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Bridge Project Overshadows Dealership

Construction headaches limit parking and cause layoffs.

Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction has not been kind to Ourisman Dodge & Imports Inc. Since construction began, they have lost over 200 parking spaces and laid off 40 employees, not to mention the losses they have incurred from several construction accidents.

Yet General Manager Andy Heye takes it all in stride, knowing that eventually everything will go back to normal. Well, almost normal. While they will regain some of those lost parking spaces, several of those spaces will be remain unusable because they will be under a huge fly-over ramp. To cope with that, the company has submitted a Special Exemption Amendment Application to build a garage building. Presenting at this month’s Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) meeting, Jane Kelsey said that they would like to build a multi-level garage addition containing 272 parking spaces. This would replace parking lost by land taken by the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT) and an easement to build a fly-over ramp. The application states, "... At least 119 parking spaces have been lost and many others are unusable until all construction has been completed (four-plus years). In addition, an area once used for new car inventory storage has also been lost."

While SFDC board members have not yet voted on the application, there didn’t seem to be any objection. Heye said that the garage would be barely viewable from the road.

"THAT RAMP Is pretty intimidating," Heye said.

Parking lots once filled with new and used cars are now filled with steel beams rising into the sky, waiting to be molded with more steel and concrete to become new on and off ramps. While construction workers scurry above, vehicles bustle about the site below carrying supplies and providing equipment. To date, at least three construction vehicles have been involved in accidents on the Ourisman site. One vehicle damaged a customer’s car; the worst accident occurred when a front loader took out several brand new trucks. Heye said that he is still working out the details of that accident with the insurance company.

"The biggest thing is that the people doing this project have been very cordial and are trying to help us as much as possible," Heye said.

Dan Johnson, an employee of MasTec, Johnson is the on-site safety supervisor for this portion of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. A well-read, highlighted and flagged code book serves as his Bible, determining when workers are in violation of code. Johnson said that in the case of "forgotten" eye shields or incorrect footwear, he will give the workers a chance to make it right before writing them up. However, the driver involved in the incident with the front loader was immediately suspended for a few days without pay, and all workers were given a refresher course in safety.

DON WERNER isn’t concerned about the construction. An Ourisman customer for over 20 years, he said that he has special ordered numerous Dodge vehicles and trucks. He continues to do business with Heye and Haywood Hackney, sales representative.

"I’m sorry for them. They lost a lot of real estate and were dealt a severe blow when the powers to be decided this was the way to go," said Werner who doesn’t see the construction as an obstacle to his doing business with the car dealer.

"Financially, this has put a burden on us, the service is really off," Heye said. "But we have a very strong company and a lot of perseverance."

The kicker is that the dealership wasn’t even in the plans until a year before the project started.

"The worst part is yet to come — next summer," Heye said. "I’ve talked to other dealers, and nobody has gone through anything like this."

To help make it easier for customers, the dealership is offering to pick up cars within 10 miles and bring them in for service; it also offers shuttle service to the Huntington Metro.

"The biggest change was to personnel — we couldn’t afford to keep everybody," Heye said. "The long-term people have adapted very well."

Ourisman has the added expense of renting parking spaces offsite for both inventory and employee parking. They will also lose money on the trucks damaged by the front loader unless the insurance company decides to buy them outright.

In the meantime, Ourisman is open for business. The dealership is located at 5900 Richmond Hwy. and can be reached by calling 703-317-1600.