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Bridge Demolition Date Uncertain

What happened to the promised pedestrian/bike path along closed Jones Point Road?

Anyone living close to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project who wants to enjoy their backyard this summer should pray for a very pleasant June. From mid July on it could be all noise and dust.

That was the word at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force meeting last Thursday night at Lyles-Crouch Elementary School. "Right now we plan to start demolition of the existing bridge around July 17," said Ronaldo "Nick" Nicholson, WWB project manager, Virginia Department of Transportation.

"Right now the plan is being reviewed and we don't have a specific date. But, we are planning an information work session with the contractors in mid June," he said.

"Our plan is to move as quickly as possible in the area of Royal Street before St. Mary's reopens in the fall," Nicholson said. "There is a definite urgency for that part of the existing bridge that is over land to be taken down."

The uncertainty of a commencement date was questioned by Alexandria Mayor William Euille who co-chairs the Task Force with vice-mayor elect Andrew Macdonald. "We need to get a date locked in as soon as possible so that it can be adequately advertised. People are going to be going away on summer vacations and Council will be out after the June meeting," Euille said.

Nicholson explained that the bridge's demolition will happen in phases on that portion over land on the Virginia side. "Removal of the concrete deck will commence after July 17. It will be crushed, loaded onto trucks and hauled away," he said.

Nicholson assured Task Force members, "There are no plans for any demolition at night unless there is a problem. Then we will seek a special permit," Nicholson said. He promised that all demolition and hauling will abide by established City rules.

THOSE RULES PROVIDE work to begin no sooner than 7 a.m. and cease no later than 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturdays the allowable hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is to be no work on Sundays or holidays.

However, these rules only apply to work being done within Alexandria City limits. In other words, up to the river shore line. When that portion of the bridge over the Potomac River is being demolished or constructed those work schedule rules do not apply.

Following demolition of the concrete deck, "The steel will be cut and brought to a cushion on the ground. It will also be hauled away by truck. That will be followed by the vertical columns being cut and crushed," according to Nicholson.

"All of this will take approximately four months. We hope to be completed by October," he said.

There was concern raised about the weight of the trucks carrying the concrete and steel over Old Town streets, both as to potential street damage and concussion to homes along the haul route. "All loaded trucks will have to adhere to City weight limits. Any that are over will have to get a special permit," said Reed Winslow, project liaison, Alexandria Department of Transportation & Environmental Services.

"But, this weight requirement is somewhat ambiguous because the trucks travel both on our streets and the highway. According, to Virginia law highway weight limit is 75,000 pounds. The City limit is 60,000 pounds," Winslow explained.

When demolished, that portion of the bridge over the river is scheduled to be hauled away by barge, according to Nicholson. It is estimated to commence later in the Fall.

Once all traffic on both the inner and outer loops has been shifted to the new south span, the draw span portion of the old bridge will be left open to accommodate any river traffic until it too is demolished, according to Nicholson.

"The last part of the old bridge to be demolished will be that portion over the river toward the Maryland shore. It will be hauled away either by barge or through Maryland. That probably will not be completed until the Fall of 2007," Nicholson said.

As part of all this activity, pile driving will also be underway on the land portion as well as the use of explosive devises to aid in the demolition process. Nicholson assured that both activities will put forth limited noise. When asked about dust monitors being installed, as was done with the demolition of the one Hunting Towers building, Nicholson said that they would be used.

He also announced that there will be a series of closures on the Beltway as patterns change through 2007. "But, the good news is we expect to complete the South Washington Street Urban Deck by the end of this August," he said. "That will end the need for lane changes."

IN ADDITION TO the demolition schedule and procedures, the Task Force's other primary concern was the closure and future of Jones Point Drive. It was officially closed to all traffic, other than construction vehicles, May 18.

This presents not only an access problem but also a parking problem. "Presently, the project has provided 39 spaces at Hunting Towers. Nineteen are available during the day and another 20 during non-work hours," said Kirk Kincannon, director, Alexandria Recreation, Parks & Cultural Affairs Department.

He also announced, "The National Park Service has informed us that they have begun work on their final recommendations for Jones Point Park. They hope to get them out in a month."

Again this presented a problem with gaining proper input both from the public and Council given summer schedules. The Task Force asked Kincannon to urge the NPS not to issue their decision "until September or October to be able to get full public input."

It was noted that when the chain-link fence is full installed along the north side of Jones Point Drive there will be no access from South Lee Street. The only way to reach Jones Point Park will be the path along the river from Fords Landing to the park entrance off Jones Point Drive or from the Mount Vernon Trail at Hunting Towers.

Presently only the support poles have been installed for the fence. However, the project has cleared a narrow path immediately along the wetlands tree area from the community gardens at Lee Street Extended to the grassy area across from the entrance to the park.

Originally, when the project announced the closing of Jones Point Drive as an element of the bridge demolition and construction process they stated it would remain open for pedestrians and bicyclists. This now appears to be the case only for pedestrians who wish to walk on very rough, narrow terrain that could invite potential injury.

Another element of concern is the tree line around the community gardens. Relatively young healthy trees, they were planted several years ago by the gardeners. Not only do they provide shade and ambiance, they also contribute to the dampening of noise from bridge traffic.

Again the project promised not to disturb or injure them. But, the alignment of their fence support standards would appear to potentially require the trees to be severely pruned on their south side when the fence is installed. If that is carried out it could potential damage them.

As for the settlement agreement pertaining to the establishment of the Freedman's Cemetery Memorial at the intersection of South Washington and Church streets, Emily Baker, city engineer, T&ES Department, said, "We should have all the properties by the end of the year."

Once the Mobile Service Station and the office building behind it had been acquired by the City, archeological excavation is expected to commence in the Spring, according to Baker. No date was set for the Task Force June meeting.