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Bridge Workshop Draws Crowd

Construction details trigger citizen questions.

More than 100 interested residents filled the cafeteria of George Washington Middle School on Jan. 11 to participate in the second community workshop dealing with the Monroe Avenue Bridge/Route 1 realignment.

The two-hour session dealt primarily with Monroe Avenue access to Route 1, direct pedestrian connection to the bridge, the future Potomac Yard development, and an overall construction update. This first public session of 2006 on the project was a follow up to a Dec. 12, 2005 session where residents raised a series of questions.

In addition to presentations by Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services Department staff, those attending were given the opportunity to submit comments on a variety of elements considered during the meeting. They also received written answers to their questions submitted during the December meeting.

"The present bridge is a typical urban bridge. It is not very attractive and offers no amenities," said Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services Department. "The new bridge will be more art deco and more open with new lighting. We want more pedestrian access to the bridge.”

That concept for more pedestrian access has raised one of the greatest concerns about the design. As planned, it will not be federal Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

The primary concern in making access to the bridge ADA compliant is the length of a ramp needed to meet ADA specifications. In a memorandum from Baier to City Council dated Dec. 28, 2005, an ADA-compliant ramp based on design calculations for pedestrian access to the bridge would save "only two minutes" of walking time.

"While providing ADA access is not required from a legal standpoint, as alternative access would be provided by a longer sidewalk route, staff didn't want to recommend construction of a major infrastructure element that was not accessible to our entire community," Baier said.

Emily Baker a city engineer with T&ES, noted the possibility of an elevator had been suggested but was met with two objections. Because of its exposure to the elements, Baker said staff believed that an elevator option would create serious maintenance concerns.

"The police raised serious concerns about safety within an enclosed elevator space," Baker said. When asked about the possibility of a glass elevator, as used by Metro in various locations and the use of outside elevators by hotels and many office buildings nationwide that are exposed to the elements, Baker said those options had not been discussed."

THE EXISTING BRIDGE is scheduled for demolition this winter with work anticipated to begin within a month, according to T&ES staff.

"It will be done in phases so that traffic is not totally disrupted," Baker said.

Present plans call for a portion of the new bridge to be completed prior to any demolition of the existing structure. "There might be some delays as traffic lanes are reduced but it should never be stopped altogether," Baker said.

City Councilman Rob Krupicka who attended the workshop session said the new bridge will be safer for pedestrians and much better for traffic flow.

"Going to Potomac Yard on a Saturday is almost impossible. This new configuration should make it much easier. It will also make Monroe Avenue a true neighborhood road," Krupicka said.

As pointed out in Baier's Dec. 28 memorandum there were two possible scenarios for the bridge and Route 1 when City Council approved the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens Coordinated Development District in 1999:

* Concept Plan - Keep the existing bridge in its present configuration and add a connection between the proposed Potomac Avenue and Route 1 at the eastern end of Monroe Avenue immediately north of Slaters Lane.

* Alternative Concept Plan - Replace the existing bridge with a new bridge on a straightened Route 1 alignment with an at-grade Monroe Avenue intersection.

Staff supported and recommended the Alternative Concept Plan, Baier said. He noted that the bridge straightening approach "garnered strong community support" including the Del Ray and NorthEast citizens' associations.

Baier cited a series of benefits to the overall community by straightening the bridge including transportation, recreational, land use, and aesthetic benefits.

"The straightened bridge effectively eliminates a high accident intersection, Route 1 and Monroe Avenue. Since January 2003, 57 collisions have occurred at this intersection," Baier said.

LIKE THE DECEMBER meeting residents not only voiced their concerns but also submitted them in writing to T&ES staff. Some of the concerns raised at the January meeting were:

* Should there be a direct pedestrian connection from the bridge to Monroe Avenue? And, if so, should it be ADA accessible?

* If a pedestrian connection is provided, it should be designed as an attractive gateway into Del Ray.

* A realigned Monroe Avenue will provide a good connection to Crystal City but will also bring more traffic to Del Ray and increase cut-through traffic in the neighborhood.

* A realigned bridge will adversely impact the school site.

Future community outreach programs are being planned by staff. They also intend to bring a recommendation to the Planning Commission at its Feb. 7 public hearing relative to the Pedestrian Connection, according to Baier.

"At that time, staff will present feedback from the Jan. 11 workshop," he said.

The Planning Commission recommendation would then go to City Council’s Feb. 25 public hearing, according to Baier.