By James Cullum
Last night the Army gave Alexandrians their first look into the base realignment and closure (BRAC) development that will bring 6,400 Washington Headquarters Services employees to Alexandria’s West End by September 2011. Construction will begin next month on the Mark Center property which is located on the corner of Seminary Road and North Beauregard Street.
The chief concern for many City officials and neighboring residents is transportation. Peak-hour traffic along Seminary Road is high and the development is four miles from the nearest metro station.
According to plans distributed at the meeting, 16 acre, fenced-in development will be occupied by two high-rise office towers, two parking garages and a visitor and transportation center. Duke Realty, which currently owns and manages the property, will handle the construction and under federal law, must sell the property to the Army.
Critics of the project say that roadways surrounding the property are already jammed with heavy traffic during peak hours and that the Army’s solutions to keep traffic manageable are unrealistic. However, Mark Center’s master plan, as approved by the City Council in 2004, contemplates a development similar in size and character to the Army’s WHS project.
The master plan calls for a maximum of 2,000 peak-hour vehicle trips and more than 4,000 parking spaces for employees. The Army estimates 1,776 peak-hour trips to accompany the fully developed and utilized property, a 12 percent reduction of what the City previously approved.
The Army plans to build 3,840 parking spaces, enough parking for 60 percent of the 6,400 employees and 20 percent less than required in the master plan. There will be no parking spaces for 40 percent of the 6,400 new workers. Those employees will have to find alternative methods to get to work.
The Department of Defense and WHS “are aggressively implementing programs to encourage the reduction of single occupant vehicle trip counts by 40 percent,” said WHS spokesman Bob Bauer. Those methods include staggering work schedules, utilizing public transportation and carpools, and shuttle buses.
Bauer said that the City reviewed the impact of traffic and transportation requirements as part of its 2004 approval process, and the Army’s plans for the site are within the parameters of the master plan.
Duke Realty has agreed to build the necessary transportation improvements required in the Mark Center master plan. Those improvements include: enhancements to the I-395 merge lane onto westbound Seminary Road, the addition of a third left-turn lane at Seminary Road onto North Beauregard Street, the addition of a second left-turn lane at North Beauregard Street and Mark Center Drive and the installation of a traffic signal or round-about at the bend in Mark Center Drive at its intersection with the western access road to the WHS site.
The Army recently released its decision to consolidate the 6,400 WHS employees, who currently work in a number of leased properties in Crystal City. In accordance with federal law, the year 2011 will see a total of 19,300 federal workers moving to Ft. Belvoir owned offices, doubling its employee population.
“We are about to begin a very aggressive construction schedule, creating up to 2,000 construction jobs,” said Jim Turkel with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Approximately 500 construction workers will be expected to be working five days a week at the WHS site when construction begins. The first employees will move into offices in March, 2011.
While the City has no official role in construction or say in how it is carried out, “We have been working very closely with the Army to make sure we have our input in the process,” said City manager Jim Hartmann. “Certainly the City’s (BRAC advisory) team will be working with the property owners and contractors to mitigate any outstanding issues the community may have.”
For more on Ft. Belvoir’s BRAC plans, go to www.belvoirnewvision.com.