51°Partly Cloudy

Amazon’s Arrival Brings Plans for Transportation Transformation Around New Headquarters

For pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, Crystal City has never been the easiest neighborhood to navigate — and Amazon’s looming arrival in the neighborhood has stoked fears that things could get worse in the area long before they get better.

But now that the tech giant has officially picked Arlington for its new headquarters, county officials are free to unveil their grand plans for allaying those concerns and fundamentally transforming transportation options along the Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yard corridor.

Virginia’s proposed deal with Amazon calls for the pairing of state dollars with money from both Arlington and Alexandria to make a variety of projects long envisioned for the area a reality — so long as the tech giant holds up its end of the bargain and creates targeted numbers of new jobs, of course.

It adds up to a complex mix of funding sources that defies easy explanation, but would be in service of a massive shift in the transportation network surrounding the newly christened “National Landing.” And, as last week’s nightmarish traffic conditions created by the shutdown of the Crystal City and National Airport Metro stations helped prove, the county is in desperate need of an upgrade in the area.

“All of these plans which been long gestating without a path to realization, they’re all going to come together,” County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow. “All the great things we’ve diagrammed on paper now have a path to reality.”

The main transportation projects included in the pitch to Amazon are:

  • A second, eastern entrance to the Crystal City Metro station
  • A second, southwestern entrance to the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station
  • A new pedestrian bridge connecting Crystal City to Reagan National Airport
  • An expansion of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard bus rapid transit system
  • Improvements to Route 1 through Crystal City and Pentagon City

“Many of these we’ve already included in our prior commitments, whether it was our [10-year Capital Improvement Plan] or other long-range planning documents,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “But we pulled these together as a way of saying, ‘This is our overarching vision for the area.'”

Certainly, the aforementioned projects were all on various county wish lists over the years — the Crystal City Transitway expansion to Pentagon City is perhaps the most developed of any of the proposals, with the county convening a public meeting on the matter just last week.

The difference is that many of the projects have largely lacked the necessary funding to move forward. The county still needs another $15 million to fund the Transitway project, which is now set to come from the state, and the other efforts need substantially more money than that.

The second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station has been a particularly challenging project for the county.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body doling out funding for transportation projects, recently awarded Arlington only a small shred of the funding it was looking for to move the station forward. The county’s gloomy revenue picture previously forced Arlington to push the project off into the long-term future, and it remained a very open question whether the second entrance would score highly enough on state metrics to win outside funding.

Those concerns vanish virtually all at once for the county, and that could be quite good news for both Crystal City residents and Amazon’s future workers. Though the exact details need to be worked out, the new entrance would be located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S., with $82.5 million of the project’s $90 million price tag coming from the state through the Amazon deal.

Cristol hopes the project will “transform the beating heart of Crystal City” and encourage its new residents to rely on Metro. She notes that the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations have seen a combined 29 percent drop in ridership since 2010, as the military and federal agencies moved out of the area, and hopes thoughtful transit strategies around Amazon’s arrival will reverse that trend.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the transit advocacy-focused Coalition for Smarter Growth, added that a second entrance will help the area manage demand as thousands of employees flock to one of Metro’s sleepier stations.

“By having entrances at each end of the platform, you’re reducing the people congestion at escalators and gates, which is huge,” Schwartz said. “And we know that walking distance makes a big difference in how many people use transit. So to the degree we can shorten it, we should do it.”

Schwartz also hopes the new entrance will provide better accessibility to the area’s Virginia Railway Express station (located a few minutes’ walk up Crystal Drive) for anyone looking to reach the more distant sections of D.C., or Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs. The VRE is even weighing an expansion of the station in the coming years, which would put an entrance directly across from the second Metro access point.

County Board member Erik Gutshall points out that the proposed bridge to DCA would land in just about the same spot. A feasibility study backed by the Crystal City Business Improvement District suggested that an office building at 2011 Crystal Drive would make the most sense for the pedestrian connection, which Gutshall notes also matches up with an entrance to the Mt. Vernon Trail.

All of that could someday add up to a promising transit hub in the area, which developer (and future Amazon landlord) JBG Smith has already begun advertising in its marketing materials.

“You can bike, walk, ride VRE and ride Metro, all together,” Gutshall said.

The project will need about $36 million to become a reality, with $9.5 million chipped in from the state and the rest coming from Arlington and the NVTA.

The county will need even more cash for the Route 1 improvements: about $250 million in all, with $138.7 million coming from the state’s Amazon deal. The proposal doesn’t include a funding stream for the rest, but the changes could be quite substantial indeed.

The documents don’t lay out details beyond a goal of improving the “pedestrian improvements” on the road, but officials say a guide could be the changes detailed in the county’s Crystal City sector plan. Those plans involve bringing the highway to the same grade as other local roads, eliminating the soaring overpasses that currently block off large sections of the neighborhood.

“This may, in fact, lead to the total reimagining of Route 1,” Dorsey said.

In all, the county expects to spend about $360 million — about $222 million in already committed funding and $137 million in future grants — to fund transportation improvements in the area. The state’s total could one day go as high as $295 million, depending how many workers Amazon ends up hiring for the area.

The county’s commitment is large enough to give some local budget minders heartburn.

“Where will Arlington get $360+ million in transportation bond capacity — since we are bumping up against our credit limit for the next decade or more, without meeting all school needs?” local activist Suzanne Sundberg wrote in an email. “Raising the tax rate would be my first guess. We can probably expect to see our real estate taxes double over the next 15 years.”

County Manager Mark Schwartz has often warned about the strain on the county’s debt limit precipitated by recent fiscal pressures, and taxes may well go up on residents in the coming years, even with the Amazon revenue windfall.

But Dorsey waived those concerns away, noting that the county has long planned for the spending associated with many of these projects, and will have hefty state dollars to rely on for the rest.

“Our investments are already planned,” Dorsey said. “We’re not bringing anything new to the table.”

0 Comments

Metro Shuts Down Crystal City, Reagan National Stations Over Holiday Weekend

Expect major delays on Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines this holiday weekend, as the rail service is shutting down both the Crystal City and Reagan National Airport stations to allow for some major construction work.

Starting today (Friday) and running through Monday, Metro will run shuttle buses between the Pentagon City and Braddock Road stations to compensate for the closures. Trains will operate on substantially extended headways as well, particularly on Saturday and Sunday, and Metro is warning of heavy delays across the two lines.

Metro plans to upgrade several switches leading up to the airport station, as well as “install new concrete grout pads beneath the rails along the aerial structure there,” according to a press release.

Full details from the release:

On Friday & Monday:

  • Blue Line trains will operate in two segments: between Franconia-Springfield & Braddock Road every 12 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Largo Town Center every 12-16 minutes.
  • Yellow Line trains will operate in two segments: between Huntington & Braddock Road every 12 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Mt Vernon Square every 12-16 minutes.
  • Buses will replace trains between Braddock Rd, National Airport, Crystal City and Pentagon City. Additional Express shuttle buses will operate between Braddock Road and Pentagon City from 5 a.m. – 8 p.m. and between Franconia-Springfield and Pentagon from 5 a.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Rush Hour Promise will not be in effect for trips on the Yellow and Blue lines on Friday, November 9, but will remain in effect for customers on other lines.

On Saturday & Sunday:

  • Blue Line trains will operate in two segments: between Franconia-Springfield & Braddock Road every 12-15 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Eastern Market every 24 minutes all day.
  • Yellow Line trains will operate in two segments: between Huntington & Braddock Road every 12-15 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Mt Vernon Square every 24 minutes all day.
  • Buses will replace trains between Braddock Rd, National Airport, Crystal City and Pentagon City. Additional express shuttle buses will operate between Braddock Rd and Pentagon City from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday and from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Metro scheduled the shutdown for Veterans Day weekend, after originally planning it for last weekend, in order to reduce the impact on commuters. However, some stations still saw big crowds on Friday as people adjusted to the closures:

Metro recommends that commuters turn to local bus service if possible, or even VRE train service between Franconia-Springfield, Crystal City or King Street in order to reach L’Enfant Plaza or Union Station.

Anyone heading to DCA this weekend may also want to allow for extra time. The airport is already facing transportation challenges associated with “Project Journey,” major renovations primarily impacting Terminal B/C, and the Metro closure could worsen those conditions substantially.

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

0 Comments

As Pentagon City Transitway Expansion Gains Steam, County Convenes Open House Tonight

Arlington is gearing up to extend its bus rapid transit system to better connect Crystal City to Pentagon City, and county officials are inviting people to learn more about the project at a meeting tonight (Thursday).

The county is holding an open house to show off details of the planned Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway extension, running from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Crystal City Shops (2100 Crystal Drive).

The Transitway currently operates between the Crystal City Metro station and the Braddock Road station in Alexandria, with dedicated bus lanes and stations covering about 4.5 miles in all. The expansion would add another .75 miles to the route, linking the Pentagon City Metro to the Crystal City stop.

The $27.7 million project is part of ongoing efforts to better connect the two neighborhoods, and the county recently earned millions in regional transportation funding to make it possible. The effort will involve the construction of seven new bus stations by the time it’s wrapped up.

It also includes new dedicated bus lanes set for the following streets, per the county’s website:

  • Crystal Drive from 15th Street S. to 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive (Includes curbside rush hour bus lanes and two stations, one on northbound Crystal Drive at 15th Street S., and one on westbound 12th Street S. at Long Bridge Drive).
  • 12th Street S. from Long Bridge Drive to S. Hayes Street (Includes exclusive bus lanes in the median, mixed traffic lanes, traffic signal upgrades, signage and pavement markings and three stations: east and westbound 12th Street S. at Elm Street, and eastbound 12th Street S. at S. Hayes Street)
  • S. Hayes Street from 12th Street S. to Army Navy Drive (This segment will connect to WMATA’s planned Pentagon City Center bus bays project on Army Navy Drive)

The Crystal Drive segment is currently the farthest along, with transportation planners currently in design discussions for the effort. The county is still in more conceptual discussions about the other two segments.

0 Comments

More Scooter Companies Coming to Arlington As Safety Concerns Linger

Arlington officials say the first month of the county’s dockless vehicle pilot program has largely gone smoothly, though enforcing rules about where to ride the pervasive electric scooters remains a challenge.

Two companies — Lime and Bird — have been offering their dockless scooters around Arlington ever since the County Board signed off on a “demonstration project” for the vehicles in late September. Though Bird previously operated in the county without any explicit government involvement, the Board’s pilot program was designed to set some standards for dockless vehicles and allow companies to operate hundreds in the county at a time.

County commuter services bureau chief Jim Larsen told the Transportation Commission last Thursday (Nov. 1) that two more scooter companies could soon enter Arlington as well: Skip and Lyft, which only recently began offering scooters in addition to its ridesharing service.

Then, by January, Larsen expects that Jump could also make the move from D.C. into Arlington and offer both electric bikes and scooters in the county.

“The dynamics of this change weekly, if not daily,” Larsen told the commission.

Larsen added that, since Oct. 1, county police have responded to a total of nine crashes involving scooter riders, though he noted that there’s been “nothing major” among the accidents so far.

Still, one of those incidents did involve a student riding a scooter who was struck while in a crosswalk, Larsen said. The scooter companies generally ban anyone under the age of 18 from riding the vehicles, and Larsen said the county is working closely with the school system to make that clear to students.

Larsen also noted that the top public complaints the county has received about the program relate to “illegal sidewalk and train riding, improper parking, unsafe riding, underage riders and speed.”

Those were concerns echoed by Transportation Commissioner Audrey Clement, who noted that she’s seen teenagers riding scooters without helmets on the Custis Trail in the past, which would make for three violations of the county’s policies.

“There’s no way you could even ask Arlington Police to monitor the length of the Custis Trail or any of the trails in this county,” said Clement, who is also mounting an independent bid for School Board this year. “Absent a realistic enforcement policy, this pilot program is both reckless and irresponsible.”

Larsen conceded Clement’s point, but did stress that county staff are working closely with both the dockless companies and police to ensure the safety of riders and drivers alike.

County police, meanwhile, also trying to spread the word about scooter safety as part of a broader traffic safety campaign this fall, and have even started using electronic signs reminding scooter riders to stay off sidewalks.

Others on the commission were less willing than Clement to attack the program’s legitimacy. Commissioner Jim Lantelme was interested in comparing the number of scooter-involved crashes to those involving bikes, noting that they “might actually be safer than bicycles or other methods” of getting around. Larsen, however, didn’t have such data available.

By and large, commissioners said they were satisfied with the program’s early results, and Larsen agreed. He noted that Bird and Lime have both done a “pretty good job” of balancing the number of scooters available in D.C., which has its own dockless pilot program, and Arlington.

Larsen praised Lime, in particular, for employing 21 people to monitor the scooters around the county and operating its own warehouse in Arlington.

“They’re really trying to go around and self-police,” Larsen said. “We’re really trying to push the operators to emphasize safety themselves.”

0 Comments

Transit Advocates, Neighbors Urge Inclusion of Bike and Pedestrian Trail Along New Long Bridge

A coalition of businesses, neighborhood groups and transportation advocates are urging planners to include a bike and pedestrian trail along the long-planned replacement for the Long Bridge, a key railroad connection from Virginia into D.C.

A total of 15 organizations from Arlington, the District and the rest of the metropolitan Washington region penned a new letter last Thursday (Nov. 1) to both local and federal transportation officials working on the project, calling the inclusion of a trail alongside the bridge part of “a once in a generation opportunity to transform our regional transportation network.”

Planners are still sorting out exactly what the new bridge might look like. The original structure, which runs from near the Pentagon in Arlington to Southwest D.C., was built back in 1904, and officials from around the region have viewed replacing it as a necessary step for improving freight and passenger rail service between D.C. and Northern Virginia.

However, the prospect of including a trail alongside the new Long Bridge was not formally included in the various assessments of potential designs of the project. Accordingly, the group penning the letter sought to emphasize the benefits such a trail could have for the region’s commuters, and its economy.

The organizations — which include the Crystal City Civic Association, Friends of Long Bridge Park, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and Greater Greater Washington — stressed that any new trail crossing the Potomac River would provide “crucial links to several important regional trails.” The current crossing along the 14th Street Bridge does not offer a connection to the regional trail network on the D.C. side. of the bridge, and the friends group supporting the Mt. Vernon Trail co-signed the letter.

The groups also stressed that such a trail would spur economic development “by linking two key activity nodes in Southwest D.C. and Crystal City.” That goes doubly so if officials also follow the groups’ recommendation that the trail “connect to the esplanade in Long Bridge Park” and “extend as far towards L’Enfant Plaza as physically possible” on the D.C. side.

Perhaps most importantly, the letter urges that the trail “be funded and constructed concurrently with the rail component of the Long Bridge project,” and that it “should be incorporated into the design of the broader project in a way that optimizes the achievability of the project with regard to cost and complexity.”

In a draft of an environmental impact statement prepared in late June, federal and local planners stress that any trail is “not part of the purpose and need” of the project. Even still, they agreed to include the study of four potential trail crossings in more detailed studies of the project to be completed over the coming months.

Planners have so far narrowed potential designs of the bridge replacement down to two options; both involve building a new, two-track bridge alongside the existing structure, but one alternative calls for the current bridge to stay in place and the other would involve fully replacing it.

Two of the trail designs call for building the crossing alongside the new bridge. Two others call for building the trail along its own, independent bridge: one proposal envisions it being upstream of the new two-track bridge, another would be downstream.

The transit advocates at Greater Greater Washington have expressed doubts about these proposals in the past, arguing that the designs “do the bare minimum” and represent a missed opportunity for planners. However, officials did agree to examine trail crossings over the Long Bridge Park side of the G.W. Parkway, “with an evaluation of connections to the Mount Vernon Trail and Ohio Drive S.W.,” two features that were previously championed by Greater Greater Washington.

Even still, there remains no guarantee that the trail will indeed be included in the project — the June report notes that Virginia rail officials noted “noted that the primary focus of the project is increasing rail capacity, and expressed significant concerns regarding safety and constructability of any combined-mode structure.”

Planners are still a long ways off from finalizing designs, however. The first step is settling on a single “preferred alternative” to examine in more detail, which planners hope to do within the next two months.

Officials then hope to have engineering and environmental analyses drawn up by summer 2019, and the project still needs additional funding. Virginia officials and the rail company CSX, which owns the bridge, have committed to chip in a total of $30 million for the effort, though there’s no telling just how much the bridge replacement might ultimately cost.

0 Comments

Metro Wants to Increase Service Next Year, But Arlington Leaders See Major Legal, Financial Challenges

(Updated Thursday at 3 p.m.) Metro leaders are hoping to increase service during the morning and evening rush hours next year, but they could well face an uphill battle in convincing Arlington officials to help fund the change.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld proposed a budget for the new fiscal year that doesn’t include any fare increases, but does call for rush hour service to extend to 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. to better serve commuters. The budget, set to be reviewed for the first time by Metro’s Board of Directors tomorrow (Thursday), also beefs up service on the Yellow and Red lines and expands all trains to a maximum eight cars as part of a broader bid to win back riders for the struggling rail service.

The catch, of course, is that such service increases won’t come without a steep price tag. Even though Metro expects to bring in some new revenue with the added service, Wiedefeld expects that he’ll need an extra $20 million from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to afford those changes.

Virginia relies on individual localities like Arlington to chip in for WMATA each year, and that means Wiedefeld’s proposed changes would increase the county’s annual funding obligation to Metro from $75 million each year to $83 million. That works out to a 9.8 percent increase, a number that is giving Arlington officials some real pause.

“It’s not that it’s a bad idea,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “It’s a question of, where does the money come from?”

Christian Dorsey, the County Board’s vice chair and Arlington’s representative on the Metro Board of Directors, agrees that he’d love to see some service increases, particularly as Metro wrestles with a thorny internal debate about how to boost ridership. Yet he’s concerned that Arlington won’t be able to afford all of Wiedefeld’s changes, at least all at once.

The county is already dealing with an intense funding squeeze, driven in part by falling revenues but also by the deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated funding to Metro, which already put a larger burden on Arlington’s budget. This latest funding increase could make the county’s already grim financial picture even gloomier, Dorsey said.

“That’s a challenge, and there’s not the ability for any jurisdiction to just say, ‘Let’s take this budget and adopt it as is,'” Dorsey said. “I’ll be honest with you, this surprised me… I can’t quite come up with a rational reason why these service enhancement proposals were developed in this way.”

As Dorsey puts it, “something’s got to give, and something’s got to shift” in Wiedefeld’s proposal. He expects that some of the proposed changes to boost ridership “might need to wait until later,” due not only to Arlington’s specific budget challenges but one specific issue affecting all of Virginia’s localities.

A provision included in the dedicated funding deal prohibits the state from increasing its funding level to Metro by more than 3 percent each year, as part of a bid to control costs. Yet Wiedefeld’s proposal calls for an increase closer to 16 percent for the entire state, though that is largely driven by new construction costs for the second phase of the Silver Line, borne primarily by Loudoun County.

To Cristol, who doubles as the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and argued forcefully for the dedicated funding legislation last year, fighting to exceed that 3 percent cap seems like a perilous decision for Metro.

She notes that the General Assembly included that cap in the funding bill as a way to control costs, and it became an essential way to justify the legislation to lawmakers skeptical of Metro’s management over the years. Cristol believes that the state exceeding that 3 percent cap so soon “flies in the face of” the spirit of what the funding bill was designed to achieve.

“The NVTC has talked a lot about demonstrating that Northern Virginia and the Metro jurisdictions are taking this piece of legislation and, the accountability parts of it, very seriously,” Cristol said. “This is not sending a good signal… and we have to remember that the dedicated funding resolution is still new. It’s fragile.”

Metro spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how Wiedefeld plans to manage the challenge of the 3 percent cap. But, according to documents prepared for the Metro board, he seems set to argue that an exception to the cap would allow Metro ask for more money from the Virginia jurisdictions. The law does allow WMATA to ask localities for more cash, but only if it’s to afford an increase in service above and beyond what Metro is obligated to provide.

Yet Cristol points out that Metro is not the sole authority on interpreting Virginia law, meaning that any discussion of upping funding to pay for service increases is essentially “a legal question and not just a policy question.”

Dorsey agrees that the cap “could become a problem,” but he’s waiting to hear Wiedefeld’s pitch before becoming more definitive on the matter. Cristol suggested that Metro might be better served by putting more of the funding burden on D.C. and Maryland to avoid Virginia’s strictures.

But, even if Wiedefeld can find a way to surpass this legal hurdle, Dorsey wonders whether Wiedefeld’s focus on increasing service around the morning and evening rush hours is misplaced.

While Metro ridership has fallen across the board in recent years, he points out that the declines have been steepest during off-peak times and on weekends, when riders might encounter waits of 20 minutes or more for a train. For instance, numbers set to be presented to the NVTC Thursday show that average weekend Metro ridership in Arlington dropped by 15.3 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Wiedefeld’s budget does call for implementing a $2 flat fare for weekend trips, but Dorsey doesn’t expect that will do much to reverse the ridership slide.

“From everything we’ve seen, at least anecdotally, it’s not price sensitivity driving people away, it’s the lack of frequency of service driving people away,” Dorsey said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it is not. But, uncoupled with the ability to deliver increased service, I’m not sure we’re achieving what we need to here.”

0 Comments

Ridesharing Service Via Expands into Arlington, Offering ‘Virtual Bus Stops’ for Riders

Arlington is getting a new ridesharing service that will offer “virtual bus stops” to encourage more efficient trips.

Via announced yesterday (Monday) that it plans to expand from D.C. into Arlington. The company says that for now it will not offer service to Reagan National Airport as part of its Arlington expansion, but it plans to do so “in the coming months.”

Via first launched in the District in 2016, in a bid to take advantage of commuters abandoning Metro during the height of the “SafeTrack” maintenance work. But unlike its more prominent competitors, Uber and Lyft, Via encourages multiple passengers to split each ride by default.

Once a would-be rider enters their destination, the Via app directs them to a nearby street corner, dubbed a “virtual bus stop” by the company, in order to offer “quick and efficient shared trips without lengthy detours that take riders out of their way,” according to a press release.

The company hopes this cuts down on the number of car trips and vehicles used by other taxi and ridesharing services, which it believes “reduces congestion and emissions, providing an inexpensive, eco-friendly, and convenient transportation alternative.”

“Via’s powerful technology is seamlessly integrating with public transit infrastructure around the globe, redefining the way people get around cities,” Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, wrote in a statement. “We’re delighted to be expanding into Arlington, extending our convenient, affordable and congestion-reducing service to residents of Virginia.”

The company also plans to briefly cap the cost of shared rides at $4 to entice riders to try the service, and will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Via launched in New York City in 2013, and also operates in the Chicago area as well. Other ridesharing alternatives to Uber and Lyft like Split and Sidecar have briefly operated in D.C. before shutting down, while local Arlington option Sprynt also seems to have ceased offering rides.

0 Comments

NoVa Officials Remain Willing to Send County Cash for New Crystal City, Ballston Metro Entrances

A major funder of transportation projects across Northern Virginia isn’t giving up on Arlington’s long-stymied efforts to build second entrances for the Crystal City and Ballston Metro stations, though any substantial progress remains elusive.

For years, the county has planned on paying for the new entrances by pairing its own money with some funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a group that doles out sales tax revenues to transportation projects around the region.

Transportation planners view second entrances at the stations as crucial to encouraging Metro ridership in each neighborhood, and coping with the rapid pace of development in both areas.

However, Arlington’s plans have come under some serious pressure along two fronts in recent months. The county’s declining revenues and rising expenses have forced officials to pare back funding for some long-range construction projects, and that’s included the second entrances at Ballston, Crystal City and East Falls Church.

Meanwhile, the NVTA took a major funding hit when the landmark deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated funding for Metro diverted tens of millions away from the group each year, a move condemned by Democrats but insisted upon by Republicans as a way to fund Metro without raising taxes.

That’s prevented the NVTA from funding all the projects it might like, including the second entrances. Even still, Monica Backmon, NVTA’s executive director, says that the county remains well positioned to earn the cash it needs to complete the projects from her organization — though, perhaps, not as quickly as its leaders might like.

“When we’ve already invested in projects like these, we want to see them come to fruition,” Backmon told ARLnow. “We still believe in them.”

The second entrance in Crystal City seems particularly likely to earn a bit more cash from the NVTA in the near term, Backmon said. Her group could only hand out about $5 million for the effort in its most recent round of awarding funding for projects, which she expects will fund about “half of the design costs” for the effort.

The county is still settling on the specifics around the second entrance, though it will likely sit at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. Given the substantial new development JBG Smith is already plotting for that location, when combined with the close proximity of the Virginia Railway Express station, Backmon said the NVTA remains quite bullish on the project going forward.

“There’s a lot of development going on in the area, so we know there’s a need,” Backmon said. “Provided they’re advancing on the design work, they can come back and reapply for more funds.”

Backmon even expects that the NVTA could send the county the other half of that design funding as soon as next year. She plans to wait a bit to see what state officials might do — the county has applied for $78 million of the project’s $91 million price tag as part of the state’s “SmartScale” funding program, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board is set to make a decision on that cash by next June.

Then, in July, the NVTA will start its own funding process, allowing Backmon to see whether or not her group needs to step in to give Arlington a boost. By then, officials will also likely know whether they also need to prepare for Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City or not, another key variable in the discussion.

“The density in Arlington really is different than in the outside the Beltway localities,” Backmon said. “That project is important to relieve bottlenecks, on Metro and on roads.”

The process for finding funding for the Ballston second entrance is a bit murkier. The NVTA has already sent the county $12 million to fund a western entrance to the station, though that’s far short of the $72 million Arlington officials hoped to receive for the effort.

Backmon’s group declined to devote any additional cash to the Ballston project this summer, and she notes that the NVTA saw needs elsewhere that were “a little more pressing.” But county officials have been anxious to show some progress on the effort, not only to better prepare to cope with the slew of new developments on N. Glebe Road, but also to ensure that Arlington doesn’t lose out on the state funding it’s already received for the project.

Backmon says she can’t be sure whether the Ballston project will be a strong candidate to earn more NVTA money next year, but she is confident that the existing cash isn’t going anywhere.

“We haven’t given up on the project and still think it’s important,” Backmon said. “The fact that we’ve already invested $12 million in it speaks for itself… so we’re comfortable we’re in a place that the project is advancing. We’re not looking to take away any funds.”

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt the project’s chances either if state lawmakers acted early next year to restore the NVTA to its former funding levels.

She pegs the group’s current annual loss from the Metro funding deal at close to $102 million, a bit up from earlier estimates, and is desperately hoping that the General Assembly follows through on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to bump up a few Northern Virginia tax rates to make the math work for the NVTA.

Northam and his fellow Democrats have already pledged to reexamine the issue next year, though, as Backmon acknowledges, any such effort “in an election year” for the General Assembly will be a tricky one.

“Our statewide funding pots are shrinking, but our needs are growing,” Backmon said. “We want to make sure this is on everyone’s radar, and that people understand that, while we made adjustments, we definitely want to be restored to where we were before.”

0 Comments

Lime Becomes Second Company to Bring Dockless Scooters to Arlington

Lime has become the second company to start offering dockless electric scooters in Arlington, expanding into the county soon after officials signed off on a pilot program to allow more of the vehicles around the area.

The company successfully applied for that program and is so far only offering scooters, not bikes, in Arlington, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. Bird was the first company to drop its dockless scooters in the county this summer, though Lime has been courting support from the county’s business community for months now.

Even still, the company, which also operates in D.C., has been reticent to mirror Bird’s approach and deploy scooters in Arlington without the county’s blessing. But after the County Board signed off last month on a nine-month “demonstration project” for companies to test out dockless vehicles, allowing each company to operate up to 750 vehicles in Arlington over the length of the pilot, Lime jumped in.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many scooters its deployed in Arlington. The terms of the pilot program allow dockless companies to deploy up to 350 vehicles right away, then increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles per month, so long as they can meet ridership targets.

Bird is the only other company to sign up to participate in the pilot program as of yet, Balliet said. County officials previously warned the Board that as many as 10 companies could ultimately apply, given the other firms already operating bikes and scooters in D.C., which is why they initially pressed for a lower cap on the number of vehicles allowed in the county.

County staff specifically mentioned Skip as one company looking to expand into Arlington right away, and CEO Sanjay Dastoor previously told ARLnow that the company is indeed interested in bringing its scooters to the county. Dastoor did not respond to a request for comment on his plans for the pilot program, and a quick scan of Skip’s mobile app shows only a handful of scooters currently in Arlington.

Not everyone seems thrilled to have more scooters on Arlington’s streets. A photo taken by a passerby and sent to ARLnow this morning, below, shows a Lime scooter snapped in half in front of P.F. Chang’s in Ballston.

Photo (bottom) courtesy Richie F.

0 Comments

Arlington Gets Warmed Up for Marine Corps Marathon Traffic

The Marine Corps Marathon returns to Arlington next Sunday (Oct. 28), likely bringing over 30,000 runners to Arlington and a resulting tangle of road closures and transportation changes.

The opening ceremonies for the marathon will be held at 6 a.m., followed by the wheelchair and handcycle race starting at 7:40 a.m. Races will continue throughout the day until 3:10 p.m. Award celebrations are scheduled to continue until 9:30 p.m.

Street parking near the race will be restricted and motorists should keep an eye out for temporary “No Parking” signs. Use of rideshare and public transportation is encouraged.

Metrorail will open at 6 a.m. for the race, two hours early, and run extra Blue and Yellow line trains. The closest stop to the race will be the Pentagon station, which will be exit-only until 8:30 a.m.

According to an Arlington County press release, the following roads will be closed for the race.

3:00 AM-5:30 PM      Marshall Drive from N. Meade Street to Route 110

3:00 AM-5:30 PM      N. Meade Street from Marshall Drive to Lynn Street

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Route 110 from I-66 to Jefferson Davis Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Wilson Boulevard from N. Nash Street to Route 110

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Lynn Street from N. Meade Street to Lee Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Fort Myer Drive from N. Meade Street to Lee Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      N. Moore Street from Wilson Boulevard to Lee Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      19th Street N. from Lynn Street to N. Nash Street

3:00 AM-4:00 PM      Route 110 ramp from Washington Blvd. to Pentagon North parking

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    Lee Highway (eastbound) from Lynn Street to Kirkwood Road

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    Spout Run Parkway from southbound George Washington

Memorial Parkway (GWMP) to Lee Highway

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    GWMP from Spout Run to Memorial Circle Drive

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    Francis Scott Key Bridge (all lanes)

6:00 AM-2:00 PM      HOV lanes from 14th Street SW to HOV ramp at S. Eads Street

5:00 AM-4:30 PM      S. Eads Street from S. Rotary Road to Army Navy Drive

5:00 AM-4:30 PM      Army Navy Drive from S. Fern Street to 12th Street S.

6:00 AM-10:00 AM   15th Street S. from Crystal Drive to S. Eads Street

6:00 AM-4:00 PM      12th Street S. from Army Navy Drive to Crystal Drive

6:00 AM-4:00 PM      Crystal Drive from 12th Street S. to 23rd Street S.

6:00 AM-4:00 PM      Longbridge Drive from 12th Street S. to I-395

3:00 AM-5:00 PM      Boundary Channel Drive from I-395 to Pentagon North Parking

3:00 AM-5:00 PM      Washington Blvd. from Columbia Pike to Memorial Circle

(southbound lanes will reopen at approximately 9:30 AM)

A map of the course, as well as additional race information, can be found at the Marine Corps Marathon website.

File photo

0 Comments

VDOT Unveils Final Designs for W&OD Trail Bridge Over Lee Highway

State transportation officials have firmed up their plans for a new bike and pedestrian bridge over Lee Highway in East Falls Church, putting the project on track for construction to kick off next spring.

VDOT unveiled final designs for the planned Washington & Old Dominion Trail bridge at a community meeting last Thursday (Oct. 11), sketching out more details on the bridge that is designed to offer a safer alternative to the trail’s current crossing at the highway’s intersection with Fairfax Drive.

The bridge’s design is largely unchanged from plans that VDOT showed off last summer. Some of the biggest changes include the removal of a barrier with streetlights running down the middle of the bridge and a change to the “piers” holding up the bridge — they now include open space in the middle of their “v” shape.

Officials initially proposed a design for the bridge that featured a trussed roof and red paint, yet some neighbors objected to those features, as well as the bridge’s potential to disrupt long-range plans for the area’s transportation networks.

Planners ultimately changed the bridge’s color and removed the roof, and even agreed to tweak the lighting features on the bridge too. Instead of a barrier lined by street lights, the bridge will now include lighting underneath the v-shaped posts running along its sides.

VDOT also detailed potential traffic disruptions prompted by the bridge’s construction at the meeting. Officials expect that there will be temporary closures on Lee Highway as the bridge’s beams and girders are put in place, and they expect that the fire lane on Fairfax Drive will be closed as construction continues. The W&OD Trail will also be realigned temporarily to allow for the construction, and could also see some temporary closures.

Planners are tentatively hoping to begin work on the bridge early next year, then wrap it up by the fall of 2020. The work will also move in tandem with the I-66 eastbound widening project, which VDOT also hopes to complete in late 2020.

0 Comments

Rosslyn Road Changes Could Mean Big Improvements for Walkers, Cyclists, New Headaches for Drivers

Plans to make Rosslyn a bit easier to navigate for pedestrians and bicyclists are coming together, though county officials are concerned that some of the proposed changes might further snarl traffic in the area.

The county unveiled its latest designs for future of the “Core of Rosslyn” at a public meeting last Tuesday (Oct. 2), which includes plans to convert several streets around the Rosslyn Metro station into two-way roads, remove the Fort Myer Drive tunnel under Wilson Blvd and add a host of new connections for cyclists and walkers.

However, transportation planners worry that these alterations will produce “significant increases in gridlock” over the next decade or so, according to meeting documents.

In all, they’re projecting that the proposals will increase wait times at intersections in the neighborhood by a total of 19 minutes during the morning rush hour (with especially acute problems at the already jammed intersection of the Key Bridge, G.W. Parkway and Lee Highway) and a total of six minutes during the evening rush. They’re hoping to refine these designs in the coming months to address those issues, while maintaining the positive parts of the plan.

Certainly, planners expect the changes will result in substantial improvements in Rosslyn’s offerings for people who aren’t relying on cars to get around. The designs included 14 new or improved crosswalks for pedestrians, and more than 1.3 miles of new protected bike lanes included in the design. The lanes, largely set to run along Fort Myer Drive, N. Moore Street and N. Nash Street, are designed to ease bike connections to the Key Bridge and Mt. Vernon and Custis Trails.

The plans also keep alive the county’s long-considered possibility of building a car-free, “pedestrian corridor” running from 18th Street N.’s intersection with N. Oak Street to N. Kent Street, a change that would replace the Rosslyn skywalk system to make the Metro station more accessible.

Yet the county expects that this design would create some new challenges for walkers and cyclists as well. In particular, allowing two-way access on roads like N. Fort Myer Drive, N. Lynn Street and N. Kent Street will create a host of new “conflict points,” where cars are turning across crosswalks, prompting further delays for all involved.

That’s why Arlington officials are still accepting feedback on tweaks to the design.

Among the questions they want answered is whether people actually want to see the Fort Myer Drive tunnel filled in and transformed into a regular, signalized intersection with Wilson Blvd. The change would prompt additional delays at the intersections, and would involve “extensive construction costs and [a] long timeframe,” but could make it substantially easier for people to access the Rosslyn Metro station.

Similarly, planners want to know if making N. Lynn Street a two-way road is worth the extra traffic headaches it might entail. The county projects that the change “reduces confusion and allows for more direct routing” if it’s put in place, but it would also force officials to find new access points to the G.W. Parkway, I-66 and the Key Bridge.

The county plans to finish collecting feedback by Friday (Oct. 12), then unveil revised designs in the coming months. Officials hope to have final study recommendations for the area ready by sometime this winter.

0 Comments

ART Considers Adding New Route to Better Link Ballston to Shirlington

Arlington Transit could soon add a new bus route to better connect Ballston to Shirlington, as part of a host of route and schedule changes on tap for this winter.

The county’s bus service is currently collecting community feedback on the service tweaks, with plans to finalize any changes by mid-December.

The most substantial of the proposed options would be the creation of a new ART route 72, 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.

The route would run through the Ballston Metro station, via both directions of George Mason Drive, and offer buses once every 20 minutes during peak hours. ART hopes that the new route would work in conjunction with Metrobus’ 22A/C routes to “bring more frequent service between Ballston and Shirlington.”

The 72 route require the creation of eight new bus stops along N. Glebe Road, at the following intersections:

Proposed 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

Proposed 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

Other proposed service tweaks include running buses more frequently along the 45 route during peak hours, and reducing some service on the 52, 55 and 77 lines. ART would also tweak the schedules of 74, 84, and 87 routes to create better spacing between various buses and endure buses run on time more frequently.

The county is currently collecting feedback via an online survey, and will also hold a pair of public meetings on the subject this month.

One is set for this coming Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street), while the other is scheduled for the Langston Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street) on Oct. 11. Both will run from 6:30-8 p.m.

File photo

0 Comments

Metro Needs Better Reliability, Not Service Increases, to Attract Riders, NoVa Officials Say

As Metro’s leaders wrestle anew with the question of how to bring riders back to the troubled transit service, Northern Virginia officials are offering their own suggestions: focus on reliability, and create new fare card plans to entice riders.

In a new report to Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly set to be considered tonight (Thursday), the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission plans to urge Metro to use those strategies to boost ridership, and put WMATA on sounder financial footing in the process.

The document is the first such set of recommendations delivered to state lawmakers from the regional transportation planners at the NVTC, as part of the new oversight powers the group won through legislation to provide Metro with dedicated state funding.

Notably, however, it does not include any recommendation that Metro increase service to bring back riders. The push for service boosts, long backed by transit advocates, has become a particularly hot topic in recent days, after the Washington Post uncovered an internal Metro report insisting that service changes are the surest way for reversing WMATA’s declining ridership.

Members of Metro’s Board of Directors, including Arlington County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey, expressed no such certainty on a path forward when questioned by the Post, and said they had no knowledge of the internal report on service increases. But the NVTC report represents a chance for regional leaders — including NVTC commissioners like Dorsey, County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey — to offer some of their own thoughts on the matter to Metro and its overseers.

The group’s “2018 Report on the Performance and Condition of Metro” notes that just 79 percent of trains arrived at stations “at or close” to their scheduled times in fiscal year 2017, underscoring the NVTC’s recommendation that improving reliability should be WMATA’s prime long-term focus in bringing riders back to the service. To do so, NVTC expects the system will need to devote plenty of cash to capital projects.

The report deems the $500 million in annual dedicated funding that Metro will now receive from D.C., Maryland and Virginia “an invaluable tool” in achieving its maintenance goals. Even still, the group notes that Metro reported an “unconstrained capital need” of $25 billion in projects in 2016, and will need to focus on the area for years to come to catch up on many years worth of work.

In the short term, however, the NVTC recommends developing “new fare-pass products” to “ease the transit riding experience.”

Examples could include the expansion of passes designed for college students, or new partnerships with hotels and conventions “to provide fare products directly to visitors as a part of hotel and/or convention registration.” Metro’s internal report also cites the importance of developing new fare pass options, recommending strategies like offering shorter term passes and making all passes useable on both Metro trains and buses, but those options are listed firmly below the priority of increasing service.

Yet the NVTC expects that exploring those fare pass strategies would also improve fare collection and boost Metro’s coffers, another key point of emphasis of the NVTC report. The document suggests that Metro “develop the next generation of fare collection technology” in the long term, and test methods for “off-vehicle fare collection” on Metrobus routes to juice revenues.

The report also includes recommendations on how Metro can control costs, with a special focus on labor costs. With a new Government Accountability Office analysis of WMATA’s pension liabilities igniting new debates on Metro’s relationship with its unions, the NVTC is urging Metro’s board to consider private contracting in select situations and other collective bargaining tactics to keep labor costs down.

Metro only recently cooled tensions with its largest union, which briefly threatened a strike this summer.

Photo courtesy of Metro

0 Comments

GMU Declares a ‘No Scooter Zone’ at Its Virginia Square Campus

George Mason University has cordoned off a “no scooter zone” in front of its Arlington campus in Virginia Square.

Readers alerted ARLnow to the signs yesterday (Monday), which are located in front of the university’s Founders Hall plaza on Fairfax Drive.

The signs direct dockless electric scooter riders to park the vehicles at a nearby bike rack, rather than abandoning them at random. Ever since Bird became the first company to bring the dockless scooters to Arlington this June, the county’s sidewalks and yards have increasingly been littered with the vehicles.

Buzz McClain, a spokesman for the Schar School of Policy and Government (which is located at Mason’s Arlington campus), told ARLnow that university officials believe the signs are necessary to keep the parked Birds out of harm’s way in the highly trafficked plaza. He noted that signs are simply designed to provide a little clarity about where the vehicles belong, “just as we do with bikes.”

Mason’s decision comes as the county prepares for an influx of hundreds of dockless bikes and scooters, thanks to a new pilot program approved by the County Board last week.

The nine-month pilot also sets some restrictions on the dockless vehicles to give the county more control about where the scooters end up, given growing community consternation about the sudden proliferation of the vehicles.

The new program bans riders from using the scooters on sidewalks and trails, and will also require any company to move an improperly parked vehicle within one hour of receiving a complaint, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

County staff are also considering a similar tactic to Mason’s chosen option, and could soon establish “on-street corrals” at Metro stations for dockless bikes and scooters.

Staff believe such an addition would “encourage orderly parking and on-street riding” and has proven effective in cities across the globe, according to a presentation delivered to the Board.

Photo (1) courtesy Chaz Papa

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list