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Pike Transit Project Modified After Bus Shelters Found Faulty

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A multi-year project to improve transit along Columbia Pike has been delayed by design problems associated with the proposed bus shelters.

As a result, the first eight of 23 new transit stations, which the Department of Environmental Services was aiming to deliver this spring, will likely be installed next spring. In the meantime, temporary shelters have been installed at these locations, and bus service is set to return to half of them tomorrow (Friday).

The new stations comprise a $16.9 million project to transform the Pike into a “transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly ‘Main Street,'” according to the county. The County Board approved the upgrades in the summer of 2018 as part of the 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan.

“New stations will make transit along the Pike easier, safer, more attractive and accessible — encouraging more people to use it,” the project webpage said.

The bus stop project dates back to the since-nixed plan for a Columbia Pike streetcar. A prototype stop, at the corner of the Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive, made national headlines after ARLnow revealed that it cost more than $1 million.

A map of completed, under-construction and planned changes to Columbia Pike for improved bus transit and multimodal experience (via Arlington County)

More recently, the station work has been stalled by structural flaws discovered with the bus shelters specially designed for the project, which feature a kit-of-parts design intended to cut down on costs compared to the custom-made $1 million “Super Stop.”

“Last November, our shelter fabricator, Future Systems, built a prototype of the shelter and identified stability issues with it,” said DES spokesman Eric Balliet. “After the design was revised, there were still concerns about its construct-ability and stability. These design issues were causing project costs to increase and further delays in delivery of the first stations.”

DES has opted to install prefabricated shelters from the same manufacturer, a decision supported by the County Board, which directed the department to finish these eight stations by the end of summer 2022. Choosing the prefabricated shelters will allow DES to finish those stations in spring 2022 instead of spring 2023, and will save more than $7 million, according to a recent report.

“Kit of parts” bus shelter vs. prefabricated bus shelter (via Arlington County)

“By the end of the year, we expect to receive the final shelter drawings from Future Systems, to be followed in early 2022 with a Notice to Proceed for production and delivery of the first eight station shelters,” Balliet said. “Installation of shelters and amenities for the first eight stations is expected in spring 2022.”

The prefabricated shelters maintain some of the original shelter’s features — glass finishing, protection against bad weather and real-time bus arrival displays — and will have equivalent or more seating. The shelters are also shallower, giving pedestrians more room.

When finished, the stations will be accessible to people with disabilities and will have platforms that can fit two buses.

The first eight stations to be partially completed are:

  • Eastbound and westbound S. Greenbrier Street
  • Eastbound S. Columbus Street
  • Westbound S. Dinwiddie Street
  • Eastbound S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • Westbound S. Buchanan Street
  • Westbound S. Oakland Street
  • Westbound S. Glebe Road

Bus service had moved to temporary bus stops while they were under construction. Four of the stations were scheduled to resume operations on Monday, but Balliet said the changeover for the following stations will happen tomorrow (Friday):

  • Westbound Columbia Pike at S. Glebe Road
  • Westbound Columbia Pike at S. Oakland Street
  • Westbound Columbia Pike at S. Buchanan Street
  • Eastbound Columbia Pike at S. Four Mile Run Drive

The glass roofs on the prefabricated shelters will be used for public art by artist Spencer Finch, according to Balliet.

“DES continues to work with Public Art staff, who are coordinating with Spencer Finch,” he said. “The plan is to install the public art at the same time or soon after installation of the station shelters.”

Concurrently, work is advancing on another multi-year effort, the Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements, aimed at upgrading pedestrian and cyclist facilities.

Five of nine segments of the Pike are complete or substantially complete, and include new features such as tree-lined medians, dedicated left-turn lanes, wider sidewalks and underground utilities. As part of the project, pedestrian enhancements to the Columbia Pike Four Mile Run bridge are expected to be finished this fall.

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