As planners in and around the D.C. area work to make a rapidly growing metropolitan area work in ways that decrease energy use and traffic time, they face a major obstacle: the federal government.
Washington D.C.'s struggle to combat urban sprawl goes beyond fighting greedy developors or desires for big houses. The U.S. federal government is proving
to be the most stubborn foe to smart growth planners by insisting on scattering employees to the outer edges of the region. Claiming a need for security and space, the federal government has undermined local efforts to concentrate growth near public transit and urban cores. Decisions that will shape the commuting and development patterns are being made with little local input.
In one extreme case, federal offices for 30,000 people are being moved from a location near D.C.'s metro and to an area with little train service and already crowded roads.
Many of the moves are being made for security and cost reasons, but critics say that the security fears are overblown, with most federal agencies facing little threat. They also point out that foreign countries, with longer histories of domestic terrorism, have found ways to keep government offices in downtown areas.
As for cost, moving offices out of downtowns may be cheaper, in the shortrun. But the longrun includes the cost of major transportation infrastructure and employee costs in both gasoline and personal time as they waste their days idling in traffic.