At a press conference earlier today Congressmen Jim Moran (8th – D) and Gerry Connolly (11th – D) expressed gratitude for the much-needed federal funds that were released in the past week for construction projects related to Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC). Both Moran and Connolly pointed out how much more needs to be done to accommodate the thousands of extra cars that will be on area roads as a result of BRAC.
Connolly and representatives from several interested parties, including the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, thanked Moran for his efforts to secure the funding. Moran has repeatedly called for the opening of the Mark Center to be delayed until the necessary improvements can be made to the surrounding area. He has also been highly critical of the BRAC Commission that recommended the changes in the first place and was so again on Wednesday: “They were useless. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
$20 million has been dedicated to the Mark Center in Alexandria, while $150 million has been dedicated to road construction, specifically along Route 1, relative to the building of the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. It was the latter of the two projects that was the focus of the session today.
$145.5 of the 150 million will be used for widening Route 1 between Telegraph Road in Lorton and Route 235 in Mount Vernon (see attached graph). The remaining money will be used to fund a study of transportation options in the Route 1 corridor. Connolly said that the investment in the area is just a “drop in the bucket” compared to what is needed.
“The long range future of the corridor is light rail from Belvoir to Woodbridge. We can’t continue to use the automobile in the long term. That won’t work. But in the interim we are going to have to manage with the resources that we have,” Connolly said.
Planning for improvements to Route 1 at Fort Belvoir had been in the works prior to the funds being granted. Information sessions will be held with the public throughout 2011. A final decision on the Environmental Assessment from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is anticipated in early 2012 with ground being broken in 2013 and a completion date of 2015 according to transportation officials.
“There is a huge economic surge coming to the area, but the people who already live in this area will be impacted,” Moran said.
The plan calls for Route 1 to be widened from four lanes to six lanes with turn lanes as well as a center median, which could be used for either buses or light rail, according to Jack Van Dop of the FHWA.
But the improvements to Route 1 will come with a set of challenges, particularly when it comes to Right of Way laws. “Right of way issues will need to be adjudicated in many cases and they will be the biggest cost in time and money,” Connolly said.
The stretch of Route 1 being expanded also has safety issues to contend with, which some fear will be exacerbated by the arrival of thousands of new vehicles. In the first three months of 2011 caused several serious injuries and claimed two lives. Speaking shortly after the last of the crashes, Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland—who attended this morning’s meeting—told Lorton Patch that had Route 1 being widened sooner the stretch of road would have been safer.
Time and again during today’s meeting talk returned to the topic of alternative transportation plans that would extend from the southern portion of Fairfax County and into Prince William County. It is estimated that by the time relocations from BRAC are complete, 60% of Fort Belvoir’s personnel will be coming to work from south of the base.
But, changing the car culture will be a challenge. Col. Mark Moffatt, Deputy Garrison Commander for Transformation and BRAC, admitted as much. Moffat said a number of personnel at Fort Belvoir could conceivably use the Springfield-Franconia Metro Station. But the bus line that comes to the base from the station makes 14 stops and takes 42 minutes to complete so many simply opt out and drive to work.
“We are very concerned that people are driving instead of using mass transit,” Moffat said.
Moffatt also noted that one of the reasons many people drive to Fort Belvoir is to navigate their way around the post to run errands before and after work. He believes that a post-wide shuttle service could alleviate traffic from that group of commuters.