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June 14, 2017


Rick Gamble

Great historical overview of the Alexandria waterfront. As usual. While certainly impossible to cover EVERYTHING on a topic that covers 250 years of history, I would argue that the Wilson Bridge had a major impact on the development -- or more precisely, the lack of development related to shipping along the Old Town waterfront in the last half of the 20th century. Before the bridge was built, sea-going ships enjoyed unfettered access to Alexandria for 200 years. It was precisely because of the deep-water access for ships that Alexandria, and its original waterfront, was built in the first place, in 1749, as an "entrepot" for the Ohio Company of Virginia -- most of whose board members were also the founding city council. But, 209 years later, once construction of a bridge began at Jones Point, in 1958, the days of large ships coming to Alexandria from Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean were numbered. The Wilson Bridge opened to vehicle traffic in December 1961. While the bridge deck could be opened for big ships -- most regularly, ships delivering giant rolls of newsprint to the Robinson Terminal for use by The Washington Post newspaper -- most commercial shipping companies were reluctant to come upriver because of the bridge. The shipping business relies on fast turn-around times in port, and having to wait for scheduled bridge openings for both incoming & outgoing voyages is a job-killer. Particularly for the cruise ship industry -- which would have loved to have had access to Alexandria and/or Washington DC's waterfront, but for the bridge and its (approximately) 60 foot height limit. The business model for cruise ships depends on same-day turn-around, and the requirement to wait -- for hours and hours -- for the bridge to open, put Alexandria effectively off-limits to cruise ships. Certainly Alexandria's waterfront derived many economic benefits from the cars (and people) who utilized the bridge. But, as a working waterfront, the Wilson Bridge was a job-killer for Old Town.

Jaybird's Jottings

Thanks Rick, those are all great points!

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