Arlington, VA

A pedestrian tunnel under Route 1 in Crystal City is too difficult to maintain, county officials say, so the Arlington County Board is considering a plan to close it.

The closure has been in the works for several years. County staff, VDOT, Arlington police and local business owners are all in support of closing the tunnel, citing “maintenance costs, underutilization, loitering, perceived safety concerns, and the realignment of 23rd Street per the Crystal City Sector Plan.”

That’s in addition to complaints that the tunnel is “aesthetically displeasing,” infrequently used for its intended purpose, and often confused for a Metro station entrance.

At its Saturday meeting, the County Board will consider approving resolutions and agreements with VDOT that would lead to the tunnel being permanently closed and dismantled, at a cost of about $300,000 to the county and $87,500 to VDOT.

County staffers say the tunnel, which links either side of busy Route 1 at the 23rd Street S. intersection, costs Arlington about $20,000-25,000 to maintain annually. The maintenance costs include pressure washing areas where people have urinated and repairing “occasional vandalism.”

“The 23rd Street Merchants and the Crystal City BID have routinely complained to County staff and the County Board concerning loitering, public urination, and the unattractive nature of the 23rd Street Tunnel and canopy,” the staff report says. “Observations by County staff showed over 95 percent of users cross at grade as opposed to using the tunnel.”

“The tunnel is generally avoided by pedestrians due to the perception of it being a public safety risk,” the report goes on to note. “Merchants believe that this is having a negative impact on their business district.”

Not everyone is in favor of closing the tunnel, however. From the staff report:

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association submitted written comments requesting that the tunnel remain open with increased cleaning, improved lighting and signage, and added security. The Chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee also expressed reservations about closing the tunnel unless improvements to the at-grade crossings were made at the same time. As an additional note, there have been two reported pedestrian/vehicle crashes in the past five years at the intersection. Both were classified as “non-incapacitating injury” crashes.

Despite pushback from the nearby neighborhood association, officials say planned improvements to the intersection over the next few years, detailed below, will further negate the need for the tunnel.

DES has identified some minor improvements to the at-grade crossings that will be implemented during the construction of the 23rd Street capital improvement project between Richmond Highway and South Eads Street, scheduled for late 2019.

  • 23rd Street will be narrowed between South Eads Street and Richmond Highway to decrease crossing distance at the intersection with Richmond Highway;
  • The crosswalk on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street will be upgraded to current standards: asphalt and high-visibility thermoplastic markings; and
  • Curb ramps will be upgraded on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street to be accessible per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Additional improvements will be made when 23rd Street between Richmond Highway and Crystal Drive is reconstructed, scheduled for 2022.

  • The Crystal City Sector Plan anticipates the realignment of 23rd Street to the south, creating a shorter crossing distance at the intersection of Clark Street and Richmond Highway;
  • New pedestrian respite areas will be installed in the median of Richmond Highway;
  • Curb ramps will be upgraded to be accessible per ADA standards at all crossings (not previously improved by phase 1 above); and
  • New traffic signals will be installed per the new roadway geometry and include pedestrian push-buttons at each ADA ramp location
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