Arlington, VA

After years of public outcry, and dozens of car crashes at an intersection in the Rock Spring neighborhood, county officials said they are working on a possible solution.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) says it will be installing signs with new rules for drivers on Little Falls Road at the intersection with Old Dominion Drive later this month. The changes will forbid drivers on Little Falls Road from turning left or going straight at the intersection during morning and evening rush hours — only right turns will be permitted.

“The changes are intended to help address a crash trend at this location that includes a high number of angle collisions involving drivers either turning left or continuing through the intersection from Little Falls Road,” said DES spokesman Eric Balliet.

The right-turn-only restriction will be in place between 7-9:30 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Signs will be posted later this month before the start of the new school year, according to Balliet.

Last week, authorities closed the intersection due to a crash, something that neighbors say is all too common.

“Every single week there is at least one major accident at this intersection,” one resident wrote on social media in response to the article. “[The] last one was so bad two cars ended up in the front yard of the house in the corner.”

“It feels like there’s an accident there weekly,” another commentator wrote. “Neighbors have repeatedly asked for a four way stop or some traffic control at this location and have been told it’s not possible due to the proximity to the traffic light at Old Dominion/Williamsburg.”

In 2017, Williamsburg Middle School student Andy Nogas asked the County Board for help installing a stoplight at the intersection. An online version of his letter gained 112 petition signatures.

“I have seen more than 15 crashes and many near misses [at this intersection and] I am writing to ask you to do something about this,” he wrote.

In response, the Board pledged to assign a county staff member to the problem. Balliet said the resulting research indicated a traffic signal wasn’t the right solution:

Transportation Engineering & Operations staff evaluated several traffic management countermeasures for this location, including adding a traffic light, adding an all-way stop, and restricting certain types of vehicle movements. A signal is not warranted per engineering standards, as traffic volumes on Little Falls Road are too low. An all-way stop is not suitable as Old Dominion is a major arterial, and not feasible due to excessive queuing on Old Dominion based on traffic modeling. Adding movement restrictions is the recommended countermeasure to address the safety concerns.

About two years ago Arlington County completed a major road improvement project for this stretch of Old Dominion Drive, adding sidewalks, street lights, stormwater infrastructure and updated traffic signals.

Since Nogas’ letter, police have recorded 27 crashes at the intersection, according to Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage: seven in 2017, 13 in 2018, and 7 as of 2019 so far.

In total, Savage said people were injured in nine of those crashes.

“Once implemented, we will monitor its effectiveness and will encourage the community to share their experiences with the new restrictions,” Balliet said of the new turning rules.

Map via Google Maps

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Around 500 homes and businesses are without water service tonight due to a water main break in Ashton Heights.

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services says emergency repairs are underway at the intersection of N. Monroe Street and 7th Street N., about 3-4 blocks from the Virginia Square Metro station.

The repairs are not expected to be complete until daybreak.

Map via Google Maps

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Arlington County has officially finished replacing the old Carlin Springs Road bridge near Ballston.

Most of the construction on the new bridge over N. George Mason Drive had wrapped up last month, with crews working on paving and re-striping by mid-June. The Department of Environmental Services celebrated the project’s completion in a tweet Tuesday, writing that the project was “ahead of schedule and under budget.”

On the project’s website, officials noted that crews were finishing installing new street lights on the bridge, as well as improving some landscaping along George Mason Drive.

Previously, neighbors had written to ARLnow to complain of the delays caused by the construction and, in particular, drivers illegally u-turning on Carlin Springs to get to George Mason. DES spokesman Eric Balliet said at the time the department as working on adding a turn lane to fix the problem.

On Tuesday, the department thanked people for their patience noting that “any inconveniences during the work are now water under the bridge.”

Demolition of the old bridge started two years ago, after the County Board approved plans dating back to 2011, which aimed to replace the “deteriorated” structure with a new bridge featuring bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and better street lights, among other improvements.

Image via Arlington County

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(Updated on 07/29/19) Arlington County will not be paying for the cost of clean-up from sewage back-ups into people’s homes during the July 8 flash flood emergency.

A spokesperson for the County Manager’s office said today (Friday) that the county “sympathizes with proper owners” recovering from the unusually strong storm and “regrets” any damage caused, but “unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm.”

As the rainstorm dumped water on Arlington two weeks ago, stormwater runoff filled basements in homes and businesses — as did some sewage. The Department of Environmental Services previously told ARLnow that water flooded some sewer pipes, backing up sewage into people’s homes.

The result was raw sewage flowing into basements, and in some cases, potentially washing up to the first floor of homes, as evidenced by the smells still lingering days after the storm in some houses hit hard in Westover.

“Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual,” said County Manager’s office spokesman Ben Hampton. “While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm.”

One tipster who lives near the Cherrydale and Waverly Hills neighborhoods said his house was flooded after the main sewer line near his house flooded, “leaving us pretty much helpless as the county sewage flooded into our basement.”

When asked how many homes were affected by damaged sewer lines during the sewer line, county spokeswoman Bryna Helfer did not yet know and added that, “our primary focus right now is on pursuing the federal and state assistance.”

Over 1,000 residents and business owners filed post-storm damage claims with the county as part of Arlington’s preparation to request aid from the state or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hampton said the county is currently reviewing the the damage assessment from the claims which determines the county’s aid eligibility.

“At this time, we have no reason to believe that homeowners with major damage would not be eligible for aid if it’s approved,”  added Helfer.

“The most likely form of aid is from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides low-interest loans to disaster victims, including homeowners, renters, and businesses, for repairs or replacement of disaster-damaged buildings and property,” she said. “SBA can also provide capital to businesses. The County is also pursuing aid under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individual Assistance program, which provides financial assistance to individuals and families who have sustained losses due to disasters.”

Prior to the July 8 flooding, damage from clogged county sewers has occasionally damaged homes, including several incidents in the Madison Manor neighborhood, leaving residents on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs.

The full response from the County Manager’s office is below.

The County sympathizes with property owners recovering from the July 8, 2019 storm, which dumped an unprecedented amount of rain in the region and caused significant damage to public infrastructure as well as private property. The County regrets any damage that may have been caused to private property from the County’s public sewer lines being damaged or overwhelmed by this storm. Unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm. Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual. While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm. Property owners are encouraged to check with their insurance carriers and to explore the possibility of obtaining flood insurance for their properties. Additional information regarding the July 8 storm is available on the Flood Recovery Center at arlingtonva.us/flood-recovery.

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(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) Last week’s torrential rainstorm flooded thousands of homes and businesses — but something mysterious happened, too.

Just upstream from where it meets Four Mile Run, the Lubber Run stream disappeared.

Earlier this week the stream appeared to be miraculously vanishing around a tree stump, according to a video posted online and on a local listserv. The water was a trickle of its usual flow when a resident shot the video, and the stream left a dry bed of round rocks exposed after the water appeared to disappear.

At first, when contacted by ARLnow, all the Department of Environmental Services (DES) could say for sure was that the stream hadn’t been “rerouted intentionally.”

Jessica Baxter, a DES spokeswoman initially it could take days to find the reason for the phenomenon as storm clean-up continues county-wide and crews work on the damage the storm wrought to public areas.

Raging flood waters washed away at least six pedestrian bridges in the county, including two over Lubber Run.

The department sent crews out Wednesday and Thursday to investigate the steam on a hunch the water could have somehow flowed into an underground pipe.

“There were a few trees that fell over the stream, including a stump that fell and possibly damaged our sewer main,” Baxter said on Thursday after crews visited the stream. “However, given the water entering the main, we are having challenges determining where the damage is.”

The crews then worked to divert the water — which had begun to swell again since its post-storm lull the resident captured in his video. Then the county crews used CCTV technology to inspect the pipe.

On Friday morning at 7 a.m., Baxter reached out to ARLnow to say crews had made a breakthrough.

“Crews got the tree stump removed from the area and we did observe a broken pipe,”she said. “We have our emergency contractor on-site to make repairs today.”

After the repairs to the pipe were completed later this afternoon, Baxter said crews are expected to return early next week for additional repair work, including inserting a liner into the pipe.

A 2011 assessment of all streams and their ability to prevent floods noted that many parts of Lubber Run were considered “stable,” but also noted that the stream had “poor utility elements” at the time.

Lubber Run is not just a feeder for Four Mile Run, it’s also a perfect habitat for underwater critters like crayfish and fly larvae, and snakes, snails, and worms make their home in the stream, which is lined by shaggy water elms.

ARLnow could not locate the mysterious tree dropping-off point after an hour of bushwhacking along the stream banks Tuesday afternoon. However, it was clear that the storm had left its mark in the area.

Bits of broken bridges were beached along the banks as far as Four Mile Run, and picnic tables were covered in silt after being swallowed by the rising water. The stream itself was brown with sediment and fallen tree limbs still littered the walking paths. A golden retriever could be seen jumping in and out of the stream with one of the thicker limbs in his mouth.

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Some 600 homes and businesses along Lee Highway, north of Courthouse, are without water service this afternoon.

Officials say a water main break on the 2000 block of N. Adams Street has partially closed the road and knocked out water service to hundreds. Repairs on the 6-inch line are expected to be completed by 9 p.m.

More from Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services:

Map via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Latest Flood Stats — “As of Tuesday morning, the Department of Environmental Services had received 151 calls about damage to private property, storm drain backups, indoor flooding and roadway flooding; The County also investigated more than 30 drainage complaints.” [Arlington County]

Record-Setting Rain Rate — “The 3.30 [inches of rain] recorded between 8:52-9:52 a.m [at Reagan National Airport] was Washington, D.C.’s highest hourly precip report in records dating back to 1936.” [Twitter]

Flooded Scooters Removed from Service — “Bird, Jump, and Lime, three of the city’s five operators, told The Verge that their employees were actively engaged in removing scooters from the flooded areas.” [The Verge]

ACPD Crime Map Goes Down — “ACPD is aware of system issues with the Online Community Crime Map and is working with the third-party vendor, LexisNexis, to resolve the issue. If you are looking for information regarding crime in your neighborhood, please view the Daily Crime Report.” [Twitter]

D.C. Office Vacancy Rises as N. Va. Declines — “Office vacancy is reaching new heights in the District as new supply continues to outpace demand, but market conditions are much better for landlords in neighboring Northern Virginia.” [Bisnow]

Trailers to Take Out Tree — “In a community where the destruction of even a single tree can mobilize residents, there may be another skirmish in the offing on July 13. That’s the date that Arlington County Board members will be asked to approve the placement of new portable (‘relocatable’) classrooms on the campus Arlington Traditional School, designed to ease overcrowding.” [InsideNova]

Ballston Office Building Sold — “The first building developed in Ballston’s Liberty Center complex has just traded hands.  Carr Properties sold the One Liberty Center office building at 875 North Randolph St. to USAA Real Estate, the JLL brokerage team announced Monday. Property records show the sale closed June 26 for about $153M.” [Bisnow]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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A portion of N. Quincy Street is slated for a makeover this summer with new pavement and a bike lane.

Officials aim to repave the stretch of N. Quincy Street between the I-66 overpass and Fairfax Drive, near Washington-Liberty High School, and potentially approve one of three designs for a new bike lane that could eliminate parking spaces.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services polled residents about the three bike lane designs in a recent survey. The department will host an open house about the project on Tuesday, July 9, from 6-7:30 p.m., at Washington-Liberty (1301 N. Stafford Street).

The three bike lane configurations the department is considering are:

  • Concept A: A buffered bike lane along both sides of N. Quincy Street in the northern section close to I-66. Adding the lane would eliminate 22 parking spaces along Quincy near the Buck site entrance where several single family homes sit.
  • Concept B: A buffered bike lane that runs in the middle of N. Quincy Street, which removes only 10 parking spaces in the northern section close to I-66.
  • Concept C: A buffered bike lane along the entire street, which would remove 42 parking spaces on the northern section of the street and 31 spaces on the south section.

“It’s almost like a mix and match,” DES Project Planner Christine Sherman told ARLnow. “Concept A shows parking on a block [of N. Quincy Street], concept B shows parking on a different block. Concept C shows the highest level of bike protection.”

All three concepts also add a crosswalk at the intersection of Quincy and 11th Street N. and at the entrance of the Buck property.

Sherman said DES will weigh the survey responses against engineering recommendations about safety and hopes to start the paving work later this summer.

DES tweeted about the (now closed) project survey last week, along with a reference to presidential candidate and meme-machine Marianne Williamson.

The  recently-updated bike element portion of the county’s master transportation plan proposes N. Quincy Street become part of a north-south bike corridor.

The bike element proposes several miles of bike lanes “wherever feasible” on N. Quincy Street to provide safer passage through Ballston and Virginia Square, and to connect the Arlington Forest and Chain Bridge areas.

“We have buffered and expanded bike lanes to the north of this segment and have protected bike lanes to the south,” said Sherman. “It’s an opportunity we see to create the north-south connection in the county.”

The work is also part of a larger streetscape project along Quincy Street, with repaving already completed in the sections between the I-66 overpass and Lee Highway, and between George Mason Drive and Fairfax Drive.

In August, the county finished a new bike lane on N. Quincy Street connecting the Quincy corridor to the Custis Trail. Two months before that, the county also converted parking on 5th Road N. between Quincy and N. Pollard Street to back-in, angle style parking.

Image 1, 3-5 via Arlington County, image 2 via Google Maps

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Updated at 2:35 p.m. — “The roadway remains closed through the evening commute due to water main repairs,” per an Arlington Alert. “Expect delays and seek alternate routes.”

Earlier: An early morning water main break has prompted a major road closure in Courthouse.

Officials say a 12-inch water main burst under Clarendon Blvd, near the Courthouse Metro station, and repairs are expected to last into the afternoon.

Clarendon Blvd is currently detoured between N. Veitch Street and Courthouse Road.

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A new Carlin Springs Road bridge over George Mason Drive has been built and county crews are now preparing for some finishing touches.

Construction started in 2017 and most of the work was completed earlier this year. To the consternation of nearby residents, the paving and restriping work has yet to start — the county told residents it was waiting for the right weather conditions — but that’s about to change.

“Remaining work items include installing new street lights for the bridge and the George Mason Drive interchange and landscaping,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet tells ARLnow. “Crews are scheduled to be on site next week to install the street light conduits.”

“Final paving and marking of the roadway is anticipated to take place by early July, barring any complications and weather permitting,” Balliet continued. “At that time, the permanent traffic pattern will be established and all cones and barrels will be removed.”

Numerous residents have emailed ARLnow with complaints about the project not yet being completed, even though it appears to be on-time based on an Oct. 2017 presentation. One explained that the current traffic pattern has resulted in delays for drivers.

“It’s the left turn on Carlin heading towards Ballston onto George Mason,” a local resident said via email. “It’s causing illegal u-turns so drivers can access George Mason northbound.”

Balliet said the lane striping, when it’s complete, will provide a turn lane for drivers heading from Carlin Springs to George Mason.

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Arlington County is turning trash into treasure by growing thousands of pounds of fresh produce for a local food bank using compost from residents.

Last February, Arlington’s Solid Waste Bureau began a pilot program to create compost from residents’ food scraps. Now some of that compost is coming full circle and being used in some of the local gardens that supply fresh produce for Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

AFAC is a nonprofit that receives around a million and a half pounds of food donations annually. The goods comes from several sources: grocery stores, private food drives, farmers markets and farms, and gardens around the region, according to spokesman Jeremiah Huston. Part of that comes from its “Plot Against Hunger” program, which cultivates the fresh produce.

AFAC staffer Puwen Lee manages this program, which she helped grow back in 2007 after noticing the food bank distributed frozen vegetables even in the summer months.

“And I thought, ‘This is really strange because I got so many vegetables in my garden,'” she said. After mentioning it to the nonprofit’s leadership, Lee said the director dropped off 600 packs of seeds on her desk and left it up to her.

Since then, Lee, who grew up gardening in Michigan, estimates the program has received over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce and has grown to include gardens from the Arlington Central Library, schools, and senior centers — and now it’s experimenting with using waste from residents themselves.

Trading trash for treasure

The Solid Waste Bureau collects food waste in two green barrels behind a rosebush by its headquarters in the Trades Center in Shirlington. The waste is then dumped into a 10-foot-high, 31-foot-long earth flow composting stem that cooks the materials under a glass roof and generates 33 cubic yards of compost in about two weeks.

When Solid Waste Bureau Chief Erik Grabowsky opens the doors to the machine, the heady smell of wine wafts out, revealing a giant auger slowly whirring through the blackened bed, turning the composting food.

Grabowsky said the final mix is cut with wood chips — something not always ideal for most vegetable gardens. But Grabowksy says it’s an “evolving” mixture that the department will tweak over time and which he plans to test in the department’s own garden next to the machine.

After the wood chips, the mix is shifted through a hulking “trammel screen” and distributed to AFAC and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

On a recent weekday, workers Travis Haddock and Lee Carrig were busy in Bobcats shuffling dirt off the paved plaza Grabowksy says will host the department’s first open house next Saturday, June 8 to show how the recycling system works. Normally, they manage repairs to the auger and the flow of compost in and out of the machine.

(When asked what their favorite part of the job was, they joked it was when the auger “stops in the middle and you got to climb in there.”)

The department’s free June event, called “Rock-and-Recycle,” will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the department’s lot in the Trades Center and will feature music and food trucks. Attendees will also be able to check out the compost for themselves, as well as the nearby Rock Crusher and Tub Grinder.

From farm to food bank

AFAC is currently experimenting with using the compost for one of its gardens. The nonprofit also makes its own mix using plant scraps and weeds pulled up from the beds.

Near AFAC’s Shirlington headquarters, volunteers run a garden that donates all its yield to the food bank. Boy Scouts originally built the raised beds that now make up 550 square feet of gardening space, and grow lettuce, beets, spinach, green beans, kale, tomatoes, and radishes, on a plot near a water pump station along S. Walter Reed Drive.

Plot Against Hunger manager Lee said the space was originally planned as a “nomadic garden” in 2013, but thanks to the neighboring Fort Barnard Community and the Department of Water and Sewer, it became a permanent fixture on Walter Reed Drive.

Certified Master Gardener Catherine Connor has managed the organic garden for the last three years. She says she’s helped set up the rain barrels and irrigation system that waters the beds in addition to supervising the planting. Now the beds are thick with greens and bumblebees hum between the flowers of the spinach plants that have gone to seed.

“Last year, we had just an incredible growing season,” Lee said. “From the farmers markets alone we picked up something like 90,000 pounds [of food.]”

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