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From Drainage Ditch To Natural Treasure

Cycling along Four Mile Run
Along the Four Mile Run a bikeway exists. The master plan calls for pathways along both sides, public plazas and grassy tiers leading down to the water. (Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

The plan's backers admit that it is an ambitious undertaking, and that securing the funding from a variety of public and private sources, such as developers, will be a challenge. The $261 million figure was received with gasps at the Alexandria City Council meeting last week.

"I fainted over here!" quipped Vice Mayor Redella "Del" S. Pepper (D).

Four Mile Run task force co-chairman Judy Guse-Noritake of Alexandria said the cost of some components of the plan, such as a new bridge at South Glebe Road, should be covered by state transportation funds. Estimates are that the restoration effort for the stream will cost $70 million, the majority from federal funds, officials said. The local portion of stream restoration would be $29 million, split between Alexandria and Arlington.

In addition to the funding uncertainty, the project faces a technical hurdle. Redevelopment of the flood-control passage hinges on an Army Corps of Engineers study on whether the area can be turned into a natural streambed and still provide enough flood protection for homes and businesses.

Claire D. O'Neill, project manager for the Corps, said that updated flood models show that the conversion probably could be done without endangering nearby homes, but that the agency won't know for sure until the study is complete in 2008.

Maria Wildes, a Parkfairfax resident, said she worries about whether the improved stream would be more likely to flood, noting that her complex's maintenance facility is just yards from the bank.

"I'm concerned that the plans do not adequately address the water capacity of Four Mile Run," Wildes said. "They keep talking about all the nice plants we're going to plant. I'm looking for the data about how much water, how fast, it can hold."

The first real change residents will see will be a $3.3 million pilot stream restoration project to be designed over the next 12 to 18 months. The pilot project will be in the tidal area of Four Mile Run between Mount Vernon Avenue and the Potomac, visible to drivers on Route 1.

"We chose this area as a demonstration project because it's highly visible and it's something that is doable right now," said Neal Sigmon, an Arlington resident and co-chairman of the citizen task force.

Guse-Noritake said the hope is that the pilot project area serves as a gathering spot for the neighborhoods surrounding the burgeoning Potomac Yard development.

"This is going to be a huge population center . . . and this will be its recreational center," she said. "It will be a place where people are coming together, a high-energy urban area where people are walking, biking, getting an ice cream cone. This is where it's going to be."

A contractor will be hired to add soil berms and native plants, add seating areas and benches and restore and add to wetland areas that border Four Mile Run Park. Planners also hope to add a pedestrian walkway between South Eads Street in Arlington and Commonwealth Avenue in Alexandria.

Officials said this walkway -- one of six planned -- would be a key element of the project, aimed at making the waterway, as Zimmerman put it, less of "a barrier or a moat."

"Four Mile Run is what divides Arlington and Alexandria," Zimmerman said. "In the future, we hope it will be what joins us."

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