Press Club

The County Board meeting scheduled for tonight is being delayed by one day.

The Board’s annual new year organizational meeting serves mostly as the appointment of a new chair and vice chair, and an opportunity for members to give speeches about their goals for the year ahead.

The meeting has been rescheduled “due to inclement weather.” It’s now set to be held Tuesday night, along with a scheduled meeting with the Arlington Civic Federation.

“The Organizational Meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 4, 2022 at 6:00pm, followed by the Meeting with the Arlington Civic Federation,” the county announced Monday morning.

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Two years since Henry Clay Park in Lyon Park closed for renovations, the since-renamed Zitkala-Ša Park is on the verge of reopening.

Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation is aiming to open the park by Friday, more than a year after its initial target reopening date. That will be a relief for neighbors, who have been peppering ARLnow with emails asking when it will finally open back up.

A parks department spokeswoman said the construction delays are related to the pandemic and the supply chain disruptions it has caused.

“Zitkala-Sa in particular has suffered heavily from the pandemic causing fabrication and material delivery delays, specifically we waited an extended duration for playground equipment to be manufactured and shipped and for the playground surfacing materials to be shipped to the site,” DPR’s Susan Kalish tells ARLnow. “Once those were in hand progress on addressing many of the smaller details that are not readily apparent to casual observers has progressed steadily. We anticipate the park to open by October 1.”

Earlier this year the parks department also cited weather-related delays. At the time the department was hoping the park would open by July, which would have been one year behind the initial expected completion date of July 2020.

Upgrades to the park at the corner of 7th and N. Highland streets include a new basketball court, play structures, a picnic shelter, and upgraded fencing and landscaping. Last year Henry Clay Park was officially renamed after Zitkala-Ša, an Indigenous rights activist who lived near the park.

Kalish said a grand opening celebration will likely be scheduled for mid-October. There will also be a private ceremony for the family of the late County Board member Erik Gutshall, who lived nearby and for whom a memorial plaque is being placed at the park.

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Washington Gas’s customer service, or reported lack thereof, has prompted a flood of calls to Virginia’s utilities regulator.

The State Corporation Commission tells ARLnow that its utilities regulation division is receiving upwards of 30 calls a day from Virginians who say they can’t reach the Washington Gas customer service call center or are experiencing long wait times.

“This is unusual,” said Ken Schrad, the director of the SCC’s Division of Information Resources. “Typically, the division averages only about 40 a month, two-three per day, involving Washington Gas… And, that would include all matters brought to the division’s attention, including bill disputes, not just the current problem regarding the inability to get through to the company.”

Virginia’s largest natural gas local distribution company, in terms of customers served, has been the subject of a flood of complaints on social media, in internet forums, tips to ARLnow, and a letter sent to PoPville. Those affected include people moving, who who need services started or stopped and and worry about having the ability to cook and take hot showers in their new homes or getting charged for gas at their old residence.

The delays appear to be tied to staffing shortages in Washington Gas’s call center. In response to ARLnow’s request for comment, Washington Gas, which also serves D.C. and Maryland, said it is addressing these shortages while rolling out new ways to connect with customer service workers.

“Washington Gas apologizes to our customers who continue to have difficulty reaching our call center over the last few months. We know that we have not met our customers’ expectations or our own high standards of service,” Washington Gas spokesman Bernie Tylor said.

These shortages made moving more stressful for Jesse Croft, who relocated from Ballston to the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood while pregnant and caring for two young children. She said she called Washington Gas about a dozen times trying to set up service, and at one point, she spent three hours on hold, having to hang up because she had to take a work call.

“It is truly shocking that they operating like this,” she said. “Not to mention, it appears to have been going on since at least last December. How have they not hired more customer service reps or an outside company to help?”

Another ARLnow tipster expressed similar frustrations with the two- to five-hour call center wait times required to set up gas.

“People are resorting to tweeting them or sending them messages on Facebook,” the individual said. “If this was a random business, that is one thing, but this is the area’s only provider of gas service! They really need some press shined on this!”

Hundreds of customers are able to use the website to start and stop service, Tylor said. But, certain circumstances require additional review of an address and customer service intervention.

“In these instances, customers have experienced excessive hold times,” he said, adding that the volume of requests via Facebook and Twitter has “strained our resources as well.”

That happened to one person whose address wasn’t being recognized in the company’s new system. In a thread on the online forum D.C. Urban Moms and Dads, the poster described trying Twitter and Facebook, and being ready to show up at the gas company’s D.C. office: “I’m desperate… I’m ready to throw my phone out of the window.”

Another poster said that during a call with Washington Gas, the company “blamed [the delays] on COVID and said lots of people were out sick, or no longer working for them, or something dumb like that.”

The SCC said a contributing factor could be a recent change to a third-party customer service provider.

“Staff is aware that the company recently changed its third-party provider to perform both the non-emergency and emergency call center functions and the transition may be contributing to the delays customers are experiencing,” he said.

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Morning Notes

Board Advertises Property Tax Rates — “The Arlington County Board today voted unanimously to advertise no increase in the Calendar Year 2021 base real estate property tax rate, citing the toll the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is taking on residents. The Board also voted to advertise a proposed Stormwater tax rate of 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed real property value to fund the full cost of operations and planned capital improvements to the County’s stormwater infrastructure and flood mitigation… The estimated annual impact for the average household with an assessed home value of $724,400 is $123.” [Arlington County]

Snow Falling in ArlingtonUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — Snow is falling in Arlington, which is just outside of a newly-expanded expanded Winter Weather Advisory. Be careful out there! [Twitter]

Business Owners Talk About Burglaries — “Metry describes the Bluemont neighborhood where his business was burglarized as safe. He doesn’t understand why his business was targeted. ‘The whole register, the iPad, the square scan, all of this was missing,’ Metry said. Surveillance footage captured at neighboring restaurant La Union shows the burglars wearing dark clothing, hoodies, masks and gloves. Jose Zelaya has owned the Mexican restaurant La Union for 21 years. Aside from a random car break-in, he said he’s never experienced any crime like this.” [WUSA 9]

St. Patrick’s Pie at Clarendon Pizzeria — “Colony Grill, Clarendon’s new family-friendly tavern, known for its gracious hospitality and famous ‘hot oil’ bar-style pizzas, will serve a special corned beef & cabbage “Bar Pie”… [f]rom Friday, March 12 through Wednesday, March 17.” [Press Release]

Reminder: Trash Collection Delayed a Day — Due to ice and snow last week, Friday’s residential waste collection will be completed today, shifting this week’s collection schedule by one day. [ARLnow]

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Ice and snow has prompted another day without residential waste collection in Arlington, and that will have a ripple effect for residents next week.

“Due to icy road conditions and crew safety concerns, there will be no trash/recycling/yard waste curbside collection today,” Arlington County said this morning.

As a result of the delays, the trash collection schedule for next week will shift back by a day.

“Thursday’s route will now be completed on Saturday, 2/20,” the county said. “Friday’s route will be completed on Monday, 2/22, which will shift next week’s collection schedule by one day next week… Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.”

The county’s collection service serves mostly single-family homes; apartments and condos are served by private haulers.

Table via Arlington County

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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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(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) Travelers flying in or out of Reagan National Airport should expect significant delays after an emergency landing and aircraft evacuation this morning.

Initial reports suggest that an American Airlines flight landed, declared an emergency and evacuated passengers on the tarmac after smoke filled the cabin. Emergency responders rushed to the scene but so far no significant injuries have been reported.

Dozens of flights are now delayed, waiting to take off or land from the busy airport.

“Due to… Aircraft Emergency, traffic is experiencing Gate Hold and Taxi delays between 46 minutes and 1 hour in length and increasing,” the Federal Aviation Administration said on its website as of 10:30 a.m. Shortly thereafter, the airport tweeted that the incident had been cleared and flights were resuming.

More from social media:

https://twitter.com/glukianoff/status/1204054315624730632

Screen cap via Twitter/@glukianoff

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Some Arlington Transit (ART) riders are out of luck as transportation officials tell ARLnow that maintenance issues are cutting service.

The bus service shared today that ART routes 43, 45, 53, 87 would operate on “reduced service” and that at least three other lines (45 to S. Dinwiddie Street, 61 to N. Veitch Street, and 75 to N. Monroe Street) “will not operate.” The disruptions are due to a “mechanical issue,” according to social media posts.

Numerous delays and cancellations were also reported on Monday.

In October so far, the ART Alert Twitter account reported 76 times that buses missed their routes and 25 times the buses were late or ran reduced schedules. The vast majority of both types of issues were attributed to unspecified mechanical issues.

A spokesman for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) — which oversees ART — told ARLnow that the service interruptions were not related to the ongoing Metrobus strike in Northern Virginia.

“The recent missed trips are due to bus maintenance issues,” said DES spokesman Eric Balliet. “ART’s service provider, National Express, is working to address these issues as soon as possible.”

“This is a temporary interruption and we are working side-by-side with the County to rectify these delays,” said a spokesman for the U.K.-based National Express Transit Corporation. “We will be back to full-service without reductions within 48-72 hours, and will continue to work with the County on delays that may be caused for any route that we serve.”

This is not the first time that mounting maintenance problems affected ART service.

In January, ART pointed to its bus aging fleet and a shortage of drivers and as reasons why some trips were going “missing.” Last June, ART service was also dogged with service delays and cancellations due to unspecified maintenance issues.

In the past, several buses’ brakes have failed, one bus with a reported check engine light issue overturned, and there were other major crashes. However, it’s not clear whether ART’s the latest maintenance woes are related to any of the past issues.

Back in May, a county survey found riders want more updates about their trips, and a recent study found ridership has continued to decline over the past three years.

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(Updated at 1:50 p.m.) A potential opening date for Ballston Quarter’s revamped food court has arrived, but its new restaurants still aren’t open to diners.

Representatives for the overhauled Ballston Common mall previously told ARLnow that the new “Quarter Market” would open today (Wednesday). But barriers and signs still block off all entrances to the new, so-called “food hall.”

Several hungry would-be patrons arrived to make such a discovery as lunchtime neared today, only to be disappointed.

Ballston Quarter’s Twitter account tweeted shortly afterward that the 14-restaurant food court will “begin to open within the next week,” pledging to announce the move on its social media channels.

Rachel Buckly, a public relations representative for Ballston Quarter developer Forest City, said late last week that Quarter Market would begin to open Feb. 27. Signs around the development have promised a February opening date for months.

Shortly after ARLnow published a story to that effect, Buckly reversed herself and wrote in an email that “the first restaurants will begin to open their doors at Quarter Market in early March.” But she did not answer questions about what prompted the sudden delay.

Signs around the property now merely list a “spring 2019” opening date for Quarter Market. (Spring starts March 20.)

This is far from the first delay the development’s experienced since it first neared opening late last year.

Initially, its backers promised to open some stores to the public in late October. But the proposed opening date came and went without any news on the mall’s status, before some stores finally opened in mid-November.

Plans for a new pedestrian bridge stretching over Wilson Blvd also encountered some construction delays last year. Workers mounted the bridge on its supports earlier this month, but it’s not quite ready for use just yet.

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Arlington Transit officials are hoping to get bus service back to normal this week, after everything from emergency brake issues to loose bolts on buses prompted a series of delays and cancellations, but riders on some routes could still see longer waits.

Arlington Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers told ARLnow that her agency discovered a series of mechanical issues on county buses during an inspection of the ART fleet that began last Saturday (June 2). Rivers noted that ART technicians worked to repair those issues as inspectors discovered additional problems, which forced the agency to offer reduced service over the course of the last week.

A county spokeswoman says that ART wrapped up its safety inspection and repairs on Friday (June 8). Now, Rivers says ART hopes to restore its level of service to “our normal” this week.

“All of those [issues] are easily repaired. They’re part of a routine maintenance,” Rivers said.

ART runs routine fleet inspections about every two years, Rivers said. This inspection, which ART characterized as “expedited” in a statement last Tuesday (June 5), occurred a little under two years after the last one, according to Rivers.

She says the the transit agency decided to bump up the safety review after “noticing and also getting comments… about our on-time performance.” Rather than sampling half of ART’s 72-bus fleet, as the agency would in a typical review, Rivers said officials decided to sample 51 buses for maintenance — the number that operates across the county on a normal day.

Issues uncovered by the inspection led to the cancellation of almost 6 percent of trips last Monday (June 4) according to Rivers. That translated to 48 missed trips that affected 11 of ART’s 17 routes, according to the ART Alert Twitter account, which announces all delays and cancellations. Over the course of the week, 12 routes were affected.

Tuesday saw 38 trips missed, according to Twitter. Although that number was down to 16 by Wednesday, it spiked back up to 32 on Thursday before settling back to 13 on Friday.

There were 24 cancellations yesterday (Monday), comparable to the number missed in some of the days preceding last week’s inspection.

Rivers noted that ART plans “to follow up” this week “to see exactly where things are.” However, she added that the conclusion of this inspection and maintenance work likely won’t prevent some of the more serious issues ART riders have noticed, like buses struggling to get up hills and to start again after stopping at lights. Rivers said that ART has noticed “buses that seem to have some power issues,” prompting those sorts of breakdowns.

Problems like this could occur in buses at the end of their “useful life” — 12 years for a 40-foot bus. These buses are routinely scheduled for “rehabilitation,” which extends their useful lives by about four years, Rivers added.

“What will be done in most cases is major components,” like engines or transmissions, “are upgraded or rehabilitated,” Rivers said.

With all that work still ongoing, Rivers said ART appreciates riders who have stuck with the bus system.

“We’re just very grateful that people will just be understanding as we work through this process to continue to have a faithful and reliable system,” Rivers said.

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Arlington Transit bus riders could see delays across several routes over the course of the next week.

Unspecified “mechanical issues” are causing the delays, according to an ART service alert issued today (Monday). ART did not list specific routes that will be impacted, noting only that the routes will operate “at reduced frequencies” and that it will issue alerts about upcoming delays “as needed.”

A spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services, which oversees ART, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the nature of the mechanical issues. ART buses have on occasion suffered brake failures, leading to significant crashes, though it is unclear whether this week’s delays are in any way related.

So far, buses on ART Route 77 between the Courthouse Metro station and ART’s Shirlington station have recorded several delays, and some departures have been canceled entirely, according to county service alerts.

“Staff is currently working to quickly resolve these problems but we anticipate service disruptions on ART routes throughout the week,” ART wrote in the alert. “We apologize for the inconvenience as we work to ensure the safety and reliability of our fleet.”

ART opened a new, $17.6 million “light maintenance facility” on S. Eads Street last fall, and the county is planning to someday open a “heavy maintenance facility” in Springfield, after the County Board approved the purchase of a site there for $4.65 million.

File photo

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