By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
The Potomac Yard Metrorail Station project will be scaled back to lower costs to an affordable range, City Manager Mark Jinks said at council’s legislative session Tuesday evening.
Deputy City Manager Emily Baker said the changes would ensure the station’s construction timeline stays on schedule and meets its projected open date in late 2021 or early 2022. The plan calls for eliminating the station’s southern entrance at East Glebe Road and the accompanying south station mezzanine.
She said staff would pursue grant funding to add the south entrance and mezzanine as a future project once the station is built.
“We understand that these scope changes are disappointing to many of the project stakeholders,” Baker said. “They’re very disappointing to staff as well. We would certainly prefer to build the station that was designed with all of the significant input from the public for the year of design process that we went through. There were no good choices to make for the kind of reductions that were necessary.”
A meeting of the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group took place Wednesday night after press time to inform the public of the updates to the project scope.
At the legislative session, council also discussed the long-in-the-works process to rename Jefferson Davis Highway, named after the president of the Confederate States.
An advisory group with representatives from Alexandria and Arlington County sorted through thousands of name submissions and ultimately chose to recommend Richmond Highway for Route 1’s new name.
The name change would be effective Jan. 1, 2019 to allow the city and businesses to change any signage and labels to the new name. Council voted to receive the recommendation and docket the item for public hearing in June.
Council also revisited another long anticipated project: the installation of a new Dominion Virginia Power transmission line through the city.
The city has, since 2014, been working with Dominion on a plan to install a 230-kilovolt transmission line through Alexandria and Arlington due to the necessity of increasing grid capacity and reliability. The existing transmission facilities will no longer adequately meet demand and mandatory North American Electric Reliability Corporation criteria by summer 2020, according to Dominion.
In May 2016, the city adopted a resolution opposing overhead lines and selected the alignment of the line along the CSX railroad corridor as the “least objectionable alternative.”
Dominion’s nine potential alternatives came up again this year, however, because of a cost increase in the CSX option, said Yon Lambert, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.
Dominion had been working with CSX for about a year to meet the railroad’s requests and demands, but returned to the city in December 2017 to report that costs for the CSX corridor had increased by more than $100 million. The city’s work group reconvened in January to reconsider alternatives. After research and public outreach, it recommended alignment along Potomac Avenue as the new “least objectionable alternative.”
Mayor Allison Silberberg expressed frustration that the proposals were being revisited.
“One minute, we’ve worked really hard, and CSX was the least objectionable option and [the] next second it comes back,” she said.
The Potomac Avenue alignment would run from the Glebe substation in Arlington to the Potomac River substation in North Old Town. It is projected to cost $330 million. Lambert said the CSX alternative would cost $420 million.
Construction on the Potomac Avenue alignment, Dominion’s preferred alternative, is projected to take three years. Lambert said the primary concerns from the community about the alternative were construction impacts, open space, tree loss and exposure to electric and magnetic fields.
Lambert said Dominion would isolate work to one to two blocks at a time to limit disruption and replace any trees lost on a one-to-one basis. He also said there was no conclusive evidence that there were health consequences from low levels of exposure to EMF.
While council did not pass the new proposal along Potomac Avenue, it docketed the resolution for second reading and public hearing at Saturday’s meeting.
Another topic that has awkwardly cropped up leading up to the election is increasing the compensation for council and mayor, which hasn’t been done since 2003.
David Mercer, chair of the five-member Ad Hoc Committee on Council Compensation, said at the Tuesday
meeting that the committee recommends increasing the salary for mayor to $41,600 and council to $37,500. The recommendation was almost unanimous, with one committee member voting against because he thought the numbers should be higher.
Mercer said he also thought the salaries should be higher, but the group was under a time constraint to allow council to consider the subject in either May or June, since they would be setting the salary for the council elected in November.
“We decided we did not have sufficient time … to look philosophically at whether or not you all were full-time, part-time, whether it was a salary, whether it was compensation, whether it was a stipend – there’s just a lot of issues involved,” Mercer said. “If a cost of living increase had been applied every year since 2003, that’s what these numbers reflect.”
The group also recommended revisiting the subject in three years.
“So this timeline obviously was pretty rushed, it looks like,” Silberberg said. “… I wish, frankly, that the group had either had the time or had decided to go ahead and weigh in on some of those issues you just mentioned, Mr. Mercer, with regard to the full-time status.”
Council voted to docket the item for June’s public hearing.