There is finally general agreement to place a noise wall on the Woodrow Wilson replacement bridge.
The issue has been debated for more than a year. According to Richard Baier, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, “We found minutes from a Noise Abatement Committee meeting at which that group even endorsed a noise wall on the structure. They simply got overruled by others within VDOT.”
The reasons for not building the noise wall revolved around maintenance, safety and aesthetics.
“First of all, VDOT expressed concern that motorists would not be able to see pedestrians on the bike path if there was some sort of emergency,” said Bill Scrabek, the director of the division of environmental quality within T & E S. “Also, there was the issue of a noise wall potentially creating a tunnel effect on the bridge and causing other safety concerns.”
The materials that were originally considered were problematic as well. “Some of those materials started as transparent and because of exposure to weather, turned yellow and were more translucent,” Baier said.
THE COMMISSION ON FINE ARTS was also concerned because of the noise wall’s potentially obstructing views from Jones Point Park and from the bridge itself. “We are not proposing to build a noise wall over the water,” Scrabeck said. “The goal is to protect the nearby residents and those using the park from the noise on the bridge.”
The City of Alexandria appealed VDOT’s decision not to construct the noise wall and won. “Secretary Whit Clement listened to our concerns and agreed to look at the noise wall again,” said Councilman William D. Euille.
Working cooperatively, city staff and VDOT staff have found a material that is like Paraglass. “It is made by Cyros Industries and has been used extensively in Europe and in New Jersey and California,” Scrabek said. “It is transparent and durable and works well on these types of structures.”
John Undeland, the director of public affairs for the Bridge Project, said that this is a win/win for everyone. “Construction of the noise wall will be more costly but the contracts that we have accepted on the project have come in about 3.1 percent under budget so we should have some savings in other areas that will make up the cost of the noise wall,” he said.
THE NOISE WALL is projected to cost up to $2.2 million. “That is the worst case,” Undeland said. “That is if we have to strengthen the structure to hold the wall, for example.”
Citizen advocates are pleased. “This is great news,” said Judy McVay, the president of the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge. “This is exactly what the neighbors have been working toward for months.”
The wall, as currently proposed, would extend for between 1,300 and 1,800 feet on the structure of the bridge. “If you extend Royal Street onto the structure, it would go from Royal Street to where Lee Street would extend onto the structure on the northern side,” Baier said. “This will protect 52 homes in that immediate area from the noise. It would slope from about 20 feet high where it starts to about five feet in height when it ends. The noise wall will end at least 300 to 400 feet from the water’s edge.”
Undeland cautioned that while everyone is optimistic, the proposal must win the approval of several groups before it can become part of the project. “We must meet with the National Capital Planning Commission, the Fine Arts Commission and the Federal Highway Administration,” he said. “We hope to have a decision by some time during the first quarter of 2003.”