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Legal fight eyed over BRAC I-395 plan

Report buttresses traffic woes claim

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

WASHINGTON | A Northern Virginia congressman is asking local jurisdictions to prevent a "looming traffic nightmare" by taking legal action against a planned relocation of 6,400 defense workers.

Rep. James P. Moran thinks officials in Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties have enough evidence to make the case that moving workers from offices in Crystal City and elsewhere in Arlington to the new Mark Center in Alexandria will cause excessive traffic congestion around the intersection of Interstate 395 and Seminary Road.

In a report released this week, the Department of Defense inspector general supported dire predictions Mr. Moran has made for months. The agency's watchdog cast doubt on the Army's claim that the relocation won't cause significant traffic problems, saying two previous traffic studies it performed provide insufficient evidence. The inspector general recommended that the Army conduct another analysis, even though Pentagon officials have previously said they would not.

The workers must be finished relocating by September as part of the Army's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan. Mr. Moran called on localities and the state to seek an injunction to allow for more time to find possible traffic solutions.

"I think we finally have the credible foundation for a legal challenge to this pending fiasco," said Mr. Moran, Virginia Democrat.

Officials said they're considering how to proceed in light of the findings. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon S. Bulova said the county board will discuss options at its Tuesday board meeting.

"The results of the inspector generals investigation validates Fairfax Countys long-standing opposition to the selection of the BRAC-133 Mark Center site," said Mrs. Bulova, a Democrat. "It has long been our concern that this location will cause total traffic gridlock, not only at the Mark Center, but in the surrounding neighborhoods of Fairfax County."

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said he spoke with Mrs. Bulova on Thursday and plans to discuss options with Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, a Democrat, and the governor over the next few days.

If legal action is taken, Mr. Euille thinks it should be done jointly by several jurisdictions and only for a tangible result.

"We can go down this road, but at the end of the rainbow, there may not be something there," said Mr. Euille, a Democrat.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, is "reviewing" Mr. Moran's request, said spokeswoman Taylor Thornley. Combined state and Defense Department funding has made $100 million available for ramp modifications and intersection improvements, but the projects aren't scheduled to begin until January 2012 - five months after the relocation is scheduled to take place.

A February report by the National Academy of Sciences found that the Pentagon should have helped pay for some of 30 major highway and transit projects needed to accommodate traffic at the Mark Center and two other BRAC-mandated relocations to Fort Belvoir and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, who requested the study, said he'll work with localities to look for solutions.

"Just basic common sense tells you there will be huge challenges if you transfer 6,400 defense workers to an already congested location that's not served by mass transit," Mr. Warner said.

The Army must provide a response to the inspector general by May 6.

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