At its last meeting, City Council discussed the transportation impact of the new Department of Defense office installation at Mark Center. Council agreed to send a letter asking for direct access from I-395 to the office complex and asking for money for a comprehensive transportation study. They also directed the city staff not to issue any permits for road improvements in the area that were agreed to in a special use permit in 2004 until further direction from them.
All of this sounds good until the specifics are examined. First, the complex is scheduled to be fully open by September of 2011. Parts of it may be open early. In fact, given the low level of general construction activity in the region, it may well be ahead of schedule. When dealing with complex transportation issues this is a very short time to study, to design and to build. In fact, if a direct ramp was built it would in all likelihood open two years after the complex.
Second, the project is not really subject to most city rules. The special use permit is “advisory” for the DOD project. DOD does not have to adhere to it.
Third, as is usual with this group of elected officials, the focus is on them and their desires and not on the reality of the situation. Many of their statements make no sense including the Vice Mayor’s comments that if the transportation improvements are not finished on time: “We should tell DOD that they can make arrangements to park all those single occupancy vehicles at the Pentagon.” We could tell DOD that but we do not have the power to make them listen. As usual, Alexandrians will bear the brunt of the traffic mess if the improvements are not complete.
Fourth no one on council seems to have come to grips with the security aspects of the project. Direct access from I-395 could compromise security at the site since it was not designed in from the beginning. Does anyone think in this age of terrorism that people will be permitted to drive right off the highway into a garage or into the heart of the complex?
Why Alexandria ever sought this complex is still a mystery. Having sought it, however, the city should be doing everything in its power to mitigate the impacts. Instead it is shaping up as another Ethanol Facility. We should never forget that the Manager’s office terminated Fire Department contact with Norfolk Southern. When the facility opened there was virtually no emergency response capability to deal with issues that might arise. Alexandrians were made unsafe by their own city government.
Here we have the council doing virtually the same thing. At the eleventh hour they are saying that they do not know what the real transportation plan is. That is unacceptable. Three new members will be joining council in a few days. Perhaps they will bring some common sense back to decision making in city government.