Saturday, March 03, 2007

Douglas Willinger Comments to U.S. National Capital Planning Commission: March 1, 2001

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project

The 11th hour Betrayal of the Promise of the Urban Deck

Humanize Highways, or simply pushing the problem away

Douglas A. Willinger

Takoma Park Highway Design Studio


IDEA OF SHORTENING THE URBAN DECK WAS OVERWHELMINGLY REJECTED BY CITIZEN”S SPP ON AUGUST 26, 2000. Planning officials had to bypass citizen’s Stakeholders Participants Panel in planning new reduced deck proposals, during 12-14 period when no such SPP meetings were held from May 1999 to August 2000.

For noise abatement and hence preserving the quality of life fro neighborhoods nearest to I-495, the Urban Deck must extend fully east of Hunting Towers, as did the original 1994 design which predated the 1995-1999 1,100 fott design and the late 1999 700 foot “amended: design.

DELETING DECK AS REQUESTED BY OFFICIALS IN VIRGINIA WOULD PAY HOMAGE TO STYE OF HIGHWAY PLANNING WITH INSUFFICENT REGARD TO NEIGHBORS IN BUILT UP AREAS. People in Washington, D.C. stopped that sort of highway planning over 30 years ago; why should the N.C.P.C. then sanction the taking away of envirnental mitigation at 11th hour?

IDEALLY, ADAPT the citizen’s alternative design proposal, so incorporating the Route 1 interchange with the Urban Deck, ALEXANDRIA ORB.

(seen at

Roughly 25 years ago, with planning stopped for the remaining 2/3erds of the highway network planned for D.C. and inside the Beltway in Maryland, this included abandoning any and all plans for I-95 into and through Washington D.C., leaving its Center Leg, what we now call the I-395 3rd Street Tunnel truncated about 3 blocks from two major railway corridors to the north and to the east Instead, the 1970s solution to the matter of D.C. and I-95 was to re-sign the Capital Beltway between the I-95 interchanges in Greenbelt (with its truncated roadways pointing southerly) and Springfield, as I-495/”I-95” including about 2 expansion joints worth of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that pass through D.C.’s extreme southern tip. By the 1990s, this was followed with planning for what we are about to embark upon, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement Project widening the bridge and with it, whether segmented or at once, widening that portion of the Beltway, in order to accommodate a level of service for more than 220,000 vehicles daily.

As environmental mitigation for this road widening project, with its improved ramps and new roadway configuration of a pair of barrier separated carriage-ways in each direction, much like the 12-14 lane New Jersey Turnpike in Newark, or South Chicago’s 14 lane Dan Ryan Expressway -- planning officials from near the start included the Washington Street Urban Deck. Known in the western U.S. as a “Freeway Lid”, this would deck or cover over a portion of the Capital Beltway approach in southern Old Town Alexandria, immediately alongside the neighborhoods of Hunting Towers, Hunting Terrace and Church Street, as well as the historic sites of Freedman’s and St. Mary’s Cemeteries, where an upwards of 17 lanes of highway and ramps would rise/descend to meet the new spans This freeway lid or urban deck would cover over this area of the Capital Beltway, providing sound proofing, and a physical reconnect to tie area back together. Indeed, concerted citizen effort elsewhere has led to their adaptation to numerous highway projects, including I-10 in downtown Phoniex, Arizona, and I-90 in East Seattle and Mercer Island, Washington State, and preliminary planning has already begun for future projects such as capping I-405 in Portland, Oregon.

As always promised and shown as an integral part of the Wilson Bridge Project since the mid 1990s, this cover was to extend from its canted western edge from Alfred Street to just east of the nearest wing of the nearest surviving Hunting Tower, for a distance of about 1,100 feet, though originally it would have extended fully past Hunting Towers (by an additional 100-150 feet easterly), bringing it to 1,200-1,250 feet, providing a multiple-purpose of a sloped viewing platform of Jones Point Park, and the Potomac, and critically needed sound abatement at the 8 story high Hunting apartment towers as close as 15-25 feet from the 12-17 lanes of highway. As noise travels upwards and simple vertical sound walls ineffective in said context, the situation of Hunting Towers is particularly unique in requiring the more effective sound control of a full highway cover. Despite its shortcomings for the easternmost wing of the nearest Hunting Tower, this 1,100 foot design was promised since before during and after selection process, culminating in the September 1996 decision for a pair of 6 lane drawbridge spans. To facilitate citizen input, Stakeholders’ Participants Panels were established, including one for the Route 1 interchange and the Urban Deck, with meetings held regularly up to Spring, 1999, with a 14 month hiatus, with no additional meetings until August 26, 2000.

It would be during this 15-16 month hiatus that project officials, without the advice, consent or even necessarily the knowledge of the Route 1 Interchange/Urban Deck SPP, would hack away about 80% of the Urban Deck’s traditional length, taking it from 1,100 feet, to 700 feet at the end of the EIS process, and then to a mere 200 wide overpass, after the end of the EIS process, and all 3 years after the selection of the 12 lane drawbridge crossing,

The 700 foot design would first publicly appear in the December 22, 1999 Draft EIS. That document would show this “amended” design, deleting decking reducing length from 1,100 to 700 feet, leaving nearest-most Hunting Tower completely exposed to 14-16 lanes of Beltway approach. No SPP panel is ever called to comment upon this new proposal, nor was a SPP meeting ever called for introducing the 700 foot design., despite its clearly far greater environmental impact upon the eastern Hunting Tower.

The 200 foot design (actually two: a curved “Greetings” concept, and a smaller straight-edged “Streetscape”) would first publicly appear in late summer, 2000, with a set of renderings, dated August 14, 2000 of the 700 foot and the 2 new 200 foot designs (with the drawings of the 200 foot designs having much of the area of Hunting Towers conveniently cropped). These proposals for a deck a mere 200 feet in length, would hence leave large areas of southern Alexandria that had been scheduled to be next to relatively quiet landscaped green park space would now be next to an uncovered 14-17 lanes of Beltway and ramps, in the area immediately between Hunting Terrace and the Church Street neighborhoods and Freedman’s Cemetery to the west of Washington Street, and between St, Mary’s Cemetery and Hunting Towers to the east. On August 26, 2000, at the first Route 1 interchange/Urban Deck Stakeholder Participant’s Panel held in over a year, Wilson Bridge Project officials presented the 200 foot design concepts to that SPP and the members of the public present. At that meeting’s end, when asked for their formal recommendation, the Route 1 interchange/urban Deck SPP formally rejected these concepts, as well as the general concept of shortening the Deck, doing so overwhelmingly.

Officials would respond by pretending that this rejection never happened: the Wilson Bridge Project web site would not report this August 26 2000 SPP vote, while the Alexandria City Manager would issue a memorandum, dated October 20, 2000 which errors by stating (at page 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 meet.” [NOT!]

The October 20, 2000 Alexandria City Manager’s report favoring chopping the Urban Deck would be full of errors of logic and fact. For instance, it rejects decking west of Washington Street because of the stated undesirability of a soccer field next to Freedman’s Cemetery with 50 foot high lamps and soccer nets, while continuing that “the proposed topography would require the walls supporting the deck to be very tall, creating an additional barrier rather than knitting this area together. Yet this City Manager’s report states nothing about the things that would result from deleting the deckage, such as the 50-100 foot high highway lamps (as seen at interstate highway interchanges), the noise of an upwards of 17 lanes of traffic, let along the vertical sound walls that would loom 20+ feet over the Cemetery, instead of the only 3-5 foot high terrace that would mark the transition from the Deck and the Cemetery. (Extending the Deck further west as a part of the Alexandria Orb proposal would meanwhile require a terrace 6 inches high as the transition from the extended Deck and Orb at 38 feet above sea level, and Church Street where it is 37.5 feet above sea level.) Apparently, those buying into the new chopped deck proposals did not bother looking at a topographical map to confirm any of its proponent’s claims.

Numerous citizens testified against the concept of denying long promised mitigation and the concept of trading it for other projects having little or nothing to do with mitigating the effects upon the environment from the widened I-495 Beltway at the southern edge of Old Town Alexandria.

Nonetheless, at the November 18, 2000 Alexandria City Public Hearing, Mayor Donley would announce that he and the City Council had already decided to vote unanimously in favor of the new proposal, which includes a $14 million windfall for a new recreation center built alongside new developments being built about 1 mile away from the neighborhoods most affected by the widened highway.

Those promoting chopping the Deck overlook:

A low relative cost: only 3.18% of $2.1 billion Wilson Bridge Project for $66 million 1,100 foot design

A Progressive Solution sought after in other areas, including Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Phoneix, Arizona.

Improve property values of properties

Indeed, ideas not even considered include:

A longer Urban Deck, designed to restore Alexandria’s access to its southern water front at Hunting Creek

Electrostatic precipitator technology for filtration for traffic emissions

Orb design for Route 1 interchange (Please see the Alexandria Orb site at and incorporate into this record)

The Alexandria Orb design proposal was created in 1998, first seen by some Project officials in late November 1998, and copyrighted December 22, 1998, a full year prior to the December 1999 Draft EIS, with the Alexandria Orb website up and running since April 6, 2000. The Orb proposal would extend and incorporate deck with interchange, employing latter to create new parklands.

Meanwhile, planning officials have worked in the opposite direction, to remove promised environmental mitigation, in what can NOT be called a pursuit of the best design. Indeed, while other major highway projects have pursued numerous design options (for instance, the interchange design process for the I-93 Charles River Crossing of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project produced 26 design proposals for interchanges), the Wilson Bridge Project would consistently show only one basic design for the Route 1 interchange. Other highway officials have been pursuing covering over highways for the sake of neighboring communities (Please see article below “Dream Ahead to 2023—live, work, play, atop I-405”). Yet officials in Virginia would sell out communities nearest to highway for political deal for wish list of projects generally nowhere near the highway.

Do we honor our commitments, or do we let them succumb to 11th hour back-room political deals, filled with letters of support that place environmental factors lower than their wish list of projects having little or nothing to do with mitigation? Should the Virginia’ Millennial Gateway be an extension of the grace of the monumental core, or shall it look like the Springfield interchange or the New Jersey Turnpike alongside Newark Airport?!

Please vote NO on reducing the Urban Deck.

Thank You

Douglas A. Willinger

Takoma Park Highway Design Studio

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