Council mulls T.C. Williams parking shortage

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Parking garage at T.C. Williams High School (Photo Credit: Aleksandra Kochurova)
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By Duncan Agnew | dagnew@alextimes.com

City council spent its final meeting of the session on June 26 discussing the elimination of Potomac Yard Metro’s southern entrance, issues at T.C. Williams and net neutrality.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said during his oral report the city is facing issues with student parking at T.C. Williams High School. Wilson said, starting next school year, students will no longer be able to park in the garage on campus. The parking garage adjacent to the academic building previously provided room for 40 student vehicles, and permits cost students $80 for the 2017-18 school year.

“Staff has been working to increase the amount of parking that’s available around the Chinquapin circle, and they believe there’s some opportunity there,” Wilson said at the meeting. “…There’s still going to be very limited parking for the number of students who want those passes.”

Wilson said the elimination of student parking in the garage is partly due to increased student enrollment. It’s not the first change that’s impacted student parking. Last year, council approved a resolution that required students to obtain a $120 permit to park at Chinquapin Circle.

T.C. Williams High School (Photo Credit: Aleksandra Kochurova)

“We’ve had some challenges, in many parts, due to some of the increased enrollment demands, but also due to some changes from [a] policy perspective,” Wilson said. “There was a condition to require paid parking around the Chinquapin Circle. We recently implemented that last year. That led to, of course, some spillover impacts into the neighborhood.”

Increased enrollment has meant an increase in hiring for school staff. Enrollment at the T.C. Williams King Street Campus has increased by nearly 1,000 students over the past decade, according to ACPS Director of Communications Helen Lloyd. The school system has addressed this growth by hiring more staff as needed, Lloyd said.

“After conducting a parking audit accounting for the increased number of employees and specialists serving our students over the years, T.C. has simply run out of space to accommodate parking for all students who wish to drive to school,” Lloyd wrote in a Tuesday email to the Times.

To reduce the effects of potential parking spillover into the surrounding community, Lloyd said that all T.C. and Minnie Howard students will now be able to ride the DASH bus for free. Based on city estimates, about 1,000 students boarded the DASH bus each weekday during the 2017-18 school year.

During the meeting, Councilor John Chapman suggested exploring partnerships with organizations that have parking lots in the immediate vicinity of T.C. Williams, like the First Baptist Church of Alexandria. Today, with no clear solution at hand, T.C.’s parking problem looms large on the minds of councilmembers.

“We still have some work to do,” Wilson said.

Division Chief for Transit Services Allan Fye and Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Yon Lambert also provided explanations at the meeting for the elimination of the Potomac Yard Metro’s southern entrance from the long-awaited project’s plans.

City Manager Mark Jinks and city staff came under fire in May when it was revealed that Jinks, staff and at least some city council members knew the entrance would be eliminated in July 2017, a little under a year before that information was released to the public.

“The south station entrance is basically not eligible as a component of this current funding system because it’s not a standalone project,” Fye said. “But it is important also to note that [the Virginia Department of Transportation] is a potential source of funds for a potential future south entrance.”

Fye said council would not be able to apply for grants that would make a southern entrance possible until 2020. Because local and state transportation departments set the budget for infrastructure improvements six to seven years in advance, that grant moneywouldn’t become available until Fiscal Year 2026 or 2027, Fye said.

Lambert said the city is committed to working with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to acquire additional funding for the West End Transitway and other important projects, including  a southern entrance for the Potomac Yard Metro.
Mayor Allison Silberberg encouraged exploring all possible alternatives to make the south entrance a reality.

“I think we would be wise to look towards committing towards the southern entrance being added,” Silberberg said. “We want the station to be highly used and to be as easy as possible for accessibility for all regardless of ability. I think that would make a huge difference for usage.”

Chair of the Information Technology Commission Catharine Rice also made a presentation at the meeting to review a council resolution on net neutrality.

Federal net neutrality rules expired on June 11. As a result, Rice said, companies like Comcast now have the power to regulate internet connectivity in Alexandria and elsewhere across the country. While city council cannot reverse that change, councilmembers wanted to make a statement in support of net neutrality.

“[The city’s resolution] establishes the city’s support for net neutrality toward the idea of the city being a net neutrality city, and then it urges the federal government to adopt a national policy to enforce net neutrality,” Rice said.

Council has passed a number of non-binding resolutions, including a resolution on gun control reform. Members unanimously endorsed the resolution.

“The city doesn’t currently have the capability to enforce net neutrality,” Silberberg said. “However, the resolution, in my opinion, sends a really powerful signal to our residents, to our businesses and to state and national lawmakers that our community fully supports a free and open internet and that we will do all we can to protect it.”

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