Hot Debate over Connector Continues

Hot Debate over Connector Continues

August 22, 2002

Nearly 300 people listened to a presentation about the Eisenhower-Duke Connector options and expressed their concerns at a meeting at Bishop Ireton High School on Aug. 8.

"I’m not saying that we don’t need something,” said Bill Dickinson, the president of the Seminary Hill Civic Association. “We just haven’t seen the right solution yet.”

Dickinson’s civic association sponsored the event along with the Clover-College Park Civic Association. Ginny Hines Parry is that group’s president.

“We heard a lot of things from the audience such as “we need to remember what the fly-over in Springfield looks like. Do we want our neighborhood to look like that? We do not owe Fairfax County commuters an easier commute. We cannot accommodate Fairfax’s traffic. We need to address growth in this city, rather than talk about how many connectors we need,” she said.

Everyone agrees that the issue of building a connector from Duke Street to Eisenhower is controversial. “It was controversial 15 years ago, and it’s controversial now,” Dickinson said. “We have looked at the options, and no matter which of them is selected, it is going to have an adverse impact on a neighborhood. We look at the west end as a whole and don’t believe that there is any good place for a connector, except maybe at Pickett Street, and pretty much everyone agrees that this option really doesn’t help. Alexandria is a city of neighborhoods, and we don’t want to see that change.”

THE MOST RECENT task force has been meeting since last summer. “We have held 28 public meetings and are planning others,” said Richard Baier, the city’s director of Transportation and Environmental Services. “I understand that the only thing that most people can see right now is how a connector is going to adversely impact on their particular neighborhood. The issues are a lot broader than that, however. For instance, the connector would help in developing a true grid system that would enable fire, EMS and police to more easily reach every part of the city. Also, with or without a connector, traffic is going to increase between now and 2020. Just since 1979, the average number of miles that an individual drives each year has increased from 9,800 to 15,000. Traffic within the city has become an issue.”

Another issue is economic. When the Claremont Connector was built, the city agreed to look at options that would connect that road with the wider regional highway system (e.g., Duke Street). “If we build nothing, we will have to return between $2 and $12 million,” Baier said.

The reason for the range is that $2 million is the cost of the planning for the connector, and $12 million is the cost of the construction of the Claremont Connector. “How much we end up paying would be a matter of negotiation among the attorneys,” Baier said.

CITY COUNCIL charged the task force with recommending two build and one no-build options. There are four options currently under consideration, ranging from connectors at Roth Street on the east to Pickett Street on the west. The no-build options include doing absolutely nothing or making substantial improvements to key intersections at Pickett and Vendor streets.

“I really believe that the task force is waiting to see the traffic studies that will show us the impact of a connector on the streets north of Duke Street,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley, a member of the task force. “I believe that, while there are very legitimate concerns about the impact of a connector on the various neighborhoods, the members of the task force will look at the information on traffic and make their best recommendation.”

Dickinson’s group is planning a public-education campaign. “We have some money left over from our campaign against the Bluestone Connector 15 years ago,” he said. “We are going to take that $1,500, add the approximately $4,000 that we have received from about 60 contributors recently, and plan. The meeting at Bishop Ireton was part of our public-education campaign. Next, we are going to listen to what the task force recommends and then proceed.”

Judy McVey, the founder and president of the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge, has concerns about a connector. “If the city was going to build a connector, they should have done it before the neighborhoods were developed,” she said. “I don’t see how they can build one now through existing developments.”

Councilwoman Claire Eberwein disagreed. “It’s the old Pogo comic strip,” she said. “We have met the enemy and he is us. Regionally and locally, we are choking on our own traffic. No one in any neighborhood wants to see the kinds of traffic loads they are experiencing during rush hours, and the length of those hours is getting greater. Yet relatively few Alexandrians have the luxury of both living and working in our city. Local government and many of our businesses depend on workers who live outside the city. It is well-known that many of our police, fire and public-school personnel commute to Alexandria from elsewhere. And we are paying the price for poor land-planning decisions made over many years both here and in our neighboring jurisdictions.

"In my conversations with citizens, including some members of the task force, there seems to be an acknowledgment at least off the record, that some connector needs to be built. No-build rises to the top when the hard question of where enters the equation. The task force has a tough job. Duke Street is becoming impassable. Ultimately it will end up before Council where each member will have to take a long, hard look at technical traffic issues, the neighborhood impacts, and the future good of the city.”

The task force must submit its report to Council by the beginning of October. In addition, city staff will present a purely technical recommendation at the same time. The issue is expected to be hotly debated at Council and at the polls in May.