Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Comments November 2000 to Alexandria's City Council


The current moves to shorten or delete the long proposed Washington Street Urban Deck represents a betrayal of the communities nearest to the to be widened I-495 (and co-signed as I-95, in the wake of the mid 1970s cancellation of planning for a through DC I-95), which officials from the Wilson Bridge Project had long promised to Alexandria. Either proposal, the pair of 200 foot overpasses "Greetings" and "Streetscape", or the entirely deleted deck featured in the new animations of the I-495 approach to the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge shown at the November 9, 2000 VDOT Public Showing of the Route 1 interchange plans, represents the wrong direction for this Project.

Not only do they endorse the deletion of long promised new open green space for noise abatement for the communities with indisputably the greatest need for environmental mitigation, those nearest to the highway


The Urban Deck, otherwise known as a freeway lid or freeway lid, is a highly acclaimed highway design feature won by communities around the world in humanizing highways for communities as required in built up areas. The proposals to shorten or eliminate the urban deck fly in the face of overwhelming popular opinion, that if you are going to have to have that coveted piece of urban railway or highway, that it is preferably to have the thing buried. Communities work for getting these highway design features; nowhere do they push to have them deleted in favor of an exposed highway. None would call out for removing the roof of D.C.'s 3rd Street Tunnel, hence leaving an open trench I-395 crossing the National Mall. A 14 year controversy, between the initial 1971 proposal for a 14 lane open cut I-90 extension through Mercer Island, to a 1985 agreement for a 10 lane version with long cut and cover sectioned designed to ultimately preserve open green space in relatively crowded Mercer Island. Ultimate design not only one of form, but of functionality. As a major interstate highway, I-90 had to allow a wide variety of trucking, including HAZMATS. Therefore, the I-90 Mercer Island Tunnels would be designed and constructed with a state of the art ventilation and fire suppression system. Mobilized citizen concern made it politically impossible for highway planning authorities to shorten or delete the park-covered cut and cover tunnel sections, replacing them with uncovered, up-encased highway.


Another such project is Charlestown, Massachusetts' Route 1 City Square/Tunnel.


There are currently popular movements to bury existing depressed open freeways, such as New Haven, Connecticut I-95, 350 foot and 500 foot decks proposed for improving water front access.


Cincinnati, Ohio, I-71 Fort Washington Way


I-405 in Portland, Oregon, for reclaiming 26 downtown blocks in what is currently vacant air space over the I-405 freeway.

The "Bridge the Divide and Cap I-405 Vision Study" details concepts of how to recapture some of the 38 blocks bulldozed in 1965 for the construction of the open cut 6 lane I-405 freeway. The result is projected to lead to: 1,000 housing units for 2,000 residents; 650,000 square feet of commercial space, generating 1800 permanent new jobs; 2,200 parking spaces; six acres of parks; two acres of indoor recreational uses and 50,000 square feet for civic/exhibition space.







Go to any of these places to see for yourselves, to hear the sounds of children playing and birds singing. Contrast this with a conventional open highway. The current proposal before the Alexandria City Council files in the face of developments elsewhere. It would be akin to proposing that the 3rd Street Tunnel be built not as a tunnel but as an open trench as it crosses the Mall (indeed, that would be one of the original 1955 proposals). Alexandria must not give up its promised and acclaimed mitigation for those living the closest to the highway.


Proponents of denying the Alexandria communities their long promised mitigation for the oncoming Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project play a multiple bait and switch with their assertion that reducing or eliminating the urban deck would have "little or no effect upon noise" for Alexandria communities They do this with misleading the public about the noise issue by not comparing the decks they claim to set out to compare. They claim to compare their "Greetings" and "Streetscape" concepts with the "original" design:

In August, the community and City staff asked Potomac Crossing Consultants to calibrate the decibel levels associated with the Urban Deck. Originally proposed in the 1997 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and the currently proposed concepts for a smaller Urban Deck. Attachment 10 contains the results of the study by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project Team, which analyzed noise levels through the year 2020 at various receptors and ambient points north and south of the bridge. The study concluded the following: "with the reduced length of the Washington Street Urban Deck, noise levels are predicted to increase 0-3 decibels on the north side of I-95, with the exception of Freedman's Cemetery that receives an increase of 10 decibels. On the south side of I-95, noise levels are predicted to increase from 0-5 decibels." Studies have shown that the human ear does not detect changes in noise levels which are three decibels or less.

Though the issue being presented - the difference between the "Greetings" and "Streetscape" rump decks and the "original" or 1997 design, the noise report (attachment 10) does not compare the "original" or the 1997 deck design, which was roughly 1,100 feet long, but rather the shortened 700 foot design that first appeared in the December 22, 1999 Draft Supplemental EIS. As this interim design differs from the "original" 1997 design with the deletion of 50% of its square footage to the east of Washington Street, it was the first design to completely remove the portion of the urban deck that was to extend alongside both the remaining two Hunting Towers, hence leaving the nearest tower, as well as about half of the southernmost tower completely exposed to a widened Beltway which would be about 20 feet away. By contrasting this late 1999 design with the two new proposals ("Greetings" and "Streetscape"), while essentially mislabeling the late 1999 design with the 1997 1,100 foot design with a chart of relative noise differences that clearly states it compares the new proposals with a 700 foot deck, proponents of virtually eliminating the urban deck understate the noise differences. Indeed, the planners are downplaying the noise issue, paying insufficient respect to the reality that noise travels up.


Incidentally, the 1999 700 foot design was never presented before the SPP.

In those instances where the noise level exceeds 67 decibels, the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation will investigate whether areas exceeding 67 decibels are eligible for mitigation measures such as sound walls and determine the cost benefit ratios of the mitigation measures. The analysis consists of VDOT examining whether the noise mitigation measures will decrease the noise by a five decibel increment and whether an appropriate cost benefit ratio is achieved. Although this is the standard for review, there are times when these standards are not met, yet VDOT still has the discretion to employ mitigation measures in unusual circumstances (e.g. historic structures, hospitals). Decisions in general, on noise mitigation measures will be made using the above standard, as well as, validating public support for mitigation..

The area is a gateway to Alexandria, to Virginia and the Old Confederacy. It is the most built up area along the Beltway in Virginia or Maryland. It most certainly would be a candidate as an unusual circumstance worthy of justifying additional monetary costs.


With respect to air quality, the Woodrow Wilson Bride (sic) Project Team has concluded that the air quality is not compromised by the reduced deck size

This is entire amount of words, and by extension thought, apparently given by the official planners with regard to vehicular air pollution. Representing an encasement of the segment of the I-495 Capital Beltway that passes through its most built up areas, the urban deck by its inherent nature would trap vehicular pollution, and preventing it from permeating the adjoining neighborhoods. The sole exception to this general rule would be possible concentrations at its east and west portals. However, the extent that this would be a problem, or even if it would be a problem at all, would relay to no small extent upon the ventilation system. A well-designed ventilation system would avoid this problem by collecting traffic pollution, and dispersing it, as done quietly with the I-90 tunnel-ways in East Seattle and Mercer Island.

An even better scenario would take this general technology further, by equipping a long Washington Street Urban deck with a ventilation system fitted with filtration equipment, perhaps employing electro-static technology. Such systems, which exploit his intrinsic environmental advantage of encased bellow ground road tunnel ways, are increasingly becoming the norm throughout the industrialized world, including Europe and Japan. Just recently in Australia, Sydney residents successfully persuaded their parliament to approve a bill mandating this equipment's installation in Sydney's current under construction cross-town highway tunnel project. Given this area's significance, this would be a very strong candidate for this more environmentally advanced highway design approach. There is no good reason why Virginia should lag behind the rest of the world.


The reasoning behind the proposals to chop the deck presented in the Sunderland report is convoluted and illogical for denying the deck for reasons that would also deny their proposals, to a near equal or even greater degree.

It states that the deck would have to be raised to accommodate ventilation equipment (exhaust fans, presumable ceiling mounted), hence relegating the Parkway to be somewhat depressed as it crossed the deck), and thereby leading to the October 20, 2000 City Manager Sunderland report's conclusion: we, therefore, do not recommend the larger deck. This conclusion is then buttressed by the observation that "while a positive idea in concept, later engineering analysis indicated that the proposed topography would require the walls supporting the deck to be very tall, creating an additional barrier. Ironically then, these statements are followed with the "Greetings" and "Streetscape", both of which flank the portion of Washington Street that crosses the Beltway with a raised berm that also results in Washington Street being depressed relative to the raised deck surface, and both of which would be accompanied by high vertical sound walls. While eliminating the deck would eliminate its 24 foot increase to the project's vertical profile, this would be replaced with vertical sound walls at least 17 feet high, if not higher. Furthermore, while there would be only a 6-10 difference in the vertical profile (such as where viewed against the backdrop of the 8 story high Hunting Towers), the chopped deck proposals would likely require sound walls where NONE are required for a longer deck, such as the Church Street area, including Freedman's Cemetery

It sanctions the decisions to eliminate open green deck space based upon leaps of logic, e.g. a previously proposed recreation field on the deck is somehow re-judged to be unfeasible or impossible, hence that portion of the deck gets deleted, without any regard to using that deckage for passive recreational uses. Proponents of chopping the deck disregard that this place is a Gateway, into Alexandria, into Virginia, and hence the U.S. South, disregarding the potential here not only for adequate noise abatement for a pedestrian promenade with a view of Jones Point Park, the Potomac River, as now being envisioned for New York City's West Side Miller Highway along Manhattan island's western shore between 72nd and 47th Streets, complete with a design with a covered tunnel-way that rises up, with its cover extending a 4-6 degree grade to meet its northern portal, as would a Washington Street Urban Deck.


It sanctions entire questionable chains of decisions that, even if a questioning of an earlier decision would call a string of later decisions into question.

The portion of the deck to the west of Washington Street gets deleted because of an objection to a proposed soccer field's northern goalpost being too close to Freedman's Cemetery. Yet this happens because the field is turned to a north-south axis from its previously proposed east-west axis- this occurring because of the mysterious early 1999 decision to delete the canted western edge of the deck, so deleting 44,000 square feet of deck near the Church Street exist. No explanation for this is given.

Proponents of the chopped deck proposals utterly ignore the benefits of underground construction to adjacent property values and by extension property taxes. It would seem that chopped deck proponents are ignorant of the vast drop in property vales in Manhattan at 96th Street where the railroads transition from tunnel to berm, with property values being higher where the road is buried.


It disregards, indeed, states outright misstatements of fact with regards to the SPP (Stakeholder's Participants Panel), stating (at p.10) that the "Urban Deck Stakeholder Panel, as a group, has not been presented with the plans for the smaller deck because they have not met. This is an absolutely misleading, if not outright false statement: The Route 1/Urban Deck SPP met on August 26, 2000, where Wilson Bridge Project officials presented both the "Greetings" and "Streetscape" proposals to the SPP, which, after hearing the comments of the public, overwhelmingly rejected the concept of shortening the deck. Indeed, it should be noted that the Wilson Bridge Project [www.wilsonbridge.com] site's SPP chronicles [as of this writing], without any claims to the contrary, simply omits this piece of information about the August 26, 2000 SPP meeting's findings.


With attention focused upon the bridge itself, insufficient thought has been given to the approaches, indeed, there has been no design competition at all for the approaches.

The view that a shortened deck would somehow better represent the historical context of Alexandria as reflected by the various Alexandria commissions is preposterous. Are we to suppose that an open 12 lane freeway more represents the area's history than open green space?

Therefore, I implore the Alexandria City Council to reject the proposals for a shorter deck that further exposes Hunting Towers to more noise, including both the "Greetings" and "Streetscape" proposals, as well as the 700 foot design unveiled in 1999, which was never itself presented to the SPP separately.

Indeed, the Urban Deck MUST at least be extended to its original length or greater; it should DEFINITELY be extended fully east of Hunting Towers as per the original consideration of 1994-95, some 100 feet or so east of the traditional design exclusively shown from 1995 or 1996 to 1999. The issue of profile, is a red herring given the likely presence of high vertical sound walls without the deck, that this profile would be viewed against the backdrop of Hunting Towers, as well as the undeniable need for sound abatement for Hunting Towers. As per the Miller Highway proposal in New York City, this would make an excellent viewing promenade, regardless of assertions that fail to recognize this, as those presented to the public at the September 6, 2000 meeting.

Instead, I implore the Alexandria City Council to pursue Alexandria's traditional yet dormant planning for monumental gateway traffic circles at its northern and southern Alexandria in this instance by working for a rejection of the existing design plans for the I-495/Route 1 interchange, a design more appropriate for Springfield than Old Town,
and hence, work for the adaptation of the Alexandria Orb design.

Thank You,

Douglas A. Willinger
Takoma Park Highway Design Studio

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