Keep our park open

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Heres a recipe for discord: A project on a federally owned piece of land, with oversight for the project falling to the state, though the piece of land is used almost exclusively used by city residents. Think everyone will agree on priorities and process? 

The Jones Point Park renovation is subject to just this situation. Jones Point has been the topic of debate within Alexandria for years, dating back to planning for the Woodrow Wilson bridge project. Many Alexandrians held and expressed strong views regarding the redesign of the park. The elements of conflict at that time were the competing desires for bridge safety, dog and pedestrian access and sports fields. The ultimate design that was chosen three years ago this month, Alternative 4A, included all of those plus a tot lot playground located under the bridge.

Under the original bridge plan, the Jones Point renovation was to have been completed in the spring of 2011. Obviously, given that a contractor has yet to be chosen and construction is optimistically slated to begin this October, that timeframe no longer applies. City residents are being told the project will take between 18 and 24 months, and, heres the infuriating factor: Alexandrians wont have any access to the park our park for the entire construction period.

Many Alexandrians are saying this is unacceptable, and we agree. Projects are routinely done without total loss of access to the premises. Schools add gymnasiums, homes are remodeled and parks undergo improvements all while remaining in use. Only about 30 percent of the park was not accessible during the bridge construction. Though that percentage would have to go up during a total park renovation, it should be possible to do major, structural work requiring total park shutdown in a few months, then re-open parts of the park to lessen the impact on Alexandrians.

The situation is not being helped by the indifference, bordering on arrogance, being shown by National Park Service officials responsible for the project. Their statements that desires of local residents dont matter because the strip of land is federally owned only serve to enrage local residents. Statements that they never considered phasing in the project raise a question: Why not?

Blanket statements are being made by NPS and officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation that phasing in the construction would be both cost prohibitive and unacceptable to the contractor. But the contractor has yet to be chosen; in fact the project has yet to be sent out for bid. NPS and VDOT can structure the contract to require whatever they want it to include. A homeowner or businesses owner would make it a condition of the contract that the builder must provide a plan for continued occupancy if that was what was needed. This should be no different.
Of course cost matters, as does safety. But there is no reason to not include continued park access as a requirement for bid in the contract. If a contractor really wants the project, and in this economy there have to be many who do, they will find a way to minimize the time the park is totally closed.

Fortunately, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and Congressman Jim Moran are working to find consensus with the federal and state agencies.  They have scheduled a public session on July 7 at the Nannie J. Lee Center that will give local residents the opportunity to hear the perspective of NPS and VDOT representatives as well as make their views known. If access to Jones Point Park during the next two years matters to you, come out and be heard. Lets keep our park open.

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