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BRAC Could Become Campaign Issue In Virginia

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Residents and local leaders say the 6,400 Department of Defense employees commuting to the new Mark Center building could add hours to the commute on I-395.
Jonathan Wilson
Residents and local leaders say the 6,400 Department of Defense employees commuting to the new Mark Center building could add hours to the commute on I-395.

The new commuters are coming as part of the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, which involves relocating employees to the Mark Center in Alexandria.

The road into the Washington Headquarters Service -- the DOD agency set to move to Mark Center -- is a dusty construction zone, hazy in the morning heat and packed with construction workers. That's about to change, with thousands of new daily commuters who are about to create regional gridlock. It's just the kind of thing that makes voters angry.

Kyle Condik of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia acknowledges that anger will be a reality of the upcoming election.

"In terms of political attacks on that, I mean, people get attacked for everything. So it's not at all surprising I don't think," Condik says.

Challengers are trying to point the finger at incumbents, including state Sen. George Barker. One of his Republican opponents says he was asleep at the switch. At a recent Chamber of Commerce reception, it's a charge Barker flatly denies.

"The decision was made by the Bush administration with no input or no consideration taken for state and local concerns about the location there, and that's why we ended up with a situation that has the potential for causing great harm," Barker says.

Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw acknowledges challengers are eager to point fingers.

"The planning for this was probably pretty ill-conceived," he says.

Saslaw blames the Defense Department and the City of Alexandria for poor planning. He says the time to protest the location of the building was "before the contract got lit."

That's an assessment shared by Alexandria Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, a former chairman of the state Democratic party.

"That's why we have elections, to be accountable for your decision. And there could be some BRAC fallout," Donley says.

Back at the construction site, Republican Alexandria City Council member Frank Fannon says growing anger over the issue could become a potent political weapon.

"Definitely, incumbents are vulnerable politically. And that's for every single vote that we make, we're vulnerable," Fannon says.

For now, the building is set to open in September, although some are trying to delay the move.

Major BRAC sites in the region:

View BRAC Locations in D.C. in a larger map

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