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Four Mile Run Restoration Gets Green Light

New plan for stream seeks to improve natural habitat and create more public recreation areas.

The County Board has approved a plan for the restoration of Four Mile Run, providing a road map for the revitalization of the stream and the creation of a more vibrant waterfront for Arlington and Alexandria residents.

The new document supplies the county with a framework for bolstering the flood control of the stream, restoring the natural setting of the area and furnishing the lower two-mile stretch of Four Mile Run with greater recreational amenities.

THE PROJECT focuses on the “levee corridor” that stretches from Shirlington Road to the Potomac River — a section that forms the boarder between Arlington and Alexandria.

“The plan will help fill in the gap on the lower two miles, which is, frankly, an eye sore, is neglected and inaccessible to the community,” said Mike Steger, a member of the Arlington Park and Recreation Commission who also served on the plan’s citizen task force.

“This gives residents in South Arlington a place to call their own, and enhances their ability to walk and ride bikes in that area,” he added.

Though the plan provides an overarching blueprint for what Four Mile Run will look like in the coming decades, no timetable has been proposed for implementing its recommendations.

“This sets the tone and the vision,” County Manager Ron Carlee said during the March 16 board meeting. “As the opportunity presents itself and funding becomes available, we can follow the vision and attain something very special.”

The estimated cost for all components of the plan is more than $260 million. Arlington and Alexandria officials are working on an agreement to share the funding responsibilities over the next 20 to 30 years.

During the 1960s and '70s several strong storms, including Hurricane Agnes, swept through the region, causing the water in Four Mile Run to overflow the stream’s banks.

In response, the Army Corps of Engineers hardened and straightened the channel to reduce flooding, but in the process the stream lost much of its aesthetic beauty and natural habitat.

SIX YEARS ago U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) secured $1 million to study a possible redevelopment of the stream. A coordinating group of staff and residents from both Arlington and Alexandria began to create a new plan for the stream in 2002.

“In the future Four Mile Run will be not what divides Arlington and Alexandria, but what brings the two communities together,” County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said.

One of the main priorities of the new plan is to enhance the flood protection while restoring the wetlands. The two jurisdictions are expecting to plant more than 60,000 trees along Four Mile Run’s banks.

The county’s other top objective is to improve residents’ access to the stream. A bridge will be built to connect South Eads Street in Arlington to Commonwealth Avenue in Alexandria.

A bike trail will be placed on the Alexandria side of the stream, and several plazas will be constructed for concerts and other public gatherings.

“You will truly be taking what in the '70s was turned into a ditch, and turning it into a gem of a park that will bring water access and beauty” to Arlingtonians, Ted Saks, a member of the citizen task force, said to the County Board.

As part of the plan, several unused bridges at the mouth of Four Mile Run will be removed to create more open space, and South and West Glebe Roads near I-395 will be re-aligned. A nature center will be jointly run by Arlington and Alexandria near the stream.

THE TWO jurisdictions are considering placing the adjacent power lines underground, but the hefty cost of $100 million means it will not happen in the near future, county officials said.

The federal funding secured by Rep. Moran stipulates that Arlington and Alexandria build a demonstration project to show the community what the stream corridor will look like once it is restored.

This initial project will take place between Route 1 and South Eads Street, and will stabilize the stream’s banks and create more wetland bars.

“The demonstration phase allows people to touch, feel and see some of the 2.3 miles come alive,” County Board member Jay Fisette said. “It will instigate a number of other opportunities.”

While the demonstration project will be completed within 18 months, other recommendations in the plan may not begin for another 15 years.

Raising the $260 million needed to realize all the goals is a “daunting task,” said Neal Sigmon, co-chair of the citizens task force. The county will be looking at a variety of public and private sources, but a great uncertainty exists over where the funding will come from.

Yet the benefits to the two communities more than outweighs the project's large price, Fisette said.

“This is likely to be a model for urban ecological restoration,” he said. “It’s exciting to know we can have a small stream through the middle of the county and turn it into a project that will get attention all over the region.”