With the election for Alexandria’s city council rapidly approaching (Tuesday, May 5), it seemed fitting to ask the candidates how they would address our neighborhood’s concerns about the BRAC-133 project at Mark Center. An email was sent to all ten candidates, giving them an opportunity to respond to the following question:
If elected, what are some concrete steps you will take to address the concerns of city residents who live near the new U.S. Army offices being built at Mark Center? We are concerned about increased traffic congestion on I-395 and the streets surrounding Mark Center, our physical security from living near a defense-related complex, and the environmental effects of the new construction.
Seven Six candidates sent replies to this question. Their responses are presented below in alphabetical order by candidate’s last name.
As a first step, we must make a more cohesive plan through the coordination of the area’s civic groups, the City, and DoD. As a resident of the West End, my take is that the meetings that have been held were rushed and more an afterthought than part of any proactive plan to deal with the many issues we are about to face.
First and foremost, I don’t believe we need to conduct any studies to determine if there will be traffic issues. Clearly, there will be traffic issues. So, the primary focus must be to mitigate the traffic congestion by:
1. Designing and building multiple relief points;
2. Enhancing public transportation and shuttle services to and from the Pentagon, Springfield/Franconia, and Ballston Metro Stations, which are the most commuter-friendly locations for direct services to Mark Center; and
3. Educating residents and new employees about the best methods for navigating the area.
There are certainly other traffic options, and these are just a few examples.
Further, we need to find out how much DoD is willing to cooperate with the City of Alexandria. Certainly, our goal is to work together to take care of Alexandria’s residents and streets while incorporating our new neighbor. Similarly, I believe in contingency planning. We must prepare to challenge any pushback from DoD by planning to change traffic patterns that limit the egress flow from Mark Center and limit the access points for ingress. These two changes deserve consideration:
1. Physically preventing southbound traffic exiting I-395 on Seminary Road from crossing multiple lanes of traffic to turn left into Mark Center by placing barriers between the on-ramp and the bridge overpass;
2. Placing “No Turn on Red” signs at the exits leaving Mark Center to limit overflow on Seminary Road and Beauregard Street.
Leveraging the control we do have over our roads may encourage DoD to work with us as harmoniously as possible.
As residents living inside the Beltway in the City of Alexandria, we must accept that our area is scattered with potential terrorist targets. At the same time, we should look across the entire metropolitan area and recognize that there have been very few incidents, except for 9/11 and the shootings outside the CIA in the 1990s. As a U.S. Navy veteran I am certain that DoD will provide substantial security for its establishment.
The environmental effects on our neighborhoods are virtually all wrapped up in the discussion above. Increased traffic flow, construction schedule and hours of operation, and concerns about safety will affect us. We must recognize that we can have some control over these issues as we move forward. The buildings are already planned, designed, and under construction. Now, it is incumbent upon us to focus on the issues that we as a City have control over and work to make any environmental impacts as small as possible.
Frank Fannon IV
Note: Mr. Fannon’s response was added April 10.
I had lunch on Tuesday with Pierce Homer who is the Secretary of Transportation for the state of Virginia . Mr. Homer shares the same concerns that I do and many of the area residents.
Your questions and concerns aren’t uncommon to the City. Community associations need a voice when development decisions are being made. Smart growth should include effective transportation plans and safety/security review with fire and police being at the table.
On a broader scale the entire city of Alexandria needs a master plan that guides the decision-making process.
Specific to your issue, I would support a ramp directing traffic off of 395 into the Mark Center to alleviate the pressure on city streets given that 90% of the traffic to the Mark Center will be coming from the south. A bridge/ramp that goes over 395 leading directly into the Center should be a part of the development plan.
Thank you for giving us a chance to respond. First, I want to say that I always had concerns about Mark Center as the site for the Army Offices and believed we should focus our efforts on the Victory Center site in Eisenhower Valley. While nobody believed Mark Center, with its limited transit infrastructure, would be picked, the city should not have been as open to that site as it was. Still, I believe in making lemonade out of lemons. The new Army Offices, if we continue to work with them and our federal representatives, may give us an ability to make transportation improvements that we could not have otherwise had the resources for. First, we have to fight for a new ramp off of 395 directly into the Mark Center so as to minimize traffic impacts on Beauregard. Second, as our transportation master plan calls for, we need to push to bring a convenient, quiet and high quality mass-transit system to the west-end. Ideally that system would connect Beauregard to Van Dorn as well as Columbia Pike and then the Pentagon so that we can cut down the number of car trips. And third, we need to do all we can to minimize traffic on neighborhood roads. I am committed to working on this and to working with our neighbors in Fairfax and Arlington so we can build the transportation system that will address the quality of life impacts from the new Army Offices and will also create new opportunities for Lincolnia Hills neighbors to get around the region in a safe and reliable way. In addition, we have to push for the planting of new trees and other environmental features to make up for the lost trees from the construction.
I share the neighbors’ concerns about the U.S. Army building such a huge complex on the Mark Center site because of the very impacts that you cite in your question: increased traffic congestion on I-395 and the streets surrounding Mark Center , the security issues, and the environmental effects. It is hard to believe that such an unsuitable site would be chosen over the Victory Center on Eisenhower Avenue , which was renovated to serve just such a use and which is located between two metro stations and fronts a road that has plenty of capacity for the anticipated traffic.
(1) The City has successfully negotiated with the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to get the State to set, as a high priority, a study of the feasibility of constructing a slip ramp off of I-395, directly into the facility. This is something that I have been strongly recommending as the best way of keeping a sizeable amount of traffic off of the local streets.
(2) Our staff will continue to work closely with DOD to press them for a Transportation Managing Plan (TMP) that will require that 50% of the traffic generated will be non-single occupancy vehicle (SOV) traffic. I strongly support this.
(3) I would be willing to discuss with any of the neighbors the possibility of creating parking districts in their area, if it should become desired by the community.
(4) Also, if the neighboring residents would be interested in having traffic calming features installed, I would be interested in discussing with them the construction of speed tables, pedestrian countdown lights, etc.
(5) Arlington and Fairfax County have set as a priority the planning and funding for the construction of a streetcar line that would run down Columbia Pike to the Skyline complex. That makes for an easy connection with the Northern Virginia Community College . I have discussed with Fairfax Supervisor, Penny Gross the possibility of connecting that line with the Mark Center site, if the neighbors were supportive of that plan. She has invited me to a meeting to discuss that plan later in the planning process. Ms. Gross is the Supervisor that represents this area of Fairfax .
(6) I am familiar with the newly installed traffic light on Little River Turnpike, just east of the Beauregard /Little River Turnpike intersection, and near the KFC site, because I frequently drive that way. The light is located in Fairfax County , so I discussed with Ms. Gross the possibility of readjusting the timing of the traffic light. She indicated that her office had already requested VDOT to look into that issue. I will also pressure VDOT to look into the timing of that light.
The plans for the BRAC 133 site call for a Remote Inspection Facility (RIF) to be located in the eastern and southernmost corner of the site. Its purpose is to inspect any incoming trucks to be sure that they are not carrying bombs. I strongly support the negotiations that are underway to move the proposed facility off of the Mark Center site. This is an inappropriate use of the property.
The DOD wasted no time in cutting down what appears to be a couple of acres of healthy, mature trees, which the previous owners, the Winkler family, had taken great care to grow and protect. The neighboring community was aghast, saddened, and concerned that this had happened. I saw the devastation and I join in their concerns.
(1) The DOD will be paying the City $400,000 to mitigate the loss of land that will be taken when DOD builds in a Resource Protection Area (RPA). The neighboring communities will be part of the planning as to how this money should be spent. It should be spent in the neighborhood. I will be monitoring this issue.
(2) The BRAC 133 project has required using 20,000 square feet more than was provided for in the original Mark Center plan. The City is presently negotiating how much money is appropriate to reimburse the City for this loss of open space. The lost open space should be replaced in the neighborhood and the community should be part of that decision. I will be working to see that this happens.
(3) The City is negotiating with DOD to ensure that the new buildings be certified as LEED Gold. We can not legally require them to reach this standard, but we are hopeful that they will make every effort to do so. They should be serving as an example to the community.
(4) The City is requesting that robust landscaping be provided around the Mark Center Drive parking garage and the other buildings, to make up for the trees that were removed and to soften the appearance of the structures. DOD plans to use the top of the parking garage for open air parking. The City has requested that it have a green roof. Negotiations continue, but it appears that DOD plans to enhance the rooftop parking with trellises and green plants, but not a green roof, such as the City has at T.C. Williams High School . I will be working to ensure that these improvements take place.
(5) The City has requested that a state of the art storm water management system be put in to ensure that only filtered, clean water leaves the site. I will be monitoring these improvements.
Councilman Smedberg was traveling and notified us that he would send a response, which will be inserted here upon receipt.
The City has done everything possible to make the military base relocation process address community and City concerns and go smoothly given the special circumstances. While not our first choice for a site location, we are working with the newly-established BRAC-133 community group and the Department of Defense to address environmental, traffic and architectural concerns. I believe the establishment of the BRAC-133 community group was an important step in bringing appropriate focus and attention to the community concerns and serves as an important vehicle for coordination between City staff, community representatives and the federal government.
I believe the most urgent areas of concern and deserving of our absolute attention are traffic congestion and traffic management. To best manage traffic flow to and from the area we need to make certain we gain approval and funding for an on/off ramp directly to the site from I-395. The City is working closely with state and federal officials and VDOT to make sure this happens. This will not solve all the traffic issues, but it will go a long way in managing the possible impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
Another key component in mitigating traffic impacts on the neighborhood is making sure the Department of Defense operates and maintains a well-functioning shuttle system to and from the site. We know that a decent percentage of employees use Metro to get to and from work, so they will need a way to get back and forth to the station. This will keep cars off the road. We will also have to make sure there are appropriate pedestrian safety measures in place so residents and school children can walk safely in their neighborhood.
In addition, the City must work closely with our regional partners—Arlington and Fairfax—to assess the impacts of more traffic in an already congested area. I also believe this will encourage a timely discussion of a bus rapid transit, light-rail or street car system.
I am aware that security issues are a personal, primary concern for many people in your neighborhood. I take the Department of Defense on their word that they will do everything possible to make sure the site is safe and will not negatively impact the surrounding neighborhoods. I am not aware of any specific measure the City can take to enhance the safety and security around the site, but we can make certain that the federal officials know how important it is to you and to us that the site be as safe and secure as possible. Of course we will ask that they coordinate closely with our City public safety agencies.
The City is doing everything possible to mitigate the environmental impacts on the site and surrounding neighborhood. We will lose trees and it will obviously look different, but we are pressing to have as many trees and shrubs as possible planted to offset the loss of ground cover and to prevent excessive water run-off. The City planning staff is working closely with the architects to implement as many green elements into the building and parking structure as possible. Ultimately, we hope the new building will be LEED-certified silver. We are really pushing for a gold certification.
Another important issue for me is how the building looks and fits into the surrounding areas, its prominent location. There is obviously much work to be done to address the legitimate concerns of the neighbors and the City. I am confident that the result will be a net positive for the City.
Lincolnia—this is a huge topic. We need to think of the new US Army offices as our own, smaller Pentagon, perhaps calling it the Quadragon. As such, we must take concrete steps to make sure that access is sufficient both into and out of the location, and also that they have good accessibility to our businesses, which will surely do well with all the localized and dense economic potential. Home values will rise, as those who work there would like to live close to their new offices and enjoy our quality of life in Western Alexandria. The current traffic configuration is already inadequate, even for local traffic. We must create a traffic circle to increase the flow of traffic. The East/West traffic is taken care of (slightly) with the ramp, but we need to account for North/South new traffic from buses and more cars. We must rely heavily on the federal government to fund this, as they have increased the urgency of this solution to be put in place.
For the environmental affects, we must work to protect our water sources from any run off. Any air pollution would be subject to normal workplace standards in Virginia.
For security, the land in question is large. Areas around the building should not have any higher security profile. The land is straight off 395 so responsibility would be completely the federal government.
I share your concerns regarding the WHS facility being constructed in Mark Center. Since the announcement of the Army’s decision, I have been in constant communication with the neighbors most affected by this decision–grappling with the difficult transportation, environmental, and quality-of-life issues that this decision will undoubtedly bring.
Our City Staff is actively engagement with Duke Realty and the Army in making environmental improvements to their facility—likely increasing the level of LEED certification and reducing the impact on the surrounding area. I support the continuation of those efforts.
Our Public Safety agencies have also continued active discussions with the Army regarding the possible impacts on safety that may develop due to the use of this new site. I will continue to ensure that our community is protected and Alexandria taxpayers are not responsible for footing the bill for securing this facility.
Most significantly though, the transportation impacts of this new facility will be dramatic. We must work collaboratively with Fairfax County, VDOT and the Federal Government to increase the share of workers utilizing transit, or other non-single occupancy vehicle transportation modes; provide infrastructure to support simple vehicle access to the site from 395; and expand the transit options available at the site.
We have an opportunity with the upcoming Beauregard Small Area Plan to lay out a redevelopment plan for the old Mark Winkler residential properties, and other adjacent land-uses. Central to those planning efforts will be a discussion of how we expand transit infrastructure to complement that development and the development at Mark Center.
This new facility presents great challenges for the community in ensuring that our residents do not bear the brunt of this new development, but we have the opportunity to radically improve the infrastructure available to our residents in conjunction with this effort.
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