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Director of T&ES: There’s ‘no intent’ to use eminent domain for Duke Street changes

Duke Street near Landmark and Cameron Run (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria is planning for a transit-oriented overhaul of Duke Street, and city staff connected to the project told an advisory group earlier this month that rumors about eminent domain being used for the project are inaccurate.

Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES), told the Duke Street in Motion Advisory Group that public concerns about eminent domain being invoked to acquire right of way for the Duke Street changes is at least premature if not unfounded.

Concerns about the city using eminent domain to acquire land along Duke Street became so prevalent members of the City Council asked staff about it at meetings this month. Lambert said right-of-way acquisition does not always involve eminent domain.

“There’s been some discussion and disinformation about what right of way is and use of it,” Lambert said. “The city regularly acquires the right of way when it is building capital projects like sewers or fire facilities… The right-of-way process is a normal component of all of our capital projects. There’s nothing unusual in us having a right-of-way element on a project.

Lambert said with the plans still in the early stages, it’s not clear that the city will have make any right-of-way acquisition.

“What I specifically want to address, with this project in particular: any right-of-way that we think we will have to acquire, and it’s not clear that we will have to acquire right-of-way… if we think we have to acquire any right-of-way, we see that as being a voluntary negotiation with adjacent property owners,” Lambert said. “We do not see any intent in this stage of the project to use eminent domain.”

Lambert said eminent domain is still a tool in the city’s toolbox for making improvements that are necessary to the public interest, but with this project, the city “wants to make sure right of way set aside for this project is voluntary.”

In the same vein of corrections about misconceptions surrounding the Duke Street projects, Lambert said the Transitway proposal won’t necessarily have a one-size-fits-all application along the corridor. There are multiple options, from transit separated from traffic to buses mixed in with traffic, with multiple segments along the corridor.

“I think it’s natural and reasonable to think about it as doing something from end to end,” Lambert said. “Multiple [City] Councils have told us and the staff… that Council wants to see ensuring transit on Duke Street. But part of the reason it’s broken out into segments… [we] want to make sure it’s clear that there may be different solutions for different segments.”

Lambert said while some segments may see substantial improvements, others may only see more incremental improvements.

The advisory group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Dec. 15.

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