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Living Today and Tomorrow With "The Bridge"

Alexandria's universal topic until 2011.

Any newcomer to Alexandria or Southeastern Fairfax County is automatically involved with two of the nation's largest individual highway projects, whether they choose to be or not. One is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project and the other is the Springfield Interchange reconstruction, known locally as "the Mixing Bowl."

Alexandria and Mount Vernon District residents are effected by the latter only when traveling west on the Capital Beltway or going south on I-95. One of the primary features of the new interchange was opened this summer. It is the "fly over," which has improved the traffic flow to southbound I-95. That entire project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2007.

The reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge impacts the lives of Alexandrians and those living in the Mount Vernon District of southeastern Fairfax County on a daily basis. This is particularly true of those using the southern portion of both the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Route 1, also known as Richmond Highway.

Upon completion, the existing draw span will be replaced by dual six-lane draw spans with space for possible future Metro tracks. The new spans will also be higher than the existing bridge in order to reduce the number of drawbridge openings necessary to accommodate river traffic. This will mean less negative impact on Beltway traffic.

Another added feature of the new bridge will be the addition of sound walls from approximately the Route 1 interchange to the river. This is intended to reduce traffic noise from the elevated bridge in the areas of Alexandria's southeastern quadrant, known as Yates Gardens on the north, and Hunting Point/Porto Vecchio on the south.

The impetus to replace the existing bridge, which opened in 1960, is that it now carries nearly three times as much traffic as it was designed to handle. And much of that traffic is comprised of large tractor-trailer trucks, which has vastly increased the concussion factor, leading to the bridge's earlier than anticipated structural deterioration.

Daily backups occur on both the Virginia and Maryland sides of the river, where the eight-lane Beltway narrows to six at the bridge. Compounding this is an accident rate that is twice as high as the statewide average, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation [VDOT].

PRESENTLY THE BRIDGE carries 195,000 daily trips, or 70 million bridge travelers each year. By 2020 that is projected to increase to 300,000 per day. In order to accommodate that projection the $2.43 billion bridge project was initiated in 2000.

After a decade of study, the decision was made to "build a facility that ultimately offers 12 lanes; eight lanes to match the eight-lane Capital Beltway, two lanes to facilitate merging/exiting, and two lanes for future rail mass transit, bus service or high-occupancy vehicles."

According to officials, "The schedule calls for the southern span (Outer Loop) of the new crossing to open by mid-2006, at which time traffic will be switched onto the new six-lane bridge, offering three lanes in each direction, so that the old bridge can be torn down. Two years later, the northern span, or Inner Loop (closest to Old Town Alexandria) is slated to open.

In addition to the new bridge itself, two other projects tied to the total package that critically impact local residents are:

* The revamped Route 1 Interchange which will be fully completed by 2009. This involves restructuring that interchange at the intersection of Route 1 and the Beltway with the inclusion of sound barriers along Route 1 at that point.

* Total reconstruction of the interchange at Telegraph Road and the Capital Beltway. This is the final element of the project. It is scheduled for completion in 2011.

Integral parts of the bridge project itself are two elements intimately associated with the Old Town portion of Alexandria. One is what has been designated the "Urban Deck" and the other is Jones Point Park. Both are at the south end of Old Town Alexandria.

The Urban Deck, traversing the Beltway, is presently underway at the south end of Washington Street. This has, and will continue to cause traffic lane adjustments until 2005, and again from 2006 to 2007.

Upon completion the new overpass will feature four traffic lanes bordered by wide sidewalks, a bike/pedestrian path and extensive landscaping. On the northwest side will be the new Freemans Cemetery Memorial dedicated to freed slaves buried on that site. Detailed information has been developed by Alexandria Archaeology.

Jones Point Park is controlled by the National Park Service and leased to the City. Plans for its future development where altered by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Details of these plans currently are being assessed based on the need to provide ultimate security for the new spans.

THERE IS AN ONGOING debate as to whether the park should be used for passive or active recreational purposes. One of the major stumbling blocks has been the need to provide parking. Parking was originally planned for under the dual bridges, but that was outlawed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Since the inception of the project, citizen input has been given a top priority by VDOT and the various elements involved in the construction of the bridge and the two interchange projects associated with the bridge project, Route 1 and Telegraph Road. The primary vehicle for that input has been the Neighborhood Task Force created in 2000, at the project's commencement.

It is comprised of two City officials, Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille and City Councilman Andrew H. Macdonald, and a variety of local citizens representing various interests directly impacted by the bridge construction. All NTF meetings are open to the public.

NTF meetings are scheduled monthly at a pre-announced location. In addition to official Task Force members, they are attended by representative of the project, Alexandria's Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, representatives of the National Park Service and others depending on the agenda. Alexandria Mayor Euille presides.

According to project officials, major activities during 2004-2005 that will become increasingly evident include the following:

* Tying the Capital Beltway in with the new southern span of the bridge.

* Continued work on the Washington Street Urban Deck project.

* Building bridges over Cameron Run and Hunting Creek to align with the widened Beltway.

* Rebuilding and widening the Capital Beltway and Route 1 Interchange, as well as widening Route 1 south.

* Performing infrastructure tasks relative to the Telegraph Road Interchange reconstruction.

For complete information on both the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Springfield Interchange Projects as well as regular construction updates citizens are advised to visit the projects' Websites at www.springfieldinterchange.com and www.wilsonbridge.com, or call 877-463-6992.