Thousands of federal workers will relocate to new offices in Northern Virginia in less than two weeks. Base Realignment and Closure, since it was announced in 2005, has threatened to cripple road networks as nearly 50,000 employees will soon be working at Fort Belvoir's main post, the former Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield and Alexandria's Mark Center off Interstate 395 and Seminary Road.
"We've basically doubled the footprint of Fort Belvoir in four years - pretty phenomenal," said U.S. Army Col. Mark Moffatt, Fort Belvoir's Deputy Garrison Commander for Transformation and BRAC. "We were asked to do a mission set that's basically going to bring $4.5 billion worth of construction to reality. That equates to about 6.5 million square feet of Class A office space…
"So, at times when you have to manage all the different pieces of coordinating utilities, coordinating road construction, coordinating common issues with the Fairfax County and Alexandria governments and the military to make this all work, it feels like I'm sucking water off of a firehouse to get things in the right order and perspective and to continue to knock down the targets as they come at you so that you can complete the mission."
BRAC will boost the number of Defense agencies at Belvoir from 135 to 160, to include the Missile Defense Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and Washington Headquarters Services. Also new is the 120-bed Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, a 1.2 million square foot state-of-the-art facility.
The bone of contention for many is the selection of Mark Center in Alexandria as the location for WHS and its 6,400 employees. Mark Center lies in a traffic-choked area and is three miles from the nearest Metro station.
"Did we know [The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] was going to choose the site at Seminary Road and I-395? Absolutely not," said Moffatt. "I think that the road situation at I-395 and Seminary Road has been a very tough traffic situation for the past 10, 15, 20 years. I think that with the addition of any number of people at that intersection it's only going to get somewhat worse."
Scores of elected officials called for the Secretary of Defense to delay the move after the that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to make adequate traffic impact studies during its site selection process. There was no delay. Instead, 2,300 employees will be at WHS on Sept. 15, followed by 2,600 by this December and the remainder to arrive in early 2012.
The Virginia Department of Transportation recently established a new task force to manage Mark Center traffic and improvements. One of their chief concerns will be the construction of a reversible High Occupancy Vehicle/Transit ramp on I-395 at Seminary Road.
"Over time, smart people with good ideas will come to the table," said Moffatt. "They will roll up their shirtsleeves and they will work together in some sort of harmony to come up with a solution set to alleviate some of these issues. It has started to break here in the last 30, 60, 90 days because reality is starting to sink in that Sept. 15 is going to come and it's going to happen, so we might as well start to work with the situation instead of saying that [the WHS] building might as well stay vacant. That's not smart. Think of the taxes involved with that alone. Ridiculous. We have to work through that. I think the different municipalities can figure that out."
The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency
There are already 7,200 employees out of 8,500 total employees working at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. "We've been able to pull off some phenomenal construction," said Moffatt. "NGA is 2.5 million square feet. That's two aircraft carriers nose-to-nose by eight-stories-tall to make a building for 8,500 people. It's about one-third the size of the Pentagon and we built it in three years."
The NGA employees moved in January. "Because of the construction of the last 1.8 miles of the Fairfax County Parkway between I-95 and Springfield/Franxconia portion of the Parkway, I think there have been next to no [traffic] issues. I have yet to see a report to date that says we've had any kind of a traffic congestion going in or out of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency," Moffatt said.
Bus Service and Staggered Schedules
It is widely agreed that many roadways will not be able to accomodate rising demand and that mass transportation in largely unavailable around Mark Center and other Belvoir properties.
At Mark Center, the Army is trying to encourage ride-sharing with a 3,800 space parking garage - enough room for 60 percent of the 6,400 WHS employees.
“Single occupancy vehicles are always a challenge,” Moffatt said. “We have to have a more robust road network because not everybody is going to feel like they can drive miles from their house to a metro stop, pay for that, go ride the metro and change lines and then walk a few hundred yards to their office building every day. I think we can get to the point where you can get people to do that a couple of times a week, and then with other things like alternate work schedules- like one day a pay period you don't work because you made up the hours in the other nine days in the pay period.”
Metrobus recently announced a line to run from the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station to Fort Belvoir and another to run from the Pentagon to Mark Center.
“Internally, the garrison is trying to publicize [the bus line] in all fashions, but we're going to work with Fairfax County and really promote this to get more of our folks who live in Stafford, Spotsylvania, Prince William County to use VRE [Virginia Railway Express] up to the Metro, go to that spot and we'll take them the rest of the way,” Moffatt said. “Mondays and Fridays are fairly light at our gates. It's the Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays that are up-tempo, because more people are going to the office. If we can figure out how to use those days for tele-work scenarios or longer days to get you off the standard 6:00-8:30 in the morning rush and the 3:30-6:00 evening rush, then we're better off.”
An "Opportunity of a Lifetime"
Moffatt has been Deputy Garrison Commander since 2007. "I was extended for a fourth year and I was extended again to complete BRAC," he said. "Once I finish the last phases of BRAC, I'll be due to be sent somewhere else in the military… probably next summer at some point."
Moffatt began his career at Belvoir in 1984. "I was here for my basic training… I used to do physical training in the parking lot and on these sleepy, quiet roads of Fort Belvoir,” he said. “Now, Fort Belvoir is going to be a very modern installation - a stone's throw from Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon because it needs to support these agencies.”
Moffatt estimates it will take five years to straighten the transportation issues. "Yes, it is burdensome for the Mayor of the City of Alexandria because of the dynamics he's faced with. It's a challenge for the State Secretary of Transportation because of everything he's pounded on regarding any major roadway in this area - and Fort Belvoir touches all of them - Route 1, the Fairfax County Parkway, Interstates 95 and 395. I understand where they are coming from. But from my foxhole, this was the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to make a real difference and there are a lot of very proud people here at Fort Belvoir.”