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Votes

Connector Issue Gets Personal

Options Reviewed, Staff Makes Recommendation

After more than 18 months of meetings and studies, City Council received the technical report and staff recommendation on the Eisenhower-Duke Connector.

Richard Baier, the city’s director of Transportation and Environmental Services has staffed the E-D Task Force and supervised the independent consultants hired to conduct the technical analysis on this project. The staff is recommending that a connector be built through the eastern edge of Ben Brenman Park.

“I would say that a connector that is centrally located will make it easier for Alexandrians to travel around the city,” Baier said. “The connector, by our calculation, does enhance police, fire and EMT response times from Duke to the valley. It relieves current and future congestion on Telegraph and Van Dorn roads, which impact other streets. It helps keep the traffic flowing on Duke Street, thereby helping to keep traffic on this arterial and lessening the opportunity for it to divert through neighborhoods. One of the other major findings is that the majority of people who would use the connector will be Alexandrians.”

The current process began in March, 2001, with the appointment of a citizen task force. That group recommended that a connector be built at Roth Street; Alternate D. Bowing to citizen pressure, Council expanded the membership of the task force in the spring of this year. In a split decision, that group recommended that no connector be built. Since March 2001, there have been 30 public meetings and coverage at least twice in every newspaper and four television interviews and two radio interviews.

A CONNECTOR between Eisenhower Avenue and Duke Street has been an issue facing the city for three decades. It first surfaced in 1973 when the city asked the state and federal governments to authorize construction of a new interchange at Clermont Avenue.

In 1975, the federal government rejected this request. In 1980, after updating the land use plan for Eisenhower Valley, the city again requested the construction of an interchange at Clermont, along with the extension of Clermont from Eisenhower, through the then army-controlled land at Cameron Station, to Duke Street. This request was approved by the federal government in 1984.

In 1986, the city requested that the Eisenhower to Duke component of the project be eliminated and that the project terminate at Eisenhower Avenue. This request was not accepted by the federal government. In 1987, the city asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to proceed with the environmental analysis phase of the project with the understanding that, following the completion of this phase, decisions could be made regarding construction of different segments of the project.

In 1993, City Council approved construction of the Clermont interchange and selected a connector from Eisenhower to the intersection of S. Pickett and Edsall. Construction of the Clermont interchange was completed in 1997.

“Staff believes it is time for the city, one way or another, to put an end to this longstanding situation by reaching a final decision on the question of a connector and, having made the decision, whatever it is, to stay with it and move on,” the report said.

Staff used information and analysis provided by Post, Buckley, Schuh and Jernigan, Inc., the engineering consultants who were tasked with the traffic studies, to evaluate all of the build and no build options.

THE STAFF REPORT addressed two basic questions: whether an additional connector roadway between Eisenhower and Duke should be constructed; and what is the most appropriate route or location for this roadway?

According to the report, “In staff’s professional view, the city should move forward with an additional roadway connection between Eisenhower Ave. and Duke Street …” and “That Alternate B1, running from the intersection of Eisenhower Ave. and Clermont Ave., north over the Norfolk Southern railway tracks, through the eastern edge of Ben Brenman Park, to the interchange on Duke Street that served the old Cameron Station Army facility, be selected as the preferred build alternate.”

Staff developed a ranking chart by assigning relative weights to each evaluation criterion in a summary matrix and ranked the relative benefit or impact of each alternate on a scale of 1-10. The total “points” assigned to an individual alternate indicated its overall ranking, with higher point totals indicating higher overall rankings. Options were ranked on traffic service benefits, socioeconomic benefits and impacts, environmental impacts, cultural resource impacts and construction costs and impacts. With regard to traffic service benefits alone, B1 received 477 points as did B2, the other alternate that goes through Brenman Park. The next closest option was C, which received 305 points. Alternate D received 245 points and no build with improvements received 147 points.

Alternate C, also known as the Bluestone option, received the most overall points, 1,336. Alternate D, Roth Street, received the second highest ranking, with 1,330 points. B1, the option that was recommended by the staff, received 1,320 points.

BOTH NO BUILD options were discarded. “The no build option ignores, and fails to address, Alexandria’s current or future transportation needs,” the report said.

The no build with improvements, according to the report, would worsen traffic. “This alternate calls for major infrastructure investments (on the order of $55 million) mostly in a heavily traveled corridor (Van Dorn Street) that will not materially benefit Eisenhower Valley, the city or, frankly, persons who live or work in Alexandria.

“The reality of this alternate is the conversion of Van Dorn Street to Van Dorn Freeway,” the report said. “ With multiple grade-separated interchanges, (overpasses and underpasses) Van Dorn will become a major beltway spur facilitating the travel of non-Alexandria commuters into and through Alexandria.”

THE REPORT OUTLINES seven reasons for building a connector.

* A connector will improve traffic movement on existing roadways (Van Dorn Street, Telegraph Road, Duke Street and Eisenhower Ave.)

A connector improves connectivity between two major arterials, Eisenhower and Duke Street. It provides a needed additional point of access to, and egress from, Eisenhower Valley. It helps create a roadway grid system that will increase the efficiency of existing roadways, and a connector will lessen the distance between Van Dorn and Telegraph, which is 3.5 miles. Connectors between two parallel arterials are typically one mile apart.

* A connector enhances public safety in the area. It will provide additional routing options for police, fire and emergency medical service vehicles. It will reduce the response time and eliminates the need for public safety vehicles to use non-roadway points of access and egress. Currently police officers use the jogging trail through Holmes Run Park for emergencies. Locating a fire substation in Eisenhower Valley does not address the issue of getting patients out of the Valley to area hospitals.

* A connector potentially protects residential neighborhoods by encouraging vehicles to remain on the major roadways. Traffic intrusion into residential neighborhoods results primarily from delay and congestion on the major arterial and collector roadways.

* A connector also reduces delay and congestion on such major roadways and, in many cases, the potential for cut-through traffic on residential streets.

* The report also suggested that a connector relieves current and future congestion at the Telegraph Road and Van Dorn Street interchanges on I-495, helping to avoid major improvements to these interchanges.

* A connector supports the economic vitality of Alexandria by responding to transportation needs in Eisenhower Valley.

* A connector does not attract a significant amount of new traffic to Alexandria roadways; nor does it increase significantly the amount of traffic cutting through Alexandria.

“We’re recommending B1 with appropriate park expansion and D as a backup,” Baier said. “The reason for the backup is the concern relating to the park impacts. From a traffic perspective, B clearly works best.”

IN A LETTER TO THE mayor and City Council, and made public to the Gazette, Tom Parry, whose wife is a member of the Eisenhower-Duke Connector Task Force, criticized city staff, the mayor and members of the task force. “City staff have failed to conduct themselves professionally regarding the E-D connector route selection process. Furthermore, evidence of an overwhelming city staff bias in favor of a connector is undeniable. Because of the unprofessional conduct and overwhelming bias of city staff, their analysis concerning the connector simply is not credible,” he said.

Councilman David Speck responded to Parry’s comments, saying, “I’m an elected official and I will take my shots and give them back but I will not take this kind of abuse of the staff,” he said. “I am fed up with this tendency to make personal attacks on staff when you disagree. I will not tolerate that. I will read the staff report and I will listen to the citizen input carefully and objectively, and I will try to make a decision that I hope is beneficial to the entire community and one that will not be damaging to any particular neighborhood. But I will not allow myself to be a vehicle for vitriol…”

REFERRING TO the mayor as a “lame duck,” Parry said, “unabashedly trying to distort the public’s perception of the task force’s clear and unambiguous conclusion, the mayor repeatedly has mischaracterized the task force vote.”

Mayor Kerry J. Donley spoke about disparaging remarks at the Oct. 8, City Council meeting. “It is one thing to have disagreements,” he said. “It is still another to resort to personal attacks on staff members who are working hard to serve the citizens of this city in a professional manner. These personal attacks tend to reflect poorly on the side that the person who is making them is trying to represent.”

Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper, who was a member of the task force, also spoke on this issue at the Council meeting. “I cannot conceal my disappointment in the staff’s recommendation,” she said. “On every occasion in which members of the task force voted on a build option vs. a no build option, the no build option was favored by at least nine of the 14 members.”

Pepper voted for the no build with improvements option. She lives at 4600 Duke Street, where the condominium association, of which she is a member, owns a gas station that would be torn down if B1 is built. Legally, because she is one of a group of citizens who would be affected, or whose property values would be affected, she does not have a conflict of interest.

Parry, who lives in the Clover College Park neighborhood that would be most impacted by a connector at Roth Street, criticized the positions and votes of task force members. “The Rosemont representative, living near the Cambridge route and voting in a way which protects her neighborhood, voted only to build at the other end of Duke. The Cameron Station representative, voting in a way that protects his neighborhood, voted to build only near Quaker and Cambridge; and the Carlyle representative, voting in a way that might relieve congestion in his neighborhood in Eisenhower East, voted for each of these three build options,” he wrote.

MINUTES FROM the seventh task force meeting of March 27, 2002, show that Ginny Hines Parry, representing the Clover College Park Civic Association, supported alternate C, the Wheeler Avenue “bluestone” option. She opposed alternate D because of possible cut-through traffic on Cambridge/Yale (her own neighborhood). According to the task force minutes, she advocated directing through traffic to Quaker Lane. She has since changed her position and now supports no build with improvements.

“Like many members of Council who did not serve on the task force, I am just now receiving all of this information,” said Councilman William D. Euille. “I am grateful to staff to have had the opportunity to receive a briefing and to discuss various aspects of this report with them. I hope that citizens understand that there is a traffic congestion along the Duke Street corridor and it is our responsibility as members of this Council to make a decision that relieves some of this congestion. I’m not sure what that decision will be but I hope that everyone remembers to keep the discussions centered on the merits of the options.”

Whatever Council decides will require further study and design work. “This decision will take us to the next phase,” said City Manager Philip G. Sunderland. “That stage will entail a full environmental impact study and refining of the design concepts.”

Baier will also present information on the impact of both a two and three lane connector at Council’s work session later this month. All of the build options are based on four lanes.

Council will hold a work session on the Connector on Oct. 23, a public hearing on Oct. 29, and will vote on Nov. 12.