Mayor Wilson talks flooding, vaccine requirements, and Arlington gondola with WAMU

Today on WAMU’s The Politics Hour, Mayor Justin Wilson laid out plans for flood infrastructure work, predicted a decision this fall over whether recreation centers will require proof of vaccination, and tacitly endorsed the Arlington-Georgetown gondola.

The discussion of the mayor took up the back half of the hour-long program hosted by Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood. As fitting the program’s name, the show started with a question of politics and whether Mayor Justin Wilson is planning to debate Republican candidate Annetta Catchings.

“No debates have been scheduled so far but I’d welcome the opportunity to have those debates if organizations want to schedule them,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he was also “disappointed” at the turmoil in the state-level redistricting committee.

“Step in the right direction, not it’s perfect,” Wilson said. “We’re seeing many of the challenges people feared. I hope the two parties will come together and craft a process on fair lines. I think voters were really clear about this.”

The major topic of conversation, as it has been throughout Alexandria this week, was flooding. Wilson reiterated an earlier commitment to accelerating the timetable for stormwater infrastructure projects but admitted that those will still take time.

“Where we have real problems are when we have intensity beyond what stormwater system can support,” Wilson said. “I haven’t heard any significant reports this time, but obviously Saturday/Sunday was devastating for residents. We had five inches of rain in an hour in some parts of the city. We had far too many residents who dealt with devastating damage, and for many of them this is the fourth time in two years. This adds to the urgency to address these major infrastructure challenges in many neighborhoods in our community.”

Wilson said the city is planning to spend $200 million on stormwater capacity projects over the next ten years.

“We’re doing everything we can to accelerate those projects,” Wilson said. “We allocated $6 million of rescue plan money to accelerate some of that work. Unfortunately, as we see these more intense, more frequent storm events, not going to be soon enough for a lot of our residents.”

The challenge with using more of the American Rescue Plan funding, Wilson said, is that the funds come with a timeline of when that money must be spent — for costs incurred by the end of 2024. Some of the larger projects are outside of that timeline.

Wilson said the city is looking at building resiliency on individual properties while working on longer-term infrastructure projects.

“This month launching grant program to provide up to $5,000 to people impacted by events or making resiliency improvements,” Wilson said. We’re encouraging residents and businesses to apply.”

During the interview, Wilson also endorsed last night’s School Board decision to require either vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing for staff. Wilson said it’s likely the city will have a discussion in the fall over whether to require vaccination to use city recreation centers. Sherwood pressed on whether the city has that authority or not.

“In city facilities we’ve required masks,” Wilson said, “and in city facilities we have the authority to require vaccination.”

Though it’s outside of Wilson’s scope, Sherwood did ask Wilson on his opinions regarding progress reported by Alex Koma at the Washington Business Journal on a potential gondola between Arlington and Georgetown, a topic that’s become something of a joke to locals.

“Gondola, yes or no?” Sherwood asked.

“Anything that provides new transportation options is a good thing,” Wilson said. “We’ve experimented more with ferries. The river is typically the challenge.”

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