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Date Set For Bridge Steel Drop

NPS's environmental assessment for Jones Point Park target date remains mid August

This coming Labor Day weekend should start with a real blast -- at least for residents of south Old Town. That's when the steel girders of the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge are scheduled to be dropped after being separated by heat explosives.

"The steel drop is now scheduled for the night of August 31," Alex Lee, community relations manager, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, told members of WWB Neighborhood Task Force Tuesday night during their regular meeting at Lyles Crouch Elementary School.

"It will take place sometime after midnight. The loudest noise we expect will be the steel hitting the ground," he said.

The reason for the late hour is that all traffic must be stopped on the Beltway before the charges are ignited. The process is planned to take approximately 30 minutes.

As previously explained by Eric Glibbery, Granite Construction, one of four contracting firms undertaking demolition of the old bridge, "Charges will be placed in each beam. They are heat charges so don't be expecting big fireworks."

The project's goal is to bring down the beams in 40 foot lengths between each set of bridge supports. Hopefully, they will fall simultaneously and hit the ground with a dull thud, according to Mike Baker, environmental manager, WWB Project.

Engineers and demolition experts have estimated that any concussion resulting from the steel impacting the ground will be "below the structural damage level" for nearby homes and St. Mary's School. The project has retained Pro Tech to monitor the concussion via seismographs.

The demolition process is now underway.

The old bridge will be taken down primarily over the land portion on the Virginia side. The only water element scheduled for demolition at this phase is the old draw span itself.

All land deconstructed elements will be hauled away by trucks

traveling South Street to Washington Street and Gibbon Street to Route 1. The draw span is scheduled to be removed by barge.

Three quarters of the old bridge over the Potomac River will remain in place for approximately one year to serve as a work platform, according to Lee. When it is demolished it will also be removed by barge which will require dredging a channel parallel to the structure in order to maneuver equipment and barges, Lee said.

The old draw span is no longer being operated by the District of Columbia. It is now under the control of the bridge project. When it is ready for demolition "it will be cut and lowered onto barges," according to Lee.

ADDRESSING OTHER ASPECTS of the bridge project, Reed Winslow, project liaison, Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said, "Early this fall we expect to open all of South Washington Street and remove the temporary signalization now in place. Late this fall traffic is expected to be switched from the old to the new Route 1 bridge."

He also told Task Force members, "We are in the process of phasing out South Royal Street as the Project haul route. We should be able to get rid of 90 to 95 percent of bridge project truck traffic on there with the new pattern of South Street to South Washington to Gibbon and Franklin."

Winslow also said, "We are very close to arriving at an agreement with Sunoco, owners of the Mobil service station at Church and South Washington streets." It is scheduled to be demolished along with several other buildings on Church Street to make way for the Freedman's Cemetery Memorial.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald, chairing the meeting, asked if any progress had been made on relocating the Mobil station business. Winslow pointed out that all negotiation had been with Sunoco since they own the property. "Sunoco has not shared with us their dealings with the operators of the service station," he said.

The other properties on Church Street are involved in eminent domain proceeding. However, all the structures are expected to be demolished by early winter, according to Winslow.

In summarizing a brief review of Jones Point Park development plans, Macdonald said "The new Superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway is clearly concerned about environmental issues and is very sensitive to those issues."

"The National Park Service is also very concerned about historical preservation issues within the park," said Kirk Kincannon,

director, Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural

Activities.

Referring to a June 27 City Council work session with J. Mel Poole, former acting superintendent, GWMP, National Park Service, and the new superintendent, David Vela, Macdonald said, "It was the first time we (Council) had an open discussion of what options are open if we do something different at Jones Point than has been planned."

Making reference to the proposed athletic fields north of the new bridge, Poole stated at that open meeting, "We're afraid that if we get into a large amount of vegetation removal it will endanger water getting into people's homes during hard storms."

Buttressing Kincannon's comment about historic preservation, Poole also acknowledged, "One of our concerns is that on the southern part of the site (Jones Point Park) there are historic considerations. And, we are not sure we can sustain a full size active recreation field there."

NPS intends to release its environmental assessment study and recommendations for park development by mid August. They normally allow a 60 day review period but indicated at the June Council session they could consider lengthening that to 75 days given the fact that many people are on vacation in August.

"Everybody should have a decent amount of time to study the report. The Park Service is the steward of our natural resources and I'm sure will make their recommendations based on that fact," Macdonald said.

"There is a complete master plan study underway dealing with all park facilities throughout the City. We will, hopefully, be having public hearing on the results of that study sometime this Fall," Kincannon announced.

In other matters there was a presentation on the landscape plan for the Gateway Design at the southern entrance to the City; lighting issues adjacent to Hunting Towers and Porto Vecchio; and changes in signalization connected to the bridge project. The next meeting of the Task Force is scheduled for September 19 at the same location.