FT. BELVOIR, Va. – Ft. Belvoir officials are reaching out to more than 30,000 employees to survey how they commute and how alternative options could become more attractive.
For Ft. Belvoir transportation planners, carpooling or vanpooling are the preferred options. But master planner Chris Landgraf admits there’s no one solution.
“It has to be a multifaceted approach. There is no single solution, no one silver bullet. We have to enhance options for transit and for drivers,” he says.
Most Ft. Belvoir employees on mass transit use Virginia Railway Express either to Lorton or Metro to Springfield. According to a 2011 Ft. Belvoir survey, about 40 percent of employees commute from Prince William or Fairfax County. But Ft. Belvoir officials believe that number is actually higher, after Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
From Lorton, employees will often leave a car in the lot, then carpool from the station into the military base. At Springfield, riders can transfer to the Fairfax Connector routes 333 or 335.
“It’s actually very relaxing. They get on, they read a book, they read the paper, they come to work and are not stressed out from road rage,” says Landgraf.
But in the 2011 survey found only five percent of all commuters take VRE or Metro.
Elizabeth Willis, who now bikes from Ft. Washington, says she and her colleagues would often take Metro or VRE to get to the Pentagon because it was so easy.
“Now all of them drive their car to Ft. Belvoir because we don’t find it easy to take Metro or VRE to get to Ft. Belvoir. They have to do too much. They have to drive to the station, get on a train, then worry about getting to the bus on time,” she says.
Fairfax Connector 333 and 335 are timed to depart about four minutes after each VRE train arrives in Springfield.
Rick Nordgren, who drives from Annapolis, says there’s not enough time to hit all the connections.
“It’s a miracle shot. Train has to be on time; you get there, then the bus just left and you have to wait another 20 minutes to get the bus,” he says.
Doug Killey, who drives from Dumfries, shares those concerns.
“My own experience with VRE suggests that most of the time I’ll be sprinting through the Springfield station only to miss the bus,” he says.
Robert Spencer, who drives from Woodbridge, says he can handle only so many transfers. Typically, transit officials admit that with each transfer point, about 10 percent of commuters will quit and choose another option.
“If I have to do transfer from here and there, the convenience factor would start to get to me. I’m a person with ADD and I can’t take waiting for the train, waiting for the bus. I don’t want to do that,” he says.
“If I had to do just one transfer point, that would be fine. But if it becomes more than that, it would be a little too much for me.”
VRE officials tell WTOP they’re exploring the possibility of one day running trains on the abandoned tracks south of Springfield that run directly to the base, but those discussions are only conceptual at this point.
Another option available in December 2014 could be the I-95 Express Lanes. HOV 3+ riders won’t have to pay, similar to the current configuration, but non-HOV drivers could also use the lanes and pay the toll.
“The new Express Lanes will have a connection at the Fairfax County Parkway, connecting to the new portion of it. If people want to come to Ft. Belvoir now in the HOV, they have to go past the base, get off at the Franconia-Springfield Parkway, then come back down on Beulah Street,” says Landgraf.
The I-95 Express Lanes will add two more connections for drivers heading north from Prince William County.
But Ft. Belvoir employees had a mixed reaction to the Express Lanes option.
“I haven’t used the Beltway Express Lanes, but I would be sorely tempted to use them on I-95. I would pay some small amount of money, but if you get into three digits per mile, then we would get into a problem,” says Killey.
Nordgren, who used to slug from Fredericksburg, thinks it’s a bad idea, even though carpoolers would still not have to pay.
“I am not a big fan of paying money to use roads. I don’t make a whole lot of money. For people who are rich and drive on those roads, I can see where it would help. But as a working Joe, I don’t have that kind of disposable income to pay to get to work. I already pay enough for gas,” he says.
Critics have long dubbed them “Lexus Lanes,” joking that only the wealthy could afford such a luxury.
“I can’t see myself paying for the road, even if it saved me 10 or 20 minutes on my commute,” says Spencer.
What’s clear is that between widening roads around Ft. Belvoir, improving VRE, offering more buses, building Express Lanes, or encouraging carpools, no one option will solve the traffic gridlock.