Defense chief asked to postpone planned move to new Virginia building

Less than a month before nearly 6,400 Defense Department employees are scheduled to move to a new high-rise in Alexandria, Va., four Virginia lawmakers are pressing newly installed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to take up their long-standing cause of delaying the moves to spare the region anticipated gridlock on Interstate 395.

In a July 14 letter to Panetta, Democratic Reps. Jim Moran and Gerald Connolly and Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb said a recently reaffirmed plan that originated with the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission "contravenes the department's assurances to work with the Virginia delegation and local governments to ensure that the occupation of the Mark Center does not cause failing levels of service to surrounding roadways and intersections."

The lawmakers have been seeking both a delay in the move and a cap on parking to encourage use of public transit offered near the 1.4 million-square-foot facility, which is not near a Metro stop.

"We are particularly distressed that the DoD intends to use up to 3,800 parking spaces at the Mark Center," the lawmakers continued. "There is no rule, regulation or statute preventing the department from self-imposing a parking limitation to 1,000 until there is sufficient transportation infrastructure. This self-imposed parking limitation would incentivize DoD personnel to rely on the alternate modes of transportation described in the Army's traffic management plan."

The Pentagon's plan, recently reiterated to Congress by Elizabeth King, assistant Defense secretary for legislative affairs, has nearly 5,000 personnel relocating this year beginning Aug. 9 and continuing through December, with a final wave of 1,400 beginning in January 2012.

The Pentagon has directed $20 million to traffic access improvements over the next 18 to 24 months, and the Virginia Transportation Department has allocated $80 million to build a ramp from the interstate to the facility by 2016. Opposition to immediate occupancy of the Mark Center on Alexandria's Seminary Road also has been expressed by Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, who represents Fairfax.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said Panetta will be responding directly via a letter to the lawmakers.

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