The great Alexandria-Fairfax County fence debate came to the Virginia Senate floor today, conjuring up images of the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China and Gen. Custer's Last Stand.
The sometimes heated, sometimes humorous exchange among Northern Virginia senators focused on two chain-link fences put across streets by Alexandria officials last summer to stop Fairfax County commuters from driving through the Dowden Terrace residential neighborhood, which straddles the Alexandria-Fairfax border.
"If you're going to permit a political subdivision to build a Berlin Wall that shuts off traffic, then you might as well not have a public roads system," argued Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax).
At Brault's urging the Senate voted 31 to 7 to approve a bill be sponsored that would force Alexandria to remove the fences and prohibit individual cities and counties from erecting such fences without the permission of neighboring jurisdictions.
Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) tried in vain to stop the bill, arguing that his city had not built "a Berlin Wall intended to keep people in, but a Chinese Wall intended to keep people out."
Alexandria's right to construct the fence has been upheld in court, and Mitchell complained that the matter was a local dispute that would have statewide consequences, if the General Assembly intervened.
Brault, however, said the "integrity" of the State Highway Department was at stake. He was supported in his arguments by two other Northern Virginia legislators, including Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax), who argued that road planning should not be left "to the whim and caprice of any local government that didn't have everything going its way."
Mitchell, who indicated later that Republican Gov. John N. Dalton might veto Brault's bill if it passes the House, said opposing the majority leader made him feel like Custer at his last stand. But he added that if left in control, the state Highway Department would have pushed through such controversial projects as "an eight-lane I-66 and the Three Sisters Bridge" in Northern Virginia.