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ACVA Forum Focuses On National Harbor Tourists

Is Alexandria on its way to becoming Virginia's Georgetown?

With the skyline of National Harbor becoming more prominent each day, Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association (ACVA) devoted its latest Fun Side Forum on the transportation demands of getting tourists from there to here and back.

The only question that wasn’t raised: Do Old Town residents really want more tourists?

A panel composed of Willem Polak, president, Potomac Riverboat Company; Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services Administration; and Jan Day Gravel, acting president and CEO, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce; discussed various transportation initiatives being planned to meet what is predicted to be an influx of an "additional 100,000 to 115,000 people to Alexandria" during the first year of National Harbor's operation.

"We consider Alexandria to be a hub between National Harbor and Georgetown. And we are planning to start operating our new water taxi system in 2008," Polak told the crowd of business and hospitality representatives packed into the upper deck of the Cherry Blossom last Friday morning.

Potomac Riverboat Company is planning to operate several water taxi-type craft between National Harbor and the Alexandria docks at 30-minute intervals beginning each day at approximately 7:30 a.m., according to Polak. "We hope to have the new boats under contract in the next few weeks," he said.

WHEN IT CAME to ground transportation, Baier acknowledged that he already has had several meetings with Prince George’s County officials and has learned they presently offer "very little suburban bus service." Baier told the audience he expects the majority of those using ground transportation to be coming by private vehicles.

"This poses a whole other problem for us. How to get them here and back causing the least congestion and problems for our residents," Baier said.

Noting that many of the future traffic patterns on the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge will be controlled by Maryland, Baier stated they (Maryland) are pushing for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes as opposed to High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. "The fear is that if the extra lanes are designated HOV it will be very hard to take them back from motorists for BRT," he said.

Baier's other concern was having enough money in the City budget to develop adequate transportation links between National Harbor and Alexandria and within the City. "I would urge all of you present to go to the Council budget hearings and push for more money for tourism," Baier said.

He noted that a Regional Transportation Forum has been scheduled for April 19 in the PTO Auditorium from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. It is being sponsored by Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille and will focus on a variety of transportation challenges throughout the metropolitan region, according to Baier.

Gavel rounded out the panel presentations with a discussion of rejuvenating the former "Park Alexandria" program. "There has been a lot of interest expressed about re-instituting this program. But, we have a lot of issues that need to be worked through," she said.

Gavel admitted she was the "new kid on the block," having only recently taken over leadership of the Chamber by replacing Ken Moore, who resigned to take a similar position in his home area. She noted that ACVA and the Chamber have adopted a "memorandum of understanding on rejuvenating Park Alexandria."

The previous program provided validated parking certificates to customers of Alexandria merchants and restaurateurs for a specified period of time. If ceased due primarily to lack of use.

DURING THE question and answer period, a variety of issues were raised as to transportation linkage between upper King Street and the waterfront, the ongoing congestion at the King and Union streets intersection, and the implementation of a possible non-rail trolley to and from the waterfront.

The primary concern focused how to get the tourists here and how to handle them once they arrived.

With increasing tourism during the spring, summer and autumn months comes increased motor coach traffic. "Overnight buses are now allowed to park at the Masonic Temple. They are no longer permitted overnight at Robinson Terminal," said Lorraine Lloyd, vice president, Sales, ACVA.

"If there is a problem with a particular bus get the name and phone number and notify ACVA," she told the audience. Lloyd also distributed a brochure incorporating a map that provides

"Motorcoach Rules and Regulations for Historic Alexandria."

It identifies designated motorcoach parking areas, both long and short term, as well as permissible areas for loading and unloading. Rules governing such items as no idling and proper designation of

driver cell phones and pagers when they leave the bus are contained in the brochure.

Prior to the panel discussion, Merrie Morris, director, ACVA Membership, gave a Powerpoint presentation of ACVA's new web page. It includes an updated homepage, facts about Alexandria, a calendar of events, and community and member information.