T&ES is making a mess of Polk Avenue

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To the editor:

We all look forward to fireworks displays as an annual Alexandria event along the waterfront. But, this year, it seems we will have our own version of figurative fireworks on the West End.

On July 10, Alexandria’s Transportation and Environmental Services department is preparing to rip up a major thoroughfare street, a one-block area of Polk Avenue. This effort is to create a sidewalk, rejected by 155 residents, who petitioned City Council to revise and re- think the T&ES effort.

But neighbors of this $100,000, taxpayer-funded project have received little outreach in T&ES writ- ten materials – from the September 2022 pub- lic hearing until a June 20, 2023 flier – when a vaguely worded missive appeared in their mailboxes, but with- out the promised “Maintenance Plan of Traffic” included. The devil is in the [missing] details.

The flier says “no parking on the block of Polk Avenue, between Pelham Street and Palmer Place, during construction.” This is of great concern to the 22 KMS townhouse owners on Pel- ham, who need to enter the one-way street to reach their homes. They have no drive- ways and instead use this private access road for park- ing one car per house.

The flier says nothing on how this logistically will be accomplished, given the construction at their en- try point of Polk and Pelham. And the T&ES plan will be removing nine public parking spots, in an already highly congested and competitive parking area. Where

will all the displaced cars go? This site also happens to be the location of 5325 Polk Open Space Park, which was created on Dec. 4, 2012, when the federal government provided mitigation funds for taking six acres from the Winkler Preserve in order to construct the BRAC Building off of interstate 395. And Alexan- dria added $400,000 from its Open Space Fund to purchase the site.

The city welcomed the $1.5 million in federal funds for the new park. But, in the 10 years since, the city has been unable to find any money for a Polk Park sign at the entrance – within a $849 million budget for FY 2023. Nor is there any money for a new coat of paint on the park’s two beat-up benches.

This pristine tract of forest land has been facing controversy since the year 2000, when developers focused on plans for building multi-family units on that site. Four West End civic associations battled for 13 years to save the urban oasis. Among the arguments against development was that the site has a 49% slope, on a marine clay soil base, within a Watershed Protection Zone. Removal of trees there could lead to erosion and possible landslides of the soil on to the street below. Those 2012 arguments are still valid today in 2023.

T&ES continues to ignore three major safety concerns voiced by residents:

• There are no written T&ES plans to include drainage grids and gutters for storm and waste- water within the new curbs

Given Polk Avenue’s very steep downward slope, this is essential. And, in winter, when the street freezes from water run- off, accidents will occur.

• T&ES has no written plans for the city to maintain and to shovel this sidewalk during winter storms, nor to provide additional overhead lighting for pedestrians.

• Houses at 5324 Polk and next door, at 1027 Pelham, have already experienced serious seepage from the 5325 Polk hill, resulting in thousands of dollars to shore up their foundations. This is not a theoretical concept, but a practical reality.

Fix these flaws before construction begins, or the courts will be asked to resolve future liability issues that ensue.

-Kathleen Burns, Alexandria

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