To the editor:
Many thanks to all those who are supporting the Winkler Botanical Preserve in its efforts to save a significant portion of the preserve from being paved for access roads to the new military building (Washington Headquarters Service) being built at Mark Center just off I-395. Thanks especially to Winkler supporters on the City Council, Virginia House of Delegates members David Englin (D-45) and Charniele Herring (D-46), and Rep. Jim Moran (D-8).
The Winkler Botanical Preserve is a 44-acre treasure that provides much-needed green space in the densely populated West End of Alexandria. It also provides a key source of free environmental education for the Alexandria City Public Schools, as every child in first through fifth grades visits at least two times a year to explore native Virginia flora and fauna.
But more work is required to preserve the Winkler Preserve. In December 2009, City Council voted to request that the Virginia Department of Transportation work with city staff to evaluate additional alternatives to relieve traffic pressures on Seminary Road and to address traffic impacts from the BRAC-133 project in ways that would not harm the integrity of Winkler Botanical Preserve. Despite City Councils vote, in February VDOT released its Access Study for BRAC-133 and identified Alternative D as the preferred option. Alternative D calls for constructing a 34-foot-tall exit ramp and highway directly through the Winkler Preserve.
VDOT officials have stated that their department will not present this or any other access proposal to the Federal Highway Administration without the support of the local jurisdictions, including Alexandria and Fairfax. I ask City Council to reiterate its opposition to Alternative D. VDOT representatives have said they are looking to the city for its suggestions on other alternatives that could address traffic needs as well as protect the Winkler Botanical Preserve. I strongly urge the City to present VDOT with its own realistic short-term and long-term traffic management plans that will be acceptable to the community and protect the preserve.
In addition, I urge the city to identify traffic solutions that actually work. Short-term and local solutions that city traffic engineers could consider include 1.) seeking a phase-in of occupancy so that the 6,400 WHS employees come over a period of time, allowing time for traffic improvements to be implemented; 2.) changing Dash bus routes to accommodate the commuters; 3.) extensive use of shuttle buses from satellite parking lots; 4.) adding traffic lights and coordinating timing of traffic lights during rush hours; 5.) using reversible lanes during rush hours on Seminary Road, as is done in on Connecticut Avenue and elsewhere in D.C.; 6.) building new road(s) at Seminary Road and/or Beauregard Street to take pressure off local streets.
City engineers and planners should also look at long-term traffic management solutions, including new alternatives for direct access from I-395, such as highway access on the Remote Inspection Facility side of the WHS complex, as envisioned by Congressman Moran. Redesign of the outdated Seminary Road interchange should also be evaluated.
Alexandrians can voice their opinions on the proposed VDOT traffic solutions for BRAC-133 at a meeting on March 11 at Minnie Howard School at 6:30 p.m. The VDOT report (called Volume 1 Operational Analysis) and an electronic comment form may be found at http://www.vamegaprojects.com/faqsdocuments/mark-center-documents/
The BRAC-133 is here to stay and the traffic is coming. Alexandrians need to insist on better alternatives that provide traffic relief and are acceptable to our community while also preserving Winkler Botanical Preserve.