A worker raises a balloon that's being used to check the sightlines for a Potomac Yard Metro station. (City of Alexandria)

Balloons, beavers and buses all come into play when Alexandrians consider the future of mass transit in Potomac Yard, along U.S. 1 (also known as Jefferson Davis Highway).

Keen-eyed locals might have spotted Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade-sized balloons floating above the landscape this week, as engineers tried to determine the visual impact of a new Metrorail stop in the area. The balloons, alas, only flew for a couple of hours earlier this week, but artists will use the photos of them to show how high a new station or walkways to the station will be.

The American beaver, who may or may not be eyeballing that balloon.

Council member Paul Smedberg (D), who has monitored the beaver situation on behalf of those who worry about damage from the critters’ dams and voracious appetites, sought reassurance last week from city staffers that they would let no rodent go unmonitored.

“There are sensitive species” in the area, said Sandra Marks, acting deputy director of Transportation and Environmental Services, as well as possible sites of archaeological importance, which will be addressed in the city’s environmental impact report, which should come out in draft form in April.

Potomac Yard, the city’s largest single development, is a huge work in progress, with construction underway and constant discussions over whether a bus transitway will do the job that neighboring Arlington County wants to do with a streetcar.

The five-mile corridor, from Pentagon City to Braddock Road Metrorail stations, is set to open a year from now with specialized shelters and off-board fare collection, with frequent buses running down the middle of U.S. 1.


“Why not DASH buses?” she asked, promoting the city’s own bus service. “Stinky old WMATA.”

Transportation director Rich Baier hurried to answer that the two systems use different kinds of vehicles, and WMATA is better equipped to cover the large startup costs for the buses to be used in the transitway. He said the city is pushing for a brand-new fleet, with low floorboads for easy access.

“Will they stink?” Pepper asked.

“All buses stink,” retorted Mayor Bill Euille.

If you’re looking for more serious information about Potomac Yard transit, you would do well to turn up at Alexandria City Hall on Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m., where a working group will focus on the preliminary impacts and financial plans for construction of the three alternatives from which the City Council will choose in September.