LATEST WILSON BRIDGE PROJECT PROPOSAL TO VIRTUALLY ELIMINATE KEY MITIGATION FEATURE A BETRAYAL TO COMMUNITIES
The latest proposal to virtually eliminate the proposed Washington Street Urban Deck, by substituting a 200 foot wide Washington Street Overpass - via a choice between a "Streetscape" and "Greetings" design -- that eliminates the area of highway deck over the I-495 Capital Beltway approach in the area of Hunting Terrace and the western portion of Hunting Towers, would significantly INCREASE this project's environmental impact, and is the wrong direction for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project to take.
It would ELIMINATE the park-covering of I-495 alongside Hunting Terrace and Hunting Towers where it is most critically needed for removing noise and pollution abatement where a 12 lane highway and 8 story high apartment tower would sit only 25 feet apart, and where noise would travel up. On a basis of square footage of land either landscaped or paved, this proposal represents the greatest increase in this project's environmental impact, even greater than the difference between the official 12 lane crossing proposal and the alternative 10 lane bridge proposal, since it would replace parkland with highway where this would represent a total loss of parkland to highway use, in contrast to an area beneath a bridge which may still be used for alternative purposes. Indeed, viewed from the perspective of the number of highway lanes, deleting the highway cover represents a difference of 10, 12 or more lanes of traffic for the affected portion of the highway. In summary, this proposal would:
- REDUCE OPEN GREEN SPACE
- INCREASE HIGHWAY TRAFFIC NOISE AND POLLUTION
- REDUCE PROPERTY VALUES: TURN HUNTING TOWERS INTO A SLUM
- OFFER WAY LESS THAN WHAT ALEXANDRIA WAS PROMISED THROUGH THE PROJECT SELECTION PHASE
- A POOR VALUE FOR ALEXANDRIA [denying mitigation to those communities closest to the highway for a cash trade in representing only the difference between the new proposal and a late 1999 700 foot version, rather than the traditional 1,100 foot design shown since the mid 1990s, and which remains the plans in effect at the time of this Project's Record of Decision.].
This proposal would trade away benefits for Alexandria, away from those with undeniably the greatest need: the neighborhoods directly adjacent and near to the project, for reduced benefit. It would do this for a reduced amount of benefits; those considering trading away the Washington Street Urban Deck's construction funds might want to ask why they would only receive the reduced funds for shorter deck introduced towards the end of the EIS statement, that would leave the nearest of the Hunting Towers without the deck's critically needed noise abatement benefits, after the agreement for a pair of 6 lane drawbridges was reached. The $44 million being offered to Alexandria for unspecified city-wide mitigation represents the cost of a shortened version appearing in the December1999 DSEIS, being only 700 feet in length, and not the traditional approximately 1,100 foot long, $66 million version as it has appeared in renderings at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Design and Study Center during the past approximate half decade, This would not even be the only deletion in 1999, the first being the deletion of the deck's canted western edge that had extended westward via a canted western edge to Alfred Street, with the official planners apparently seizing upon the neighborhood group request to maintain the Church Street exit ramp in its existing location rather than moving it west as an event to bring about a reduction of the deck at its west end, loosing its canted western edge, replaced with a more strictly north-south western edge that no longer extended west to Alfred Street (rather than perhaps notching the deck, if clearance with the Church Street ramp was required). Accordingly, the neighborhood request to not relocate this ramp to the west to keep its traffic off of a one block stretch of Church Street would result in a portion of this area loosing its stretch of the deck, so replacing proposed green-space with the roar of a widened Beltway approach. Whereas the proposed design that was shown the longest - the approximately 1,100 foot version displayed since about 1995 - was what was shown during the selection process, there was an even earlier decision to shorted the deck on its east end, ending immediately east of the northern *wing* of the northern (and nearest to the highway at about 25 feet away) Hunting Tower, leaving only its eastern wing (some 80 feet from the highway) next to an exposed highway. The apparently original version (around 1994) had placed the eastern portal about 100 feet further east, immediately east of the nearest Hunting Tower (as illustrated by a set of markings upon a drawing of comparative approach profiles as viewed from the north at the Design and Study Center). Project officials have asserted this was done because that portion of the deck would have been 4-6% degrees, inappropriate for active recreation (such as a soccer field) and hence said to have no use, as well as for reducing the "wall" effect as viewed from neighborhoods two blocks away to the north.
Nevertheless, whereas such an eastern extension would add relatively little height to the bridge approach (given the likely use of 17 foot high sound walls), it is unclear if this decision to roll the deck to the west away from portions of Hunting Towers gave due consideration in apparently deciding that this 6 foot net reduction in a portion of the replacement bridge's approach concerning neighborhoods two blocks away to the north weighed heavier than the far more significant differences in the quality of life for Hunting Towers, located as closely as 25 feet from the widened bridge approach. Given the fact of the proximity and the height of Hunting Towers and that noise travels upwards, it is not clear (at least to me) if the decisions regarding the location of eastern portal relative to Hunting Towers were based upon an adequate environmental analysis. It is unclear if this cir. 1995 decision was accompanied by any sort of noise modeling.
In any event, the official highway planning contention that extending the deck eastward would "serve no purpose" for this portion of a highway that is effectively a gateway into Virginia, suggests a highway planning mentality somewhat behind the curve- placing short term matters as construction costs as weighing perhaps too heavily in relation to long term environmental impacts. Beyond the apparent scant regard to noise and pollution issues (particularly regarding Hunting Towers), the decisions tto shorten the deck at its eastern end flies in the face of the ongoing popularization of the idea of Millennial Gateways for entryways into important areas, disregarding the idea of a sloped promenade deck at the time this very concept is featured in the preferred design for a proposed under-grounding of New York City's elevated Miller Highway (otherwise known as the West Side Highway between 72end and 57th Streets), featuring a northern portal with the closest portions of the decking atop as a pedestrian promenade with a 5-6% slope, conducted by the firm coordinating the Wilson Bridge Project, Parsons-Brinckerhoff.
Several years ago, the Wilson Bridge Center had a number of impressive displays of park-covered highways elsewhere in the U.S., such as the cut and cover portion of Phoenix I-10 that created Margaret Hance Park, and the largely covered I-90 in East Seattle and Mercer Island- the East Seattle "Gateway to the Pacific" tunnel portal, to illustrate the benefits of the proposed Washington Street Urban Deck; yet in recent years, perhaps in a reaction to reduce the project's costs, have shortened the deck while no longer displaying the illustrations of the covered portions of I-10 and I-90. In any event, other matters might suggest that the project's decision making process has been somewhat overly-conservative, including the popularization of the idea of Millennial Gateways, please see
suggest that the official highway planning contention that extending the deck eastward would "serve no purpose" for this portion of a highway that is effectively a gateway into Virginia somewhat behind the curve- placing short term matters as construction costs as weighing perhaps too heavily in relation to long term environmental impacts.
Indeed, it would appear that the project officials have quietly backed off from the more generous offer of mitigation during the selection process leading to the 12 lane drawbridge crossing selection; several years ago, the Wilson Bridge Center had a number of impressive displays of park-covered highways elsewhere in the U.S., such as the cut and cover portion of Phoenix I-10 that created Margerat Hance Park, and the largely covered I-90 in East Seattle and Mercer Island --- "Gateway to the Pacific" to illustrate the benefits of the proposed Washington Street Urban Deck; yet in recent years, perhaps in a reaction to reduce the project's costs, have shortened the deck while no longer displaying the illustrations of the covered portions of I-10 and I-90. This is a short sighted approach that will make future transportation projects more difficult.
These decisions to shorten the proposed Washington Street Urban Deck fly in the face of experiences that communities elsewhere have chosen to resolve highway issues, via burying portions of highways where most needed for maintaining or enhancing the urban fabric and improving the environment by providing new parklands while encasing and filtering noise and pollution, particularly in built up areas with dwellings nearby and above the highway, as is the case with Hunting Towers. One would probably not want to advocate removing any portion of the highway "lids" (as they are known in the western U.S.), thereby replacing the quiet landscaped green park space with the roar of 10-12 lanes of traffic. Nevertheless, some people in Alexandria favor this proposal (at least regarding the western portion) because this would eliminate a proposed soccer field officially envisioned for the portion of the deck west of Washington Street, along with others concerned about the City of Alexandria being responsible for the new parkland's maintenance. Indeed, noise concerns were cited as an intolerable aspect of soccer playing, with some asserting concern over the idea of a load ventilation system (including one member of the Urban Deck Stakeholder Committee representing the neighborhood adjacent to Freedman's Cemetary), hence, accordingly, the best approach to stopping the soccer field would be stopping the deck, failing to consider alternatives as a deck without a soccer field, the effects of shortening the deck upon property values, ignoring the effects of reduced property values along the open segments of I-495 in southern Alexandria, or a scenario of the new parkland coming under the jurisdiction and funding of the U.S. Park Service, as if leaving neighborhoods directly next to an open highway were preferable to a soccer field, as if the latter were noisier or smellier than the former. In response to hearing about the concerns of community impact, the Stakeholder's Committee would recommend against shortening the Washington Street Urban Deck, with the Alexandria City Council choosing to postpone a vote upon this proposal -- initially scheduled for September 26 - according to project officials until the completion of noise modeling studies regarding the effects of the different deck designs, comparing, at a minimum, the 700 foot and 200 foot decks.
At a time when other cities are planning on burying railways and highways, why should Alexandria be subjected to an outdated mentality of highway construction that blighting communities and paves over waterfront access? The deck should not be shortened, but rather *extended* in both directions, extending it fully east of Hunting Towers, and to the west to restore Alexandria's waterfront access to Hunting Creek, as accomplished by the Takoma Park Highway Design Studio Alexandria Orb proposal, on display at
This proposal would extend the benefits of the Washington Street Urban Deck concept, architecturally integrated with an all new alternative design for the Route 1 interchange, featuring circular oriented "Orb" roadways with significant benefits superior to the official FHWA design, regarding traffic operation ability issues as well as environmental issues. Superior traffic operation ability benefits of the Alexandria Orb interchange include gentler turning radii (with a radii of roughly 400 feet as opposed to 250 feet) with greater capacity, intuitive layout (for instance, heading north, a left turn takes you west), fully free flowing exit ramps without the stop light of the official FHWA design for the express ramps to and from the east, free flowing underground ramp for I-495 eastbound to westbound "u" turn to detouring from bridge delays WITHOUT existing upon Alexandria surface streets, along with its routing of the I-496 westbound express ramp traffic to a Route 1 underpass without access to Franklin Street, hence maintaining the existing number of I-495 lanes with this access. Superior environmental benefits of the Alexandria Orb include the creation of new parklands. reuniting access to Hunting Creek and extending west via the park space to be created within the "Orb."
As a largely underground structure, the Alexandria Orb would be somewhat costlier, yet with much of this structure so consolidated -- e.g. with its various ramp walls as one side of one ramp, and the other of another -- presents a greater benefit to cost ratio than could be expected with altogether separate structures, hence somewhat offsetting the added expense of underground construction. If it were to add $100 million to the project's cost, it would represent an approximately 5% rise, making it far cheaper than a full river tunnel (which in all proposals has been matched with the existing Route 1 interchange designs, whether the existing structure or the Wilson Bridge Project design.
The Alexandria Orb would certainly present a better benefit to cost ratio than previously proposals for construction a 10 lane bridge, or a 10 or 12 lane tunnel, while providing full shoulders and maximum flexibility for adding Metro rail at the lowest cost and without the need to demolish express or HOV ramps, or for that matter, taking out lanes, hence freeing this Metro link addition for the threat of a political push to perhaps preserve the HOV lanes.
Douglas A. Willinger
Takoma Park Highway Design Studio