Alexandria city officials laid out the city’s plans for improved transit options Monday night at a forum organized by Agenda:Alexandria, a local nonprofit.
Panelist Eric Wagner, member and former chairman of the Alexandria Planning Commission, called city staff highly competent but added he is at times skeptical of plans presented to the commission. The question before the city is, he said, should it not pursue transit initiatives due to cost?
“That view would suggest that we somehow should push back against all of the forces that we don’t control and preserve a status quo or an improved status quo of that status quo, an improved version of today,” Wagner said. “But I don’t think that’s actually possible, or necessary desirable, for the city.”
Rich Baier, director of the city’s Transportation and Environmental Services Department, told local residents that officials are attempting to decrease the city’s dependence on trips made in single-occupancy vehicles through programs including:
- Bus rapid transit lanes in the following corridors: Route 1, Van Dorn/Eisenhower Avenue and Beauregard/Van Dorn streets;
- Potomac Yard Metrorail development;
- Improvements to and expansion of DASH;
- King Street Metro lot improvements;
- A VRE tunnel to connect Union Station to the King Street Metro station;
- Capital BikeShare expansion;
- Safety measures such as traffic calming, shared-use paths and pedestrian safety;
- Improvements to the intersection of Beauregard and King streets; and
- Eisenhower Avenue improvements.
Additionally, Baier said, the Virginia Department of Transportation is planning to add an auxiliary lane to northbound I-395 between Duke Street and Seminary Road. VDOT also has plans to add a northbound HOV ramp to Seminary Road and complete additional improvements surrounding the BRAC 133 complex, he noted.
Mark Jinks, deputy city manager, said many of the projects underway are being funded at least in part by the state and federal governments. However, state and federal funds for transit and transportation projects have largely dried up to stagnant gas tax rates, coupled with higher fuel efficiency, and the loss of federal earmarks, he said.
“Those monies basically today are completely zeroed out,” he said. “We’re not getting anything at all.”
Jinks focused his comments on the proposed Potomac Yard redevelopment and new Metro station, forecast to cost $1.1 billion over the next 10 years, about half of which is transportation funding, he said. Financial modeling conducted by the city predicts that the project will be more than profitable over the next 30 years, due in large part to new tax revenues generated by new development there and appreciation of those properties.
Wagner said he remained worried about city assumptions concerning growth at Potomac Yard. It’s important to install checkpoints along the trajectory of the project at which the project could be reassessed if the city’s growth assumptions fail to hold up, he said.
In the end, Wagner said, many city residents say they want more of an urban environment.
“The kinds of transportation initiatives that we’ve heard discussed here tonight are exactly the sorts of things that will give us the options that we need to become a more urban city,” he said. “You don’t become an urban city just by pretending that you are. You have to have transit options, and transit options just don’t happen by themselves.”