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Alexandria Officials: High-Dollar Transit Projects Beneficial to City

Agenda:Alexandria held a forum on the city’s transit plans Monday night.

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.”

Lee Hernly October 23, 2012 at 04:23 PM
The City is making the same mistakes that Portland, Oregon made when they underwent urbanization.
Louise Halliday October 23, 2012 at 05:02 PM
You young ones won't remember this, but a couple of decades ago when RF&P sold Potomac Yard, the new developers created a plan for the Yard called Alexandria 2020 that would have made it a state of the art transit center with TWO Metro stations (one in Alexandria, the other at the Arlington end of the Yard) paid for by the developer. The same Eric Wagner led the Del Ray charge to defeat that plan, and when the density was reduced the Metro stations vaporized. Just sayin, ya know .... Interesting how he outed Poul Hertel and George Foote as the men behind the whole transportation corridor stuff.
Ed Didion October 23, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Per the City of Alexandria website under subsidies, this City Council spends fifteen (15) million dollar a year in taxpayer funds subsidizing DASH & WMTA bus service. These two companies operate at about a 5% occupancy rate at best and I feel that something needs to be done to stop this waste of taxpayer dollars. If hardly anyone is using this service why continue operating it at all. I personally would like some answers please! Sincerely, Ed Didion dzona06@aol.com
Andrew Macdonald October 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM
With the possible exception of Mark Jink's presentation (which outlined - finally -- many of the risks associated with the funding of the proposed metro stop at Potomac Yards) the presentations by Mr. Baier and Mr Wagner were monologues: in support of the status quo, in support of business and transportation planning as usual, in support of the kind of transparency and community involvement that have preceded a great deal of this kind of transportation planning and other mixed-use planning too. The talks illustrated why we need to change the way we are attacking problems and replace possibly the staff in charge of such planning too. Agenda Alexandria needs to change their format -- cut back on lengthy speeches from participants --and promote more of a real debate among folks with different view points too. Andrew Macdonald Andrew Macdonald for Mayor
Katy Cannady October 24, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Because I am a chronic meeting goer, I attended the meetings of the transportation master plan committee that Poul Hertel, George Foote, and Eric Wagner all served on. That was some years ago now. The plan Mr. Hertel and Mr. Foote promoted was to give the advantages to the transit rider, not the automobile user. If corridors were created according to the Hertel-Foote plan, we would not be widening a section of Beauregard. Mr. Hertel later served on the corridor working group as the appointee of the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations where he was one of just two votes against widening Beauregard. At the public hearings, he testified against the widening of Beauregard to create a bus rapid transit lane, but remove no cars whatsoever. He joined with citizens in opposing any transit corridor that would parrallel the Metro line at the edge of Old Town. There will be none.

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