Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Fire at Columbia Pike Apartment Building — One person was hospitalized and subsequently arrested after a fire at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike Sunday night. [Twitter]

State Funds to Stabilize ART Service — “The Arlington County Board today accepted $420,926 in state grant funds to support Arlington’s local transit operations during the COVID-19 emergency… Arlington Transit (ART) buses, like transit services across the region, have experienced significant declines in ridership and revenue.” [Arlington County]

Arlingtonian Recounts Coronavirus Experience — Roy Schwartz, an Arlington resident and the co-founder of Clarendon-based Axios, tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month. In a brief podcast interview, he recounted the experience, the delays in getting test results, and the contact from Arlington’s health department. [Axios]

Construction Projects ContinueUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — “While shuttering many businesses to try to slow the virus’s spread, officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia have designated construction as ‘essential,’ along with hospitals, grocery stores, banks and a handful of other businesses. All three jurisdictions have also allowed private construction, including home building and commercial developments, to continue.” [Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Reminder: Metro Station Closures — The Clarendon, Virginia Square and East Falls Church Metro stations are closed starting today. The closures will impact several ART bus routes, as well. [Arlington County]

Kaine Lauds Passage of Coronavirus Relief Bill — In a statement late Wednesday night, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by the Senate “will backstop the American economy by protecting workers and their families.” [Press Release]

County: Hold Off on Spring Cleaning — “Although it is tempting to use the increased time in our homes to start ‘spring cleaning,’ please delay these activities or hold on to these items during this challenging time. Refuse collection crews are dealing with an increased volume of waste and disposal requests, while incorporating new protocols to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19.” [Arlington County]

First Coronavirus Case at Pentagon — “A Marine assigned to the service’s headquarters office at the Pentagon has tested positive for COVID-19… becoming the first service member assigned to the Defense Department’s home base to contract coronavirus. The Marine tested positive March 24, Capt. Joseph Butterfield told Military Times, after a period of isolation spurred by symptoms in his wife.” [Military Times]

HQ2 Construction Still on Track — “Construction of the first of Amazon.com Inc.’s HQ2 towers remains on schedule, but the planning process for the green space around them may slow as the spread of the novel coronavirus forces public meeting cancellations. Clark Construction, lead contractor on Amazon’s first 2.1 million-square-foot office building, said that work at Metropolitan Park in Pentagon City is advancing with added coronavirus safety measures.” [Washington Business Journal]

Governor Orders Elective Surgeries Delayed — “Governor Ralph Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA today directed all hospitals to stop performing elective surgeries or procedures to help conserve supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). The public health emergency order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Ballston’s Punch Bowl Social in Trouble — “Cracker Barrel announced Wednesday that eatertainment brand Punch Bowl Social has closed all of its 19 locations and laid off most of its restaurant and corporate staff and that it would not prevent foreclosure on the brand.” [FSR Magazine, Marketwatch]

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Morning Notes

HQ2 Employment Up 50% in Two Months — “Less than two months into the new year and Amazon.com Inc. says it has more than 600 employees at its second headquarters — a fairly significant staffing jump considering there were some 400 employees there as of late December.” [Washington Business Journal]

Construction Progress at DCA — “It’s happening: Reagan National’s nightmarish Gate 35X at Terminal C will soon be demolished. Construction is underway for Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s Project Journey, which will bring a new concourse to the north end of the airport and add new security checkpoints for Terminal B/C.” [NBC 4, DCist]

Fire Alarm Delays DCA Flights By 30 Minutes — “Flights have resumed and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controllers have returned and continued tower operations after a control tower was evacuated to investigate a sprinkler alarm activation Wednesday.” [WJLA]

Food Delivery Driver Robbed in Claremont — “At approximately 11:04 a.m., the victim, who was operating as a food delivery driver at the time of the incident, exited his vehicle to make a delivery and was approached by three male suspects. The suspects demanded the victim provide them with the contents of the delivery, then attempted to assault him. The suspects stole the delivery and fled on foot.” [Arlington County]

Property Owner Goes 100% Renewable — “Brookfield Properties has added 100 percent clean, renewable power to six of its office buildings in Northern Virginia, with the new energy source going into effect this month… The changes are impacting three of the firm’s Arlington properties: Potomac Tower at 1001 19th St., 601 South 12th Street, and 701 South 12th Street.” [Commercial Observer]

Big Raise for Startup With Clarendon Office — “Carbon Relay and Insight Partners today announced a $63 million transaction to accelerate the growth of its Red Sky Ops solution for optimizing application performance in Kubernetes environments.” [Carbon Relay via Potomac Tech Wire]

‘Mr. Z’ Wins Award, Gets on TV — “The Virginia Department of Transportation has named an Arlington County crossing guard one of 2019’s Most Outstanding Crossing Guards. He’s one of only four in the state. Affectionately called Mister Z by faculty and students, Zeleke Taffesse says his smiling students make him feel younger every day. Taylor Elementary School is one of three schools he’s worked for.” [Local DVM]

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Police responded to an unusual accident in Ballston Friday afternoon.

A Toyota Prius appears to have been driven into a construction zone at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and N. Quincy Street and partially fallen into excavated portion of roadway — possibly an uncovered utility vault — in a scene that looks somewhat like Arlington’s version of the infamous Pittsburgh sinkhole bus.

No injuries were reported.

The crash was not obstructing traffic and did not appear to have a significant impact on the construction work. A 22-story apartment tower is being built at the site, which was formerly home to long-time local watering hole Carpool.

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Demolition on the Amazon HQ2 site in Pentagon City is expected to begin soon.

The 2.1 million square foot office-and-retail development along S. Eads Street, the first phase of Amazon’s permanent second headquarters in Arlington, was approved by the County Board in December.

Now, construction equipment is being staged ahead of demolition of the two-story warehouse building and parking lot currently on the site. According to an off-the-record presentation given to local civic associations earlier this week, a slide from which was obtained by ARLnow, demolition and site preparation is scheduled to start within the next month or two.

Excavation will run from the second quarter of 2020 to the end of the year, while construction of the above-ground portion of the complex is expected to start in the second half of 2021. Construction and interior work is expected to wrap up by the middle of 2023, according to the presentation.

In the meantime, the growing contingent of Amazon employees in Arlington will work out of temporary office space in Crystal City.

“We’re looking forward to beginning demolition at the Metropolitan Park site in the very near future; some staging activity has already begun,” an Amazon spokeswoman told ARLnow. “Amazon is already here and we’re hiring. As the MetPark site takes shape, we will continue to grow the teams in our leased space in Crystal City, where we now have nearly 450 employees.”

It’s not yet clear whether Amazon will hold a groundbreaking ceremony as work at the Pentagon City site gets underway.

Some local residents, particularly those who live in apartment buildings across the street, have expressed concerns about construction noise from the project. Permitted working hours extend until 9 p.m. on weekdays, we’re told.

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It won’t be nearly as disruptive as the year-long, round-the-clock lane closures on Columbia Pike, but VDOT is planning temporary closures on I-66 next week.

One lane of eastbound I-66 will be closed nightly — from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. — in the East Falls Church area on Monday and Tuesday, the state transportation agency said. There will also be multiple, brief closures of Sycamore Street and eastbound I-66 during that time.

The closure will allow the installation of bridge girders as part of the project to add a lane to eastbound I-66 between the Dulles Connector Road and Ballston.

More from a VDOT press release:

Bridge girder installation to widen I-66 East will require multiple brief closures of Sycamore Street in Arlington during overnight hours on January 6 and 7. Additionally, the left lane of I-66 East will be closed while crews install six bridge girders as part of the I-66 Eastbound Widening Project.

Details:

  • The left lane of I-66 East will be closed from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. on the nights of Monday, Jan. 6, and Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • There will be a full 20-minute closure of I-66 East shortly after midnight the night of Monday, Jan. 6, so that girders can be delivered to the work area.
  • Vehicle and pedestrian traffic on Sycamore Street under I-66 will be stopped for up to 20 minutes at a time between midnight and 4 a.m. multiple times each night. Stoppages are planned for northbound traffic on the first night, then southbound traffic the second night.
  • Pedestrians will be directed to the opposite sidewalk to proceed through the work zone.

All work is weather dependent.

Drivers and pedestrians are urged to use caution and expect possible delays. Real-time traffic conditions and information is available at www.511virginia.org or through the 511 Virginia mobile app.

The I-66 Eastbound Widening Project will add a travel lane along four miles of eastbound I-66 and install approximately 12,000 linear feet of new and replacement noise barriers. The project also includes building a new bridge over Lee Highway (Route 29) for the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, and constructing a new direct access ramp from eastbound I-66 to the West Falls Church Metrorail Station at the Route 7 Interchange.

The additional eastbound lane is scheduled to open to traffic in fall 2020, and the overall project is expected to be complete in fall 2021. Learn more about the I-66 Eastbound Widening Project and sign up for project updates and lane closure alerts at Transform66.org.

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An already pricey plan to place overhead utility lines underground along Columbia Pike is getting more expensive.

The Arlington County Board voted unanimously at its Tuesday meeting to approve boosting an existing $17.5 million contract for the work to $23 million — a $5.5 million increase — due to some unforeseen circumstances.

In a report to the Board, county staff said that its contractor, Fort Myer Construction Corporation (FMCC), encountered a mysteriously out-of-place underground duct bank — the conduit through which utility lines are placed — on a segment of the undergrounding work from S. Greenbrier Street to the Four Mile Run Bridge.

(FMCC’s contract is for one segment, from the county line to Four Mile Run, of the overall project.)

The rogue duct bank was adjacent to Columbia Pike, where a new duct bank containing the currently above-ground utility lines was to go. The county says it’s investigating why the existing duct bank, which is owned by Verizon, was not under the roadway as records indicated.

Given that the lines can no longer be placed next to the roadway, they will have to go under Columbia Pike, county staff said. That will require more extensive lane and intersection closures and occasional weekend detours — thus the extra expense.

At last night’s meeting Board members pushed for much of the disruptive work to be done at night, to prevent a traffic nightmare along the Pike during peak times.

“This is going to be a mess,” said Board member Libby Garvey.

More from the county staff report:

A third segment, Four Mile Run Bridge to South Jefferson Street (Segment H&I), started construction in early 2018. During construction of this segment, a previously unknown existing underground communications duct bank was encountered which required redesign to relocate the new underground combined electric-communications duct bank, and results in this request to increase to the construction contract.

FMCC completed the first part of the new duct bank between South Jefferson Street and South Greenbrier Street without issues. The initial excavation for the segment between South Greenbrier Street and Four Mile Run Bridge uncovered an existing underground communications duct bank in the location planned for the new duct bank (Figure 1). This conflict resulted in a revised design that places the duct bank in the roadway, making the work more complex as construction must contend with heavy traffic conditions. The overall duct length has increased because the new duct bank must be routed around many existing utilities. Additionally, the project was delayed due to the time necessary to complete the redesign. A contract change was negotiated with FMCC for the additional cost to install the redesigned underground duct bank and return the project back to the original substantial completion timeframe. The result of negotiations was an increase of $5,500,000.

Construction that is part of this contract change will require additional lane closures beyond those currently in effect today. These will vary depending on the phase of construction and will be communicated to the public in advance. Some left-turn restrictions will be implemented in phases at intersections and driveways and some intersections will require closures and detours where the work will occur on weekends. Access to driveways will be maintained throughout the project area and bus stops will be temporarily relocated and consolidated when impacted by construction.

During the engineering phase of the project, records showed the existing communications duct bank was inside the roadway with sufficient clearance for the planned new duct bank. An investigation is ongoing into the reason why the existing duct bank was found to be in a location that interfered with the new duct bank and will continue concurrently with construction of the revised design.

Map via Arlington County. Kalina Newman contributed to this report.

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Construction on four new transit stations along Columbia Pike is set to begin this week, per county officials.

Nearly seven years after the uproar over the million dollar bus stop, the county awarded a $1.64 million contract to build the first 4 out of 23 planned bus stops along the Pike. The stations include large glass shelters, seating, lighting, trash cans, real time bus arrival displays and a higher curb for easier boarding.

Part of Arlington’s planned “premium transit network,” the improvements are intended to provide a better transit experience along the busy Columbia Pike transit corridor.

Per the construction map, the new stations will be located near the intersections of:

  • Columbia Pike and S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • Columbia Pike and S. Buchanan Street
  • Columbia Pike and S. Oakland Street
  • Columbia Pike and S. Glebe Road

More from the county’s website:

Work will begin at the South Four Mile Run Drive location, then move to the other locations in the order listed above. The current bus stop at Four Mile Run Drive will be moved one block east to Columbia Pike and South Wakefield Street during construction.

Constructing the stations will be a two-step process. First, our contractor will build the supporting infrastructure for the four stations, then they will return to each site to install the shelters and other station features. It will take several months to construct each location’s supporting infrastructure, which includes an 85 to 120-foot-long station platform with higher curb, the shelter foundation, a concrete bus pad in the roadway and electrical connections.

Installation of the station shelters is expected to start in summer 2020, once the fabricator, which is manufacturing the shelters for all 23 station locations, begins production.

Arlington’s 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan allocates a total of $16.9 million for the 23 stations, which includes the above-ground structures and supporting infrastructure, site design, project management and construction costs. The remaining stations are expected to be constructed between 2020-2023.

The county withdrew its original construction plans six years ago after the the prototype cost of the Walter Reed Drive stop, first reported by ARLnow, was revealed to cost over $1 million. The plans drew outrage from the public and attention from national and international press.

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The Arlington County Board has approved a nearly $5.5 million contract to revamp the area around the Ballston Metro station.

The project — a refinement of an earlier plan, which we last reported in 2014 — will build nine bus bays, covered bus shelters and new seating areas.

More from Arlington County:

The Board voted unanimously to approve a $5.45 million contract, including $909,080 (20 percent) contingency, with Ardent Company, LLC for major improvements to the bus stop and seating areas along North Fairfax Drive and North Stuart Street. The project will expand pedestrian circulation spaces, and add real-time information displays to nine bus stops in the area. Antiquated streetlights will be upgraded, landscaping added and the existing bus driveway on Fairfax Drive will be replaced with four new saw-tooth bus bays. The North Stuart Street sidewalk will be made more accessible to persons with disabilities.

The project, included in the County’s Capital Improvement Plan, will be funded with a combination of federal, state and local funds. It is expected to begin in early spring 2020 and last for 18 months.

“Upon completion, Arlington County will take ownership and maintenance responsibility of the new furniture, information signage, and bus shelters,” a county staff report notes.

“As Arlington grows, it is essential that the County continue to improve our transportation infrastructure,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a statement.

A separate plan calls for the Ballston Metro canopy to be replaced with a public art installation, “which will consist of a dozens of LEDs that can be individually programmed to respond to motion sensors that detect riders coming in and out of the station.”

The county is also currently working to kickstart a project to build a second entrance to the Ballston Metro entrance.

Photo via Google Maps

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A $2.6 million project to renovate Benjamin Banneker Park will close the park and a portion of the W&OD Trail starting the week after Thanksgiving.

The project, which was given the green light in September, will widen the trails from 8 to 12 feet and upgrade the athletic field, playground, picnic area, dog park and more.

The park closure and trail detour were originally advertised as starting this week, but everything is still open, for now.

“We are giving people a two week notice to make adjustments,” said Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. “The trail and park will close December 3. We’ve provided detour recommendations on sandwich boards around the park as well as online. We are putting up a banner at the dog park directing people to the web to find an alternative dog park.”

Not everyone is happy about the trail detour, which will redirect pedestrian and bike traffic from the park — near the East Falls Church Metro station — to the busy intersection of N. Sycamore Street and 19th Street N., which has traffic lights and pedestrian crossing signals.

“Many of us are caught off guard with the total closure of the trail between the creek and the soccer field for the duration of the project,” said Kelly Alexis, a local resident, in an email to county staff that she also sent to ARLnow and other concerned residents.

“Arlington County has provided only one re-route option — funneling all pedestrian and bicycle traffic to the most congested possible intersection; passing across the entry and exit to the EFC Metro Kiss-and-ride lot,” Alexis continued. “This was not part of the plan that was presented to us at the open meetings and has a major impact on bicycle and pedestrian traffic.”

In response to a request to complete trail construction first, before the other park changes, a county staffer said that was not a viable option for a number of reasons. Among them: the need to fence off the trail from the rest of the under-construction park — thus creating “a safety concern for users who would then have very limited egress through a long confined corridor in the park if they were endangered or injured.”

Kalish said she is not aware of any plans to make changes to the detour.

Construction is currently expected to wrap up between July and September of 2020, according to the county website.

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Arlington was almost poised to get rid of a “redundant” regulation for contractors this past weekend.

The Arlington County Board was slated to consider revising a chapter of county code related to home improvement regulations during its meeting this past Saturday, November 16. Specifically, members were scheduled to vote on nixing a requirement for home improvement contractors to match county regulations with state regulations.

In Virginia, contractors paid more than $1,000 for a project must seek either a class A, B, or C license based on the scale of their projects. If a contractor is seeking project that pays under $10,000 they can apply for a class C license, while projects up to $120,000 require a Class B license, and more expensive projects require a Class A license. Officials said because Virginia didn’t previously require contractors to sit for an Class C exam, Arlington decided to administer its own to verify their qualifications.

“However, as of December 1, 2012, all contractors seeking a license from the state Board of Contractors are required to take an examination in their specialty, for all classes (A, B & C),” said county spokeswoman Erika Moore. “Because the Board of Contractors is already administering a test to ensure these individuals are qualified, having the County administer another test is redundant and not cost efficient.”

In an email to ARLnow on Friday, Moore added that the county has only administered one test since 2012, which cost the county “the time it takes staff to process the required paperwork to administer and review that test and then to issue the license.”

However, the proposal to nix the exam — which was originally a part of the Board’s consent agenda — was later removed from the meeting agenda later last week.

Moore told ARLnow that staff removed the item from the agenda because “the report [to the Board] was not completed in time for posting of the consent agenda 72 hours prior to the County Board meeting.”

When asked, she did not answer when the item is expected to return to the dais.

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