Fort Belvoir. Photo by mindgutter on Flickr.

The Army has decided to locate 6,400 jobs at a site in western Alexandria, right off I-395 but far from Metro, reports the Post. The jobs were originally slated to move from Arlington to Fort Belvoir, but concerns about traffic led the Army to consider alternate sites.

Unfortunately, while any of the sites were better than the remote and completely transit-inaccessible Fort Belvoir, this site is little better. According to the article, Virginia and Fairfax officials were pushing for two other sites, one a GSA warehouse less than half a mile from the Franconia-Springfield Metro and VRE, and the other the Victory Center near Van Dorn Metro.

Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the Army has missed an opportunity to make the best decision for encouraging transit and also spurring an economic revival in downtown Springfield. Connolly also noted that Fairfax will feel the brunt of the new traffic, particularly on the interstates.

"Many if not most of these workers will be coming from the south,” he said. “That means they can’t access this site by the VRE, and it means they’re going to be in their automobiles driving across our county and Prince William County.

Unfortunately, the GSA warehouse would take a long time to get ready, and the Army preferred the I-395 site in part because the land is currently empty, giving more flexibility and speed. That’s always an advantge of an undeveloped sprawl site over reuse or infill in a denser, transit-oriented area. But the long-term costs in traffic and pollution are enormous.

Sadly, the Army isn’t weighing those factors, just its own speed, cost and convenience. As Richard Layman points out, California law imposes substantial environmental review on developments of this size. There, a similar project would have to improve transit infrastructure or otherwise mitigate the impact, making the better sites quicker and cheaper by comparison. But the federal government doesn’t follow similar rules, and our region lacks such controls for private development—thus we have National Harbor.

The Army will set up shuttle buses to Metro, according to the article, but the added step of a shuttle will surely deter a huge share of the commuters who would have ridden transit. Plus, federal rules allow more parking spaces for developments far from Metro, making this office complex even more appealing for drivers.

Alexandria is still better than Fort Belvoir, but not much. The GSA should move its warehouse, including its “spare windows for the Pentagon”, as soon as possible so it’s not hogging valuable real estate near Metro and so another agency can move in without waiting the three extra years it would have cost the Army. And let’s get Gerry Connolly elected and on some good committees as soon as possible, so he can join Donna Edwards in providing a strong voice for smart development practices in the region.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.