Major Charles Beatley and the Alexandria City Council went to the city's west end this week on a "fishing expedition," and found the public still cold to plans to widen and improve Duke Street.

The city staff has argued that improvements are needed because the street is used almost to capacity. In addition, the large number of intersections and turns slows auto movement and contributes to accidents.

In addition to the Duke Street issue, a progress report was presented from the owners of the 2,113-unit Shirley duke apartment project.

The hearing Monday was the first of several neighborhood meetings scheduled by the council. More than 200 west end residents, who live in the heart of area that would be affected by the Duke Street widening and the apartment project, attended the meeting at the Patrick Henry Elementary School.

Most of the questions, and all of the criticism, focused on city proposals for widening Duke Street, a major eastwest artery that varies from two lanes to four lanes as it cuts across the city.

Last year, opposition from area residents persuaded the City Council to reject Virginia Highway Department plans to widen the road. The city staff then was directed to develop options that would be more acceptable to the public.

At the meeting Monday, the staff presented four options for Duke Street. City Manager Douglas Harman told residents that the options were designed to improve safety and the flow of traffic on Duke Street -- and to meet the minimum level of improvements necessary to qualify for federal and state funds which would pay for up to 95 percent of the cost.

Three of the four options would meet federal and state requirements:

Widen Duke to six lanes from Roth Street to S. Quaker Avenue, including two turning lanes; widen to five lanes, with a middle turning lane, from Wheeler Avenue to N. French Street; improvements to the Duke Street-Quaker Lane and the Duke Street-Cambridge-Roth Street intersections.

A modified version of the first option eliminating improvements west of Wheeler Avenue.

Improvements only to the Duke-Quaker and the Duke-Cambridge-Roth intersections.

The cost of the three options would range from $2.1 million to $5.6 million.

After state and federal aid, the actual cost to the city would range from $400,000 to $1.1 million.

The fourth proposal called for limiting widening to four lanes, as stipulated by the City Council last year. However, this option, which would not include turning lanes, would not be eligible for state and federal funding and would cost the city approximately $5 million. f

"At least we got rid of the widening you didn't like," said Dayton Cook, the city Transportation and Environmental Services director, referring to trimming back the right of way orignially sought by the state.

The options, in some places, trim more than 30 feet from the right of way sought by the Highway Department for a suggested six-lane Duke Street, Cook said.

"Whatever we build, we should build it right so we won't have to rebuild it for at least 20 years," he added.

"It really is a mess," Beatley said of the existing Duke Street problem. "There was no real (planning) coordination, and we are paying the penalty now."

While many of the residents agreed that Duke Street has problems, they were opposed to the widening proposals.

Floyd Street resident Leonard Sawicki reminded the council of a directive issued by the previous council, which stipulated that no single widening project could call for more than four lanes.

"I think it's sort of an insult (to the people who opposed the proposal last year). I don't think (the staff) paid any attention to the directive," said Sawicki. Sawicki attacked the proposals calling for more than four lanes, charging the additional lanes are not needed and would destroy area neighborhoods.

"We're just here on a fishing expedition" to gauge public interest and concern, said Beatley, who assured residents that the council would need "substantial" arguments from the staff before changing the position of the previous council.

No action was taken by the council Monday, but council member Robert C. Calhoun said the council may hold a public hearing next year to air all the city's transportation and road problems -- including Duke Street.

In another matter, attorney William S. Tennant reported that the owners of the Shirley Duke apartments expect the Federal Housing Authority to complete financing arrangements for the project late this month or early in January.