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A kid nearly fell through a rotting utility cover along Route 50

A few weeks ago, seven-year-old Desmond Kelly was walking to school when he stepped on a utility cover and it collapsed.

“I didn’t know what to do so I put my arms out,” he said. “I was pretty shocked and amazed that I was able to catch myself before my feet hit the bottom.”

The fall happened at the northeast corner of S. Glebe Road and Arlington Blvd (Route 50), near Alice West Fleet Elementary School. His mother, Genevieve, said her son’s feet never touched the ground because the hole was so deep.

“It turns out that the cover gave way under his small body weight because it was made of rotted wood,” she said. “My son was agile enough to stick his elbows out to prevent himself from falling all the way through to the bottom of the hole and possibly breaking a leg.”

When Desmond’s mother reached out to ARLnow over the weekend, she noted the utility cover had yet to be repaired, although the issue happened several weeks ago.

“And other covers nearby look like they are about to cave in,” she said, including the utility cover at the southeast corner of the same intersection.

This cover is an access point for an underground fiber cable. Arlington County has about 1,700 “handholes” for fiber cable and other electrical cables linked to things like traffic signals or streetlights.

For issues with publicly and privately owned handholes — which are typically small and shallow, allowing workers to reach in and access the cables inside — the county in part relies on residents noticing and reporting issues through its Report-a-Problem tool. Using the online form, people can also bring attention to potholes, street light outages and make other maintenance requests.

This utility cover in question belongs to FiberLight, according to the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services.

“When DES went out to inspect the area today, they placed the temporary metal cover and cones,” spokeswoman Katie O’Brien said. “FiberLight has been notified of the issue and are working with their contractor to repair it.”

DES also reached out to Level 3 Communications, the owner of the utility cover at the southeast corner of the eastbound on-ramp to Arlington Blvd, from S. Glebe Road, she said.

“The County has reached out to them and has requested that they inspect their cover and replace it if necessary,” she said.

People can report utility cover issues through the Report-a-Problem tool under “Utility Cover Damaged/Missing,” O’Brien said.

A screenshot of the Report-a-Problem tool (courtesy of Dept. of Environmental Services)

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