The National Park Service and several construction companies tentatively have agreed to scrap one part of the reconstruction plans for Woodrow Wilson Bridge that would have severely limited access to parkland beneath the bridge in Alexandria.
Under a little-noticed provision of the $23 million reconstruction project, much of the main road to Jones Point was to be fenced off to the public and the Park Service for at least two years, with construction vehicles being the only traffic allowed. The road provides access not only to parkland, but also to the waterfront, popular with fishermen, and to a U.S. Park Police substation. The road also links up to a paved bicycle trail, which the City of Alexandria completed only two weeks ago. Playing fields and a U.S. Army Reserve building at Jones Point would not be affected by the road plans.
John Parsons, assistant regional director for the Park Service, said tentative agreement with construction companies involved in the project has been reached, though the agreement has not yet been confirmed. The companies agreed to leave the road open in exchange for the temporary use of some parkland for storing construction equipment.
Most other concerns about the bridge reconstruction also appear to be resolved, according to Parsons and Alexandria officials, including a dispute over a new drainage system for the bridge.
New bridge scuppers -- or drains -- will be covered with small grates to prevent large debris from falling onto parkland more than 60 feet beneath the bridge. Earlier plans had called for open scuppers that could allow bottles, cans and even small car hubcaps to fall freely from the bridge. Maryland highway officials, who are overseeing the reconstruction, have insisted that no downspouts be installed on the bridge because the existing downspouts often become clogged with debris.
Plans also have been dropped for placing large piles of stone riprap beneath the bridge, designed to prevent erosion. Alexandria and Park Service officials have said the riprap would prevent public use of land beneath the bridge, where the city has picnic tables and children often play.
The only unresolved issue is whether a bike and pedestrian path should be built across the bridge, although the path now appears to be a dead issue.
Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt promised the Park Service and area officials in 1980 that the reconstruction project would include a bike trail connecting the George Washington Memorial Parkway bike trail on the Virginia shore with the Maryland shore, where a small bike trail now exists and where the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, a major hiking and biking trail, is planned to extend along the shore from Washington through Bolling Air Force Base and south to Piscataway Park opposite Mount Vernon.
Congress included funds for the bike path in its $60 million appropriation, but federal officials failed to come up with a plan for the path by last January, when Maryland was completing construction preparations. Original plans to widen the six-lane bridge, and include a bike lane, were dropped because of high costs and the difficulty in widening the Beltway by two lanes as it enters Alexandria. Officials then opted for a simple redecking of the bridge, estimated to cost about $32 million. The low and winning bid actually was $23 million.
Although new seven- to eight-foot road shoulders will be built on the bridge, without widening it, federal and Maryland officials considered them unsafe for use by pedestrians or bicyclists.
A separate bike trail could be constructed, cantilevered out over the side and under the bridge, but this would cost at least $4 million and was rejected by federal officials as too expensive.