BRAC and Traffic: One Year and Counting

City official calls transportation situation at Mark Center “a success story.”

When the U.S. Department of Defense opened the BRAC 133 complex at Mark Center in August 2011, local residents and politicians alike predicted a traffic nightmare. Built to house 6,400 employees with limited parking and nowhere near a Metro station, Mark Center made an unfriendly home from a transportation perspective.

More than a year later, officials say the nightmare scenario of clogged neighborhood streets and backups onto I-395 never came to pass. More cars have added to congestion, acknowledged Rich Baier, Alexandria’s director of Transportation and Environmental Services, but DASH and Metrobus shuttle buses have helped minimize the number of additional cars on the road, as has vanpooling, carsharing and a parking cap.

The number of single-vehicle occupants who work at BRAC is less than half of the employees, Baier said.

“The number of people that are getting there by other means than a single-occupancy vehicle is actually higher than the number of people who are getting there by car, “ he said. “ … I think we’ve got a success story out of this.”

A Parking Cap and New Transit Options

There are 3,800 parking spaces available at Mark Center. In December, Congress capped parking at the BRAC complex at 2,000 spaces as part of the 2012 Omnibus Appropriations Bill at the request U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th). Moran, along with Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, worked to implement the parking cap until congestion around the site could be mitigated.

Moran spokeswoman Anne Hughes said the congressman has also included language in the fiscal year 2013 Military Construction Appropriations bill to keep the spots limited to 2,000. The congressman himself says the parking cap has made all the difference in the world.

“It was a legitimate concern, and it would have been a horrible nightmare if they had been allowed to use all 3,800 parking spaces,” Moran told Patch. “But by limiting the spaces they could use to 2,000, the nightmare was averted.”

However, Moran added that if traffic at nearby intersections continues to move freely and doesn’t reach failing levels of service, he would be willing to sit down with representatives from the Defense Department and the Virginia Department of Transportation to discuss incrementally lifting the parking cap.

Also, public transit is serving an increasing number of BRAC employees. In August 2011, DASH launched a Mark Center Express route, the AT2X, that runs during peak periods between Mark Center and the King Street Metro station.

“It’s been pretty popular,” said Raymond Mui, transit planning manager for DASH. “The route’s been increasing in ridership since the inception of the route, and it’s really popular among people who commute to Mark Center, especially traveling from the south.” 

That includes VRE riders and riders on Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines, he said.

The first week the new bus was in place, it counted about 220 trips each week, with a daily average of 44 riders. The most recent week for which ridership data are available, the week of Aug. 27, the new route transported 1,626 riders for the week, with a daily average of 325 people.

Metrobus also has made changes to accommodate Mark Center employees. When BRAC opened, Metro added the 7M line, linking Mark Center to the Pentagon. Ridership on the 7M has increased 58 percent from September 2011 to September 2012 and is now counting more than 38,000 passenger trips per month, according to data provided by Metro spokesman Philip Stewart.

Additionally, ridership on three bus routes serving Mark Center — the 7A, 7F and 28X — increased from September 2011 to September of this year. Ridership on the 28X increased nearly 33 percent. However, ridership on the 7W and 7X routes between the Pentagon and Lincolnia fell over the same time period, likely due to the creation of the 7M line as an express alternative.

Monthly Monitoring of Streets Under Way

According to the legislation promoted by Moran, the parking cap remains in place unless traffic does not reach failing “levels of service” for 90 consecutive days. Then, the Defense Department could waive the cap if it and VDOT agree on the number of additional spaces that could be used.

Engineers rate a street’s level of service, or performance, as they would a school report card, with a level of A having a free flow and F having very congested conditions, said Project Manager Paul Prideaux, who is vice president of Michael Baker Jr., Inc., the contractor monitoring traffic conditions surrounding Mark Center for VDOT.

“From the monthly monitoring conducted over the last year, while some individual traffic movements occasionally show failing levels of service, we are not seeing overall failing levels of service at the intersections near the Mark Center,” Prideaux said in an email. “We do sometimes report failing levels of service at the intersection of Beauregard and Little River (Turnpike), but this was the case before the BRAC 133 facility began staffing and cannot be necessarily linked to that operation. 

He continued: “Certainly there has been a steady increase in daily vehicle trips to the BRAC 133 facility over the last year. However, this has been offset by a recorded decrease in non-BRAC 133 (background) traffic during this same time at these same intersections."

Baier, with the city, said congestion has increased, but not to “horrible” levels.

“Looking at it from the numbers, the actual traffic volumes, the traffic is slightly worse, which would be expectation since before August 2012, when BRAC opened up,” he said.

Transportation Improvements Continue

Since BRAC opened its doors, transportation officials have made a number of adjustments to nearby roads and intersections, Baier said. These include two lanes of traffic coming off northbound I-395 heading west; signage improvements made to orient people into correct lane; and additional off-lanes to widen the ramp from northbound I-395.

Another project under construction adds an additional lane from eastbound Seminary Road to southbound I-395. Two additional lanes into Southern Towers are also being designed. Also, motorists traveling westbound on Seminary Road will have a right turn lane onto northbound Beauregard Street.

An $80 million flyover ramp to accommodate HOV traffic directly to Seminary Road won’t be finished until at least 2015, according to VDOT. Other short- and mid-term transportation improvements, including road-widening and lane restriping, have already been completed.

Original plans called for a pedestrian bridge from Southern Towers to the BRAC complex, but Alexandria City Council abandoned those plans this spring because the bridge was not recommended by the Beauregard Small Area Plan Work Group, which didn’t envision many people using a bridge, Baier said.

Prideaux said traffic conditions around Mark Center are still changing due to the fact that the facility is not yet fully staffed and that roadway improvements are still under way. The only ongoing monitoring of I-395 traffic operations has been at the northbound off-ramp to Seminary Road during weekday mornings and afternoons, he said.

That traffic is not backing up to the I-395 through lanes, which is VDOT’s biggest concern. 

VDOT is also monitoring a few intersections in Fairfax County to determine if they are experiencing any additional congestion as a result of the BRAC staffing. These intersections include Seminary Road and George Mason Drive, Beauregard Street and Quantrell Avenue, and Beauregard Street and Little River Turnpike. 

“In all of these locations, there has been no increase in traffic congestion during the last year while VDOT has been conducting the monitoring,” Prideaux told Patch.

Since August of 2011, VDOT has been doing monthly monitoring including traffic counts at ten nearby intersection as well as eye-witness photography for these same locations to create a record of changes in traffic operations. 

“I think we’re making the most of a difficult situation,” Moran said. “I still believe it should not have been built there, but given the fact it was built there, I think we’ve mitigated some of the worst of the potential ramifications.”

Diane Costello October 21, 2012 at 06:02 PM
My head is spinning from this BRAC 133 nonsense. First, as noted in a prior comment – the BRAC mid-term road improvements are not completed. A schedule for the short and mid-term improvements was presented at the Pardon Our Dust meeting held on 14 June 2012. The short term changes were to be completed by September 2012; the mid-term are to be completed by July 2013 (http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/tes/BRAC/PardonOurDustPP.pdf). The cost of these BRAC-related road improvements has been projected to be $20M, paid by DoD (taxpayers). Secondly, there is a very robust shuttle system utilized in DoD’s Transportation Management Plan (TMP) which includes contracts with DASH and WMATA. What is this cost, which presumably will be ongoing through the lifetime of the building, to taxpayers? Thirdly, there was to be a City review of DoD’s TMP at six months post occupancy and again at the one year mark. The BRAC 2005 mandated deadline for occupancy was September 2011; that was never met. Despite declarations that the building was completed ahead of schedule, occupancy of the building did not begin until August 2011 with talk of full occupancy by September 2012. Current language states “complete the moves in late 2012”. The 6-month report was received by the City quite late - July 2012 (http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/tes/BRAC/2012-07-18%20LTR%20William%20Brazis%20DoD%20WHS%20TMP%20Interim%20Evaluation%20Report.pdf). The data is current through December 2011.
Diane Costello October 21, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Page 6 of this report includes a chart which shows 4000 employees relocated as of December 2011 with 2386 employees present on day shift. That’s 60%. Where are the other 40%? Listed at the bottom of the chart as “Other (telework, absences, meetings, etc.)”. Curious. Those of us who attended BRAC Advisory Group meetings were told by DoD/WHS on several occasions that these employees would have very limited telecommuting options because of the confidential nature of their work and that they would be working standard hours. Lastly, the long term BRAC-related road improvement is to be the direct HOV access ramp from I-395 to Seminary Rd, at a projected cost of $80M (VA taxpayers). This ramp project is considered by Dorothy Robyn, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations & Environment “…the highest priority road project in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the DoD.” (http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/tes/BRAC/2011-03-11%20Connaughton%20short%20term%20funding.pdf). Question for Mr. Baier and Mr. Prideaux - if BRAC 133 is a transportation success now, why is the HOV ramp project being pursued as you imply it is not needed? Certainly $80M could readily be used for other badly needed infrastructure maintenance and improvements. Question for DoD – did the taxpayers foot a billion dollar bill for a building which will only be 60% utilized?
Bureaucrat001 October 22, 2012 at 04:33 PM
I am not surprised in the slightest by the fact that a traffic nightmare never materialized. That's because the debate over the BRAC 133 site was never really about traffic in the first place. It was about Vornado Realty Trust's extensive campaign contributions to Rep Jim Moran, in a failed attempt to force DoD to set up shop at the Springfield Mall/GSA site. http://washingtonexaminer.com/a-washington-tale-of-money-access-and-lobbying/article/115937 Guess who owns the Springfield Mall? Vornado. And when the 6,000+ DoD employees never showed up as Vornado wanted, what happened? The Springfield Mall renovations got put on the shelf for about two years while Vornado went back to the drawing board.
Bureaucrat001 October 23, 2012 at 03:38 PM
I would also note that once DoD began occupying the Mark Center site (my sources tell me it is now fully occupied), Vornado's (including Charles E Smith company) campaign contributions to Rep Jim Moran immediately stopped. Vornado/Charles E Smith were Rep Moran's top contributor in the 2010 cycle, when his attempts to block the occupation of the Mark Center site were in full throttle. As soon as the efforts to lengthen Vornado's Crystal City leases failed, Vornado stopped contributing. Let's get this straight. Before the Vornado campaign contributions started to flow, Rep Moran was willing to let the Mark Center site proceed. Once Vornado's tornado of contributions shot to the top of the Opensecrets.org contributor chart for the 2010 and 2008 cycles, Rep Moran was on a warpath. When Vornado stopped contributing, now suddenly he's all smiles and the traffic nightmare was averted. Seems to me that the real issue had nothing to do with traffic, and everything to do with Vornado's financial interests.
Alexandrienne October 24, 2012 at 08:25 PM
The big mistake make by the Mayor Euliie crew that gave negotiated this BRAC deal was that we (the City of Alexandria) then lost the property tax income of the site. The Feds pay ZERO property tax on the BRAC site. My own property tax bill jumped up 10 per cent this year- where as the house value did not-nor did my income. We need a new transparent city Government in Alexandria, and we need open books at AHRA .AHRA owes the city millions and they just installed hundreds of free DIRECT TV cable tv antennas on their homes. Since when is MTV part of a public housing commitment?


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