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Construction Starts on ‘Clarendon Circle’ Intersection, Prompting Traffic Changes and Detours

Crews have broken ground on the first phase of the “Clarendon Circle” project, bringing improvements to one of the county’s trickiest intersections for pedestrians and cyclists but creating some temporary traffic changes.

The County Board approved in June the contract for the overhaul of the “Clarendon Circle” — the area where Clarendon, Washington and Wilson boulevards all meet, just past the Metro station.

The first phase of the project involves concrete work along eastbound Washington Blvd — west of Wilson Blvd and Fairfax Drive — along with removal of the existing curb and gutter in the area.

Ardent Construction Company began in September Clarendon Circle’s reconstruction, which is anticipated to last one year, according to the county.

Signs will provide detour directions. Drivers and pedestrians have the following options to Clarendon Blvd from Washington Blvd:

  • Turn right on southbound N. Kirkwood Road, which turns into 10th Street N. Then turn left on Wilson Blvd and continue straight.
  • Stay on Washington Blvd, crossing Wilson and Clarendon boulevards, and then turn left on N. Highland Street. Then turn right.

Additionally, left turns will be restricted on eastbound Washington Blvd along with the left turn from eastbound Washington Blvd to Clarendon Blvd through next summer.

Traffic disruptions with lane and sidewalk closures during the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. work hours on Mondays through Fridays are expected, the county said, adding that no weekend work is scheduled.

The planned improvements address planners’ desired changes to the intersection, like shortening the distances pedestrians have to walk across roads. The work will also include long-anticipated installation of additional bike lanes, the widening of Washington Blvd and the addition of upgraded traffic signals.

The project will also add a “green streets” element to N. Irving Street, next to the Silver Diner, which planners have said will help better manage stormwater.

Additional plans for the project include installing new Carlyle streetlights, adding curb extensions at the Liberty Tavern corner and planting more trees.

Maps via Arlington County

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Sidewalk to Nowhere Baffles Ballston Pedestrians

Ballston is currently a construction zone, and that construction led to a confusing situation for pedestrians at one particular intersection today.

The intersection of N. Randolph Street and Wilson Blvd is busy throughout the day with vehicle and pedestrian traffic. But both drivers and those on foot have had to navigate a changing landscape of construction equipment and road blocks over the past few months, thanks to sidewalk construction and work on a trio of large projects at three corners of the intersection: Ballston Quarter, Ballston Exchange and Liberty Center.

Today a new batch of work on the northwest corner introduced a new challenge: the work made it impossible for pedestrians to head east to west on Wilson Blvd — in the direction of the Metro station and popular lunchtime restaurants — without either walking into the street or through an active construction zone. The only safe option: walk north to 9th Street N. or south to Glebe Road.

Around lunchtime ARLnow witnessed dozens of pedestrians walk around the construction, down a travel lane of Wilson or Randolph, rather than going several blocks out of the way as a detour. We also saw several people literally walk through the construction zone, hopping over wet concrete as workers watched.

Police received at least one complaint about the construction and an alleged lack of signage this afternoon, according to scanner traffic, but officers did not respond to the scene as it was deemed not a police matter. Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, meanwhile, says it is keeping a close eye on the construction.

“DES is actively monitoring this site several times a day, and giving the developer direction on how to ensure pedestrian safety by requiring proper and clear signage for detours (and other warning signs) associated with the ever-changing construction activities on this site,” said DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter. “We are actively working with the developer to ensure proper permits are obtained and management of traffic plans are submitted and executed in a timely manner to deal with situations like this one.”

Work on the intersection is expected to wrap up later this week, Baxter said. The project is intended to enlarge the sidewalk and make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street — when completed.

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Memorial Bridge Construction Creates Big Headaches for Monday Morning Commuters

Major construction work on the Arlington Memorial Bridge kicked off late last night (Sunday), snarling traffic for thousands of commuters headed into D.C. this morning.

Traffic cameras and maps showed heavy backups along both I-395 and Washington Blvd approaching the bridge for the morning rush hour. Other nearby roads, like the G.W. Parkway and Arlington Blvd, also saw heavy delays, no doubt worsened by the morning’s dreary conditions.

The National Park Service has closed three of the bridge’s six lanes to allow for the $227 million rehab project, which planners say is needed to avoid a full shutdown of the bridge in the coming years.

The NPS plans to keep one eastbound lane and one westbound lane open at all times, then reverse one lane to match the direction of traffic in the morning and afternoon rush hours. One of the bridge’s sidewalks will also be closed at all times as the work continues.

AAA is warning commuters to avoid the bridge if at all possible between now and the expected end of construction in 2021, reasoning that the delays for the 24.8 million vehicles to cross the bridge each year are too substantial to be ignored.

“If possible, avoid the Arlington Memorial Bridge altogether. Seek alternate routes and try other modes of transportation, if you can, while construction is underway,” John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, wrote in a statement. “Plan your trips across and around the Memorial Bridge. If you must use the bridge, do the right thing, drive carefully and slowly through the construction site, watch for construction workers, expect changing travel patterns and possible delays, exercise extreme caution, and minimize distractions.”

The NPS has details about the bridge’s new traffic pattern, and suggestions for commuters looking to avoid the bridge, available on its website.

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DCA Construction Shuts Down Cell Phone Waiting Lot for Arrival Pick-Ups

The lengthy construction work at Reagan National Airport has now shut down the cell phone waiting lot for drivers picking up arrivals, with rolling lane closures in place as part of the latest headache for travelers.

The cell phone lot shut down Monday (Oct. 8) to clear the way for the construction work, and will be closed indefinitely, airport officials announced last week. As a concession, drivers will now be able to park for free for up to an hour in any of the airport’s three terminal parking garages.

Segments of lanes along the upper-level Terminal B/C ticketing road will also be shut down 24 hours-per-day through mid-November. Officials plan to maintain at least two travel lanes at all times.

These latest closures have also forced Reagan to change the pick-up locations for shuttle buses at Terminals B/C. Anyone arriving at gates 10 through 45 should head upstairs to ticketing on level three, then look for the new stops near the JetBlue/Alaska Air entrance. Pick-up spots for taxis and rideshare drivers won’t be impacted by the work.

Over the past few months, the construction has irked taxi drivers at the airport, who claim that Reagan officials have poorly managed the construction to give preference to Uber and Lyft drivers and hurt their business.

Neighbors have complained about the work as well, after the airport set aside a staging lot for rideshare drivers that snarled traffic in the area — Arlington officials ultimately agreed to re-open an exit to a street adjacent to the lot in a bid to address the issue.

Airport leaders expect that work on the construction, dubbed “Project Journey” and primarily designed to replace the three security checkpoints at Terminal B/C with two new buildings, will run through 2021. However, they plan to wrap up most of the work on the arrival lanes by the middle of next year, when construction will focus on the airport’s interior.

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Mt. Vernon Trail Blocked After Construction Equipment Damages Bridge

The Mt. Vernon Trail is currently blocked near Roosevelt Island after someone tried to drive a piece of large construction equipment over a rickety wooden bridge.

The wooden plank bridge carries trail traffic in the area of Roosevelt Island and the Roosevelt Bridge, near Rosslyn. It is noted for being slippery when wet and generally uneven at all times, causing bikes to shake as cyclists ride over it.

Earlier today, a large piece of construction equipment was driven over the bridge and, predictably, broke a number of boards before getting stuck. The National Park Service is currently working to assess and repair the structure so that the trail can be reopened.

“NPS and Federal Highway Administration engineers are assessing the bridge,” said NPS spokesman Jonathan Shafer. “We hope to reopen the bridge and this section of the Mt. Vernon Trail soon, but we don’t have a time set yet.”

Via Twitter, an NPS spokeswoman said they were “hoping to reopen by evening commute but not sure yet,” adding that cyclists can detour past the closure by crossing bridges into D.C. and back.

Shafer says the circumstances around how the equipment was driven onto the boardwalk are being investigated. He said the equipment does not belong to the park service.

“It was not NPS equipment,” he said. “U.S. Park Police are investigating this.”

Update at 5 p.m. — The trail has reopened, according to NPS.

Photos (1 & 4) via NPS/Twitter (2 & 3) via BikeArlington Forum

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New Audit Finds No Cause for Alarm Over APS Construction Costs

Arlington may spend slightly more on school construction than some of the county’s peers around the D.C. region, but a long-awaited audit report suggests that the school system has done a decent job holding costs down in recent years.

Prepared by an independent firm for the School Board’s internal auditor and released today (Monday), the new analysis commends Arlington Public Schools for matching other dense urban areas like Alexandria and D.C. when it comes to the cost of new school construction. The audit found that the county does tend to spend more on architectural and engineering work than some of its neighbors, but analysts chalked up that discrepancy to Arlington’s challenges finding space for new schools.

APS has earned plenty of criticism for its spending on construction projects in recent years, particularly after a state analysis showed that the school system spent significantly more on the new Wakefield High School than other counties around the state did on comparable projects. The Board hired an internal auditor, John Mickevice, in 2014 as debate raged across the county about the costs of major construction efforts of all sorts, and he commissioned this review of costs last October.

In general, the audit found that the school system is hardly perfect when it comes to managing big projects — for instance, the analysts note that Arlington’s lengthy public engagement process does inevitably tend to drive costs up — and includes some suggestions about how APS might streamline some of its design and acquisition practices. But it also does not contain any sweeping indictment of the school system’s methods, finding that Arlington has often paid less per seat for its elementary and high schools than its neighbors.

“Even with our challenges, this shows we’re still in the ballpark with everyone else,” School Board member Barbara Kanninen, the chair of the Board’s audit committee, told ARLnow. “This idea that somehow we’re too extravagant is simply not confirmed… and it is a little bit validating.”

In all, the audit found that the county’s high schools cost less to build than nine of the 14 other schools around the region that analysts examined. The firm, Bethesda-based O’Connor Construction Management, primarily focused on schools in Loudoun County, Fairfax County, D.C., Alexandria and Montgomery County, Maryland.

For instance, the group found that the new Wakefield High School, opened in 2013, cost a total of $118.6 million, or about $60,500 per seat. Meanwhile, the new Wilson building (set to open next year and house the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs) will cost around $101 million, or $130,300 per seat.

For comparison, similarly sized high schools in D.C. ranged in cost from $129,000 per seat to $248,000 per seat. High schools in Montgomery County ranged from costs close to $51,900 per seat to $76,500 per seat, while Loudoun’s cost hovered between $51,800 and $59,800 per seat.

Fairfax County had the lowest costs of the bunch, with prices ranging from $33,100 per seat to $40,400 for new high schools.

The audit found similar trends in elementary school construction costs.

Arlington paid about $64,000 per seat at the new Discovery Elementary School, and is set to finish the new Alice West Fleet Elementary at a cost of $62,500 per seat. D.C. schools ranged in cost from $100,000 to $124,000 per seat, while Montgomery came in at $41,400 to $65,100 per seat. Loudoun’s schools ranged from $27,900 to $34,300 per seat.

But the analysts noted that Fairfax, Loudoun and Montgomery all benefited from working with considerably more open space than similar projects in Arlington or D.C. Not only has that forced the county to pay significantly more to build underground parking structures at some schools, but APS can’t simply replicate the same school designs at each site.

“APS does not have the luxury of developing uniform design specifications, due to the dense urban location of its schools,” the analysts wrote. “Thus, each school is designed to meet the particular needs of the community’s students.”

As Kanninen puts it, the school system can’t simply take a design “off the shelf” and use it over again the exact same way — the audit estimates the additional design work can bump up the costs of Arlington’s projects by as much as 1.5 percent of the total construction cost, compared to the county’s neighbors.

That being said, the analysts found that “the increased staff involvement — in time and resources — during the community engagement process” does also tend to edge the county’s costs a bit higher. But they also awarded APS high marks for its energy efficiency standards, which should help generate savings in the long term.

The report recommends a whole host of new contracting practices for APS to adopt, and suggests that the school system tweak some of its methods for buying things like school furniture.

Kanninen says the Board plans to take a close look at all of those recommendations, particularly one suggesting that APS emphasize “value engineering” throughout the design process to keep costs down. She added that the Board specifically asked the analysts to include those recommendations for changes in the report, which delayed its release slightly.

School leaders had initially hoped to have the audit in hand this summer, prompting some grumbling about the report’s delay, but Kanninen wants to assure the community that were no ulterior motives at play.

“People think we were trying to figure out how to pitch this story, but that was not the case at all,” Kanninen said.

Kanninen, the Board’s lone member up for re-election this year, said she is acutely aware that the subject of school costs has become a hot-button political issue. Even though she expects the report won’t quiet all the school system’s critics, she hopes it reassures taxpayers that their money is being well spent.

“There are always going to be people who believe we’re spending too much… but I think it’s going to lend some confidence to the community that we’re spending wisely,” Kanninen said. “The School Board took this proactive step to look into this and it’s a positive thing. There’s a lot to be proud of here.”

Now, county and school leaders are trying to schedule a joint meeting of their respective audit committees to discuss the report in more detail, according to County Board member John Vihstadt. As co-chair of the county’s audit committee, he hopes to use that gathering to gain “a collective understanding of the audit findings and look to collaborative next steps to address them.”

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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Carlin Springs Road Bridge Halfway Built, More Road Closures Set for This Weekend

The Carlin Springs Road Bridge construction has passed the halfway point, and some more road closures are on the way as work wraps up.

The southern half of the replacement bridge is now in use with one lane of traffic open in each direction. Pedestrians are directed to use the walkway on the southern side of the bridge.

Work has begun on rehabilitating the north side of the bridge. Starting tomorrow (Saturday), the contractor is scheduled to install steel beams to allow construction on the remainder of the new bridge deck. During this time, N. George Mason Drive will be closed where it passes under the bridge.

The current traffic pattern will remain in place until the rest of the bridge deck is completed. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2019.

Meanwhile, the new sanitary sewer main at the N. Carlin Springs Road and N. Abington Street intersection has been completed. Street pavement and other restoration work is expected to be completed by late fall 2018.

The original Carlin Springs Road Bridge was demolished in December 2017 after it was found to be substantially deteriorated. The new bridge will feature wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and four vehicle travel lanes.

Photo via Arlington Department of Environmental Services

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Morning Notes

HQ2 Odds Ever in Our Favor — Business Insider says it has “long seen the evidence pointing to the DC area” as the eventual destination for Amazon’s second headquarters. Online betting odds, meanwhile, favor Northern Virginia, and ARLnow.com hears that Crystal City is the far and away the most likely Northern Virginia locale for HQ2. [Business Insider]

High School Football Season Underway — “For the second straight season, but this year at a different venue, the Wakefield Warriors opened their high-school football campaign with a victory over the Washington-Lee Generals.” Yorktown, meanwhile, gave up a lead and lost to Wilson 37-29. [InsideNova]

McCain and Vietnam Vets Calls Nam Viet Home — A group of Vietnam War veterans, including the late Sen. John McCain, who was laid to rest over the weekend, regularly met up at Nam Viet restaurant in Clarendon. [Cronkite News]

First Day of School Reminder — Today is the first day of school for Arlington Public Schools and the school system is reminding residents that passing a school bus with its stop arm out is a traffic infraction punishable by a $250 fine. Police, meanwhile, are participating in a back-to-school safety campaign that includes extra enforcement of such traffic laws. [Twitter, Arlington County]

School Board: Don’t Go Over Building Budget — “Should Arlington Public Schools hold firm, no matter what, to budgets on upcoming construction projects? Or allow a little maneuvering room, if the opportunity arises, in an effort to get more bang for their buck? That question played out again Aug. 30, as School Board members split 3-2 in directing an advisory body to not even think about returning with a plan that exceeds the $37 million budget for turning the Arlington Education Center’s administrative offices into classroom space.” [InsideNova]

Police Prepare for Plane Pull — “The public is invited to cheer on the Arlington Police and Sheriff Team during the Plane Pull at Dulles Airport on Saturday, September 15, 2018.” [Arlington County]

New MU Prez Focuses on Real-World Experience — Irma Becerra, Marymount University’s new president and the first person of color in that role, plans “to further connect the Arlington university with its surrounding business community, making internships an equal pillar of her vision as enrollment, graduation and retention rates.” [Washington Business Journal]

Empanada Thief Caught on Camera — Arlington squirrels, apparently, are now blatantly stealing and eating empanadas in broad daylight. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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More Memorial Bridge Lane Closures Possible in Coming Days

Prep work for major construction on the Memorial Bridge is prompting some lane closures and other travel disruptions in the area over the next few days.

Workers are planning to set up “staging areas” just south of Memorial Circle to prepare for a full rehab effort on the bridge later this fall, which will include a full weekend shutdown of the bridge in mid-September.

That means drivers in the area can expect “temporary lane closures as trucks deliver material there,” largely during the day. The closures could also impact the Mount Vernon Trail, with the National Park Service warning that the trail likely won’t close entirely but “users may have to wait while workers move material over it.”

The NPS recently had to schedule overnight lane closures on the G.W. Parkway and Washington Blvd to pave roads leading up to the stage area, but it expects that today (Friday) was the last day of those disruptions.

Labor Day should also mark the end of work on the Windy Run Bridge along the G.W. Parkway. Workers are hoping to do away with the lane closures and shifts that have marked that section of the parkway for the last few weeks sometime after the holiday.

Photo via National Park Service

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Construction Set to Start on New Lubber Run Community Center

Construction work on the new Lubber Run Community Center is now set to start in just a few days, kicking off a years-long, nearly $48 million project.

The county’s Department of Parks and Recreation says construction should start in “early September,” with fencing going up to close the area to park visitors. The county closed down the old rec center, located at 300 N. Park Drive, early last month, then gave people a chance to decorate its walls with art ahead of its impending demolition.

The County Board agreed to move ahead with construction of the project last September, though Arlington officials have eyed a replacement for the Lubber Run facility for years now. The original community center was built back in 1956, and the two-story facility will provide anywhere from 45,000 to 55,000 square feet of new space at the site.

Construction is set to wrap up on the project sometime in 2020, prompting the relocation of a variety of community programs in the meantime. County parks staff have relocated to several locations around the county, while the Office of Senior Adult Programs moved to the Madison Community Center.

Meanwhile, the Lubber Run Creative Preschool has shifted over to the Langston-Brown Community Center, as have the “tot summer camps” held at the facility.

The “Kids-in-Action” Afterschool Program moved over to the Barrett Elementary Extended Day Program, and the county plans “to determine if the program will be revitalized in the new Lubber Run Community Center” moving forward.

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Improvements Underway on S. Walter Reed Drive, With More Changes to Come

S. Walter Reed Drive is slated for several changes that, among other alterations, are designed to make the roadway more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

Construction kicked off last month (July) between 11th Street S. and 13th Street S. That work is scheduled to be completed later this year and primarily targets S. Walter Reed Drive’s intersection with 12th Street S., improving crosswalks and building curb extensions and new ADA-compliant curb ramps.

Also included in the project is the reconstruction of three raised medians to run along that portion of the roadway and alterations to an existing bike boulevard, which will be moved from 12th Street S. to 11th Street S. between S. Highland and S. Cleveland Streets.

Drivers should expect one travel lane to be closed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays to accommodate construction. Pedestrians will see sidewalk detours and temporary crosswalks, and on-street parking will be restricted.

long-awaited set of changes to a different portion of S. Walter Reed Drive — from S. Arlington Mill Drive to S. Four Mile Run Drive — is set to get underway in mid-September.

That plan has been in the works for years, and the county awarded a $1.8 million contract for it in May. Construction aims to add ADA-compliant bus stops, new crosswalks and curb ramps, more street lighting and improved signals for drivers and pedestrians.

The project also intends to make travel between the Four Mile Run Trail and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail safer and to realign westbound S. Arlington Mill Drive in an effort to make the crossing more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. The county has been piloting the realignment at the intersection of S. Walter Reed Drive and S. Arlington Mill Drive with a temporary installation since June 2017.

Additional changes to the designated portion of the roadway will include a slight widening of travel lanes and resurfacing.

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Morning Notes

Family Surprised to Learn Pet Was a Snapping Turtle — “An Arlington family took in a box turtle to be the new family pet recently — only to find out that it was actually a snapping turtle. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington tweeted out a photo of the turtle, noting that their officers had seized the turtle from the unwitting family.” [Patch, Twitter]

APS Delays Release of Construction Cost Report — “Arlington residents will have to wait a little longer for an analysis of the reasons behind the high costs of school construction in the county. The audit committees of the County Board and School Board had been slated to meet Aug. 7 in a joint session to discuss a report by school-system auditor John Mickevice on school-construction costs. That meeting, however, was called off.” [InsideNova]

TSA Keeps Finding Guns in Carry-ons at DCA — Earlier this month, in two separate incidents, TSA agents at Reagan National Airport seized loaded handguns from two men trying to carry them onto planes. The guns were the seventh and eighth seized at the airport so far this year. The men are now facing weapons charges. [Patch]

Jail Holds Creative Writing Contest — A 26-year-old man who’s in jail on a heroin possession charge won the Arlington County lockup’s first-ever creative writing contest yesterday. His prize-winning poem, in part: “I dream about the future. I dream about the past. I dream about the mountains. I dream about the sea. I dream of all the places that I would rather be.” [NBC Washington]

InsideNova Not Available in Europe — More than 1,000 U.S. news websites are blocking users from Europe after the EU implemented strict new privacy regulations known as GDPR on May 25. Among the sites that are no longer accessible from Europe, as seen in this screen shot from last month: InsideNova, which publishes articles from the Arlington Sun Gazette newspaper. [Nieman Journalism Lab]

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Construction on Columbia Pike’s West End Nears a New Phase

A new water main is almost finished being installed along a portion of Columbia Pike as construction continues on the roadway, according to a July 31 construction update from the county.

The water main work represents part of construction that runs along Columbia Pike from Arlington’s border with Fairfax County through Four Mile Run Drive. Expected to last about three years from its kickoff in February, the project includes moving overhead utilities underground, changing out older water and sewage pipes and making street improvements.

Drivers should continue to expect lane closures and other traffic changes during construction, and should keep an eye out for left turn restrictions in work zones. Pedestrians will see sidewalk detours.

The county expects sanitary sewer updates to begin this month. Planned streetscape improvements will aim to establish wider sidewalks, enhance traffic signals and add new street lights, among other changes.

This work is part of broader Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements, which hope to make the roadway “a safer, more accessible route for all users,” according to the project page.

In all, planned and completed improvements run along Columbia Pike from the county line to S. Joyce Street with work expected to continue through 2021.

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Permits Issued But No Construction Yet at Former Clarendon Walgreens

It has stood empty and unused for a year and a half, but there are signs that interior construction could be starting soon at the former Walgreens in Clarendon.

The final plan for the historically-designated building to be converted into a JPMorgan Chase Bank was approved by Arlington inspectors last week, according to county permitting records.

The branch is one of four planned for the D.C. area as part of an expansion of the financial giant’s consumer banking arm. The company purchased the property at 2825 Wilson Blvd for $25 million, according to the Washington Business Journal.

Asked for additional details, including an expected opening date, a JPMorgan Chase spokesman said the company has “no further information to provide at this time.”

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Sidewalk Work Gets Underway Near Lacey Woods Park

(Updated at 9:10 a.m.) Drivers and pedestrians should expect to see construction signs, crews and heavy equipment along parts of N. George Mason Drive and Washington Blvd near Lacey Woods Park through the fall.

The county kicked off sidewalk improvement work last week on N. George Mason Drive and Washington Blvd. from 14th Street N. to N. Evergreen Street. Projected changes include new five-foot concrete sidewalks, storm inlet enhancements and bus stop upgrades.

Construction crews are expected to occupy a lane along Washington Blvd. from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays while work is underway. On N. George Mason Drive, crews will occupy a lane from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

No detours are expected while construction takes place.

Photo 1 via Arlington County, 2 and 3 via Google Maps

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