- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

The Army's national clampdown on base security will mean traffic jams and longer commutes for some area residents — especially those who live and work near Fort Belvoir, just south of the District.

Maj. Gen. James T. Jackson, commander of the Military District of Washington, acting on a Department of Army directive to tighten security at domestic bases, has sent word to District area facilities: No more open house.

"I read most every day where a lot of communities are talking about how to better protect and care for their citizens. We feel it is important to protect our installations and our families who reside there," Gen. Jackson said.

The directive is raising concerns in communities around Fort Belvoir, where 20 gates leading into the 13.5-square-mile post have been closed.

After tomorrow, the Army says, access to the base, where more than 5,000 live in 12 housing areas, will be available during restricted hours at six gates, three of them off U.S. 1 west of Mount Vernon.

Controlled access, with a minimum of problems, has been implemented at the much smaller Fort Myer around Arlington National Cemetery and Fort McNair at Third and Fourth streets SW.

The change is more difficult for the much larger Fort Belvoir, with major highways cutting across the base, about 25,000 employees reporting for work every day and the new Fort Belvoir Elementary School supporting 1,300 students.

After the first test last Tuesday, Fort Belvoir spokesman Don Carr said the gate schedule would require more military police and other guards than are available. The times may have to be changed or more personnel may have to be assigned.

Beginning tomorrow, base officials will be shutting gates and testing new security measures in anticipation of finalizing a plan by Sept. 4.

After that, vehicles that have been registered and bear Department of Defense decals on their windshields will be waved through the gates by guards. Others will be stopped, and probably directed to a visitors' center for registration or a day pass. That likely will require more personnel for the center, Mr. Carr said.

The Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, representing 450 small businesses near the South Post, has been monitoring the Army plan and has several suggestions.

The tests were scheduled at an inappropriate time, said commerce Chairman Sandy Bourne. They should have been postponed until after school started. At least 17 buses use roads through Fort Meade to transport students to 31 Fairfax County schools.

"We support strong security measures," Mrs. Bourne said, but she urged more modifications in access control than have been indicated by the tests.

Also, Meeres Road at Route 618 should be transferred to the state or county and a gate relocated from there, Mrs. Bourne said. That road is at the elementary school, which is also a poll on election days. She said the planned gate there might interfere with freedom to vote.

Plans are to open the Pence Gate on U.S. 1 during rush hours only, 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 4:40 to 6:30 p.m. Mrs. Bourne said the gate should be open at midday because many Fort Belvoir workers need five minutes to go through that gate to have lunch at restaurants outside the base.

Plans also include opening Walker Gate at Mount Vernon Road only during rush hours. However, that gate is closest to the 69-bed DeWitt Hospital, the closest hospital for retired military personnel living nearby.

The extra minutes required to go to a northern gate that is open 24 hours a day could be crucial, Mrs. Bourne said.

"I thank God for the hospital here," said Peter H. Karalus, a retired colonel who has been treated at DeWitt for two heart attacks during the 22 years he has lived in the area.

"We have a very positive partnership with Fort Belvoir," Mrs. Bourne said, but "we want commander (Col. Kurt A.) Weaver to take a good look at our recommendations."

Although outside the Washington command, Fort George G. Meade, which has 6,500 residents south of Baltimore, implemented its controlled-access program last week. Daily users were warned in April that it was coming and were directed to obtain registration and Department of Defense decals for their vehicles.

Officials said traffic last Monday had a "modest backup," and by Thursday more than 3,000 vehicles had been registered. Although no major roads intersect Fort Meade, some drivers used shortcuts through the post.

"Now they can't do that," said Fort Meade spokeswoman Kathy Vantran. "It seems to be working OK now."

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