Press Club
An privately-owned overflowing trash can in Pentagon City. (photo courtesy of Rebecca/@rdc20132)

Overflowing trash cans are becoming a more common sight in Pentagon City and Crystal City, but the county is pledging to clean up the mess.

In recent days, several local residents posted photos on social media of neighborhood trash cans and recycling bins filled beyond the brim with soda cans, food wrappers, pizza boxes, coffee cups, and doggie bags. The problem, as noted, seemed to happen more on weekends.

https://twitter.com/rdc20132/status/1525557363557777410

County officials tell ARLnow that increased seasonal tourism and more weekend events are to blame, as both in the region are ramping back up after 2+ years of pandemic-related drop-offs.

“We are seeing a definite increase in use of public trash cans in parts of Arlington like Pentagon City, frequented by a lot of folks from out-of-town,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services (DES) spokesperson Peter Golkin tells ARLnow. “After the first two years of the pandemic, there’s a noticeable rise in tourism and this is the traditional high point for any year thanks to school trips. When a group pulls up, it’s natural to want to get rid of junk like food wrappers and soda cans, especially on big buses that drivers have to keep clean.”

Golkin says that there are more workers back in offices as well, grabbing lunch and coffee while disposing of the remains in public trash cans. Plus, the increasing number of events both in Arlington and in D.C. has resulted in more “water bottles and wrappers naturally [making] their way beyond the event site.”

There’s also the notion of not wanting to walk the extra block to find a less-filled trash can.

“The messy problem comes when a trash or recycling can is full and the urge is to just keep piling rather than look for something with room maybe a block or two down the street,” he says.

To help solve the issue, Golkin says that DES is shifting schedules to include specific weekend checks at trouble trash spots in addition to the regular weekday rounds. However, “tight staffing” does not make it “easy to re-allocate limited resources like staff time.”

Despite requests from some residents, there’s no current plan to add more trash and recycling receptacles to those areas most impacted.

“The Solid Waste Bureau will see if the increased servicing takes care of the issue or if additional steps are necessary,” Golkin notes.

Not all of the trash cans in those neighborhoods are serviced by the county, however.

DES monitors and manages four pairs of trash and recycling receptacles on each side of S. Hayes Street near the Pentagon City mall. But there are also a number of trash cans in the area that belong to privately-owned buildings and are required to be serviced by those property owners.

Additionally, another county department — the Department of Parks and Recreation — handles the waste around Virginia Highlands Park, which is up a few blocks from the mall on S. Hayes Street.

As County Board chair Katie Cristol noted on Twitter, residents can request service or report problems with trash or any other street issue 24/7 through the county’s “Report A Problem” portal. More broadly, the county is currently updating its nearly-two-decade-old solid waste management plan and is asking for public input.

Golkin is optimistic that shifting more service to the weekends will help alleviate the trash problem in Pentagon City and Crystal City. But he does have a simple request.

“If a receptacle is already full, try to hold on [to trash] until there’s a nearby can with room.”

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(Updated at 12:35 p.m.) The West Glebe Road bridge over Four Mile Run will be completely closed to vehicles in two weeks, and will remain closed for nearly a year.

The circa-1956 bridge, which connects Arlington and Alexandria near the I-395/S. Glebe Road interchange, has been deemed “structurally deficient” since 2018. A $10 million project to replace its deck and beams was approved by the Arlington County Board last April and was slated to start this year, but in the meantime engineers have found “continued degradation of the bridge beams.”

As a result, the bridge is closing to drivers on Monday, May 9, the county announced today. That’s after southbound bridge traffic was detoured for the same reason in March.

New detours will be put into place that will divert vehicular traffic either over the Mount Vernon Avenue bridge to the east or Shirlington Circle to the west. Both of those bridges, coincidentally, are also aging and set for repairs over the next couple of years; the former received funding from the recent federal infrastructure bill.

The county expects two vehicle lanes on the West Glebe Road bridge to reopen in early 2023, while it’s still under construction. Work is expected to start shortly after the May closure and last until the summer of 2023.

Pedestrians and cyclists will still be able to use the bridge for a few more months. A temporary pedestrian path across Four Mile Run is expected to open in July. Four Mile Run Trail users, meanwhile, will re-routed to a parallel path, as the portion of trail under the bridge will be closed.

More from a county press release, below.

Because of continued degradation of the bridge beams, engineers will close the West Glebe Road Bridge to all motor vehicle traffic beginning on Monday, May 9, 2022, for construction of a planned replacement superstructure (road deck and beams). Two motor vehicle lanes on the renovated bridge are expected to reopen in early 2023 along with one of two widened sidewalks.

The current structure connecting Arlington and Alexandria over Four Mile Run was built in 1956. Elements have experienced noted deterioration in recent years.

In 2018, a 5-ton weight restriction was placed on all user vehicles. In March 2022, all southbound traffic was detoured away from the bridge amid signs of continued structural beam degradation.

Allowing continued motor vehicle traffic with the additional stress of construction has now been ruled out. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to use the bridge through June, after which they will be directed to a temporary crossing, independent of the superstructure, to be built along the bridge, expected to open in July.

The Mount Vernon Avenue Bridge further east over Four Mile Run will continue to handle vehicular traffic detouring from the West Glebe bridge.

The bridge’s original piers are stable and will be used to support the new superstructure, reducing project costs, construction time, and impact on the watershed.

The project is set for completion by summer 2023.

Arlington County and the City of Alexandria continue continue to coordinate closely on the bridge replacement project. Crews will mobilize for the job later this month.

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After a year of work surveying residents, two civic associations are going to the county with a request: to make a stretch of N. Carlin Springs Road safer for pedestrians.

Drivers routinely go 40 mph on the 30 mph road, which is used by kids walking to Kenmore Middle School, says Christopher George, who spearheaded the community initiative. People have to cross four lanes of traffic without marked crossings to get to two heavily used bus stations, which lack ramps to make them accessible to people with disabilities.

“It’s very dangerous for people who take the bus to cross the street,” he tells ARLnow. “Kenmore students are pretty much told not to cross the street because it’s so dangerous.”

Members of the Bluemont Civic Association (BCA) and the Arlington Forest Citizens Association (AFCA) want slower speeds, safer crossings and greater enforcement of speeding and street crossing laws on N. Carlin Springs Road between N. Edison Street and N. Kensington Street.

Their asks come after more than a year spent surveying neighborhoods, conducting site walks and drafting a report.

Residents say they want to see:

  • Marked crossings accessible to people with disabilities
  • Medians with pedestrian refuges, curb extensions and streetscaping at the intersections of 2nd Street N./N. Jefferson Street and at N. Greenbrier Street
  • A speed limit on N. Carlin Springs Road of 25 mph, not 30 mph
  • Dark sky-compliant Carlyle-style street lights

Members sent a joint resolution to the County Board and County Manager Mark Schwartz requesting that they pilot these changes before fully implementing them.

They said these changes could qualify as upgrades for the county’s annual repaving efforts, its Vision Zero program to reduce pedestrian deaths and serious injuries or the county’s Neighborhood Conservation program, designed to let residents identify and plan projects in their neighborhoods.

The two intersections mentioned by the association members are “in the queue to look into for evaluation,” says Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors.

And a lower speed limit could be coming to the street. This year, DES is studying 30 mph roads ­­– including N. Carlin Springs Road ­­­– to determine which “could be a good fit for either a speed limit reduction or other measures such as signage,” she said.

DES expects the study will be done before the end of the year.

The two neighborhoods have worked together before to seek funding for pedestrian safety improvements on N. Carlin Springs Road, George said.

Arlington recently made intersection safety upgrades on N. Carlin Springs at N. Edison and N. Wakefield streets that included curb extensions, rapid flashing beacons, accessibility improvements, widened medians and other improvements, Pors said.

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The Water Pollution Control Plant near Crystal City (via Arlington DES/Flickr)

For the last two months, Arlington County has been getting your sewage tested to measure community Covid infection levels.

The Department of Environmental Services is sending weekly samples to Biobot, a Massachusetts-based health tech startup that got its start monitoring wastewater for opioids but pivoted to COVID-19 testing during the pandemic. The company now tests wastewater samples for municipalities nationwide.

Wastewater surveillance is seeing more interest as reported Covid testing rates wane and the focus of the federal government and some cities shifts from counting Covid cases to tracking hospitalization rates. Indeed, wastewater surveillance is one way the Centers for Disease Control is tracking the rise of the new Omicron subvariant BA.2, now the dominant Covid strain in the nation.

“The case counts aren’t as reliable as they used to be, so we’ve seen more interest in wastewater analysis as an unbiased look at what’s going on in their communities,” Biobot’s Jennings Heussner tells ARLnow. “People aren’t getting tested because they’re being tested at home, they don’t know they’re sick, or they don’t feel the need to get a test — they feel poorly and decide to stay home.”

Even if people stop seeking out tests, there is one place where their viral load will show up: the toilet.

“You start shedding the virus in your fecal matter at the point of infection,” Heussner said. “That increases until you become symptomatic and then begins to fall off from there. You have a window of — it varies from person to person — up to a week before you know you’ve been sick that you’ve been shedding the virus in your fecal matter.”

Biobot uses PCR testing to ascertain the concentration of viral RNA per milliliter of sewage, which is the unit it reports on its webpage. Regular wastewater samples can give municipalities anywhere from a two to 10 days’ heads-up of what might be coming in terms of community infection levels, before the infections show up in testing data, Heussner said.

Covid viral load in wastewater versus case rates in Arlington County (via Biobot)

According to the Virginia Dept. of Health, the average rate of new cases in Arlington hit a seasonal low point on March 6. Biobot’s wastewater data, meanwhile, hit its low point two days earlier, on March 4.

The local case rate has since nearly doubled, rising from 24 daily cases on March 6 to a seven-day moving average of 46 daily cases today, according to VDH data. Biobot’s wastewater data, meanwhile, continues to point to an upward trajectory of infections in Arlington.

Most cases in Northern Virginia stem from the dominant Omicron variant, with subvariant BA.2 comprising a growing portion of total case numbers, according to a new state dashboard tracking variants of Covid. Biobot can detect which variants are present, although that information is currently not available for Arlington.

Cases by variant in Northern Virginia (via Virginia Department of Health)

As for the gap in wastewater sampling data on the chart above, Heussner said Biobot received samples from Arlington County last summer through a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sampling stopped when that partnership ended, until Arlington again began sending samples in February.

While the county is submitting wastewater to weekly testing, it is not rushing to adopt this method as a gold standard for tracking the virus.

“The Arlington County Public Health Division reminds everyone that wastewater surveillance for the virus that causes COVID-19 is a developing field,” public health spokesman Ryan Hudson said. “Wastewater testing over time may provide trend data that can complement other surveillance data to inform decision-making about the response to COVID-19.”

He noted that currently, wastewater testing cannot “reliably and accurately predict” the number of infected individuals in a community.

“As for the uptick in cases, now is the time to get your COVID-19 booster if you haven’t,” Hudson said. “It is recommended that everyone 12 years and older receive the appropriate booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Photo via Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services/Flickr

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Morning Notes

Sunset behind homes along 14th St. N. in Westover (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Road Improvement Project Discussion — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Tomorrow night: Virtual gabfest on the latest design for THE Ohio Street Safety Project at 12th Road North and 14th Street North.” [Twitter, Arlington County]

Indecent Exposure in Shirlington — “4000 block of Campbell Avenue. At approximately 7:29 p.m. on March 17, police were dispatched to the report of an indecent exposure. Upon arrival, officers located the suspect and took him into custody without incident. The investigation determined that approximately 20 minutes prior, the male suspect entered into the establishment and allegedly exposed himself to the female victims.” [ACPD]

Nearby: New Signs in F.C. — “Forty-two vehicular wayfinding signs have been installed to identify City boundaries for visitors driving into the City, and guide visitors driving to visitor-oriented destinations (City Hall, Downtown, Eden Center, State Theatre, etc.) and public parking. The City also plans to remove older signs that would conflict with the new signs within the next two weeks.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 62 and low of 46. Sunrise at 7:10 am and sunset at 7:23 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A trio of Arlington intersections could soon be getting some new traffic signals and pedestrian safety improvements.

This Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to review a $2.3 million contract to replace traffic signals that hang from wires to those attached to poles, or mast arms. The improvements also include wider sidewalks, accessible curb ramps and high-visibility crosswalks.

The work will be conducted at the following intersections, each in North Arlington:

The traffic signal replacements are part of a county program replacing outdated traffic signals to meet current federal and local standards.

“Signal upgrade projects implement new technologies such as accessible push button stations, CCTV for monitoring, video detection, and improved intersection lighting to improve safety, efficiency, and accessibility for all modes of travel,” according to a project webpage.

Mast-arm traffic signals on Langston Blvd (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Installing mast arm traffic signals on wide streets has been found to be a cost-effective way to reduce collisions, according to the Federal Highway Administration. One study of Virginia Department of Transportation data, however, found crashes decreased, but not by a statistically significant amount.

The FHWA also says span wire signals can have higher maintenance costs and are generally considered less aesthetically pleasing due to the overhead wires. But after these replacement projects occurred elsewhere in Arlington, some residents took to Nextdoor to mourn the loss of the wire-hung signals, which they said were not as bulky as the large poles that replaced them.

The three projects would join a half-dozen traffic light replacement projects already planned for this summer and fall.

Planned street signal replacements (via Arlington County)

The county is lumping in pedestrian safety and accessibility improvements with the replacements, per a county report.

Currently, the intersections lack curb ramps that are accessible to people with disabilities, while pedestrians have to contend with long crossings and narrow sidewalks, the county says.

Widening the sidewalks and adding accessible curb ramps and high-visibility crosswalks will create “safe, accessible, and user-friendly intersections,” the county says.

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Pothole on Lorcom Lane in 2014 (file photo)

March: when it can be nearly 80 degrees one day and under 40 degrees the next. And in Arlington, the month marks the start of pothole filling and street repaving season.

There are 1,059 lane miles of roadway in Arlington County, and every March, the Arlington Department of Environmental Services launches its effort to fill in potholes caused by winter freezes and repave about 7-8% of roads.

The 2022 repaving season is kicking off with fewer pothole service requests while DES aims to repave 74 lane miles of road, spokesman Peter Golkin tells ARLnow.

This goal is about on-pace with the number of miles the department has repaved in recent years, according to data from DES.

But first, crews are attending to the potholes. Street repaving will begin later this month.

“March is generally the unofficial start of the pothole filling season as winter storm weather recedes and staff can focus on road conditions rather than storm response,” Golkin said.

So far, county crews have filled 462 potholes, of which 360 were filled in February, he says. Meanwhile, there have been about 254 pothole service requests filed by residents since Jan. 1, according to data from the county.

The number of potholes on local roads has generally declined over the last five years due in part to milder winters, compared to the colder, harsher winters in years past that caused thousands of potholes. The winter of 2019 broke that downward trend with more than 5,100 potholes, however.

“2019 stands out for a 10-inch snow event and about a dozen events total whereas the past couple of years have been much milder,” Golkin said.

This year also saw a few winter storms and extended bouts of freezing temperatures, which precipitated hundreds of water main breaks in Arlington. But the “historically snowy January” gave way to a mild February and — overall — a milder than normal winter for the sixth time in the past seven years, according to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

Total potholes filled annually from 2017 through 2021

But potholes are not just declining because of weather, says the county’s sewers and streets bureau spokesman. Another factor is the county’s stepped-up repaving schedule over the last eight years.

“As the County invests more in paving and the overall street Pavement Condition Index (PCI) increases, the overall number of pothole fill requests trend downward,” Golkin said.

The index increased from a low of 67 out of 100 in 2014 — the result of years of anemic repaving rates — to 80.2 in 2020. Arlington achieved this lift after tripling the number of annual road miles paved.

Now, the county aims to repave 72 to 75 lane miles every year in order to maintain a score between 75 and 80, per the adopted 2021-22 fiscal year budget.

Miles of streets planned for repaving versus repaved, since 2019

Road users can expect this work to start later this month and to continue through early fall.

“Paving season traditionally runs from the end of March to the end of September, but weather and contractor availability can push things back,” Golkin said. “A segment of planned paving may be shifted to another year for various reasons including nearby new utility work or a construction project nearby that’s fallen behind schedule.”

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If you didn’t know better, you’d think that an unusual walk signal in Virginia Square was trying to signal that the South would rise again.

An audio walk signal at the corner of Fairfax Drive and N. Nelson Street, one block from the Metro station, keeps chanting the name of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. It attracted the attention of County Board candidate Adam Theo, who posted about it on social media yesterday afternoon.

“I’m sorry… but WTF??!?” he tweeted. “I thought we were getting rid of streets named after Confederates.”

ARLnow checked it out shortly after Theo’s tweet, and the rebel walk signal was indeed hauntingly repeating “Jefferson Davis” over and over again.

Asked about it, Peter Golkin, spokesman for Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, suggested that the signal was likely transplanted from along Route 1, formerly known as Jefferson Davis Highway before being renamed Richmond Highway in 2019.

“Likely repurposed technology that unfortunately was not reprogrammed,” Golkin said. “As Mr. Lincoln would say, ‘With malice toward none.'”

It appears that much like the Confederacy, the walk signal’s old programming will not be long for this world. This morning DES tweeted that a repair order had been placed.

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Morning Notes

Sign Replacement Complete — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Update: Crews have now completed street sign replacement across the Arlington segments of the former (Old) Lee Highway.” [Twitter]

Crystal City Road Project Underway — “18th St S project ([protected bike lanes], realigning a bad intersection, shortening crossings) has broken ground. No eastbound bike lane during work I guess.” [Twitter]

It’s Friday — Rain and windy in the morning. High of 66 in the early morning hours and low of 33 tonight. Sunny this afternoon. Sunrise at 6:57 am and sunset at 5:51 pm. [Weather.gov]

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This winter’s storms and freezing temperatures have caused a spike in water main breaks.

Crews with the Department of Environmental Services’ Water, Sewer and Streets Bureau repaired 47 water mains in January, as of 6 p.m. Monday, with two repairs in progress and six planned, said DES spokesman Peter Golkin.

By comparison, January 2021 saw 30 main breaks, up from 19 in January 2020 and eight in January 2019, he noted.

Since Golkin provided those stats last night, two additional water main breaks have been publicly reported, in East Falls Church and Green Valley.

Golkin, who runs the DES Twitter feed, attributed the “above-average number of water main breaks” to “an unusually intense winter” in a recent tweet.

“Recent winters have been fairly mild,” Golkin tells ARLnow. “But we are seeing an upward trend for breaks over the past four years.”

Winter weather exacerbates the other reasons these mains break: age and materials used. Rehabilitating and replacing old water mains has been and continues to be a decades-long county effort.

Arlington has about 500 miles of pipes that bring water to homes and businesses. Of those, about 60% are cast iron pipes more than 50 years old — and thus prone to leaking.

“So age is a factor in the sense of which type of iron we’re dealing with,” he said. “Arlington’s cast iron pipes were not lined with a protective coating to prevent corrosion. While for the most part they’re in good condition, over time the inner and outer diameter thins. Then, factor in winter and the differences in temperature between pipe, water and surrounding soil and you get stresses on the pipes.”

When mains break, crews stop the flow of water, which can cause temporary service disruptions to some properties. Repairs can take six to eight hours from when leaks are reported but could take longer if they’re on a major water line and involve significant damage.

And right now, responding to leaks is a grueling job, Golkin says.

“Crew safety and health is always the preeminent concern in responding, especially with bitter temperatures, darkness and Covid protocols,” he said. “But our professionals know what’s required and can usually complete a job in 6-8 hours despite all sorts of conditions. And they have to be prepared around the clock, seven days a week.”

Per location data from the county’s online map of leaks and repairs, crews had to respond to the same address twice in a half-dozen recent cases. Golkin says that’s typical.

“Repairing a water main naturally generates stress on the line, which can lead to nearby follow-up breaks,” Golkin said. “So if a certain neighborhood has had a repair, then there’s an increased chance that another problem might soon develop on the same block.”

When multiple leaks happen concurrently, the bureau prioritizes repairs based on the number of residents impacted, he said.

“DES prioritizes by the impact of each break, so if there is a repair needed in a residential neighborhood, that would get first attention compared to a break next to office buildings closed for the night or a weekend,” Golkin said. “Sometimes a break doesn’t mean a loss of water service, possibly due to redundancy in the water main network. That can give the bureau flexibility in scheduling a repair.”

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Brine lines (file photo by Jay Westcott)

As locals eat their lunch, all eyes are on the skies. Snow — likely heavy snow — is about to start falling in Arlington.

County and state crews say they’re ready to tackle what’s expected to be a messy mix of precipitation throughout the day: snow to start, freezing rain as the sun sets, and then plain rain as temperatures warm after nightfall, before perhaps a brief changeover back to soggy snow in the early morning hours.

The snowfall may start with a bit of a bang.

In Arlington and across the region, main roads, bridges and highways have been pre-treated with brine ahead of the snowfall. VDOT says it has 3,800 pieces of equipment set to deploy in Northern Virginia during the storm.

“VDOT Northern Virginia crews are mobilizing for snow, freezing rain, and rain that is forecasted to significantly impact the region Sunday and Monday,” the state transportation agency said today. “Crews began the mobilization process Sunday morning. As always, residents are asked to monitor forecasts, plan ahead to avoid nonessential travel during winter weather, and to be aware of the potential for black ice and nightly refreeze as temperatures remain low.”

Arlington County is also encouraging residents to stay at home and off the roads as conditions deteriorate.

https://twitter.com/readyarlington/status/1482738996816101380?s=21

The county has about 40 trucks ready for its snow response. Typically, crews focus on primary and secondary routes to start, then start plowing neighborhood streets later.

This morning, in anticipation of the storm, Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation announced that community centers would be closed today, while the Long Bridge aquatics center would close early.

From DPR:

Arlington Mill, Lubber Run and Thomas Jefferson Community Centers, which were scheduled to open at 1 p.m. today, will remain closed. Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center, which opened at 8 a.m. today, will close at 1 p.m.

All virtual programs will continue as scheduled, including the 53rd Tribute to Rev. Dr., Martin Luther King Jr.

You can also stay engaged by enjoying the snow in one of our parks or trails. Want to stay inside? Check out our YouTube stations for options to be active and have fun for people of ages and interests.

Please stay safe.

A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for Arlington and the immediate D.C. area.

From the National Weather Service:

…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 1 PM THIS AFTERNOON TO 1 AM EST MONDAY…

* WHAT…Mixed precipitation. Additional snow accumulations of 1 to 3 inches and ice accumulations of around one tenth of an inch. Winds gusting as high as 45 mph.

* WHERE…Portions of The District of Columbia, central, north central, northeast and northern Maryland and northern Virginia.

* WHEN…From 1 PM this afternoon to 1 AM EST Monday.

* IMPACTS…Plan on slippery road conditions.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

Slow down and use caution while traveling.

When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury.

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