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Monroe Ave. Bridge Options Reviewed

City Looks toward Straightening Road as Best Solution

The next step in the development of Potomac Yard is a decision on what to do about the Monroe Avenue Bridge, which takes the wide angle over the railroad beds below.

When Potomac Yard development began, Commonwealth Atlantic Properties, and now Crescent Resources, prepared two options for connecting Potomac Yard to the rest of Del Ray. One option would leave the current bridge in place and bring a spine road from Potomac Yard to connect with the bridge. The other alternative would require that Route 1 be straightened and the bridge replaced.

The first option would cost the city nothing, because the intersection improvements and the spine road would be constructed as part of the development of Potomac Yard. That would be paid for by the developer. The alternative option that would straighten Route 1, however, is estimated to cost $15.3 million. Most of this funding is budgeted in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year plan. The City of Alexandria would be required to pay $300,000, a 2-percent match to the state funds.

Emily Baker, an Alexandria city engineer said, “The staff is going to recommend the alternative, or straightening option,” she said. “There will be a little bit of a delay to get from Monroe Avenue onto Route 1, but it’s a safer intersection and is better than the other concept plan.”

THE STRAIGHTENING OPTION provides a straight shot down Route 1 to Old Town instead of veering off to the right at Howell Avenue and then veering back to the left at Monroe Avenue. “It’s a safer option because you don’t have the curvature in the roadway,” Baker said.

Headed northbound, Route 1 would also be straight. “Right now, you come around a corner to a blind spot at Monroe Avenue,” Baker said. “It’s impossible to see the signal if it’s red until you are right on it. Lots of vehicles run that light, even though we have put a strobe in the red signal.

“Another difficulty is the left turn lane on Route 1 onto Monroe Avenue. There’s not enough stacking, so that vehicles that want to turn left during peak hours are sticking out into the through travel lane. There have been accidents because of that,” Baker said.

The new bridge will also have better pedestrian walkways. Lee Quill, a principal with Cunningham & Quill and one of the lead planners on the Potomac Yard project, explained how that will work.

“Essentially what the bridge does is allow for in-fill development to occur, which will actually re-weave the fabric of this part of the city more closely together,” he said. “This will allow for a mix of uses to blend from east to west across the former rail yard. Pedestrian access will be on both sides of the bridge. There will be large sidewalks, such as you see on the urban bridges in Rock Creek Park. There will certainly be more pedestrian access potential with these two large sidewalks.

“The connection point at the south end of the bridge will be similar to what it is today on the west side,” Quill said. “There will be a new east-side sidewalk, which is accessed directly from the northeast neighborhoods. When you get to the northern end of the bridge, there will be new sidewalks along Route 1 that connect to the Potomac Yard neighborhoods to the east, Del Ray to the west and to Monroe Avenue to the south, along the edge of the playfields.”

THAT PEDESTRIAN ACCESS has caused some concern, however. “I am generally impressed with the arched design for the bridge,” said Councilwoman Claire Eberwein. “It is certainly better than what is there now. I do have some concerns about pedestrian access, but am sure that we can work something out.”

Baker agreed. “We do want to improve the pedestrian access from the bridge down onto Monroe Avenue,” she said. “We would like to allow pedestrians to access Monroe Avenue from the bridge without having to cross Route 1.”

City Council will receive the report on the two alternatives at the Dec. 10 City Council meeting and will hold a public hearing on the matter on Dec. 14.