Saturday, March 03, 2007

What Others Got From Siphoning the Urban Deck Funds

Under the deal engineered between the U.S. Federal Highway Authority and the City of Alexandria, the latter was to receive millions of dollars diverted from the urban deck.

This would have been an ideal law suit for the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge and Covington and Burling, the law firm that did the 1999 law suit. I approached CSB but not C&B, figuring that the law firm should be approached with local support. Alas, CSB, though polite, was apparently intellectually incapable of moving past its anti quantitative thinking (the number of lanes), to a more holistic qualitative thinking.

This was even after they lost their quantitatively based law suit. Once they lost their suit to limit the project to 10 through lanes, and once the parallel effort for a river crossing via tunnel had failed, my options of the longer urban deck and the "Orb" roadway configurations were their only remaining "cards" to play. Yet they simply folded.

Instead, the government, including local and federal would turn their backs on those in greatest need for highway environmental mitigation – the neighborhoods nearest the highway – with the funds diverted for such things as new side walks elsewhere, and a project to improve the waterfront landing areas of Prince Street, the east-west road that’s one block south of Alexandria City Hall.

(d) Julie Crenshaw, 816 Queen Street, spoke to docket item no. 12 which was on the docket for the November 14, 2000 legislative meeting. This item related to a change in the docking operations plan to add a commercial boat slip at the City Marina. She expressed concern that an addition of another slip would create a safety issue.

(e) Van Van Fleet, 26 Wolfe Street, also spoke to the addition of another boat slip at the City Marina. In addition, he suggested disbanding the Alexandria Waterfront Committee.

(f) Brian Buzzell, One Wilkes Street, representing the Waterfront Alliance, spoke to the waterfront improvement project. With respect to the Old Town Yacht Basin, he recommended that City Manager Sunderland chair a working task group of citizens and civic associations with City staff input to start working to come up with a plan that makes sense, that has citizen input and is affordable.

Mayor Donley requested that Mr. Buzzell get together with City Manager Sunderland and him to work out some type of a task force arrangement to explore some of the recommendations.

(g) Sarita Schotta, 104 Prince Street, spoke to some issues concerning the waterfront. She personally feels that this comes from the lack of direct contact with Council and senior staff. She is looking forward to the arrival of Ms. Fogarty. Mr. Baier has been very receptive. Ms. Schotta stated that the Waterfront Alliance will be coming to Council with a formal proposal of how they think they can work more directly with Council and with the senior staff.

From Scott Kozel:

New Woodrow Wilson Bridge Clears Legal Hurdles

There was a lawsuit filed against the selected build alternative. The City of Alexandria was one of the plaintiffs, but they withdrew from the litigation without going to court when the project officials made design compromises with the city in March 1999. The other plaintiff in the lawsuit was a citizens activist/obstructionist group in Alexandria called Coalition for a Sensible Bridge. The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in an attempt to force further planning and environmental studies on a smaller 10-lane design that had been previously rejected by project officials during the project development process. A U.S. District Court judge made a flawed decision on April 13, 1999, and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on 3 out of the 4 counts in the lawsuit, ruling that the 10-lane design must receive more intensive planning and environmental studies, and the judge even engaged in "highway engineering from the bench" by making comments in his ruling document that the project officials should consider a fixed high-level bridge instead of a drawbridge. There were clear aesthetic and engineering reasons for project officials selecting the 70-foot vertical navigational clearance drawbridge instead of the 135-foot vertical navigational clearance fixed high-level bridge, and the judge went outside of his job description when he made those comments, since his job is to deal with the rule of law as it pertains to highway development projects. The defendant (FHWA) appealed the ruling. A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 3-judge panel completely overturned the U.S. District Court judge's ruling, 8 months later, on December 17, 1999.

The Washington Post had an article on Friday, December 17, 1999, "Appeals Court Clears Way for Wilson Bridge". Excerpts follow (blue text):
A federal appeals panel ruled today that plans for a new 12-lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge can go forward as scheduled, reversing a lower court's decision that threatened to scuttle or seriously delay the project. The ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for the Federal Highway Administration, which wants to begin construction on the $1.9 billion project in October. Plans call for the first span of the bridge to be completed by 2004, and officials say they are racing against time: the current six-lane structure, built in 1961, is deteriorating from overuse. The project's future has been in doubt since last April, when U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin ruled federal transportation officials failed to adequately assess the new bridge's impact on the environment and historic sections of Old Town Alexandria. In particular, Sporkin said officials should have more fully considered a 10-lane alternative. In a unanimous opinion, a three-judge appeals panel found that Sporkin misinterpreted requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act. The judges agreed with transportation planners who said the 10-lane alternative would not have been sufficient to meet the region's long-term traffic and safety needs. The 12-lane version, they said, provided a reasonable approach to the problems.

The U.S. Supreme Court rarely agrees to hear appeals on cases of this type (lawsuits against location and design decisions by transportation agencies). The plaintiffs asked the Supremes to hear an appeal, but the Supremes refused, thus ending the lawsuit.

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