DRAFT Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement [DSEIS]
Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement Project
February 25, 2000
Douglas A. Willinger
Takoma Park Highway Design Studio
Sumitted to John A. Gerner, P.E. Project Manager for formal submission
into the comments upon the WWB Project DRAFT SEIS
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement Project presents the fantastic opportunity to display how highways can be best harmonized with the surrounding environment and adjoining communities, as well as being designed as multi-model transportation facilities. Additionally, the project merits praise for including the highway design concept with the best potential for both shielding neighborhoods from traffic noise and pollution and improving the quality of life for those living adjacent to this project, of covering some of the I-495 bridge approach roadway in southern Alexandria. Indeed, the 1996 Record of Decision would state:
"A deck would be constructed over the Beltway in the area of Washington Street in the City of Alexandria providing opportunities for community enhancements, improving redevelopment potential, and reconnecting portions of southern Alexandria on either side of the Beltway"
Essentially, this could make a relatively short section of the highway into a tunnel, with the surface re-dedicated to new open landscaped green space: a concept known in the western United States as a "Freeway Lid", and in the parlance of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement Project, an "Urban Deck." Such "lids" "caps" or "decks" have been a key component of highway projects around the U.S. These projects include, I-10 in Phoenix Arizona's I-10, Seattle, Washington's I-5 Freeway Park, Mercer Island, Washington I-90, Detroit, Michigan's I-696 Duluth, Minnesota's I-35, Charlestown, Massachusetts' Route 1 City Square/Tunnel, with this concept being considered for new projects, such as in Portland, Oregon, where community planners and activists are looking at long term plans to deck over a 26 block long section of I-405 - a 6 lane trench freeway built during the 1960s - with new parkland and other community resources. The proper application of this design concept in southern Alexandria could significantly mitigate the project where it has the greatest need for mitigation in built up and historically and environmentally sensitive southern Alexandria. An encasement of the I-495 approach roadway, particularly the area of Hunting Creek, Hunting Terrace, Hunting Towers, Yates Garden, and the sites of St. Mary's and Freedman's Cemetery, along with innovative, multi-purpose noise control mitigation through Jones Point Park, would be a cost effective means of making a tunnel out of that portion of the project with the greatest need for mitigation.
Unfortunately, this mitigation feature, along with others, that are crucial in harmonizing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement Project with its surrounding environment, is being seriously undermined by a series of questionable planning decisions -- before and since the September 1996 Record of Decision, regarding the design of the project's mitigation in southern Alexandria, as well as the compatibility of the official roadway layout with the concept of the concurrent or future addition of rail transit. Although the project is supposed to be designed with communities in mind, the current design evolution has underwent some decisions in need of serious review.
THE SHRINKING WASHINGTON STREET URBAN DECK
A) As it once appeared, the Washington Street Urban Deck extended to a point about 200 feet west of the edge of the bridge abutment, a point immediately east of the eastern edge of the nearest of the Hunting Apartment Towers.
B) By 1994, the deck had lost 100-150 feet at its eastern edge, as illustrated by the various lines delineating the location of the deck's eastern portal upon a profile drawing on display at a 1994 WWB Design and Study Center Open House meeting. Instead of extending just east of the nearest Hunting Tower, the deck now ended jut east of that tower's northern wing. This deletion of deck space, a reduction of 25,000+ square feet of potential park space, now left the entire eastern wing of the nearest of the Hunting Towers exposed to the Beltway, only about 80 feet away
C) In early mid 1999, the bridge design officials allowed an airing of the local community group request to maintain the Church Street exit ramp at its existing location. Traditionally, the WWB replacement project plans included a relocation of this off-ramp, approximately 200 feet to the west. Representatives from the Yates Garden neighborhood, including those who attended the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Design and Study Center "Stakeholders" Meeting on the Route 1 interchange and the Washington Street Urban Deck, viewed this off-ramp relocation as undesirable for subjecting a lengthier section of Church Street to the off-ramp traffic. The authorities gladly complied with this request. However, to the best of my personal knowledge, at no time was it explicitly explained to the participants that maintaining the Church Street exit ramp at its existing location could or would lead to a deletion of approximately 44,000 square feet at its western edge, where the canted western edge of the deck would be replaced by a straight or curved edge, that would no longer extend as far west as Alfred Street. See Draft SEIS Figure 14-13 Carbon Monoxide Modeling Locations Urban Deck West Exit Portal, and Figure 2-5 Washington Street Urban Deck Conceptual Mitigation Plan.
D) In December 1999, the bridge design official released the current DRAFT SUPPLEMENTAL EIS, a document with a number of things to say about the proposed Washington Street Urban Deck." According to the 1999 DRAFT SEIS document summary, the Washington Street Urban Deck, which was initially "included to maximum size possible", has since been "refined in size to address programatic and functional needs…[this]… refinement based on City of Alexandria, NPS, and SPP input.
"Refinement" so translated hear, means to reduce the amount of deck and potential landscaped green open space, even possibly to a greater degree then before, with an illustration of an even shorter deck that would leave Hunting Towers significantly less shielded! While some of the illustrations in this document shows the eastern portal of the urban deck as it has appeared since 1994, just east of the mid point of the nearest Hunting Tower, and with the western portal so relocated to delete another 10,000 feet of potential green park space in the vicinity of the Church Street off-ramp, (See Draft SEIS Figure 14-13 and 14-14 Carbon Monoxide Modeling Locations- Urban Deck West Exit Portal/East Exit Portal). However, other illustrations in this very same document show a Washington Street Urban Deck with a new deletion of 200 foot at its eastern end, relocating the eastern portal fully west of the nearest Hunting Tower, leaving that tower exposed to the highway approach as close as 10-20 feet away: a additional deletion of approximately 60,000 square feet of potential open green space by Hunting Towers! (See DRAFT SEIS Figure 2-5 "Washington Street Urban Deck Conceptual Mitigation Plan", and Figure A-1 "Preliminary Interchange Design Key Plan"). Both figures show a proposed Washington Street Urban Deck that ends closer to Washington Street then ever before, with its eastern exit portal fully west of what would be the nearest Hunting Tower, therefore leaving that tower exposed to a 10-12 lane I-495 approach!
"Potential" sound wall locations, according to DRAFT SEIS Figure-15 Current Design Alternative 4A Potential Noise Barrier Location, would be 10- 12 feet in height [DRAFT SEIS at 4-65] along both sides of I-495 from the Washington Street Urban Deck's eastern portal all the way through Jones Point Park to approximately 1,100 feet east of the Potomac shore line for the northern side of the bridge, and about 400 feet for the bridge's south side. "Final decisions on these [sound] barriers would be made in the context of each State's noise policy [DRAFT SEIS 4-66]. In other words, the DRAFT SEIS speaks of, but does not necessarily guarantee sound barriers.
ROADWAY CONFIGURATION COMPATIBILITY WITH EVENTUAL METRO RAIL ADDITION: THE OFFICIAL PLAN'S DESIGNED IN CONFLICT BETWEEN HOV AND RAIL TRANSIT
The official alternative, 4A, agreed upon in the September 1996 Record of Decision, provides for a bridge cross-section providing 12 lanes for vehicular traffic, arranged with two separate "local" and "express" carriage ways, each providing three vehicular traffic lanes, (each 12 feet wide), plus a set of left hand and right hand shoulders, and plus a 2 foot wide painted separation between the middle and left-most express lanes, the latter so designated as an HOV-transit lane, with a 2 foot wide barrier separation between the four carriage ways, plus a 12 foot wide bicycle-pedestrian path along one side of the bridge. As it appears in the 1996 Record of Decision, this 3/3/3/3 plus bicycle-pedestrian path Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement roadway would have been 244 feet across. As it appears in this 1999 DRAFT SEIS, this roadway width has been slightly reduced, to 234 feet, via a reduction in the width of the left hand local carriage way shoulder, matching the width of the 6 foot left hand express shoulders, and the elimination of the 2 foot wide painted barrier between the HOV lane and the adjacent express lane. This removes valuable space that could be employed towards the least expensive accommodation of Metro rail, that of shoulder space conversion via the now 6 foot wide left hand local lane shoulder and the still 10 foot wide right hand express lane shoulder, along with the 2 feet of the barrier separation.. This would still maintain 1 shoulder apiece for the local and express roadways; however the extra space would be desirable for allowing the maintenance of a right hand express roadway shoulder, to help minimize the need for express traffic to cross the HOV lane to reach the left express roadway shoulder.
A 10 lane alternative, considered in earlier Woodrow Wilson Bridge Environmental Impact Statements, and supported by a variety of citizens' groups, would provide 5 lanes (each 12 feet wide) in each direction with a single carriage way in each direction with left hand and right hand shoulders, thus eliminating 1 lane and 2 shoulders in each direction relative to the official alternative, 4A. This would provide a total width of 170 feet, which would allow the replacement structure to avoid conflict with the northernmost of the trio of Hunting Towers, placing said approach only approximately 15 feet away from the 3rd and 4th floors of that apartment tower.
A variation of this 10 vehicular lane option that would add 24 feet in median space width for the concurrent or future addition of rail transit, such as Metro would be too wide to slip between the limited space to the south of St. Mary's Cemetery and Hunting Towers, thus requiring at least the demolition of the northern-most wing of the northern-most tower, (along with the temporary evacuation of the rest of the Tower during this partial demolition and reconstruction).
A possible variation of the alternative concept of a 10 vehicular lane, plus 2 lanes of rail transit (plus the 12 foot bicycle pedestrian path) in the median would have this rail right of way drop below I-495 through Jones Point Park, thus allowing the I-495 roadways (each with 5 lanes plus shoulders) to converge atop the rail transit way in order to squeeze between St. Mary's Cemetery and Hunting Towers, with this railway continuing westward through the replacement bridge abutment, generally beneath the I-495 center line. Suggested to me at the February 10, 2000 WWB DRAFT EIS public hearing by Stewart Schwartz, it does not appear in any of the earlier WWB EIS.
Of all of the past alternatives, that of a split crossing - bridge and tunnel - offers the best potential, by offering the possibility of capacity and saving the northern Hunting Towers. However that option was abandoned for cost considerations.
Either the 4a alternative - so modified to delete the right hand express on ramp to allow a shoulder space conversion for rail transit between the local and express carriage ways - or a 10 lane alternative - so modified with extra median space would provide the space needed for ultimately adding a rail component.
Deleting the right hand express on ramp to allow shoulder space conversion would provide a far more meaningful - e.g. less politically vulnerable - way of providing the necessary space without conflict with vehicular lanes, with regard to the official alternative 4A, and the greatest capacity.
THE GROWING ROUTE 1 INTERCHANGE
The official design process has rendered forth one basic design for the I-495/U.S. Route 1 interchange, roughly 1200 feet west of Washington Street, which has been so displayed in the WWB Project's various publications. This interchange, which would occupy a large area in the vicinity of Route 1 at Cameron Run, has underwent some design revision during the latter 1990s, with the intent of improving traffic serviceability:
a) The ramps added around 1996, that twice cross over Cameron Run, which provide right hand on ramps to eastbound I-495, for both the local and express roadways, which could preclude shoulder space conversion for transit, (see below).
b) The ramp, added in 1999 and presented at that year's "Stakeholder" meetings for carrying traffic from Route 1 northbound to I-495 westbound, at an elevation of about 60 feet above sea level at the area of the interchange the closest to Alexandria residential communities. This was done in order to eliminate a planned left turn with traffic light that the initial design would have required for traffic from Route 1 northbound to I-495 westbound.
These revisions would improve traffic serviceability, but they would as well increase the interchange's local intrusiveness, particularly at the northern quadrant with the ramp for Route 1 northbound to I-495 westbound traffic, approximately 60 feet above sea level, near Alfred and Church Streets. Nothing in the formal design process indicates any consideration or pursuit of innovative design solutions for placing some of these roadways underground.
I. PROVIDE A MORE MEANINGFUL AND COST EFFECTIVE MEANS FOR CONTEMPORARY OR FUTURE ADDITION OF RAIL TRANSIT. Other areas of the country have constructed urban freeways with dedicated right of way for future rail as inexpensively as possible in the future. The current arrangement under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement Project of a combined HOV-transit line places the different modes -- rubber wheeled HOV and steel wheel rail -- differs to this in pitting the two modes of transportation in a possible perpetual political conflict for the right of way:
a) RAMP CONFLICTS: The official design for the Route I interchange presents 3 ramps which would have to be demolished for future conversion of the HOV lanes to rail: the two left hand express lane ramps to and from I-495 to the east, and the Route 1 south to I-495 east ramp which is a part of the ramp structure that crosses Cameron Run twice. As these left hand access ramps -- the exit from I-495 westbound, and the entrance ramp from to I-495 eastbound -- are the only access ramps provided by the official Route I interchange design for the express lanes, the addition of rail transit in the median would preclude vehicular access for the express lanes, thus tending to require a greater traffic balance to the local lanes.
b) TRANSPORTATION MODE CONFLICTS: HOV lane conversion to rail would be just that- a surrender of one vehicular traffic lane in each direction. By its very nature, this would be politically compromised in the future by the likely demand to not surrender the lane. How likely is adding rail by converting the HOV lanes, when doing means relinquishing a set of vehicular lanes in a high demand corridor, the demolition of millions of dollars in HOV ramps, and the inability of the official Route 1 interchange design to provide access to and from east for I-495 express traffic? Other jurisdictions have planned their urban express way networks with right of way dedicated for the eventual addition of rail that is physically separate from the vehicular highway lanes in a fashion preserving their intended use for rail transit rather then extra vehicular lanes, while avoiding a potential future political fight to preserve the HOV lanes by simply not ever incorporating rail into this project.
A better alternative -- one not requiring future ramp demolition or the surrender of a vehicle lane in this high demand corridor -- one more politically practical and inexpensive would be future shoulder space conversion. The official alternative 4A could provide this in a way that would still maintain a set of continuous shoulders, by the conversion of the shoulder space between the local and express lanes. Under the 1997 plan, these shoulders at 8 feet for the left hand local shoulder, 10 feet for the right hand express shoulder, with the 2 feet thickness of the barrier between these local and express lanes would yield a right of way of 20 feet in each direction, usable for carrying
each direction of a future Metro rail. This would completely preserve the right hand local shoulders and the left and express lane shoulders, thus largely preserving their safety benefits.
The 1997 SEIS noted that the official plan -- Alternative 4A -- would provide 2 separate road ways in each direction, each with 3, 12 foot wide lanes, with 10 foot right hand shoulders for express and local road ways, respectively with 6 foot and 8 foot left hand shoulders. This also included a 2 foot wide painted separation between the HOV and its adjacent lane. Since 1997, the official planning process has led to a decision to reduce the width of the bridge and its approaches, in part by reducing the width of the left hand local roadway shoulders, as well as the above mentioned 2 foot painted separation along the right side of each HOV lane. This decision may need to be reviewed, so as to not preclude this relatively low cost right of way conversion that would reduce the cost of adding Metro rail, with or without maintaining a right hand express shoulder, whether now or at some later time, particularly in light of new and potential development along this corridor.
II. Truly emulate the better example set with other highways, such as Mercer Island, Washington I-90, to illustrate how highways may be better integrated into the surrounding area in areas with the greatest need for mitigation and enhancement. Please see:
Better employ the concept of the "Washington Street Urban Deck"; truly extend it to maximum extent possible within area with the greatest need for mitigation and enhancement, employing it as a multi-purpose mitigation feature. Extend Washington Street Urban Deck fully east of Hunting Towers, bringing its eastern portal to the edge of the bridge abutment immediately west of Royal Street, providing 360 X 300 square
feet of landscaped open green space more than the 1994-98 WSUD configuration, that would serve multiple purposes of mitigation and enhancement, therefore providing a superior benefit to cost ratio:
a) Critically needed noise abatement; due to their co-proximity and the nature of noise to travel upwards, encasing I-495 for the entire distance that it passes alongside Hunting Towers, extended to the edge of the bridge abutment just west of Royal Street is NECESSARY for proper and effective noise abatement., with the additional benefit of noise and visual abatement around St. Mary's Cemetery. Helps insure Hunting Towers' standing as a more livable community.
b) A viewing platform, Royal Landing Park: an approximately 740 foot long park extending from Washington Street to the edge of the bridge abutment just west of Royal Street. This would have an eventual slope of 5-6% at its eastern end, comparable to what is being proposed for a covered highway project in New York City, designed by the firm coordinating the WWB replacement project, Parsons, Brinckerhoff: the MILLER HIGHWAY PROJECT in New York City along Manhattan's upper west side from 72nd Street to 57th Street. The preferred alternative with sloped deck (1999 MILLER HIGHWAY DRAFT SEIS) may be seen at:
c) A more livable transition to bicycling pedestrian paths that provides more cover atop I-495 along the bicycle path along the area of St. Mary's Cemetery and Hunting Towers.
d) Monumental Gateway, complete with poplar and evergreen trees
e) Again, apply this concept of multiple purpose mitigation through Jones Point Park, with duel bicycle pedestrian roadways built atop and cantilevered over the outer edges of the I-495 local shoulders. This would provide superior sound and pollution control, while providing bicycle pedestrian paths on the bridge's northern and southern sides of the bridge without increasing the bridge's overall width. These duel bicycle pedestrian paths would extend to the east to the edge of the Potomac River, where they would transition to a single pathway for the portion of the bridge that crosses the Potomac River, via a brief platform crossing atop I-495 at the edge of the river that would make an excellent place for pedestrians to take in the view along the Potomac, both to the north and to the south. As this area of the bridge through Jones Point Park is already tentatively scheduled to receive vertical sound walls, their use as the foundation of the cantilevered bicycle pedestrian paths atop the outer edges of I-495 through Jones Point Park would be cost effective for the multiple benefits for providing the multiple benefits of these paths, the noise and pollution containment, while not requiring extra bridge width.. Indeed, these cantilevered bicycle pedestrian paths could present the opportunity to reduce the bridge's with by 12 feet through Jones Point Park.s.
II.I AIM TO RECLAIM THE SOUTHERN WATERFRONT!
According to the DRAFT SEIS document, the proposed Washington Street Urban Deck has been "included to maximum size possible." Nonetheless, although communities elsewhere have gained immense local benefits via relatively short segments of covered/buried highway, judiciously applied to allow communities to reclaim waterfront access, apparently no consideration has been given in this regard to extending this highway covering further west, so as allowing Alexandria to reclaim her southern waterfront. Apparently no serious pursuit has been given to a deck extension further west then the "canted" edge of the pre 1999 design, from the Hunting Terrace parking lot, north-westerly to the axis of Alfred Street, some one block east of U.S. Route 1. While mention was made at least at one of the 1999 WWB "Stakeholder" meetings of the possibility of a deck in the area just west of the Church Street exit ramp, possibly, in response to a question of mine, partially cantilevered along the northern portion of the Beltway from the Church Street exit ramp, to just east of Route 1, this was framed as a parking area, to which the local citizens' groups quickly objected, and with the authorities happily dropping the idea of any such decking (this at a time when they would remove 44,000 square feet, apparently in response to the decision to maintain the Church Street exit at its existing location. No consideration has beenconsidered that would allow Alexandria to reclaim her southern waterfront.
IV. BUILD THE ALEXANDRIA ORB/ PROMENADE
Challenging highway controversies have at times led to challenging designs, spurring people to conceive innovative design solutions employing somewhat unconventional highway design, as attested by such monuments from coast to coast, as Brooklyn, New York's I-278 cantilevered Promenade, and Mercer Island's I-90. Successfully mitigating the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project where it is needed most critically across the southern edge of Old Town, is just such a challenge.
The official effort is disappointing insofar as its apparent reluctance or inability to "think out of the box." The document summary states that the WSUD to maximum possible size. Yet, though other areas have sought ways to provide the benefits of "tunneling" judiciously applied to relatively short stretches of highway where the need for mitigation is the greatest due to say the proximity of historic and environmental sites and apartment towers, the WWWB project may be said to fall conspicuously short in this regard. Whereas other cities have reclaimed precious waterfront once claimed by roads by burying section of highway, this project apparently never considered any design possibilities for extending the Washington Street Urban Deck to the west, for restoring Alexandria's access to Hunting Creek- an access denied by the surface Beltway.
Indeed, this inability to "think out of the box" has confounded much of the public. While attention has focused upon the idea of entirely burying I-495 through Jones Point Park and as it crosses the Potomac, a distance of 8000 feet (16.8 lane miles ), the mirror -- and more cost - benefit ratio effective -- design concept solution of burying or otherwise encasing a fraction of this length where under grounding would produce the greatest local benefits, via a multiple purpose mitigation feature of a deck encasement with the surface land turned over to new landscaped open green space?
The Alexandria Orb/Promenade proposal is a replacement design for that portion of the project upon land in Alexandria, specifically the area of the abutment, the urban deck and its western extension . Indeed, the Alexandria Orb/Promenade is a consolidation of an extended, landscaped highway deck, with a partially underground spherical replacement design for the Route 1 interchange. It does not alter the basic design configuration of the bridge itself. As so conceived and drawn (in AUTOCAD 14), this proposal is fully compatible with a 12 lane configuration with separate local and express roadways, with a ramp configuration without conflict with the addition of Metro rail via left-hand local roadway and right-hand express roadway shoulders, as
well as being adaptable to a broad range of bridge crossing options, including partial and full tunnel river crossings, as well as those with differing numbers of lanes.
It is a better use of land. It occupies less space, particularly without the Route 1 southbound to I-495 eastbound ramps twice crossing Cameron Run. It provides the bulk of its space to new open green space, which would provide Alexandria with the long term benefit of increased property values in the general vicinity of U.S. Route 1 on both sides of Cameron Run. Artfully designed as an "Orb" in the fashion of the curved section of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. in front of Union Station, and in the general area of this Delaware Avenue axis which crosses the traffic circle at George Washington's Mt Vernon estate, the Alexandria Orb/Promenade can serve as an extension of the beauty of the monumental core (we certainly would not want to wrap say the Lincoln Memorial with elevated ramps, now would we?)
It provides superior serviceability; the ramps have a gentler turning radii then those of the official Route 1 interchange plan illustrated in the DRAFT SEIS (Figure A-1 "Preliminary Interchange Design Key Plan"). It provides the added benefit of an under ground ramp allowing Beltway traffic heading to the bridge (eastbound) to reverse direction on I-495 without exiting upon local Alexandria surface streets- a most useful feature for alleviating draw bridge and other incident traffic jams.
It provides a more cost effective mitigation via under grounding. Replacing the bridge with a tunnel through Jones Point Park and across/under the Potomac River would free up land to a specific degree. The Alexandria Orb/Promenade would provide a more cost effective solution then a tunnel through Jones Point Park and beneath the Potomac insofar as being shorter (2,900 feet versus 8,000 or 9,000 feet), while providing a superior mitigation, instead of liberating land from a viaduct where the land still serves some multiple purpose, it would liberate land that is now itself buried by the highway and its interchange with U.S. Route 1, along with Alexandria's access to its southern water front along Hunting Creek. Conversely, the Alexandria Orb/Promenade proposal could be adopted to any bridge, bridge/tunnel or tunnel river crossing upon this general alignment. Its benefits and its location at essentially the state of Virginia' gateway in the National Capital Region, justify the extra structure expense.
Questionable highway design has alienated many people in this regional area from the need for needed roads, such as such poorly designed highways as the South East and South West Freeways in Washington, D.C., which divide communities. The Alexandria Orb/Promenade proposal would be valuable for providing a local demonstration on how highways can be better integrated with the surrounding environment thus promoting more livable communities, with innovative design solutions. This area needs more innovative highway design.
Douglas A. Willinger
Takoma Park Highway Design Studio
February 25, 2000
Designer: the Alexandria Orb Promenade