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Rough Ride on Columbia Pike

by ARLnow.com August 17, 2010 at 8:35 am 2,043 42 Comments

Between on-going utility relocation work and construction on several large-scale developments, Columbia Pike has lately been riddled with construction bottlenecks and rough sections of road.

That’s to be expected. But one area of the Pike is particularly hazardous for drivers at the moment.

The asphalt on two patched-up sections of road between South Barton Street and South Wayne Street has begun to sink, causing a violent jolt for motorists traveling at speed. Some drivers who spot the big bumps early suddenly hit the brakes, presenting the risk of a rear-end collision.

The ruts — one in the far eastbound lane and one in the far westbound lane — are located across from the under-construction Adams Square development.

We’ve posted video of one of the ruts after the jump.



  • South Arlington

    Who is responsible for fixing this: the developer BM Smith or the county? I entered this stretch of road into the county website a month ago to inform them of the need for repairs but haven’t seen any progress.

  • Thes

    It’s a VDOT road.

    • Dan

      The county “acquired” Columbia Pike a few months back from VDOT.

  • B

    I drive that way to work in the mornings and I am pretty sure there were steel plates down this morning.

  • charlie

    it is a VDOT road. the developer is the one digging it up and should be held responsible for all damage to my car and yours. i use this stretch of the Pike weekly and just cut thru the neighborhood to avoid it.

  • Fat Kid.

    This is a BM Smith development? Makes sense… Lived in one of their buildings back in the day – worst management company ever.

    What’s more annoying is the construction crews think they can stop traffic whenever they want – sometimes 5+minutes during rush hour, creating huge backups.

    Really wish the county would at least make some effort to hold developers accountable. I’ve given up on the county enforcing zoning rules but even once those are ignored/changed…. it would be nice stopped allowing developers to block or destroy busy roads at will.

  • Let’s Be Free

    While it is a VDOT road (for now), the County has authorized the work and only the County has leverage to force compliance in real time by withholding permits/licenses. The Commonwealth would have to go the long route of suing the developer.

    But don’t bet on any quick response from the County since Chris Zimmerman is out collecting mega-developer checks to finance the thousands of campaign signs he’ll use to spruce up road medians during the next couple of months. In Chris Zimmerman’s Arlington it’s developers first.

    • Fat Kid.

      completely agree. Favola too…

    • South Arlington

      Living in Penrose, I can safely say this development is a welcome one. Anything is better than the abandoned terrible Safeway, the awful Giant, and a crumbling and vacant strip center. I just wish someone would hold the developers responsible for damaging streets and creating gridlock during construction.

      As far as your standard ad hominem attacks on the county board, I just don’t get how you can prefer that areas such as Columbia Pike not have some attractive redevelopment instead of half vacant, decrepit strip centers. Vacant storefronts and unutilized real estate does not generate any kind of significant tax revenue for the county.

      • Fat Kid.

        i’m not against development in anyway… it’s nice to see an area i used to live start heading in the other direction. It was an ugly shopping center and the Giant there was absolutely disgusting, inside and out.

        I’m all about smart and responsible development… Unfortunately this county board doesn’t seem to think there should be any restrictions on growth. Adjusting zoning laws to fit developer’s plans of 10 story buildings next to single family homes, allowing builders to tear up and block off roads with reckless abandon, and not adequately considering the impact of increased density/traffic and demand for walkable/bikeable communities.

        • South Arlington

          There’s already 10 story or higher buildings on that corridor! The ugly BM Smith headquarters building is right there already. The two ugly BM Smith apartment towers are right there also. I own a house in Penrose behind these developments and don’t think the Penrose Square development is unresponsible. It’s not like the development of Clarendon and Courthouse has hurt Lyon Park home values, and that’s a classic example of high rises next to single family homes. With the improvement in transit on the corridor with the streetcar and more attractive retail and dining options on the Pike, I fully expect the neighborhood to continue improving in livability and value.

          As far as the road, I still believe developers should be more responsible with ensuring traffic isn’t snarled and roads aren’t damaged. Does anyone know, do they pay any type of restitution to the county for the traffic they create with their construction projects?

      • Neighbor

        I couldn’t agree more about how nice it is to have the vacant lots and dumpy strip malls along Columbia Pike replaced with new residential construction and retail. There’s nothing historic or reason to be nostalgic about a dumpy strip mall or vacant lots. If nobody wants the new construction in Penrose, how about you send it down to Douglas Park! Nobody wants the developers to destroy our roads, but if the integrity of your car is your biggest concern, you should suck it up and try out Columbia Pike’s excellent bus system.

    • charlie

      Arlington and Zimmie and lapdog Thes may hide behind VDOT and blame them, but you are COMPLETELY right in the VDOT defers to Arlington on issues on their roads. Mainly because VDOT people in Richmond think Arlington is so weird with their pedestrian access and stuff. But bottom line is the County is responsible.
      Maybe if the construction workers put out a sandwich board the County would assume its responsibilities with more vigor?

  • Let’s Be Free

    Ad hominem? Looks like, SA, you haven’t reviewed Zimmerman’s financial disclosure reports.

    Truth be told, the developer crowd, backed by Zimmerman wanted to force Giant out of that location for good. It was only due to Giant’s backbone in insisting on its rights and foresight in signing an unbreakable ten year lease that we are going to have any kind of a decent grocery store along Columbia Pike when Penrose Square is completed. Columbia Pike is the natural retail corridor for serving the people of Central Arlington, not as your post betrays exlusively a font of “significant tax revenue for the county.”

    I hope you don’t think that imposing 8 to 12 story buildings within 20 street of the curbline on both sides of the street, with vacant balkanized retail space, is attractive redevelopment. I suppose it’s attractive, yes, but only for the developer weasels, who look at that density and hear ka ching, ka ching and the County Board members who can parcel out the property tax revenue to settle political debts.

  • Diana

    Looks like they’re working on this spot now. Drove past it 30 minutes ago. Two lanes going eastbound are blocked off (they’re using the turn lane as the go-around) and there was a workman standing in the hole (he was in to about his shoulders). Big digger was there and looks like it had dug it out.

  • South Arlington

    To tell you the truth, if there were going to be vacant storefronts there anyways, I’d rather they were in an attractive building instead of a dumpy strip center and empty parking lot. So yes, I think the new 8 story buildings in the Penrose Square and Siena Park developments are attractive redevelopment, espeically compared to what was there before. With the increase in density along that particular portion of the corridor, I think there will be less and less vacant storefronts. Yes developers make money off of it, but it also benefits the community, and yes, generates significant tax revenue for the county.

    • Let’s Be Free

      Since most non-residential use currently on Columbia Pike has been planned out of existence, since there is no provision for parking for the tens of thousands of people who live in South and Central Arlington to conduct their day-to-day affairs on the Pike (you have to get people to the place first to generate the cash flow that supports re-development) and since there is absolutely zero planning for ordinary retail serving ordinary people, you are going to have to wait for a very, very long time for your hoped for improvements to spread around down the Pike.

      Halstead is cash flow negative, Sienna Park and 5500 are ghost towns. Penrose Square was able to get financing only because it had its anchor tenant committed.

      Existing properties will continue to deteriorate before being abandoned; there will be few, if any, new projects in the next decade. Enjoy looking at those new properties because what you see is what you get.

      • Teresa

        Still better than what was there!

      • South Arlington

        Agree with Teresa that it is better than what we had. I also think that the eventual construction of the oh-so-hated streetcar project will bring new interest and increased justification for the higher rents at the Halstead, Siena Park and Penrose Square apartments. These projects won’t sit vacant for long.

        • Let’s Be Free

          Right I am so glad that Arlington Hardware is gone, I am ecstatic that American Diner disappeared, couldn’t be happier that the Pier One outlet is pfffftttt, am so happy that Edgardo’s isn’t there anymore and I am pleased as punch that my second most favorite music entertainment venue (after IOTA) Cowboy Cafe is gone too. Why it is so livable, so walkable, if only there was someplace to go. And the dry cleaners I frequented too. Bye, bye to functional and useful. Hello to useless and inaccesible.

          • South Arlington

            Lets Be Free, your examples are all great. Unfortunately, most of those examples are a decade old. Cowboy Cafe closed five years ago. All of these places closed before any efforts to make Columbia Pike more “walkable”, more “livable”. The past five years have seen businesses close and vacant storefronts to become the norm. The only reason new restaurants and stores have opened in the past year is due to the promise of the new developments and possibly the streetcar. Without that, we are looking at a stretch of road on Columbia Pike with decrepit store fronts. I’ll take progress over what we had in the past five years any day. I’m sure the wig store in Adams Square provided a lot more value to the Penrose neighborhood than the new Penrose Square development will.

    • S. Arl. resident

      The only reason the strip shoppings centers on Columbia Pike looked so dumpy is that the management refused to “charm” them up. I drive to N. Arlington to go to Westover and the Lee Heights shopping centers for their great stores and they are not dumpy. Blame the owners for the blight.

  • Thes

    Here is a link to the site plan for Penrose Square (#404).

    http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/countyboard/meetings/2006/oct/48ABC.pdf

    Under condition #6 of that site plan, we have the following requirements imposed by the County Board on the Developer:

    “The developer agrees to maintain street surfaces adjacent to the site in a clean, smooth condition devoid of potholes at all times during the construction period. Whenever a significant portion of an adjacent road surface is disturbed for reasons relating to the construction, including utility work, the developer agrees to repair promptly the disturbed portion(s) of pavement with hot patching to return the road surface to a clean, smooth condition. The developer agrees to insure that the road surface is promptly repaired regardless of whether the excavation work or other damage to the road surface was done by the developer, the developer’s contractors, or private utility companies. The developer agrees to make reasonable efforts to schedule construction work so that digging in the street surfaces will not occur during the winter months. However, if the road surface is disturbed during the winter months, the developer may temporarily restore the road surface using cold patching and then hot patch the disturbed surface at the earliest opportunity when weather conditions permit. If cold patching is used, it shall be properly maintained and resurfaced as necessary to maintain a clean, smooth road condition. The term “significant portion of a road” is understood to include, but not be limited to, a cut in the road surface that exceeds 10 feet in length or 100 square feet in size. This condition is in addition to any other conditions in this site plan and any County requirements relating to reconstruction and repaving of streets at the completion of construction.”

    However, since Barbara Favola did not personally issue a citation for this violation this morning and start patching the hole with her bare hands, I blame her personally for letting developers run amok in the County.

    • charlie

      THES: why do you blame everything on Favola? It isn’t that simple. Plus, She’s such a nice lady.

      • G. Clifford Prout

        Really? I’ve watched Babs on the teee veee and she looks like a total ball-buster to me.

      • fatkidspecial

        I have found Favola to be both disrespectful and dishonest in dealing with constituents.

        • charlie

          but at least she is cute about it and doesn’t snarl the way Zimmie does. or pontificate endlessly to herself.

  • Deb

    A patched section of road has been sinking on N Wakefield St between Carlin Springs and Wilson for several years now. It’s in the middle of a residential street, and I have no idea what work was done there or who did it. More recently, a couple of new bits of patched road related to the Peck/Staples development have also sunk, so the developer dumped new asphalt on top to try to level them off. These are also on Wakefield, but right at the intersection with Wilson.

  • YTK

    Goodbye Columbia Pike greenery and ease of commute. Hello Pollution — with Siena Park and Penrose Square trapping more exhaust gases during rush hour. Try walking down Columbia Pike during rush hour – it’s gag and choke city, made even worse by the summer heat and humidity.

    • South Arlington

      Exactly what greenery was lost due to Penrose Square and Siena Park? The large, cracked, weed infested parking lot in front of the Safeway? Or maybe the vacant, old Cowboy Cafe storefront in the old Penrose Square, not to mention the large 1/4 full parking lot that was being used as limo storage at night? At least now, we get the pseudo-town square at the Penrose Square development and attractive buildings to look at, along with increased density that can help support the burgeoning bar and restaurant scene along the Pike.

      I’m also not clear on how the new buildings “trap more exhaust gases”. If anything, the large, empty parking lots trapped heat in an urban heat sink making trapping pollution in a much worse manner.

      • Clarendude

        That song about “paving paradise to put up a parking lot” is ingrained in the psyche of many people, even when the opposite is true. While there are a few mature trees lost to development, the more significant event happening with Arlington development typically is filling in an asphalt-covered “open space” (aka, car storage or used car lot) with a building along with the addition of much greenery in the form of street trees.

        • PTI

          Not to mention the relative environmental benefit of locating development close to transportation alternatives and job centers — much better on the Pike than in Fredericksburg or Fauquier County.

        • S. Arl. resident

          There were at least 25-30 deciduous trees taken down on the property between Adams Square and the Safeway spot. I do not think that is “just a few.” BTW-the BM Smith company managed the unattractive but parkable Safeway property as well as Adams Square. Foulger Pratt is the contracting company for the Penrose Square project formerly Adams Square. Foulger Pratt also leased out Sequoia Plaza to the County DHS. The DHS is coming to speak to the Penrose Neighborhood Association this evening at the monthly meeting.

          • Just the Facts

            “at least 25-30 deciduous trees taken down”

            I’d like to see the source for this information. Is it just SAR’s recollection? I’m also a long-time S. Arlington resident very familiar with the old Adams Square property and certainly don’t remember that many trees. Maybe a dozen immature trees sprinkled around the huge asphalt parking lot.

            Any photos? Any documentation? Anything?

          • South Arlington

            I certainly don’t recall these “at least 25-30 deciduous trees”. The area between the old Adams Square and the Safeway parking lot was entirely asphalt. But, there are now trees planted on the side street between Siena Park and Penrose Square. I also believe the Penrose Square plan includes vegetation and trees. I’m not clear on if you’re seriously arguing that these “25-30 deciduous trees” outweigh the benefits of building on a large empty, unutilized, deteriorating parking lot.

      • S. Arl. resident

        I don’t think the Penrose Park becomes a reality unless the owner of the CVS buildings gives up 1/2 of their parking lot.

  • South Arlington

    On another note, does anyone know if there is a plan for how the elevation difference between the Penrose Square development and the CVS parking lot is being handled? There is a concrete retaining wall at the edge of the CVS lot that is about 4-5 feet tall. Is the plan to keep this elevation difference?

  • But one area of the Pike is particularly hazardous for drivers at the moment.

    for DRIVERS? Try pedestrians.

    everyone needs to slow the Eff down.

    • fatkidspecial

      both could do a better job of following traffic signs. there are some pedestrians that like to play frogger.

      • Skeptical

        I’ve probably covered as many miles on foot locally as I have driving so I am not partisan here. I agree with both comments above. If I had a buck for every pedestrian I see crossing in the middle of a four or six lane road, I could eat out all the time, and usually it happens within a few seconds’ trot of a corner with a traffic signal. On those occasions, I am also usually the only person in sight driving anywhere close to the speed limit. You would think life was a contest to see who can finish first.

        • charlie

          i once helped and elderly person make a mid-block crossing of a 6-lane road in Arlington. She said it was easier because cars were only coming from one way. At intersections they come from three ways and are going fast. Interesting perspetive.

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