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NoVa Congressional Delegation Pushes for Funding for Major GW Parkway Rehab Work

Federal officials think they have a good shot at winning $126 million in grant funds to make a series of badly needed repairs on a long section of the GW Parkway, and Northern Virginia’s congressional delegation is throwing its weight behind the effort.

The National Park Service, which maintains the road, is currently applying for a hefty U.S. Department of Transportation grant to fund rehabilitation work on a roughly eight-mile-long stretch of the parkway, as it runs between the Spout Run Parkway in Rosslyn and I-495. Now, both of Virginia’s senators and three local members of Congress are lending their support to the funding push, in a bid to finally afford some changes on the aging roadway.

“The proposed project will address serious deterioration of the GWMP and implement significant safety improvements,” the lawmakers wrote in a Jan. 8 letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “This project will improve a critical link in the National Capital Region’s transportation network while preserving the historical and cultural characteristics that make the parkway one of the most scenic roadways in the country. These proposed improvements will increase the safety of visitors while significantly extending the life of the parkway.”

Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) both signed the letter, as did Virginia Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District). Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s lone, non-voting representative in Congress also added her support.

The NPS says the construction work, set to cost about $150 million in all, will start at the parkway’s Spout Run Parkway exit and include:

  • Making drives smoother by replacing the asphalt pavement
  • Replacing guardrails and repairing walls
  • Repairing stormwater management systems to keep excess water from damaging the road
  • Constructing new concrete curbs
  • Rehabilitating parts of two historic, scenic overlooks
  • Lengthening entrance and exit lanes at some interchanges

Officials also hope to use the cash to replace the stormwater drainage grates that line the parkway, which have long made for a bumpy ride for drivers. They’re also envisioning adding four “emergency turnarounds,” in order to allow police to more easily redirect drivers who stop on the road due to a crash or inclement weather.

The construction would also include improvements at the parkway’s interchange with Chain Bridge Road in McLean, like adding a new traffic signal to the area.

The lawmakers note in the letter that this northern stretch of the parkway was first built in 1962, and with more than 33 million vehicles using the road each year, it’s badly deteriorated in the decades since.

The NPS is hoping to win the funding through the Department of Transportation’s “Nationally Significant Federal Land and Tribal Projects” program. In a release, park service officials said they believe the project “will compete well” for cash through that program, given the parkway’s “significance” and the fact that the NPS has already wrapped up schematic design work for the construction.

If all goes well, officials hope to kick off construction sometime next year.

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Metro Will Shut Down Three Blue, Yellow Line Stations for Lighting Updates This Weekend

Metro is shutting down three Arlington stations on the Blue and Yellow lines this weekend, in order to allow for some major lighting improvements set to make each station substantially brighter.

The Pentagon, Pentagon City and Crystal City stops will all be closed both Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 12-13), WMATA announced last week, work that is sure to create substantial disruptions on both lines.

Metro plans to run Blue Line trains on its regular weekend schedule between the Franconia-Springfield and Reagan National Airport stations and between Arlington Cemetery and Largo Town Center each day, with free shuttle buses providing a bridge between the closed stations. After the cemetery closes at 7 p.m. each day, Blue Line service will end at the Rosslyn station.

As for the Yellow Line, Metro expects it will only run trains between the Huntington and National Airport stations, with free shuttle buses on that line too.

The exact details for the shuttle buses are as follows, per a WMATA press release:

  • Blue Line Shuttle (No stop at National Airport) – every 5-10 minutes between Braddock Rd, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Pentagon, Rosslyn
  • DC-Airport Express Shuttle – every 5-10 minutes between Reagan National Airport and L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station in Downtown DC
  • Pentagon-Airport Shuttle – every 15 minutes between Reagan National Airport, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Pentagon only

Metro is warning anyone hoping to use the rail service and shuttle buses to allow an extra 30 minutes of travel time to reach their destinations this weekend.

Officials chose to kick off work this weekend because they’re counting on “lighter post-holiday travel” patterns, easing demand for service reaching DCA. Metro made a similar assumption back on Veteran’s Day in closing the National Airport station, only to see huge traffic snarls as frustrated commuters turned to the roads instead.

This latest construction project is aimed at installing new LED lights in all three stations, part of a $50 million project that involves lighting upgrades at all of Metro’s 48 underground stations. WMATA says that stations generally become about six times brighter after the new lights are installed.

The station closures will also let Metro “perform additional track work, including concrete grout pad replacement, installation of radio communication cables and tunnel leak mitigation” at all three locations.

The troubled transit system remains beset by questions of how to best complete needed track work while improving service and luring riders back to its trains. Metro leaders are proposing some key rush hour service increases in WMATA’s new budget, but it remains an open question whether Arlington and other Virginia localities will be able to help pay for those changes.

Photo via WMATA

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Spurred on by Amazon, VRE Looks Set to Find Funding for New Crystal City Station

Virginia Railway Express leaders think they’ve just about nailed down funding for a new and improved Crystal City station, a key component of the area’s impending transportation transformation with Amazon on the way.

VRE officials have been eyeing improvements to its existing station, located at 1503 S. Crystal Drive, for years now, considering that its platform isn’t quite long enough for the commuter trains. Right now, anyone hoping to get off at the station needs to walk to one of their train’s first four cars, even though many are 10 cars long.

The station is also only set up to serve one train at a time, and sits a bit far away from the neighborhood’s Metro station, a challenge for commuters from Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs who use VRE to reach destinations in D.C. or elsewhere in Arlington. A new, relocated station could solve all of those problems at once.

The challenge, of course, is coming up with money to pay for the roughly $41 million project. But on that front, VRE officials seem to be nearing a solution, according to documents prepared in advance of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s meeting tonight (Thursday).

The VRE is asking the NVTC, a collection of regional leaders that helps oversee the rail service, for permission to make a variety of budgetary moves, including strategies to fund the new Crystal City station. Primarily, the VRE plans to ask for a combined $30 million in state funding for the project: half would come from a grant from the state’s rail agency, half from gas tax revenues set aside for VRE capital projects as part of the dedicated Metro funding deal last year.

Notably, the station overhaul was not included among the promised transportation improvements designed to lure Amazon to the area. But, with the tech giant expected to bring 25,000 jobs to the neighborhood, VRE officials are ready to get moving on the project sooner rather than later.

“VRE’s commuter rail service will also be critical to serving these expected new workers, and the planned relocation and expansion of VRE’s Crystal City Station has taken on additional importance,” staff wrote in a report delivered to the NVTC.

The rail service previously won $4 million in regional transportation dollars to cover design and engineering costs, and is nearing completion on a final design for the station now, VRE staff wrote.

The Arlington County Board and VRE agreed on a new location for the station in fall 2017, selecting a site behind 2011 Crystal Drive. The new station will be accessible via a tunnel to 18th Street S. between the Crystal Place residential buildings and the Crystal City Water Park, in addition to a pedestrian bridge from the second level of 2121 Crystal Drive.

It will also sit across the street from a new second entrance to the area’s Metro station, set to be located at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. Considering that VRE estimates that about 18 percent of passengers headed to the Crystal City station then transfer to the Metro, county officials have long viewed improving the connection between the two rail services as a key way to boost transit ridership.

The station will also include an “island platform” to serve two tracks simultaneously, and work on the project is set to move in conjunction with the state-backed “Atlantic Gateway Initiative” to construct a new rail track between D.C. and Fredericksburg. The old station will eventually be demolished.

There are no firm dates for when the project might be completed, but VRE estimates suggest it wouldn’t be finished until 2023 at the earliest, depending on how quickly officials secure the necessary funding.

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Transportation Planners Sketch Out Vision for Region-Wide Bike Trail Network Through 2045

Transportation planners are sketching out a vision to build out a fully connected regional bike trail network by 2045, linking a “Bike Beltway” around D.C. to the rest of the suburbs surrounding the capital.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board voted late last month to endorse a vision for a “National Capital Regional Trail Network,” expanding its long-range plans for cycling infrastructure throughout the region. Though the actual funding and construction of the trails involved remains up to the individual localities, the map represents a potential path forward for the D.C. area’s elected officials to follow in the coming years.

The newly adopted trail network includes the 842 miles of bike paths identified by the Capital Trails Coalition, a group of both local government transportation agencies and a host of advocacy organizations, as ones that regional leaders should pursue to make cycling around the area a bit easier.

The group has been pushing the idea of a more interconnected region for years now, particularly the “Bike Beltway” circling the city. Former Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette was a key backer of the concept, envisioning a loop of trails from the county’s border with D.C. down to Alexandria, then running around the city into its Maryland suburbs.

But with that trail nearly finished, this latest move envisions connecting that “Beltway” with trails in more far-flung jurisdictions, like Prince William and Loudoun counties.

“The Capital Trails Coalition is pleased to see the coalition’s two years of research and mapping make its way into this important regional transportation plan,” Coalition Chair Jack Koczela wrote in a statement.

The National Park Service has embraced the plan as well, and regional planners hope this latest move can help all the jurisdictions involved in crafting the trail network secure funding to make it a reality.

“There has been great interest among the region’s jurisdictions, agencies, and advocacy groups to build on the National Capital Trail, as endorsed by the TPB and adopted by the NPS,” the Transportation Planning Board’s staff wrote in a blog post.

Arlington officials are currently working on their own update of the county’s guiding documents for future cycling infrastructure improvements, set to wrap up in the coming months. The county’s budget squeeze, however, will make it a challenge for the Board to find finding for many bike projects, at least in the near term.

Photo courtesy of the Capital Trails Coalition

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Metro Moves to Allow Bikes on Trains During Rush Hour

Metro will now start allowing riders to bring bicycles on trains all day long, ending the rail service’s long-standing prohibition on bikes during rush hour.

WMATA announced today (Wednesday) that it will no longer prohibit cyclists from using its trains from 7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. each weekday. The change will officially go into effect on Monday (Jan. 7).

Metro said in a news release that it was making the change in a bid to boost ridership, an increasingly challenging feat for the transit service these days, particularly for people hoping to commute via a combination of Metro and local bike trails.

“We believe this change supports ridership growth by Metro a commuting option for those who want to have a bike with them,” Metro Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader wrote in a statement.

Officials added that they expect they’ll be able to make the change “without significant negative effects” on conditions for rush-hour riders. That’s because many trains at rush hour are eight cars long, the longest offering in the Metro fleet, and because the “new 7000-series trains provide more open space.”

Local cycling advocates have long sought such a change, dating back to when Metro first instituted the current rush-hour bike ban in 2001. WMATA initially banned all bikes on its trains, before instituting a permit system in 1982. Those were eliminated in 1998.

“Bicycling extends the reach of Metrorail for customers at the beginning and end of their trip. Members of the community have long wanted the option to bring a bicycle along with them on their rush hour trips, especially reverse commuters,” Greg Billing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, wrote in a statement. “I have to say that we’re pleasantly surprised with how flexible and accommodating Metro has been in responding quickly to this request.”

Of course, early reaction to the policy change has been anything but unanimously positive, over fears that the move will exacerbate crowded conditions on trains for commuters.

Metro added in the release that officials plan to “monitor implementation of the new policy to determine whether any modifications are necessary,” and it could still ban bikes during “major events drawing high ridership” like Independence Day or Inauguration Day.

WMATA estimates that just .8 percent of its customers arrived at stations by bike as of 2016, and its governing Board of Directors is aiming to increase that figure to 2.1 percent by 2020.

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Demolition of Crystal City’s Elevated Section of S. Clark Street Moves Ahead

Demolition work on the elevated section of S. Clark Street in Crystal City is slowly moving forward.

Workers kicked off a project to demolish the road and transform the area’s transportation network in earnest this summer, when they tore down S. Clark Street’s overpass over 15th Street. S. Since then, the county says workers have still had to use “10 to 15 dump trucks per day” to remove all the soil that supported that structure.

“To date, the contractor has hauled approximately 12,000 cubic yards of soil material off-site, out of an estimated project total of 22,000 cubic yards,” county staff wrote on Arlington’s website this month.

Crews have also recently finished “demolishing the concrete walls and abutment next to the 15th Street off-ramp and the south abutment on 15th Street S. eastbound,” leaving just a few pieces of the old overpass structure remaining.

Now, workers are moving their “excavation and demolition activities to locations between 12th and 15th Streets” as Crystal City approaches Pentagon City. Workers are also busily installing “new traffic signal and street light equipment at the intersection of Route 1 and 20th Street S. and along the median and northbound right shoulder of Route 1 between 15th and 20th Streets.”

Eventually, contractors will also demolish S. Clark Street’s bridge over 18th Street. S., prompting more detours. However, the county says it has yet to set a firm date to start that work, and will provide two weeks’ warning before it begins.

The county’s ultimate goal for the $6.6 million project is to create new open space along Route 1, opening up more development opportunities along a suddenly quite popular section of the county. Workers are hoping to wrap up construction by this coming summer.

Officials are also aiming to bring Route 1 itself down to the same grade as other nearby roads as part of some of the transportation improvements it promised Amazon, leading to a complete transformation of the area’s roadways in the coming years.

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County Creates New Dockless Scooter ‘Corrals’ to Encourage More Orderly Storage

Arlington has now created seven “scooter corrals” around the county, in a bid to make the storage of the pervasive dockless electric vehicles a bit more orderly.

County workers set up the new storage spaces over the course of the last week, generally using some spray paint to cordon off specific areas for the scooters.

Officials have been considering such a step dating back to this fall, when the scooters first started popping up around Arlington and concerns about where the vehicles might be scattered began cropping up. Other cities, from Austin to Santa Monica, have adopted a similar technique.

The corrals are mostly clustered around Metro stops, as that’s where many riders first pick up the scooters. Per the county website, locations include:

Ballston

N. Stuart Street & 9th Street N.

Courthouse

Clarendon Blvd & N. Uhle Street

Crystal City

18th Street S. & S. Bell Street

Pentagon City

S. Hayes Street & 12th Street S.

Rosslyn

N. Lynn Street & Fairfax Drive
N. Lynn Street & 19th Street N.

Virginia Square

N. Monroe St & 9th Street N.

George Mason University has set up a similar “corral” near its Virginia Square campus, after briefly trying to establish a “no scooter zone” in the area (drawing fierce criticism from students and staff alike).

Bird, Lime and Lyft all currently offer electric scooters in the county, with a variety of other dockless companies eyeing Arlington, given the county’s pilot program to test the devices.

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Amazon Plans to Offer Incentives to Push Future Arlington Employees to Use Public Transit

Amazon says it will offer “transit benefits” to its thousands of employees bound for Arlington, in a bid to incentivize workers to rely on the county’s public transportation options once they arrive.

The tech giant has long worked to help employees at its Seattle headquarters afford train and bus rides and ease their commutes, but Amazon officials didn’t initially detail similar plans for the new offices it plans to set up in Crystal City and Pentagon City.

Yet county officials have said recently that they’ve received assurances from Amazon that the company would indeed offer similar benefits in Arlington, and the tech firm has confirmed that plan to ARLnow.

“Consistent with our other corporate offices, Amazon will provide transit benefits for our employees at our new headquarters in Virginia,” Amazon spokesperson Jill Kerr told ARLnow. “Last year alone, we provided $63 million in transit fares for our employees in Seattle.”

Kerr added that “more than half of our employees in Seattle bike, walk or take public transportation to work,” and she expects that the new “National Landing” campus will “allow for similar commuting.”

The move is quite welcome news for county leaders and transit advocates alike, who are anxious to see the tech giant embrace public transportation in the area. Though Metro’s rail service may well have its problems, many around Arlington hope Amazon’s 25,000 workers embrace transit to ease pressure on the county’s congested roads.

“Ideally, Amazon employees here will be like those in Seattle where a significant number live within walking distance of the headquarters,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the transit advocacy-focused Coalition for Smarter Growth. “But for the rest, offering essentially free transit passes is basically the single most powerful thing they could do to make a difference.”

Kerr declined to provide specifics on how the transit benefits will be structured for future Arlington employees. But posts on the crowdsourced employer review site Glassdoor suggest that the company offers free “ORCA” passes for its Seattle workers, giving them unlimited access to public transit options in the city and its surrounding suburbs.

Schwartz hopes that the company pursues a similar strategy in Arlington, considering that Amazon’s new offices in Crystal City and Pentagon City will sit adjacent to a variety of different transit options.

While the area’s Metro stations are the more obvious options for employees, giving them access to the Blue and Yellow lines, the county also operates a bus-rapid transit system between Crystal City and Potomac Yard (which it will soon expand to Pentagon City).

The neighborhood’s Virginia Railway Express station is also located just a few minutes’ walk up Crystal Drive from the company’s planned office space, and the VRE is even weighing an expansion of the station in the coming years. That could put an entrance to the station directly across from a new entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, a project set to be funded largely with state money as part of the proposed Amazon deal that will sit just under one of the company’s buildings.

“They have a very high preference among their employees for multimodal transportation, public transportation, biking, walking, being part of an integrated place that you can get around in a number of ways,” Alex Iams, assistant director of Arlington Economic Development, said during a Dec. 6 question-and-answer session on Amazon. “Pentagon City-Crystal City fits the bill perfectly. You can get on a plane, a train, an automobile, a scooter, all of the amenities.”

But officials do acknowledge that for any drivers glad to see Amazon employees pushed onto public transit, there are also nervous Metro riders who fear crowds of new arrivals. After all, the service already suffers from fairly regular meltdowns leaving huge crowds on platforms during rush hours.

Yet Arlington planners are optimistic that crowds in Crystal City and Pentagon City have died down enough over the years, particularly as military and federal agencies fled the neighborhoods, that there should be plenty of room at the Metro stations near the new headquarters. Metro officials also point to proposals to increase the size of all trains and ramp up rush-hour service as reason for optimism, though Arlington leaders may not be able to find enough cash to afford those improvements just yet.

Of course, county leaders acknowledge that not everyone headed for Amazon HQ can ride Metro. That’s where they hope their work to, eventually, bring Route 1 down to the same grade as other streets in the neighborhood will expand other commuting options as well.

“That’s the desire of the company too, to make it more walkable, bikeable and more connected,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during the Dec. 6 Q&A.

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Mobile Phone Service Now Available in Metro Tunnel Between Rosslyn and Ballston

If you ever wanted to refresh your Twitter timeline or text a selfie while on a Metro train under the Potomac River between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom, that is now a viable option.

Metro announced Wednesday afternoon that it and the four major wireless carriers had completed wiring the tunnels between Rosslyn and Metro Center and between Rosslyn and Ballston for mobile voice and data service. Also online: a stretch of Green Line tunnel between College Park and Fort Totten.

The three tunnel segments that are now mobile-ready are in addition to six other tunnel segments that are already online in D.C. and Maryland, as part of Metro’s effort to add wireless service for all of its 100 miles of tunnel track. The effort, which will also eventually wire the Blue and Yellow line tunnel between the Pentagon and National Airport, is expected to wrap up by mid-2020.

More from a WMATA press release:

Today Metro and the nation’s leading wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless announced that more than half of Metro’s tunnels are now wired for cellular and data service. The milestone was accompanied by the formal announcement of three new tunnel segments coming online as “wireless ready.”

The three new “wireless ready” tunnel segments announced today are:

  • Orange Line and Silver Line between Ballston and Rosslyn (5.6 track miles)
  • Blue Line, Orange Line and Silver Line between Rosslyn and Metro Center (4.8 track miles)
  • Green Line between College Park and Fort Totten (7.4 track miles)

The new tunnel segments will undergo ongoing testing and optimization by the wireless carriers to address any performance issues and ensure reliable service for customers.

Cellular service is currently available in all Metro stations and on portions of all six Metrorail lines, including most of Downtown DC. Just over 50 of Metro’s 100 miles of tunnel track have been wired for the new system, with new underground segments coming online as the work is completed. Cellular service in all tunnel segments is expected by mid-2020.

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JUST IN: Lime to Deploy 150 E-Bikes in Arlington County

Lime, which currently operates rental electric scooters in Arlington, is expanding its local service to include powered bicycles.

The company, which says it’s the “largest shared bike and scooter provider in the U.S.,” announced today that it’s bringing e-bike service to Arlington and northern Bethesda, Md.

“To make clear its commitment to each county, Lime is deploying 150 new electric bikes to Arlington County this week on top of 350 scooters that were already in operation locally,” the company said in a press release, below. “Lime is the only electric bike provider in both counties and these additions help ensure riders in both counties can ride safely and efficiently and find dependable transportation options to reach their destinations.”

Arlington County prohibits the use of e-bikes on local trails, a rule that Priceline pitchman and Star Trek star William Shatner called “barbaric” in a Twitter exchange with Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services.

More from Lime:

Lime, the largest shared bike and scooter provider in the U.S. plans, announced that it is expanding service by adding electric bikes this week to its fleets in Arlington County, VA and in North Bethesda, MD.

“We could not be more excited for the opportunity to expand our electric bike presence in Arlington and Montgomery Counties to provide riders in both counties with more accessible, affordable mobility options. Lime has relished integrating ourselves into both counties and the region and working with county, city, state and community leadership to best fill each county’s unique transportation needs,” said Sean Arroyo, General Manager for Lime.

To make clear its commitment to each county, Lime is deploying 150 new electric bikes to Arlington County this week on top of 350 scooters that were already in operation locally. Similarly, Lime is deploying 175 new additional electric bikes in North Bethesda, MD today on top of the 75 existing e-bikes already in the county in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, MD. Lime is the only electric bike provider in both counties and these additions help ensure riders in both counties can ride safely and efficiently and find dependable transportation options to reach their destinations.

As part of its effort to make bikes and scooters available to underserved communities, Lime also offers Lime Access, an affordability program, to improve transportation access for all Lime Access riders can unlock any Lime product without a smartphone or purchase Lime credit with cash in partnership with PayNearMe, and receive a 50 percent discount on every ride.

Lime is also investing more than $3 million to help empower people to exhibit safe and responsible riding behaviors as part of its “Respect the Ride” campaign. The campaign includes a community pledge and helmet distribution, product enhancement, safety brand ambassador program, ad campaign, and dedicated Trust, Education, and Safety team. Lime has already given away more than 50,000 free helmets, and over the next six months, Lime will be distributing a total of over 250,000 free helmets to riders across the globe.

Additionally, Lime is continuing to develop features that promote safe riding and encourage riders to use safe and responsible riding behavior. In-app, Lime added safety tutorials and ID scanning in select cities.

Lime also launched a “Lime Green” initiative to ensure all scooter and e-bike rides globally will be carbon neutral.  As part of Lime Green, the company will purchase renewable energy credits from both new and existing projects for the electricity used to charge its fleet of bikes and electric scooters. The company will also buy carbon offsets to account for the local operations and management of its fleet.

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County Gears Up to Ask for Millions for Lee Highway Changes, Including Dedicated Bus, HOV Lane

Arlington is gearing up to ask for millions in I-66 toll revenue to fund a series of changes along Lee Highway, including the creation of a dedicated bus and HOV lane along the road during rush hours.

The County Board is set to sign off this weekend on funding requests for six transportation projects, totaling $6.9 million, four of which focus on reducing traffic along Lee Highway as it runs from Rosslyn to East Falls Church.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission doles out a portion of the revenues collected through the year-old I-66 toll program to localities, in order to help afford road improvements along the corridor inside the Beltway. Accordingly, Arlington is looking for cash for the following efforts along Lee Highway, per a county staff report:

Metrobus Route 3Y Service Improvements — $520,000 per year for five years, total request $2.6 million

This project will increase morning peak hour frequency and provide running time improvements for better on-time performance on the subject Metrobus route that connects the East Falls Church Metrorail Station with the Farragut Square and McPherson Square areas in the District of Columbia via Lee Highway and a short section of I-66 from Rosslyn to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

Intersection Improvements at Lee Highway and Washington Boulevard — $400,000

This project will add a second left turn lane from northbound Lee Highway to westbound Washington Boulevard and provide pedestrian improvements at the intersection north of the bridge over I-66, which is 0.25 miles from the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.

Enhanced Vehicle Presence Detection on Lee Highway — $20,000 per intersection for 15 intersections, total request $300,000

This project will install forward looking infrared (FLIR) video cameras at key intersections along Lee Highway. FLIR technology uses thermographic cameras that improve the accuracy of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle detection in all lighting and weather conditions, and in turn improve optimal signal, intersection, and corridor operations and performance.

Design and Construct Peak Period, Peak Direction HOV and Bus-Only Lane on Lee Highway from just east of N. Kenmore Street to N. Lynn Street — $1.5 million

This project would convert the outside lane of Lee Highway to an HOV and bus only lane through pavement treatment, restriping, and signage. The lane would operate eastbound during the morning peak period and westbound during the evening peak period only; at other times it will continue as a general purpose travel lane.

The final project on the list is one that the county initially considered back in 2016 as an effort to prepare for Metro’s “SafeTrack” schedule disruptions, and the new lane would’ve run from Court House to Rosslyn. However, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that lane was never constructed, and the new proposal calls for it to run from Cherrydale to Rosslyn instead.

The county expects a new lane would be particularly impactful along that section of the highway because about “25 loaded buses per hour” drive along it during peak period, and they often run into heavy delays near the highway’s intersection with N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn, according to the report.

In addition to the Lee Highway changes, officials are also hoping to earn $750,000 to add a new traffic light to the Washington Blvd entrance to the East Falls Church Metro station, as well as crosswalks and other pedestrian improvements at the intersection.

Finally, the county plans to ask for a total of $1.3 million over the next three years for “enhanced transportation demand management outreach” along the corridor, educating commuters about public transit and other strategies for getting cars off the road.

The Board is set to approve these funding requests at its meeting on Saturday (Dec. 15), and the NVTC will accept applications through Jan. 16. The organization plans to hand out $20 million in funding across the region through the program next year.

Photo via Google Maps

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County Readies Update of Cycling Infrastructure Plans, Sketching Out Dozens of Potential Improvements

Arlington transportation planners are weighing major revisions to the guiding document for the future of the county’s bike infrastructure, sketching out a wish list of new trails and bike lanes they want to see over the coming years.

County officials have recently begun circulating a draft version of an updated “bicycle element” to Arlington’s “Master Transportation Plan.” The document was last updated a decade ago, and a working group has spent more than a year crafting potential changes for the plan.

In all, it contains 26 new pieces of cycling infrastructure from the last time the plan was revised, including a bevy of new trail segments, additional on-street lanes and trail renovations. The county is now soliciting public feedback on the draft in the form of a community survey, with additional engagement efforts to come.

But the document also includes some broad goals for county officials to pursue to meet the needs of cyclists over the coming decades, with a special focus on how Arlington can make people feel safer while riding their bikes on local streets.

“Many residents have identified that they do not have suitable bicycle facilities within their neighborhoods or ones that connect to the local destinations that they want to travel to,” the draft document reads. “Other bicyclists do not feel comfortable riding with or amongst motor vehicle traffic and they feel that some on-street bikeways do not provide sufficient separation from motor vehicles. While the County has developed many on-street bikeways in recent years, their distribution and connectedness across the Arlington is currently uneven.”

To that end, the updated plan calls for plenty of infrastructure improvements to meet that goal. The county’s budget squeeze, however, will make it a challenge for the County Board to find finding for many of these projects, at least in the near term.

But the document does identify several improvements that have already been funded in the county’s long-term construction plans, including three additions from the plan’s last update. Those include:

McKinley Road Buffered Bicycle Lanes – Revise the roadway markings on McKinley Road between the Custis Trail and Wilson Boulevard to include buffered bicycle lanes. Undertake the roadway marking along with construction of crossing enhancement to provide for improved access to McKinley Elementary School and the Custis Trail.

S. Clark Street Cycle Track – Construct an off-street cycle track that connects the planned Army Navy Drive protected bicycle lane at 12th Street South to 18th Street S. and the Crystal City Metrorail station.

Shirlington Road Bridge – Reconstruct the Shirlington Road bridge, and adjacent sidewalks, to provide an enhanced, wide bicycle and pedestrian path along the west side of the roadway that links the W&OD and Four Mile Run trails.

As for the rest, some the new planned changes only impact small sections of trails or roadways, requiring only small funding commitments. Others are substantially more ambitious.

Among the bigger asks are requests for the renovation of the entirety of the W&OD Trail as it runs through Arlington, and the portion of the Four Mile Run Trail south of W. Glebe Road, totaling about 5.5 miles in all.

“Improvements may include: trail widening, minor realignments, new pavement markings, wayfinding signage and consideration of the addition of trail lighting,” the document reads.

When it comes to new and improved trails, other planned projects include upgrades for the entirety of the Bluemont Junction Trail and and the construction of a new, half-mile long bike and pedestrian trail connecting the site of the former Northern Virginia Community Hospital in Glencarlyn to the nearby Forest Hills neighborhood.

Some of the plan’s more substantial on-street projects include the construction of bike lanes and other improvements along “the entirety of S. George Mason Drive,” stretching about 2.1 miles in all. The document also envisions new bike lanes along N. Highland and N. Herndon streets, between Key Boulevard and 7th Street N., to allow for easier access to the Clarendon Metro station.

Additionally, the document recommends the creation of some new “bike boulevards,” or coordinated infrastructure improvements to give cyclists an alternative to bypass busy roads for quieter side streets.

The county’s previously constructed some off Columbia Pike, and the plan envisions one along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor (on Key Boulevard, N. Jackson Street and 13th Street N. between N. Rhodes and N. Quincy streets) and another connecting Ashton Heights and Lyon Park (on 5th, 6th, 7th and N. Fillmore streets to connect Henderson Road to Pershing Drive as it meets Washington Blvd).

The county is planning an open house to collect in-person feedback on the new bicycle element on Jan. 14 at Phoenix Bikes (909 S. Dinwiddie Street), set to run from 6-7:30 p.m.

Photo via Arlington County

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County Calls Off Plans to Buy Springfield Property for New Bus Maintenance Facility, Saving Millions

Arlington officials are calling off plans to buy a two-acre site in Fairfax County for a new bus maintenance facility, a move they expect will save the county millions over the years.

The County Board voted unanimously Friday (Dec. 7) to cancel its contract to spend $4.65 million on a site along the 6700 block of Electronic Drive in Springfield, originally designated as the future home of a “heavy maintenance facility” for Arlington Transit buses.

The county agreed to the land deal in December 2016, over concerns that it wouldn’t have enough space to store and maintain its growing fleet of ART buses. ART currently leases a storage yard in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County for the purpose, but the county managed to open a new maintenance facility in Crystal City last year and buy another property in Nauck for more space this summer.

County board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow that the latter purchase is what convinced the Board to abandon its Springfield plans.

Initially, the county planned to use that property, located on the 2600 block of Shirlington Road, as both bus storage and the home of a new ART “operations center.” But Cristol says that, once county engineers got the chance to examine the site more closely, they felt the property would have enough room to accommodate the maintenance functions planned for the Springfield site as well.

“Locating our maintenance operations outside the county was always among the best of no good options as we looked for more space for our buses,” Cristol said. “But once we discovered that the Shirlington Road site was large enough for maintenance as well, colocating things just made so much more sense.”

In all, Cristol expects cancelling the Springfield contract will save the county $10.5 million right off the bat, counting the purchase price and site preparation costs. She also estimates that the change will do away with another $900,000 in annual upkeep costs for the new property, which certainly qualifies as “good news” during the county’s current budget crunch.

County officials had eyed the Shirlington Road site for years before finally buying it for $23.9 million in July. ART once leased a section of the site for bus storage, but made the move to buy the entire property once it earned some state grants and other regional transportation money to defray the cost.

ART already beefed up its fleet of buses with some new purchases this summer, and plans to keep adding vehicles to meet a projected increase in ridership over the next decade or so.

Photo via Google Maps

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County Officials See Plenty of Room on Roads, Metro Stations Near Amazon’s Future HQ

To combat growing concerns about how Amazon’s new influx of workers might put a strain on Arlington’s congested roads and Metro’s troubled rail system, county leaders are increasingly embracing the same argument — so many people have left Crystal City and Pentagon City over the years that the area’s transit network is ready to welcome new residents.

There’s little doubt that the 25,000 workers Amazon plans to eventually bring to the region will have an impact on commute times for drivers, and crowd more people onto local trains and buses. But Arlington officials stress that they already planned to move plenty of people through and to the newly dubbed “National Landing,” only to see thousands of federal and military employees flee the neighborhood years ago.

That means the area’s trains and buses still have available seats, ready to accommodate Amazon’s new arrivals.

“Transportation system utilization is reflective of building occupancy,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during a question-and-answer session live streamed on Facebook yesterday (Thursday). “We’re down about 24,000 jobs and we see it on the rail system, we see it on the roads… so we have that capacity, we just have to get people to use [these options].”

Leach points out that Crystal City has been hardest hit in recent years, particularly by the Base Realignment and Closure process. He noted that he “had to go back to 1986 to find a lower annual passenger count” at the neighborhood’s Metro station; for Pentagon City, he had to go back to 2001.

Similarly, Leach said that traffic volume on Crystal City and Pentagon City roads is “down 20 percent since 2000,” another “reflection of lower employment” in the area. He believes there’s even ample parking available, despite some neighbors’ concerns to the contrary, arguing that the neighborhoods’ “parking assets are incredibly underutilized.”

That being said, Leach admits that the county would much rather see Amazon’s new arrivals using public transit, and the county has some “work to do” in that department. Metro presents a particularly thorny challenge for leaders — even if stations in the “National Landing” area aren’t seeing as many riders as they once did, the rail service is still trying to improve its safety and reliability after years of struggles.

But Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s assistant general manager for customer service, communications and marketing, believes that the agency is moving in the right direction in solving those problems. She’s particularly enthusiastic about General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which would see Metro return to running nothing but eight-car trains and even expand its “Rush Hour Promise” program to offer more refunds to commuters for lengthy rides.

“I think the capacity is really going to be there as these jobs come to Arlington,” Bowersox said. “Especially with these improvements we have in the pipeline.”

Of course, it’s no guarantee that Wiedefeld will win all those promised changes from Metro’s governing board. The full suite of service improvements Wiedefeld is calling for come with a hefty price tag, and Arlington officials have cautioned that they may not be able to afford everything Wiedefeld is asking for. The new budget could end up costing the county another $8 million per year, a particularly worrying prospect for county leaders, given Arlington’s existing budget pressures.

With or without those enhancements, however, Bowersox is confident that Metro’s safety and reliability improvements will be enough to win Amazon employees over.

“We believe in our reliability and we’re standing behind it,” she said.

Leach is optimistic about as well about the state’s planned investments to help the county build its long-planned second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station, making it even more accessible to both Amazon’s future office space and the rest of the neighborhood. The state will also help Alexandria fund another entrance at the soon-to-be built Potomac Yard station, even though funding concerns initially convinced leaders to cancel the project.

Yet officials also recognize that the area is still not as walkable, or accessible for cyclists, as it could be. That’s due in large part to Route 1, which Leach points out acts as a “divider” between Pentagon City and Crystal City with its large, elevated sections of highway.

The state and county are both planning on spending $250 million on Route 1 improvements, but they haven’t identified the exact source of all that money, or even what the improvements will be. Generally, Leach does hope that the change help “knit the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods together,” and that will likely mean bringing the highway down to the same grade as the rest of the street network.

Renee Hamilton, deputy administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia District, said that officials only have a “broad concept” for what those changes will look like, and are still discussing the exact timeline for how the project will move forward. But, like Leach, she does expect that substantial changes are in the offing.

“It’s very difficult to get from one side of Route 1 to another,” Hamilton said. “So we’re going to look at creating a boulevard feel to it, which will likely require us to lower some of the roadways.”

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ART Set to Run New Bus Route Connecting Ballston and Shirlington Starting This Month

Arlington Transit will start running a new bus route to better connect Ballston and Shirlington later this month.

Starting Dec. 17, the bus service will introduce a “72” route, running from N. Glebe Road’s intersection with Old Dominion Drive in Rock Spring to the intersection of S. Quincy Street and S. Randolph Street near the Village at Shirlington. Buses will run every 20 minutes during rush hours and every 30 minutes the rest of the day, according to ART’s website.

The transit agency first surveyed riders about the new route this fall, and it will use it to run buses through the Ballston Metro station, via both directions of George Mason Drive. ART also plans to run new buses along the route, some of which it acquired this summer.

The new 72 route will involve the creation of a total of eight new bus stops, including:

Northbound Bus Stops

Stop 1 – N. Glebe Road and in front of the Marymount Admissions Building
Stop 2 – N. Glebe Road and 32nd Street N.
Stop 3 – N. Glebe Road and N. Albermarle Street
Stop 4 – N. Glebe Road and N. Abingdon Street

Southbound Bus Stops

Stop 5 – N. Glebe Road and 35th Road N.
Stop 6 – N. Glebe Road and 33rd Road N.
Stop 7 – N. Glebe Road and Rock Spring Road
Stop 8 – N. Glebe Road and Old Dominion Drive

The route will run from 5:58 am to 8:37 pm every weekday.

File photo

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