Feb 12, 2024 - News

Transportation pitch for Alexandria arena leaves NIMPYs unimpressed

An image of the future Virginia Tech Innovation Campus under construction, with cranes.

Photo: John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Virginia officials recently unveiled suggested plans regarding one of the biggest sticking points in the NIMPY backlash against a proposed Alexandria arena — traffic — but detractors remain skeptical.

Why it matters: Many worry the potential relocation of the Wizards and Caps arena would overwhelm the new Potomac Yard Metro station, bring gridlock to an already crowded Route 1, and that traffic would overflow into local neighborhoods.

State of play: Local officials say improvements to the Potomac Yard station, local bike routes, bus service, and Route 1 and Glebe Road — plus additional parking spaces and shuttles — would accommodate peak traffic caused by the arena.

By the numbers: At peak times, the area will see an estimated 2,800 more cars and 10,000 bike, transit, and pedestrian trips, with half of the visitors driving, according to the plan that was presented alongside Alexandria and Monumental representatives earlier this month.

  • 55% of anticipated car traffic will be from the north down Route 1, with 25% coming from the south and 20% from the west along Glebe Road.

Yes, but: With the improvements, estimated travel times wouldn't differ significantly between the proposed arena and existing plans already slated to develop the area, according to the study.

  • And, with the current Metro structure, peak travel times would see extreme crowding for about 60 to 90 minutes; with updates, it could be reduced to about 30 to 45 minutes, says the report.

Zoom out: The project would need between $135 million and $215 million to support arena traffic, per the plan.

  • $110 million is already slotted for Potomac Yard transportation updates under existing plans; Gov. Glenn Youngkin has also pledged an additional $200 million, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership tells Axios.
  • A bill is moving through the House of Delegates that would pay off the transportation costs with revenue from the arena.

The intrigue: This comes as the Alexandria protest group Stop the Arena has upped its crusade, traveling to Richmond last week to rally outside the General Assembly and meet with state legislators (and, in peak NIMPY behavior, wearing QR code-emblazoned T-shirts).

  • And D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently ran an op-ed in the Washington Post advocating for the arena to stay in D.C.

What they're saying: Some don't think the proposal adequately addresses increased traffic in an already often gridlocked area.

  • "[This won't] protect the surrounding neighborhoods," Stop the Arena member and former Alexandria vice mayor Andrew Macdonald told Axios in a statement. "There is really no amount of funding for Metro and other improvements to roads that is going to make Potomac Yard a good location to put a sports arena."

Meanwhile, Monumental owner Ted Leonsis took to local TV to say he was surprised by the outrage, but "the die is cast" in terms of an arena move.

And Amazon HQ2-related plans to make the Arlington stretch of Route 1 more bike- and pedestrian-friendly could collide with a need to accommodate increased arena traffic, the Washington Post reports.

  • However, suggested arena transportation updates are "fully compatible" with the Amazon-associated plans, a Youngkin spokesperson told the Post; the arena proposal says the same.

Zoom in: Suggested improvements to Route 1 and Glebe Road include expanding turn lanes, plus adding designated commuter through-lanes and arena-specific turn lanes.

Meanwhile, 2,500 underground parking spots would come with the arena.

  • Visitors could also park at area Metro stations (such as Crystal City, Pentagon City, Huntington, and Eisenhower) or nearby underused parking garages and Metro or shuttle to the arena.
  • To minimize overflow, surrounding neighborhoods would be marked resident-only parking, enforcement would be upped on game days, and there would be designated ride-share zones.

The new Potomac Yard Metro stop would get upgrades like wider pedestrian bridges and more escalators, fare gates, and ticket machines.

Plus: The presentation also includes "blue sky" future suggestions including a new Virginia Railway Express commuter station and a water taxi stop.

What we're watching: All of this is tentative — the arena still needs to get the greenlight from Virginia and Alexandria, after all.

  • And if local pushback is any indication, a set-in-stone transportation plan would likely need to undergo much community feedback.
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