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Major Impact From Bridge About To Be Felt

Life for commuters using Washington Street and the George Washington Memorial Parkway is about to become a lot more stressful. And that goes double for the residents of Hunting Towers.

Beginning in June and lasting until approximately mid-2007, Washington Street will be reduced from four to three lanes from Hunting Creek to Church Street. Those living in Hunting Towers will be forbidden to turn left coming out of the Towers area to go south on the Parkway.

All of this is due to the construction of the first phase of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction project's Route 1 interchange "Tie-in" contract which involves building a new overpass, known as the "Urban Deck," across the expanded 12-lane bridge/beltway.

Replacing the existing overpass with a longer and wider one is necessary to traverse the new roadway below, according to bridge project spokespersons at a public information session Tuesday night entitled, "Pardon Our Dust." It was held at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy and drew about 100 citizens, mainly from the impacted area.

"One of the first things we will be doing is implementing reversible lanes on South Washington Street in late Spring. There will be three lanes into Old Town in the morning with one going South. That will be reversed in late afternoon to accommodate rush hour traffic flows," said Chris Sherard, overseeing the VA4 construction contract.

THIS TRAFFIC reconfiguration is necessary "to accommodate phasing of work and provide a safe and separate construction work area," he explained to the audience. "In addition, the work is very space-constrained by St. Mary's Cemetery to the east and Freeman's Cemetery to the west," project literature noted.

Once again, Nick Nicholson, VDOT Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project manager, raised the ire of Hunting Towers residents when he announced, "The left turn out of the Towers will not be allowed." This brought forth an angry reaction from the crowd. As one woman put it, "Where was the public input on this. Nobody asked us."

Nicholson's response was, "There is going to be major construction on Washington Street. People get unnerved when driving in construction areas. And VDOT took the position that to allow turning out of Hunting Towers south is far too dangerous."

Hunting Tower residents desiring to go south on the Parkway will be forced to go toward Old Town to Jefferson Street, turn right, go one block to S. St. Asaph, make another right, go another block to Green Street, another right, then make a left back onto Washington Street.

WHEN QUESTIONED as to VDOT's right to make such a decision, since they have no authority in the City of Alexandria or on the Parkway, Reed Winslow, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services' bridge project coordinator, admitted that the city and the National Park Service had acquiesced to VDOT on that point.

"This has been discussed in Neighborhood Task Force meetings. We are generally in agreement with VDOT on the flow of traffic to and from Hunting Towers. But, we will be watching the situation carefully and adjusting as we go," Winslow assured.

He also noted that another possible solution, to allow Hunting Towers resident to turn left onto the Parkway, would be to have them gain access to the Porto Vecchio entrance where a traffic light will remain. "But, this would have to be approved by Porto Vecchio residents," Winslow reasoned.

Other elements of concern to the audience addressed at the forum were the hours of construction, noise, environmental impacts, increased truck traffic along the haul routes, and bridge personnel parking.

HOURS OF construction are to be limited to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. There will be some night work of a limited duration on the Washington Street element and in the river pertaining to the new bridge itself. No work is to be done on holidays as specified by Maryland.

Any amendments to work schedules must be approved by Maryland, according to James Ruddell, construction manager, potomac Crossing Consultants. Noise levels are to be kept within agreed upon decibel levels and monitored.

Michael Baker, project environmental construction manager, assured the group, "There are several levels of government watching the environmental impact of this project. We are very cognizant of the archeological and historical impact. Particularly, as that applies to St. Mary's and the Freeman cemeteries. We are going to leave the site better than we found it."

Another concern of citizens living close to the construction area was the impact of increased personnel parking as the crews expand. "We don't want a lot of pick-up trucks parked all over the neighborhoods," one attendee stated.

Dan Bell, project manager, American Bridge, the organization handling the draw span portion, emphasized, "Employees will be restricted to parking within the staging area under the existing bridge. It is big enough for all employee parking. If we hear complaints about parking elsewhere we will address it."

AS FOR TRAFFIC, Ruddell, admitted, "From time to time there will be deliveries coming through the city. This will cause some interaction with regular traffic."

When queried specifically about increased traffic on South Royal Street, the answer was, "None at this time. But, it will vary depending on circumstances." Ruddell conceded, "Truckers are required to follow the specified haul routes."

Chris Rutkai, Corman Construction, contractor responsible for all Washington Street work, including the new "Urban Deck" overpass, said, "The new bridge will be three times longer and five feet higher than the existing one. It will actually be three bridges in one. One for traffic, one for pedestrians, and a beatification area with landscaping."

In order to span the new highway below access to the south will have to be elevated approximately five feet. This will be done throughout the construction period and is one of the procedures impacting the access and egress to Hunting Towers, according to Nicholson.

"There's going to be delays both to traffic flow and that leaving and entering both Hunting Towers and Porto Vecchio," Nicholson admitted. "Traffic will have to be controlled by a balanced red and green time on the signals and turn signals. It's going to impact the flow."

The South Washington Street/Urban Deck project will begin in June with the demolition of the two existing office buildings at the corner of South and South Washington streets. In summing up the city's concessions to VDOT and others, Winslow said, "The primary goal is to get this over with."

Another public forum is scheduled for April 2 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hampton Inn, 5821 Richmond Highway, Alexandria. Billed as a Virginia Construction Information Session, it will concentrate on construction impacting Route 1 scheduled to begin near the end of 2003 as well as another review of the Washington Street work.