the area. Those funds disappeared in the final appropriations. Now, Moran is arguing that the building should not be occupied at all until the lack of foresight by the Army and local officials is remedied. Locals lose because traffic in that area, already congested, will become unbearable, ESPECIALLY trying to exit 395 onto Seminary. The Army loses because they have a great new building located in the middle of that traffic nightmare. Try getting those 6400 people to work on time. The state of VA will have to try to find a way to fix it all so they lose. Seems the only ones who aren't losing anything are our local congressmen who created this mess in the first place.

Posted by: flagwaver | September 22, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

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