Councilors worried about potential Seminary Road transition

Councilors worried about potential Seminary Road transition
The Seminary Road exit on I-395. (File Photo)

By Missy Schrott |

At Tuesday evening’s legislative session, city council members expressed concern about possible changes to Seminary Road’s high-occupant vehicle lane.

The city announced in a news release last week that it had been approached by Transurban, which manages I-495 Express Lanes, about changing the ramp at Seminary Road from HOV to HOT – high-occupancy toll – access. City Manager Mark Jinks said several council members had asked to hear more about the issue at the legislative session.

Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Yon Lambert said city staff and the city’s traffic consultant had met with Transurban on Oct. 19. He said Transurban was in the early stages of potential change and would be completing a traffic count study before the end of the month.

“From a staff perspective, … it’s my professional opinion that there is validity in making sure that we understand the scope and impact of this change because it could very well have impacts on local traffic that we don’t entirely understand at this point,” Lambert said.

Lambert said Transurban’s goal with the study is to identify whether there would be any public benefit to change, such as traffic or safety improvements.

Several city council members voiced hesitations about any potential changes to the road.

“I think it would be a public detriment,” Mayor Allison Silberberg said. “… There was already a lot of cut-through traffic affecting those residential streets, and we were actually in the midst of a community process addressing Seminary Road. … We have to look at the data of course, but there would be additional cutthrough traffic.”

Councilor Tim Lovain questioned Transurban’s motives.

“I understand this would produce more toll revenues, and there’s been rumors – more than rumors – about Transurban’s financial difficulties, but I don’t think that this is good news at all for Alexandria,” Lovain said.

Lambert said staff would regroup and report back to council once Transurban had completed its traffic evaluation.

In addition, council heard an update about the Potomac Yard Metro Station project at the meeting.

Mitchell Bernstein, director of the Department of Project Implementation, said he had learned on Monday that negotiations over certain pieces of land involved in the project had been unsuccessful and were being turned over to the Department of Justice.

“WMATA informed us that they were ending negotiations for real estate transactions with Potomac Greens and Old Town Greens for pieces of land that are necessary to build the station, and have referred those negotiations to the Department of Justice for the beginning of condemnation processes,” Bernstein said.

The pieces of land include a traffic circle and access road owned by homeowners’ associations in Potomac Yard.

Bernstein said WMATA’s intent is to acquire the land temporarily by eminent domain and then return it back to the HOAs in their current, or better, condition once construction is complete in three to four years.

Jinks said negotiations over the land have been ongoing for two years. He said city staff was talking to the Department of Justice about whether there was a way to resolve the issue without exercising eminent domain.

Council also considered a proposed legislative package at the meeting for the 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session. The city’s primary initiatives are seeking state funding for Alexandria’s Combined Sewer Overflow project, school facility renovations and new school construction.