To the Editor:
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is soliciting comments on a proposed High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) direct access ramp from the existing HOV lanes along Interstate 395 (I-395) to Seminary Road. The HOV ramp would provide regional bus service to the Mark Center Station, a new transit station built originally to accommodate BRAC employees. It would also potentially open east bound Seminary Road to increased traffic near Hammond Middle School and the Alexandria Hospital. The comment period ends on Feb. 10.
The HOV ramp is being designed to improve access to and from the Mark Center BRAC facility, incentivize carpooling by employees, and encourage greater use of transit. The estimated to cost of the I-395 HOV ramp to state taxpayers is $80 million.
Overlooked is the likelihood the Mark Center Station will become a large, regional transit hub. The station would serve not only BRAC employees but also commuters working at the Alexandria Hospital, high rise retirement communities on Beauregard, nearby professional and medical office buildings, the Skyline area and students attending the Northern Virginia Community College.
In April 2010, the Virginia Department of Transportation released a study recognizing the potential for a major regional transit station at Mark Center. The study, an update of a 2008 study, was sponsored in coordination with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT).
The study verified a heavy demand for reliable transit service in the I-95/395 corridor and made several recommendations to improve regional transit service. Based on the analysis, the study recommended a Priority Bus/BRT Service, utilizing existing stations located off of major arterials, close to signalized intersections and in areas where there is potential for transit oriented development. It also concluded improved access from the I-395 HOV lane at Seminary Road would create a significant demand for transit service in the regional corridor. The Mark Center Station would be the largest serving as an origin/destination and transfer stop.
The VDOT environmental assessment focuses solely on the environmental impacts of constructing the HOV ramp. The EA is potentially flawed since it failed to reference the transportation hub as a cumulative effect in its analysis, thus allowing the public to comment on a likely broader regional impact.
Creating a regional transit center would impact traffic, potentially impacting the planned redevelopment of the Mark Center, Southern Towers and Beauregard area. The likely impact of a regional transit center should be evaluated in terms of developer plans for redevelopment, the proposed traffic "ellipse" at Seminary and Beauregard, and impacts on the bus transfer stops at Southern Towers.
The larger issue and major challenge is creating a regional transportation hub in a traffic congested area and integrating it into local plans for a transit-oriented, urban scale community.
Comprehensive transportation planning is essential for planning attractive, economically sustainable mixed use projects. The City of Alexandria should have an overall, integrated transportation plan for the Mark Center/Southern Towers/Beauregard area to ensure proposed future growth in the area can be reasonably accommodated. The plan would help guide the expenditure of dollars and ensure there is adequate capacity to handle the proposed growth. Approving a large-scale small area plan for redevelopment in an existing, functioning community without an area transportation plan is a mistake. Transportation, transit and pedestrian planning provides a framework and should not be an afterthought during the redevelopment process.