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Planning Commission Sides With Neighbors on Two Crystal City VRE Station Options

by Chris Teale September 8, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

The Arlington Planning Commission recommended the County Board vote to further study two options for the new Crystal City Virginia Railway Express station, against the wishes of VRE and county staff.

The Commission voted 6-1-1 to support option Nos. 2 and 3 for the proposed new station at its meeting Thursday night. VRE and county staff wanted an endorsement of option No. 2 only.

The County Board will take up the matter at its September 16 or September 19 meetings.

Of the three options, option No. 1 would be closest to the current VRE platform, while option No. 2 would place the platform just south of the Crystal City Water Park and closer to the Crystal City Metro station.

Option No. 3 would be slightly further south than No. 2. The station would then connect to other areas of Crystal City through a combination of walkways and bridges. Residents believe option No. 3 may mitigate noise better than the other options.

Numerous opponents questioned the process, which has been led by VRE in consultation with the county. Sonali Soneji, VRE’s planning program administrator, and Tom Hickey, VRE’s chief development officer, both said choosing one option would have been preferable as it would have allowed for more detailed study.

But opponents said they have felt “railroaded” by staffers set on choosing option No. 2.

“The really sad part about this is that it became clear to us over the many months that this has been going on that the county staff had already made up their minds,” Carol Fuller of the Crystal City Civic Association told ARLnow before the hearing. “They knew which way they wanted to go.”

The desire for further study of two options was a key reason Commissioners voted for Nos. 2 and 3. James Lantelme voted against as he said he wanted the body to make a firm decision.

“I just don’t know yet. I need more analysis,” said Nancy Iacomini, explaining her reluctance to vote for one option alone.

VRE and county staff recommended option No. 2 as they said it connected best to the nearby Metro station and other transportation options like buses and bikes at the Crystal City Multimodal Center.

“It sounds to me, from what I can see, that the decision for option 2 is coming down exclusively to Metro and proximity to Metro,” said Natasha Atkins, president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, one of around 10 opponents to testify against the plan before the Planning Commission.

A number of stakeholders supported the plan in letters sent before the meeting, especially on the basis that it will help connect the VRE and Metro stations in Crystal City. Taylor Lawch of developer JBG Smith, which owns numerous nearby properties, testified that option No. 2 is “the only option that positions Crystal City and Arlington County to become a multi-modal transportation destination in the future.”

The Commission also voted unanimously to recommend that the County Board instruct County Manager Mark Schwartz to engage with rail freight company CSX and ask that engineers not sound their horns so close to residential buildings in Crystal City.

VRE trains also sound their horns for safety reasons to alert those nearby to a train, and residents said horns are often too loud and frequent from both entities. They also were critical of VRE’s noise assessment, which found no noticeable differences between options No. 2 and 3 in terms of loudness.

Supporters of option No. 3 also mentioned its provision of an access road for emergency vehicles. Hickey said that advancing an option for further design and refinement would solve those questions and many more, but he underscored the relative uncertainty within the process as it stands, something that gave opponents cause for concern.

“These will all be addressed in design, but we don’t have a design yet,” he said. “As soon as we start with design, we’ll look at these hazards and how they will be mitigated.”

The plan will go before the county’s Transit Advisory Committee on Tuesday, September 12 and before the Transportation Commission on Wednesday, September 13 for further discussion. The County Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the plan on either Saturday, September 16 or Tuesday, September 19.

VRE’s Operations Board is expected to adopt an option on October 20, with a concept design due late this year ahead of further environmental study and preliminary engineering.

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