Last year, when the idea was floated to link a commuter ferry between Alexandria and D.C., our response was basically a chuckle. It was an interesting concept but wholly impractical, given our city’s already congested waterfront area.
Well, we’re not laughing any longer.
It appears the Northern Virginia Regional Commission is moving ahead with planning efforts for a ferry, views the Alexandria route as preferable because it’s the most direct, and has more than $3 million in federal funding to purchase ferries.
Ominously, because the ferries were federally funded, NVRC officials appear to believe they don’t need city approval to proceed, according to City Councilor Del Pepper, who represents the city on the NVRC board.
Our city leaders need to stop assuming the ferry’s impracticality will stop it from being anchored here or that the federal government will defer to their authority on dock access. They need to unite in opposition now and show some muscle to oppose this project before its launch becomes inevitable.
A commuter ferry in Old Town has the makings of the BRAC debacle. Back when BRAC was being discussed, Alexandrians assumed the headquarters would never be located in our city, as alter- native locations seemed obviously superior and our city leadership spoke out against it. Of course, BRAC did move to Alexandria — and city leaders have scrambled ever since to deflect blame. Let’s not repeat that sorry episode.
Just think. Our city has been roiled in turmoil for years over the impact of smaller development pieces along the waterfront, from the relocation of the Old Dominion Boat Club to the Carr hotel at the foot of Duke Street. We have had expensive court fights and vitriol over the effect of these projects on traffic and livability. There were legitimate concerns in those cases.
Imagine, then, the impact of hundreds of additional cars making their way to the heart of Old Town during rush hour each day. This deluge would impact not just residents’ livability but also Alexandria’s vital tourism industry.
It is clear that NVRC and the federal government aren’t concerned about disruptions to Alexandria. Pepper described the NVRC’s attitude as “… they get the benefits, we pay the price, and what’s the problem?”
Here’s a thought: If the federal government is so keen on a com- muter ferry to take workers from Virginia to its compounds for the Department of Homeland Security and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, then why doesn’t it take a piece of the waterfront parkland it owns in Fairfax County between Interstate 495 and Mount Vernon and build a ferry terminal there?
Regardless of whether a viable ferry location exists elsewhere, it simply cannot be allowed in Old Town. Officials need to pull out all of the stops to deny access to our Port City — from lobbying and descending on NVRC meetings en masse to working with U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) and U.S. senators Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) and preparing for legal action.
It will be unacceptable if, a year or two from now, this project emerges as a fait accompli. As the saying goes, “that boat don’t float.”