Board to Consider $6.6 Million Homeless Shelter Contract — County staff is recommending that the Arlington County Board approve a $6.6 million contract for construction of the new year-round homeless shelter in Courthouse. The contract includes a $1.1 million construction contingency to cover overages. The contract is “within budget,” a county spokeswoman said. The new Homeless Services Center will include 50 year-round beds, 5 medical respite beds and an additional 25 beds for winter months. [Arlington County]
Hike in ART, STAR Fees Proposed — Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed a hike in fees for the county’s ART and STAR transportation systems. The base fare for ART buses would increase from $1.50 to $1.75 under Donnellan’s proposal. [Sun Gazette]
Ebbin Reflects on Va. Marriage Ruling — State Sen. Adam Ebbin, the first and only openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, had mixed emotions after last week’s ruling that the Commonwealth’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. “I always thought if you were gay, you could never get married, you’d never be able to have children,” he told the Washington Post. “I didn’t know you could be gay and be happy.” [Washington Post]
Belly Dancing in Shirlington — Aladdin’s Eatery (4044 Campbell Avenue) in Shirlington will be hosting regular belly dancing shows, starting on Thursday. The shows will be performed by faculty from Saffron Dance, which is based in Virginia Square. [Shirlington Village Blog Spot]
Noise Complaint Targets Church – Even God is not safe from noise complaints in Arlington. Police were called to the 2400 block of Shirlington Road in Nauck on Monday night for “a loud church service in the area.” No word on whether officers found an actual violation of the county’s noise ordinance.
Flickr pool photo by Robpc
Arlington County is in the process of negotiating with Comcast for a new long term franchise agreement, but they’ve run out of time. That’s why they’re requesting a one year extension, which will be examined at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.
Franchise agreements, which allow cable and video service providers to operate in a locality, typically are negotiated once every 10-15 years. Comcast took over an existing franchise agreement in 2000 and that expired in June of this year. In June, the County Board approved a six month temporary contract extension, which ends this month. Because both parties are still hashing out details of a long term agreement, they submitted the request currently before the Board for another temporary extension, to expire in December of 2014.
“The purpose of the extension is to give us time to negotiate the best deal we can with Comcast,” said the county’s Cable Administrator Rob Billingsley. “Rather than put the agreement in any kind of peril, the idea is that the Board passes, hopefully, that extension so we do have that time. All parties agree to do this, it’s not at all controversial.”
Both parties are required by law to keep the negotiations confidential. Billingsley did say, however, that the meetings have been successful and productive thus far.
“Because these agreements last as long as do, there’s some complexity to it,” Billingsley explained. “You’re not rushing it and you’re getting the best deal possible.”
The long term contracts allow Comcast to use the county’s “rights of way” such as streets and sidewalks. In exchange, Comcast provides free public education and government TV channels, in addition to grants and equipment for producing shows on those channels. The county also receives approximately five percent of Comcast’s gross revenue in Arlington, which is first routed through the state due to tax requirements and then heads back into the county’s general fund.
Part of the cable franchise renewal process involves examining Comcast’s past performance and determining future services to be included in the new agreement. There was a public meeting to discuss such desired services back in September of 2011.
County staff is recommending the County Board approve the temporary contract extension on Saturday.
In a press release, the county says contractors will be conducting a “comprehensive review of the performance, cost, design and construction” of the bus stop. The review will include three primary components: interviews with bus stop users, a design review, and a financial and performance assessment.
Clarendon-based NeoNiche Strategies has been tapped to survey Super Stop users, per a $7,500 contract, while Arlington is still in negotiations with firms for the other two contracts, according to county spokeswoman Laura G. Smith. She declined to estimate the cost of the remaining two contracts, citing the ongoing negotiations.
“The goal of the review… is to facilitate the construction of the remaining planned stops faster, at lower cost and with improved functionality where necessary,” said the press release.
Completed in March, the bus stop features shelter for some 15 passengers, lighting, heating, and an electronic display that shows when the next buses are coming, but at a construction cost of more than $1 million.
The cost of the stop, and some of its perceived shortfalls — like lack of shelter from the elements — sparked a controversy that became national news and prompted the county to announce a “reassessment” of its design and cost within just two weeks of its opening. Twenty-three other planned Super Stops on the Pike, expected to cost around $900,000 apiece, were put on hold.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan says the project will proceed once the review is complete and an acceptable, lower-cost alternative is found.
“Arlington is committed to investing in the Columbia Pike corridor and providing quality transportation options to meet the community’s current and future transit needs,” Donnellan said in a statement. “We look forward to the findings of these reviews and will take steps necessary to ensure the construction of future stops at a significantly lower cost while maintaining functionality and the amenities needed for a high-capacity station.”
The review process is expected to wrap up in late fall 2013.
“The County Manager, after consulting with Arlington County Board Members and WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), will announce her decision later this year,” according to the press release, which blamed the high cost of the first stop on a number of factors.
The Walter Reed Super Stop was a first-of-its-kind, high capacity transit stop. The Super Stop was designed to serve the growing number of riders along this heavily utilized transit corridor and to handle the projected increase in future riders expected with Columbia Pike streetcar. The completed prototype features a design to attract new riders, and includes expanded shelter and seating, lights, real-time electronic arrival displays, level boarding for bus passengers, transit maps, signage and more.
Over the course of the construction of Walter Reed Drive prototype stop, set-up costs, construction challenges and delays, and design refinements increased the total cost of the project. Due to the higher-than-expected cost and functionality concerns, the County Manager placed construction of the future 23 Super Stops on hold pending completion of the review.
Earlier this year, county officials directed blame for the extra costs and delays on WMATA, which managed the construction of the first stop.