Plans for a $14 million upgrade to a popular Old Town Alexandria park face major changes because of ongoing security concerns for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge being built above it, Alexandria and bridge officials said.
Officials said yesterday that they will scrap a proposed 242-space parking lot for Jones Point Park that would have been directly beneath the west end of the bridge, just as it brings the Capital Beltway into Virginia. They will have to find a new place for the lot, either in the park or off-site.
The park renovation plans are the latest casualty in a metro area that is increasingly seeing its streetscapes altered because of concern over terrorist attacks.
Studies by a civilian contractor and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that the bridge would be most vulnerable to an attack carried out in a truck or other large vehicle, said Ronaldo Nicholson, the Virginia Department of Transportation's project manager for the bridge.
"While the changes were spurred by 9/11, a repeat of the Ryder truck bomb in Oklahoma City is the concern here," said John R. Undeland, a spokesman for the bridge project.
The new bridge, which will eventually soar nearly 80 feet above the Potomac River, is to be anchored by monumental footings in the park.
Plans for the park, part of the overall bridge project, were drawn up in 2001 after lengthy meetings with city officials, neighbors, dog lovers and soccer parents. The design calls for two regulation soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, a kayak dock and a children's playground. Nicholson said that bridge officials hope to adhere as closely as possible to that design once development of the park begins in 2008, after the $2.5 billion bridge is complete.
The immediate challenge, officials say, is figuring out where to put the 242 parking spaces.
Nicholson said he will meet with community leaders June 17 to present several optional sites for the parking lot -- a process that is expected to ignite some controversy.
"There are warts and moles on all of" the options, said Reed Winslow, Alexandria's liaison to the bridge project.
Options for moving the parking lot outside the park include razing a well-loved community garden and replanting it elsewhere, adding parking on South Royal Streetand annexing part of the parking lot at a nearby apartment complex south of the bridge. Moving the parking lot elsewhere in the park would mean the loss of more green space and trees, Nicholson said.
In a city where open space is at a premium and soccer leagues are filled to bursting, officials are loath to give up any expanse of real estate, even one directly under the noisy span of the new bridge.
One possibility bridge designers are exploring would put a soccer field with artificial turf under the bridge in place of the proposed parking lot.
City officials and neighbors expressed frustration over having to reconsider the parking component of what has been one of the city's most-used parks.
Some said they fear the whole park plan could be scrapped.
"Everybody's concerned," said City Council member Andrew H. Macdonald (D). "We spent a lot of time coming up with a plan, and now we're worried we have to go back to the drawing board to some degree."
None of the potential sites for parking is very palatable, neighbors said.
Putting more parking on Royal Street would mean more traffic near a school pickup and drop-off point. Residents at Hunting Point at the Potomac are not thrilled about losing their limited spaces to park visitors. Already, they have endured the throb of pile-driving from bridge construction, and some have been evacuated because of fears that their apartment ceilings might collapse.
"I think we should rethink the whole thing," said Yvonne DeBruyn Weight, a lawyer who serves on the neighborhood task force for the bridge project. "It was several hundred parking spaces -- now, where do you put them?"