House votes to cap parking spaces at Mark Center

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Tucked into the 2012 omnibus spending bill that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday are two measures of huge import for Northern Virginia commuters: language in the bill caps the number of parking spaces at 2,000 at the Mark Center in Alexandria and requires the Army to comply with recently-issued recommendations from the Defense Department’s inspector general.

Military personnel have steadily been trickling into the Washington Headquarters Service (WHS) site at the Mark Center as mandated by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations. About 4,000 have moved into the building, and another 500 are expected by the end of the month. There will eventually be 6,400 DoD employees there when it’s fully occupied next year.

“We cannot stop the Defense Department from fully occupying the building, but we now have assurance they will do so in a way that will mitigate the projected gridlock on I-395,” said Rep. Jim Moran, Virginia Democrat.

Rep. Gerry Connolly and Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, who, along with Gov. Bob McDonnell, have also kept the Army’s feet to the fire on the issue, also lauded the passage of the language.

The cap will limit the number of usable spaces to about 2,000 unless the Defense Department demonstrates for three straight months that congestion has not reached “failing levels of service.”

The Inspector General’s recommendations force the Army to conduct a new traffic study and revise and update its transportation management plan. Two inspectors general reports have questioned the traffic data the Army relied on to complete its transportation studies on the site.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has pledged $80 million to build a direct access ramp from the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) ramp on I-395 to Seminary Road, and the Defense Department has committed $20 million for area road improvements. Those measures, however, are not scheduled to be completed for at least another two years.

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