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Bridge Construction Claims More Business Casualties

Gas stations, motel, dealership all affected.

Don't head south out of Alexandria on Route 1 hunting for gasoline unless there's enough in the tank to get the Hybla Valley.

The four stations, just south of the Beltway, were closed early this month. They have become the latest casualties of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.

Each now stands vacant and in crumbling disarray with signs in the windows stating "No Trespassing - Property of the Commonwealth of Virginia." The most recent to be shuttered was the Sunoco station in the south bound lanes between the Travelers Motel and Domino's Pizza.

The stations and several other businesses, in that area, are being severely impacted by the widening of Route 1 to accommodate the ramps which will service the new 12 lane dual bridge spans. Among them are Ourisman Dodge & Imports, Inc, The Travelers Motel, and Dominos Pizza.

"Although work won't start on the widening for some time, we had to build in extra time for environmental studies to be completed at the gas stations," said John R. Undeland, director, Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. "There's bound to be some soil pollution since they were gasoline stations and there is the question of asbestos."

Undeland said, "We are trying to get the four stations down by this summer so they won't be such eyesores. The reason they were taken is because it was determined the increased right-of-way in that area of Richmond Highway would make them not commercially viable."

According to Bryan J. O'Sullivan, VDOT Right-of-Way manager, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, "We are meeting with a demolition contractor to inspect these properties (the four gasoline stations and Domino's Pizza) later this month. Our tentative schedule is to fulfill our environmental obligations by the end of May, award and start demolition by June, and complete this effort by August."

O'Sullivan confirmed, "The current advertisement date for this project is July 8, 2003. The Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation both require that in order to advertise a project for construction, the right-of-way must be cleared either by a right-of-entry certificate or option." That necessitated the early acquisition of the properties scheduled for demolition.

THE TRAVELERS MOTEL will lose its pool and some of its parking. Ourisman has had approximately one acre of its lot fronting on Route 1 fall to the bridge project. That is due to new ramps leading from the Beltway onto Route 1.

"That one acre will be gone forever. They are taking the very front row. It's going to hurt a hundred people's jobs," said Andy Heye, Ourisman Dodge general manager.

"I've been here 18 years and never once were we told that the bridge project would impact us. I went to every meeting they held. Then we get a call last January saying 'sorry, guess what?'" Heye said. "They blamed it on engineering changes.

"The bad part is that they are also taking the natural ingress and egress my customers now have. People will have to go past us and make a U-turn to get back in here. That's going to have a long lasting negative effect," Heye insisted.

"I used to have 404 parking spots now I have 200. In order to provide parking for my employees I had to buy extra space behind the building," he acknowledged. "Even though I'll have some space under the ramp no one is going to go there to look at cars. Who knows what could fall on them."

DOMINOS, at the corner of Richmond Highway and Huntington Avenue, is looking for new space in the Old Town area of Alexandria. "We'll be gone from here in two months," Frank Ashraf, assistant manager, verified. "This building will be gone."

The longest established landmark to fall victim is The Travelers Motel on the south bound lanes of Richmond Highway at the intersection with Fort Hunt Road. The 30 room motel, opened in 1954, was built by owner Kenneth Blunt who still serves as senior manager.

"They are taking the pool and where the sign now stands. We are going to be so close to the highway I'm afraid people are going to be dubious about staying here," Blunt worried.

"We'll be closed while they're under construction and that also could affect us adversely. Business is bad enough as it is. The tourists are practically nonexistent. Easter week has traditionally been the best of the year. This year it's the worst I've seen in 50 years," he emphasized. "People just don't have any confidence, either in the economy or their safety from terrorism."

AS FOR THE service station closings, Blunt said, "We've had eight people today alone come in here asking where they can get gas. They get stuck in those traffic jams on the Beltway, notice they're low on gas, and get off. We have to send them to the Hybla Valley area. That's the closest."

To Blunt there was a bright spot in the right-of-way taking. "I'm glad they're taking the pool. That thing costs me $10,000 a year for a 10 week season. The only people who use it are families some times in the summer evenings."

Blunt's average price for a room is in the $60 range. "That $10,000 is a lot of room nights," he said.

What won't be impacted are The Hampton Inn, Alexandria Diner, and the eight story Huntwood Plaza office building at 5845 Richmond Highway. All are well back from the roadway widening encroachment area, according to Undeland.

"The new ramp leading to the bridge coming north on Route 1 will essentially be in the same place as the present ramp," Undeland acknowledged. "It may come a little closer to the hotel but not significantly."

WITH THE CLOSING of the Amoco, Texaco, Mobil, and Sunoco stations on Richmond Highway just south of the Beltway, the closest gasoline stations for travelers approaching or exiting the bridge at Alexandria are the Exxon and Hess facilities at the corner of Jefferson Street and Richmond Highway.

For those heading into Old Town or south on the Parkway, coming from Maryland, there is also the Mobile station at Church and Washington streets. However, it will eventually fall prey to the new Urban Deck portion of the bridge construction at that location.