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Noisy utility covers that have annoyed neighbors in Ballston for years could get finally fixed

The banging metal covers on Wilson Blvd near the intersection of N. Randolph Street (staff photo)

A set of utility covers in the middle of Wilson Blvd that have bothered residents for nearly a decade may finally get a permanent fix.

For Alex Korolkoff, the banging noise from cars and buses driving over the covers is so loud — even on the 10th floor of his Ballston apartment building — he’s resorted to fans and white noise machines to drown it out.

Carlos Moran said the “constant heavy banging” coming from near the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Randolph Street, across from Ballston Quarter mall, “affect our quality of life” and prevent him from sleeping in his home.

Another nearby resident compares the situation to war.

​”It feels as if we are being held hostage, like POWs, in our very own apartments, bound by our leases and forced to live with the continual banging,” they wrote ARLnow. The noise happens day and night given that the metal covers are along one of Ballston’s most highly-trafficked corridors.

The banging is particularly loud when bearing the brunt of buses and trucks, with the noise bouncing off Ballston’s high-rises.

“There’s such disruption that we deal with 24/7, while trying to work from home, we can’t sit on our small balcony without it being even louder, and sleeping is difficult,” one nearby neighbor wrote ARLnow. “The noise is truly endless because traffic never ceases.”

And it’s been a problem for nearly a decade. ARLnow first reported on the loose plates in 2013, when they were deemed a “temporary measure” and would be fixed soon. The covers were also listed as one of Arlington’s most wanted road repairs.

Nine years later, though, they are still there, loose, and driving some neighbors nuts.

The plates are the responsibility of nearby apartment building Ava Ballston, both Arlington County and the building’s parent company AvalonBay — which happens to have its headquarters across the street — confirmed to ARLnow. The flat sheets of metal are protecting Dominion Power equipment that help provides electricity to the building.

Over the years, ARLnow has received periodic emails from Ballston residents complaining about them.

One 2019 note speculated that the surrounding apartment complexes might have a hard time renting out units because of the noise. Another from October 2021 called the plates “steel drums.”

Another annoyed neighbor wrote in November 2021 that they put together a petition with more than 110 signatures of neighbors asking the county to do something to “right the wrong for a longstanding steel plate noise issue… it is distressing for those residents who need to rest, sleep, and work from home.”

ARLnow’s initial 2013 story was also spurred by an email from a reader.

“The noise within the apartments is now incredibly loud,” wrote a resident of the building that was then-called Archstone Ballston Square in March 2013. “This is a project that residents and the county were told would go on a few weeks — it’s [now] nearly 18 months later.”

Besides reaching out to us, residents and the county have also contacted Ava Ballston and AvalonBay to get the covers fixed.

That has resulted in welding and tightening, but no permanent fix.

“Our chief streets engineer has consulted with AvalonBay when there have been noise complaints about that stretch in Ballston,” Peter Golkin, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Environmental Services, tells ARLnow. “Welding and bolt tightening have helped in the past but traffic ultimately seems to take a toll on those repairs.”

After several days of reaching out to Ava Ballston ourselves, ARLnow finally got a response from AvalonBay corporate headquarters.

It seems that a permanent fix may finally be coming, but not until next year.

“We understand the frustration regarding the noise from the metal grates and are ready to start an interim fix in the next two [weeks],” AvalonBay spokesperson Kurt Conway told ARLnow. “At the same time, we are pursuing a more permanent solution that involves designing new vault lids. Because of the approval and procurement timelines involved, at this point, we anticipate a 2023 Q1 start for the more permanent solution.”

After years of complaints and noise, it can be understood that some don’t trust that the incessant banging may finally soon stop and go silent.

“I am extremely skeptical of this timeline considering there have been issues with it for almost 10 years,” Korolkoff said, after being told about the planned fix. “Seems like they keep kicking the can down the road.”

Another view of the noisy steel plates in Ballston (staff photo)

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