Alexandria Planning Commission voted unanimously to defer a decision on removing pedestrian connection as part of the Monroe Avenue Bridge project.
The decision, made Dec. 6 at the planning commission meeting, was fueled by comments from 14 public speakers none of whom recommended approval. The speakers were concerned with a three-part proposal pertaining to the Potomac Yard Project.
The proposal calls for an amendment to the Transportation Chapter of the City Master Plan and two zoning changes applicable to Route 1 and the pedestrian connection element of the Monroe Avenue bridge.
According to the commission staff report, the first two applications will amend the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance to designate Route 1 as the corridor for a transit way. The third application will eliminate a pedestrian connection from the Monroe Avenue Bridge.
The unanswered question after the vote was just how long the deferral would last. Construction on the basic infrastructure for the new bridge is estimated to begin in early 2006.
"We are here tonight because there is an opportunity before us. The developers can proceed with their plans because they have the necessary permits," said Planning Commission Chairman Eric Wagner after the vote. "Let's not kid ourselves, if we defer this too long, the question and our decision could be moot. We need to keep our eye on the clock."
THE IMPACT of the Route 1 portion of the application would be to designate it as the primary corridor for future mass transit accessibility rather than within Potomac Yard. This would be done by shifting the eastern curb of Route 1 approximately 24 feet to the east to accommodate dedicated transit lanes in the center with pedestrian islands.
As for eliminating the pedestrian connection from the new bridge, the report stipulated that the ramps from the 30-foot high bridge to the future Potomac Yard open space and parks below would need to be wheelchair accessible. The access would cause them to be "long and circuitous" providing little benefit for pedestrians.
RESIDENTS COMPLAINED that the commission staff drove the proposed amendments with little input from them.
One of the primary concerns raised was that the stretch of Route 1 from Arlington to the Monroe Avenue bridge, paralleling the Potomac Yard development, was only a small portion of a larger regional transportation network stretching from Fort Belvoir to the Pentagon. It should be viewed in that context rather than the more limited one of impacting only Alexandria, several speakers said.
"Why is this now before the Planning Commission when the Transportation Committee is looking at the total plan for the city? Those meetings are not on the city web-site so the public doesn't even know where or when they are," said James Butler, co-chair of the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations.
Butler went on to request that the city hear more public input and defer their decision.
Almost every speaker brought up the lack of public discussion.
"We are very concerned about the lack of public discussion on this subject so far," said Lori MacNamara, president of the Del Ray Citizens Association. "None of the problems have been discussed with us or other associations."
Another resident felt the process was being done backward
"The staff report says that you [Planning Commission] should endorse this and then invite public input," Katy Cannady said. "That's not the way it's done."
The apparent lack of a regional perspective in proposing the transit-way concerned several in attendance.
"Route 1 is already a transportation corridor and COG [Council of Governments] is studying what impact BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure Report] will have," Julie Crenshaw said. "You are not in sync with what's happening in the region."
Former City Council member Lois Walker said working on this type of project without a comprehensive plan would be a mistake.
"We should put the most sophisticated transportation system as possible within the boundaries of Potomac Yard," Walker said. "It should not be in the middle of Route 1."
When it came to eliminating the bridge pedestrian connection,
Planning Commissioner J. Lawrence Robinson, who also serves as chair of the Transportation Committee, said he would welcome a deferral after hearing the public's comments.
"In this particular case, it was brought to us because we decided we wanted dedicated transit lanes," Robinson said. "But, after what I've heard tonight I would welcome a deferral."
In place of a ramp on the side of the new bridge, there was also a suggestion for an elevator for those requiring handicap accessibility.