Arlington County announced tonight that it will be withdrawing its controversial lawsuit against the proposed High Occupancy Toll lane project on I-395. VDOT revealed last week that it’s no longer pursuing HOT lanes on the Arlington and Alexandria portions of I-395, at least partially due to Arlington’s suit.
The county issued the following press release about its decision to halt legal action against the HOT lanes plan.
The Arlington County Board today announced that it will withdraw its lawsuit on the proposed I-95/395 High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes project. The County Board has directed the County Attorney to seek a suspension of court proceedings so that necessary filings to dismiss the case can be prepared.
“With the announcement last week by Secretary Connaughton, it is clear that the County’s objectives have been achieved and the lawsuit can be terminated,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman.
On February 3, the state proposed a new I-95 HOT lanes project that will undergo required environmental review, and will preserve I-395 as a transit and HOV corridor. “Arlington County filed suit because we saw the potential for irreparable harm to residents of Arlington and others throughout Northern Virginia, and because the issuance of a ‘Categorical Exclusion’ by the Federal Highway Administration left us with no alternative but filing suit,” commented Zimmerman.
The new I-95 project effectively nullifies the Categorical Exclusion that was the basis for the County’s legal challenge. The Commonwealth has stated that it will conduct a thorough Environmental Assessment (EA) of impacts to the environment, public health, and transportation, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Such an assessment will provide to the I-95 project the level of analysis that Arlington sought for the I-95/395 project, and will allow for greater opportunities for public participation.
In addition, the specific aspects of the initially proposed project that would have adversely impacted transportation in Arlington directly – notably in the Pentagon-Pentagon City-Crystal City area, and at Shirlington – have been eliminated from the new project.
Critical transportation corridor
Arlington continues to work with our regional counterparts to improve transportation options throughout region. Mobility in Northern Virginia is vitally dependent on the existing HOV lanes, which currently moves far more people per lane-hour than any other roadway in the region. It is important that the new I-95 HOT lanes project be carefully designed to ensure that there is no degradation of transit capacity in the corridor.
“We applaud the Commonwealth for agreeing to do an Environmental Assessment on the new project, said Chairman Zimmerman “It is crucial that the impacts of the implementation details of this new I-95 project be carefully evaluated and appropriately mitigated before turning the facility over to a private company for decades. ”
(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed FY 2012 budget, revealed today during a county board work session, includes no real estate tax rate increase but, at the same time, no restoration of cuts from previous budgets.
Under the proposed budget, the real estate tax would remain steady at 95.8 cents per $100. The 95.8 cent rate was approved by the board last year after Donnellan, then the acting county manager, proposed a rate of 94.2 cents.
Arlington is benefiting from a 6.3 percent hike in assessed property values, which is expected to bring in an additional $30 million in tax revenue for the county. In September, when the county was expecting a smaller increase in assessments, then-County Manager Michael Brown warned that tax hikes and spending cuts might be necessary. Neither prediction is coming to fruition under the Donnellan’s proposed budget.
The budget does include a 25 cent per hour hike in parking rates. There will be no increase, however, in the personal property tax, the business tangible property tax, business and professional license fees or the commercial transportation tax.
Total county expenditures under the proposed budget will reach $985.2 million, a 3.1 percent increase over last year. The primary source of the increase is the budget transfer to the school system, which will rise 4.9 percent to $378.2 million.
If the proposed budget is adopted by the board as-is, the total tax and fee burden on Arlington households would increase $89, or 1.4 percent, to $6,487 per year.
Donnellan formulated her budget after holding a series of public budget meetings last year.
The proposed budget will be made available on the county’s web site on Saturday. The board will adopt the final FY 2012 budget in April.
(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) For some reason, a number of highway and arterial road on-ramps in Arlington County seem to have been designed with little consideration to driver safety.
Whether they’re positioned just after a bend in the highway, obstructing the view of on-coming vehicles, or whether there’s precious little room for drivers entering the highway to get up to speed with on-coming traffic — or both — we’ve picked the following four on-ramps as the most dangerous in Arlington.
We know there are others out there. Feel free to make your most dangerous on-ramp nominations in the comments section.
Ramp from Courthouse Road to westbound Route 50 — Whether it’s the big pillar to your right or the non-stop, fast-moving traffic to your left, getting on to westbound Route 50 from Courthouse Road is not an easy task. This interchange is being redesigned — but the construction workers running across the road and the dump trucks entering the highway are only adding to the problem.
Ramp from northbound Washington Blvd to westbound Route 50 — Drivers on this ramp sometimes don’t seem to know they have to yield to on-coming traffic on Route 50. If they were expecting some room to get up to speed and merge, they were mistaken. Drivers on Route 50 routinely had to get out of the way of merging traffic, causing a hazard. Plus, Route 50 bends just before the on-ramp, causing a visibility problem for drivers who stop to yield to on-coming vehicles.
(Updated at 8:00 a.m. on 2/9/11) A bill that would have prohibited the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor and postpartum recovery has failed in a Virginia House of Delegates committee.
The legislation, proposed by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D), had the support of medical, civil rights and religious groups. It would have prevented the restraint of pregnant prisoners during labor and recovery, except in cases where jail administrators felt the prisoner posed a flight risk or a danger to herself or others.
There may be a silver lining for bill supporters, however.
According to Hope, the chairwoman of the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee, Del. Beverly Sherwood (R), will be writing a letter to the Virginia Department of Corrections requesting they look into whether the department should change the policy on restraining pregnant inmates. Such a change could accomplish what Hope wanted to achieve without the need for legislation.
“If you ultimately get the [Department of Corrections] to act, it’s a win to me, so I’m very pleased,” Hope said. “I don’t judge my success by the number of bills I get passed into law.”
The funds are intended to pay for basic street and park improvement projects, which are proposed by neighborhood groups. This year, most of the money is coming from a $9 million Neighborhood Conservation bond, approved by Arlington voters in November.
In December, the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC) recommended seven projects for the first round of funding under the new bond, out of 33 proposals. The recommended neighborhood projects are listed below.
- Rock Spring — $12,500 — Neighborhood sign design, fabrication, installation
- Rock Spring — $732,245 — Beautification, pedestrian safety and street lighting improvements on Williamsburg Blvd from George Mason Drive to N. Kensington Street
- Arlington Heights — $381,478 — Beautification, pedestrian safety and street lighting plus sidewalk, curb and gutter improvements on Arlington Blvd from S. Fillmore Street to S. Irving Street (Phase 2)
- Douglas Park – $495,000 — Park improvements, lighting and trail upgrades to Doctor’s Run Park
- Ballston/Virginia Square — $719,956 — Sidewalk, curb, gutter, beautification and pedestrian safety improvements on Kirkwood Road from Lee Highway to 14th Street N.
- Dominion Hills — $269,678 — Beautification, pedestrian safety, sidewalk, curb and gutter improvements on Patrick Henry rive from 9th Street N. to Wilson Blvd (Phase 3)
- Columbia Heights – $391,703 — Sidewalk, curb, gutter and street lighting improvements on 11th Street S. from S. Edgewood Street to S. Cleveland Street
There are two rounds of Neighborhood Conservation funding each year. In October, the NCAC and the county board agreed to spend $3.87 million on ten separate projects throughout the county.
American Tap Room, which will be taking the place of the now-shuttered Sette Bello Italian restaurant at 3101 Wilson Boulevard in Clarendon, is asking the county board to approve an outdoor cafe and new signage along North Highland Street.
The board will consider the proposed site plan amendment at its meeting on Saturday. County staff is recommending the changes be approved.
American Tap Room is proposing a sizable outdoor cafe with three fire pits and seating for about 75 people, according to architectural drawings.
The cafe, though large, would still allow an 8.5 foot passage between the patio and the sidewalk tree pits. County regulations require a minimum 6 foot passage.
Instead of one large sign across the long facade, American Tap Room is requesting a blade sign, an entry sign and several low-key awning graphics. The entrance would also feature a firebowl, like the type that graces the front of Matchbox restaurant in D.C.’s Chinatown.
In November, an American Tap Room employee told us the restaurant would be “upscale comfort casual dining,” similar to its current Reston and Bethesda locations.
In case you missed it from Friday (we did), County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman was a guest on TBD’s NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt program.
The topic of conversation was the failed plan to build HOT lanes on I-395, and Arlington’s lawsuit against the plan. Joining Zimmerman were two big critics of Arlington’s lawsuit: Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity.
Chase and Herrity took turns bashing Arlington’s HOT lanes lawsuit. At one point, Herrity mocked what he described as “claims of racism from probably one of the whitest and richest counties in the area.”
(Zimmerman disputed that the lawsuit claimed racism — instead, he said the case focused on “environmental justice” provisions in the law.)
Things got a bit heated about six minutes into the video above, when Zimmerman and Chase started arguing about details of the suit.
“Bob, Bob, you’re just not telling the truth now… now you’re just making stuff up,” an exasperated Zimmerman said to address one of Chase’s allegations.
“You didn’t see anybody rushing to trial with this thing,” Zimmerman concluded. “We think we had a pretty strong case, I suspect the other side thinks we had a pretty strong case.”
TBD has more about the discussion here.
Post Editorial: Investigate Williamsburg Principal’s Claims — In an editorial, the Washington Post says that Arlington Public Schools should investigate claims made by former Williamsburg Middle School principal Kathy Francis, who resigned last week. Francis sent a long email to parents accusing superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy of unprofessional and discriminatory conduct. School board members say they have “full confidence in Dr. Murphy’s leadership.” [Washington Post]
Chamber Worries About HOT Lanes Loss — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce thinks that the demise of the I-395 HOT lanes project could hurt Arlington while benefiting Fairfax County. Arlington County sued state and federal officials over the HOT lanes proposal, which helped lead to VDOT’s decision last week to kill the project. [Washington Examiner]
Parking Restricted on Some Neighborhood Streets — Arlington authorities have begun restricting parking to only one side of some narrow neighborhood streets. Fire trucks and garbage trucks have had difficulty navigating certain streets, which prompted the new restrictions. Many neighbors, however, are upset with the loss of parking spaces. [TBD]
Lawmakers Reveal Gifts Received Last Year — From trips to Turkey to Redskins tickets, Arlington’s state legislative delegation received thousands of dollars worth of (perfectly legal) gifts in 2010. The gifts were detailed in recent public filings. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Philliefan99