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Bill amendment lets Gates delay move to Mark Center

Roads not ready for surge of traffic

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Virginia lawmakers are hoping Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will halt the transfer of thousands of workers to the Mark Center in Alexandria under authority granted him within a spending bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The National Defense Authorization Act contained a provision that allows the defense secretary to postpone seven out of dozens of relocations mandated by the Army's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan.

Citing fears of traffic gridlock around the intersection of Interstate 395 and Seminary Road, Northern Virginia legislators, Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax officials and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell have petitioned the Department of Defense to delay moving 6,400 workers from offices in Crystal City and elsewhere to the Mark Center until road improvements are completed.

"The best remaining solution for Northern Virginia commuters, including those who will be transferred to the Mark Center, is to delay the move until all road fixes are in place," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr., Virginia Democrat. "A one-year delay gets the ball rolling in the right direction and buys us more time to get this situation corrected."

Mr. Moran sponsored the amendment to the defense bill, which is expected to pass the Senate. He also sponsored an amendment that allows no more than 1,000 parking spaces to be used at the Mark Center until ramp modifications and intersection improvements are completed.

"This parking cap is critical to prevent a traffic nightmare that will be caused by full occupation of the Mark Center in the fall," said Mr. Moran, Alexandria Democrat. "The alternative is unendurable delays on already overcrowded roads."

The aim is for the parking cap to be accompanied by delaying the move for most of the workers, Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said.

"Hopefully, the 1,000 parking spaces will mean not more than 1,500 to 2,000 people will be in there until there is adequate transportation and other measures go in place," he said.

Funding of $100 million is available to pay for short- and long-term measures that officials hope will reduce traffic congestion. The Defense Department has provided $20 million that will be used to improve existing ramps and intersections, while $80 million from the state of Virginia will fund a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) ramp from I-395 onto Seminary Road.

But officials say the road improvements will not be completed for another one or two years and the HOV ramp for another three to five years — long after the Sept. 15 deadline to complete the relocation. Workers are scheduled to begin moving this summer.

Last month, the Defense Department's inspector general released a report supporting the dire predictions of traffic congestion. The agency's watchdog cast doubt on the Army's claim that the relocation wont cause significant traffic problems, saying two traffic studies it performed provide insufficient evidence. The inspector general recommended that the Army conduct another analysis, even though Pentagon officials have said they would not.

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