After the public outcry, poor design and organizational problems that warranted an independent review of the $1 million S. Walter Reed Drive Super Stop, Arlington’s scaled back plan for the rest of Columbia Pike is being met with general approval.
The new plan, to build 23 more transit stations at key intersections along the Pike for a total cost of $12.4 million, was brought before the public yesterday evening at the Arlington Mill Community Center. The stations will cost an average of 40 percent less than the prototype built at Walter Reed Drive.
The transit stations are 50 percent designed and now the county’s Department of Environmental Services, which is leading the project, is looking to incorporate public feedback.
“We want to improve on what happened with the Walter Reed station,” project manager Matthew Huston told the group of about a dozen community members last night.
The designs are modular, and some of the stations will have smaller or bigger overhangs, seating areas and boarding displays, based on demand. After installation, they can be added to once ridership increases, and it likely will; Huston said the county projects bus ridership to double on the Pike in the next 20 years.
Among those in attendance yesterday was David Dickson, the transportation chair for the Mount Vernon group of the Sierra Club. He and other attendees walked among panels county staff had laid out, showing residents the choices they had regarding side panels, layout of the information signs and seating.
“I think it’s good, and they’re working out the details,” Dickson said of the new proposal. “To the layperson, the redesign seems far superior to the prototype. It’s cheaper and seems like a better design.”
Huston compared the designs to transit stations in other communities, which cost roughly $500,000 on average. The “standard” size transit station on the Pike is projected to cost $469,000, and “extended” stops coming with a $672,000 price tag.
The examples from other jurisdictions Huston gave — Norfolk, Va., Charlotte, N.C., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Eugene, Ore. — all serviced either bus rapid transit or a light rail system. Columbia Pike, for now, is planned to have neither.
Among the questions and preferences attendees expressed on the stations were: a request for side panels, handicap accessibility and debating over how much protection from the elements should be provided when sacrificing sidewalk space.
The design for the first eight transit stations — two each at the Pike’s intersections of S. Glebe Road, Oakland, Buchanan and Barton Streets — is expected to be completed by July, after which construction can begin, Huston said.
Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach was also on hand to give residents an update on the county’s overall transportation plan and vision for the Pike corridor. With the additional bus service coming to Arlington Rapid Transit on the weekend, the county is trying to mitigate the delays in long-term transit planning caused by the streetcar’s cancellation.
(Updated at 5:00 p.m.) Many of the sidewalks built over the last two years in Arlington are already crumbling, and the county is trying to figure out why.
At least a dozen sidewalks all over the county — like the ones pictured above — appear significantly damaged, their surfaces crumbling and creating tiny pieces of debris. These are not pieces of aging infrastructure that plague the county, these are recently installed sidewalks that have worn down rapidly.
Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services oversees the sidewalks, and Engineering Bureau Chief Ramzi Awwad said DES knows about the issue and has been investigating it for “several months.” All of the sidewalks they have inspected — between six and 12, he said — were installed within the last one or two years. All of them have been built by the same specifications the county, and other surrounding jurisdictions, have used well before these issues came to the fore.
“Each location is unique with its specific properties,” Awwad said today. “There’s elevated water content in the top millimeter or two. When salt is applied to newly poured concrete, that’s when the deterioration occurs.”
Awwad said it’s not a safety issue — the damage is just to the very top level of the sidewalk — but he said the elevated water in the concrete was present during construction, not a result of excess precipitation. At this point, the county doesn’t know how the excess water got into the concrete, and doesn’t have a plan to repair it.
The specific type of deterioration occurring in Arlington’s newest sidewalks could be attributed to freezing and thawing. According to engineering training center PDHOnline, freezing and thawing can take its toll on any concrete with excess water underneath the surface. The photo used to illustrate freezing and thawing damage (on page 6 here) looks nearly identical to the issues Arlington’s new sidewalks have encountered.
According to a paper by concrete supplier Cemex, “It is not uncommon in the concrete industry for the contractor to add water to the load prior to or even during the unloading process to increase the slump and improve the workability of the concrete.” Too much water can cause the concrete to be more permeable, and therefore more susceptible to further water infiltration
Awwad said all of the sidewalks DES has inspected for deterioration were county projects completed by private contractors. Some private developers install their own sidewalks, adhering to county specifications, and none of the privately built walkways have reported this problem.
“The majority of what we’ve observed and we’re aware of has been county projects built by contractors,” Awwad said. He said different contractors have built the sections of now-deteriorating sidewalks.
Since discovering the problem, DES has instituted some changes.
“We’ve studied and implemented some best practices that will help this from occurring in the future,” he said. “That’s our first goal. In addition, as part of our investigation, we are studying repair methods that can remedy the issue.”
Awwad said the investigation should be wrapping up in a matter of weeks. He said the county investigates based on resident complaints, and the spots they have inspected so far have been brought to them by the public. The public can report crumbling sidewalks online or on Arlington’s app.
“Our residents are really our eyes and ears, particularly in capital improvement projects,” he said. “Residents are the ones who notified us, and we’re always appreciative when they do.”
The County Board approved an easement at the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Hudson Street, allowing the county’s Department of Environmental Services to extend the curb at the intersection, improving sight lines for crossing pedestrians and shortening the time they are walking in the street.
“These curb extension go out about six feet from the edge of the sidewalk curb line at the corners of intersections and they shadow the ends of the on-street parking,” DES Program Manager Bill Roberts told ARLnow.com. “Curb extensions have been built along Wilson Boulevard, Clarendon Boulevard and throughout the commercial corridors at most of the marked intersections over the last 10 years … and within the residential neighborhoods at the higher-volume pedestrian crossings.”
This final curb extension — in front of the recently opened Don Tito restaurant — is the culmination of the Clarendon Central Park revitalization that began in 2013. County officials held a ribbon-cutting for the new park in November of that year, but the work on the last pedestrian improvement is expected to take a month this spring.
In addition to making it safer for pedestrians in the heavily foot-trafficked corridor, the extensions will have ADA-compliant ramps.
No on-street parking will be removed as a result of the curb extension, we’re told. Construction is expected to take about a month.
Photo via Google Maps
We hear that county roads crews have been unable to fully treat some treacherous stretches of roadway this afternoon due to the salt shortage, leaving drivers stranded on hills and frustrating police officers trying to reopen roads where there have been accidents.
Jessica Baxter, spokeswoman for the Dept. of Environmental Services, confirmed the salt shortage in an email to ARLnow.com this evening.
It’s been a really rough winter season, not only in our region but across the nation. The County is experiencing end of season low inventory levels of salt. Stock piles from our regional contractor are near depleted. We received mid-season resupply, but it was not enough due to the severity of this winter. We’re doing everything we can to receive additional tons as soon as possible.
Crews are working around the clock and their primary effort will be to plow snow from the streets. We’ll use salt conservatively and supplement with sand.
The problem is apparently impacting some other jurisdictions in the region as well. Additional information from Baxter:
We utilize a regional contract [for salt]. Almost all salt in our region comes from the port of Baltimore. We believe all jurisdictions are working carefully to manage their remaining supply.
Arlington has two salt storage facilities, one north side and one south side. Our maximum capacity is about 8,000 tons. We start the season each year at full capacity and refill during the winter.
About 5-6 inches of snow has fallen on Arlington so far today, with the snowflakes beginning to taper off. The snow has caused numerous accidents, stranded drivers, temporarily blocked roads and even the GW Parkway, and forced businesses to close early.
When trying to view the cameras on the website Trafficland.com, which the county’s own website links to, residents hoping to monitor traffic conditions on Wilson Blvd, Glebe Road and Columbia Pike are faced with a blue screen that reads “this image is temporarily unavailable.”
The feeds have been down, off and on, for months. In addition to residents trying to plan their commute, the cameras are also often used by members of the media for traffic reports and for reporting on crashes and road conditions during storms.
Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services says 90 percent of the county’s cameras are operational, and all the viewing issues lie with TrafficLand.
“Many cameras on TrafficLand can be down at any given time, and this is due to connectivity issues between functioning cameras and their website feed,” Baxter wrote in an email. “The county provides TrafficLand access to our video feeds. The connection between our feed and their server is up to them to maintain.”
There is no alternative place for the public to view these cameras, DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter told ARLnow.com. A random sampling of other jurisdictions’ cameras revealed that most VDOT, D.C. and Montgomery County traffic cameras were working on Trafficland.
While the county maintains that the public’s inability to view the feeds is TrafficLand’s fault, it is currently undergoing a technological overhaul of the system. Starting next month, DES will begin to replace the copper wiring in its communication system with a fiber optic system as part of its ConnectArlington project, Baxter said. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2016.
“The new technology is expected to improve the connectivity and reliability of the County’s CCTV camera system,” she said. “It’s anticipated that the fiber upgrade will resolve the cameras that are down and improve reliability.”
Baxter could not say whether the fiber replacement would improve access to cameras via TrafficLand.
So far, TrafficLand has not responded to a request for comment.
Screenshot via TrafficLand
The Metro tunnel began to leak in the fall because a stormwater-retention system built by the county was overflowing, Metro spokeswoman Caroline Laurin told WUSA9. The county built that system in the median of S. Hayes Street as part of street upgrades for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
WMATA has placed pieces of sheet metal where the leaks are occurring, deflecting the water down the wall and away from passengers.
“When that retention pond overflows, water enters our station,” Laurin told the TV station, which first reported the leaks after seeing a tweet from a curious Metro rider. “This temporary solution will be in place until Arlington County can address the issue with the storm water retention structure.”
Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, which oversaw the road construction, said WMATA approved the work it did around the Metro station, and denies that it is to blame for the leaky tunnel.
“It’s not unusual to have leaks in tunnel systems, especially systems like the Pentagon City Metrorail tunnel that are 40 years old,” Katherine Youngbluth, the project manager for the S. Hayes Street improvements, told ARLnow.com in an email. “The rain garden facility that was constructed as part of the County’s Pentagon City Multimodal project (and all other aspects of the project that were adjacent to WMATA facilities) was fully vetted through WMATA’s review and approval process and received a permit for all construction work.”
Youngbluth said the county has known about the leak since the fall, but has only had preliminary talks with WMATA about whose responsibility it is to fix the leak. The county is “continuing to explore technical studies and solutions that are available for an investigation of this type” and doesn’t yet have a timeframe or cost analysis for the repair, she added.
The multimodal improvements wrapped up last year, and included new sidewalks, crosswalks, street lighting, landscaping, new street crossing areas and bicycle amenities to go with the rain garden. The total project cost was $9 million.
Photo via @jurbanchuk
For mere seconds at a time, a sign flashing the symbol for “no right turn” illuminates next to the red light on the off-ramp of westbound I-66 at the intersection with N. Lynn Street.
The intersection has been labeled the “Intersection of Doom” because of its numerous accidents over the years. The confluence of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists from I-66, Lee Highway and Lynn Street trying to reach both points west, the GW Parkway and the Key Bridge has created a critical mass of safety hazards.
Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services has been planning safety improvements to the site and the new signal is just one of the planned changes. It was installed at the beginning of January.
“The sign has been integrated into the function of the traffic signal to restrict right turns from the I-66 off-ramp to Lynn Street during the time when pedestrians and cyclists receive the walk signal,” DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said. “The improvement reduces conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles at this busy intersection. Additional time has also been added to this walk signal phase.”
The light is one of the interim improvements DES has made before a planned $5 million safety project is built in a few years. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2014, but delays in the design phase have caused the estimated completion date to be pushed back to 2017.
Chris Slatt, a cyclist and president of the Penrose Civic Association, said he appreciates the interim solutions but is tired of waiting for the permanent project.
“I applaud the County for working on quick-to-implement, low-cost, short-term fixes like the new no-turn-on-red sign,” he told ARLnow.com in an email this morning. “That said, the County simply must start turning around capital projects more quickly and when they do slip, they need to start communicating about what is going on.
“By the time Esplanade/Custis Trail project gets built, most anyone who attended the last public meeting about the project (in October of 2011) is going to have forgotten it ever existed,” he continued. “This is a complicated area to work in — there are VDOT-controlled roads, it backs on to NPS property, but everyone knew that going in to the project and it should have been accounted for in the original timeline.”
In the planned permanent improvements, a travel lane will be removed from Lee Highway, the Custis Trail would be widened, curbs would be expanded to slow down turning cars and on-street bike lanes will be added.
In three signal cycles ARLnow.com witnessed yesterday at the beginning of the evening rush hour, one car disregarded the briefly illuminated signal, turning right when lit up. Cars waiting at a red light see no indication of the new signal — and accompanying traffic rule — except for the unlit box. Two cars legally turned right on red over the same five-minute span, and the driver that made the illegal maneuver did it just seconds after the previous vehicles.
Baxter said DES will continue to study traffic patterns at the intersection, and configure the timing of the signals to bring it more in line with traffic signals.
(Updated at 6:05 p.m.) Crews will be out pre-treating major and secondary roads tonight and early tomorrow morning in advance of another winter weather system threatening the area.
Arlington snow crews are already treating primary and secondary roads with brine, according to Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter, and those efforts will continue tonight. Those efforts will continue throughout the morning if snow begins to fall and accumulate.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over I-66, I-395, Route 50 and Washington Blvd, will also be pre-treating roads starting at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow. VDOT sent out an advisory this afternoon telling motorists to expect a “longer than normal commute.”
Early Tuesday evening, the National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory.
… WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 4 AM TO NOON EST WEDNESDAY…
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON HAS ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW… WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 4 AM TO NOON EST WEDNESDAY.
* PRECIPITATION TYPE… SNOW.
* ACCUMULATIONS… AROUND ONE INCH.
* TIMING… ONSET AROUND 4 TO 6 AM… CONTINUING INTO THE LATE MORNING HOURS… BEFORE MIXING WITH PERIODS OF SLEET AND DISSIPATING BY EARLY AFTERNOON.
* TEMPERATURES… MIDDLE 20S DURING THE PREDAWN HOURS… INCREASING TO LOW 30S LATER IN THE MORNING.
* WINDS… NORTH AT 5 TO 10 MPH.
* IMPACTS… SNOW WILL LIKELY DEVELOP EARLY IN THE MORNING COMMUTE. THIS COUPLED WITH ROAD AND AIR TEMPERATURES WELL BELOW FREEZING WILL CAUSE ACCUMULATION OF SNOWFALL ON ROADWAYS. THIS WILL RESULT IN HAZARDOUS DRIVING CONDITIONS.
A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW MEANS THAT PERIODS OF SNOW WILL CAUSE PRIMARILY TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. BE PREPARED FOR SNOW COVERED ROADS AND LIMITED VISIBILITIES… AND USE CAUTION WHILE DRIVING.
(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) All of the street signs in Arlington are in the process of gradually being replaced by signs with bigger lettering.
Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said about 120 street signs in Arlington have already been replaced as part of compliance with new Federal Highway Administration regulations.
“Although the requirement is only for new and replacement signs, because of the improvement in readability and therefore safety that is brought about by the new lettering type, we are implementing the new style throughout the County,” Baxter told ARLnow.com in an email. “The new signs are larger with both upper and lowercase reflective… lettering. They enhance safety and navigation with improved visibility.”
Baxter said the installation program began in July 2014. DES will begin replacing signs again in May with the Wilson and Clarendon Boulevard and Crystal Drive corridors.
There is no special budget for the project — it’s coming out of DES’ normal operating budget, Baxter said. Each sign costs roughly $40, depending on the size and lettering of each one.
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) The snow has stopped and the sun came out this afternoon, but the bad weather news might not be over yet with below-freezing temperatures expected tonight and tomorrow.
Arlington is continuing its efforts to clear the roads and is on Phase 3 of its snow removal process, clearing residential side streets, county staff said this afternoon.
Crews will monitor temperatures and conditions and will be “handling any re-freeze that is expected overnight and early tomorrow morning,” according to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter.
Despite the end of the snowfall and the fallen snow beginning to melt, roads are still slick in places. According to scanner traffic, a Metrobus hit a fire hydrant near Fairlington at around 3:45 p.m.
The county pre-treated roads with brine yesterday afternoon and early this morning, but according to DES Chief Operations Engineer Dave Hundelt, via a county press release, “the pre-treatment was not enough for Tuesday’s heavier-than-
“Based on the weather forecasts, our crews anticipated a much milder snow event today,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in a statement. “By the time it was clear that frigid temperatures were causing hazardous conditions, thousands of commuters and parents driving kids to school were already on the move. As our crews worked hard to treat and plow roads, we urged people to stay off the roads as much as possible.”
Baxter confirmed that some county vehicles were involved in traffic accidents today, but said DES wouldn’t have a final incident summary for several days. The Arlington County Police Department answered 203 calls during the storm, including 96 for traffic accidents and 65 for traffic complaints.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining Route 50, I-66, Washington Blvd and I-395, said road conditions are “improving” but asked drivers to exercise caution for the evening commute.
“Commuters should see some improvement on their trip home after a long and difficult commute this morning,” Branco Vlacich, VDOT assistant district administrator for maintenance in northern Virginia, said in a press release. “However, with these very cold temperatures, the salt and chemicals used are much less effective. We ask drivers to use extra caution tonight and tomorrow morning and allow extra time for their commute.”
High-use trails in the county were cleared of snow this morning, according to county Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Roberta Korzen, and crews are making a second pass-through to prevent freezing.
“Our teams were scheduled to work eight-hour shifts, but we are now changing to 12-hour shifts to remove as much snow as possible before freezing temperatures occur,” Kurt Louis, Parks and Natural Resources Division Chief, said in an email.
As if the snow itself wasn’t enough for drivers to contend with, a water main broke at around 3:00 p.m. on N. Pershing Drive and N. Oakland Street, and repairs are expected to last through the evening rush hour. Cars can still get through, but motorists should avoid the area if possible.
Water from the break and any snow melting could create serious problems if the crews can’t treat the roads, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang warns. “Given the risk for refreezing, slow speeds and plenty of room is advised for the morning commute on Wednesday,” CWG wrote this afternoon.
In response to the frigid temperatures, Arlington’s Emergency Winter Shelter is open all day today and will be open all day tomorrow, the county says.
ART bus service has also been altered to avoid troublesome roads. From the county, here are the routes affected:
- ART Route 61 will not service 12 street and Queen and will use Arlington Boulevard/Route 50 instead.
- ART Routes 75 will not service Fredrick Street and will use Columbus instead.
- ART Routes 42, 45, and 77 will not service Courthouse Road, and will take Walter Reed instead.
Despite some reader sentiment that Arlington Transit’s ART buses drive dangerously, incident records from Arlington and WMATA appear to debunk any claim that ART bus drivers crash at a significantly higher rate than other urban bus drivers.
According to crash statistics provided by Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services, ART buses have had 26 “preventable accidents” this year, a rate of 2.23 accidents per 100,000 miles of revenue service. This number accounts for minor scrapes, including incidents in the ART bus depot.
ART bus drivers came under renewed scrutiny last week when one was charged with reckless driving after causing a seven-car crash on Columbia Pike last week, sending four people to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. That driver, 26-year-old Agere Sileshi, had been driving in “revenue service” for four weeks, and is “currently on administrative leave,” according to DES spokesman Eric Balliet.
Sileshi is an employee of contractor National Express Transit, which declined comment through a spokesperson on Sileshi’s employment status and ART bus’ driving records. Sileshi was driving in the Columbia Pike Plaza parking lot and the bus was out of service when the crash occurred. Balliet said “no ART route goes into that parking lot.”
Balliet said the average crash rate for buses in “an urban environment” is between 1.0 and 2.0, but many jurisdictions do not tally the minor incidents Arlington does. WMATA also counts those incidents, and, according to spokesman Dan Stessel, Metrobus’ rate in 2013 was 2.16 per 100,000 miles — just under ART’s 2.23 accident rate.
“You can rack up a lot of ‘collisions’ during the overnight hours as hundreds of buses are moved around tight spaces in bus depots for service, cleaning and refueling,” Stessel noted.
Balliet pointed out that ART has received high safety marks in recent years, including an American Public Transportation Association’s Gold Safety Award in 2011, an award for the service’s pedestrian safety training in 2012 and had a 90 percent satisfaction rate in a 2013 ridership survey. Baillet also says every ART bus driver must go through 120 hours of operator training.
Despite the statistical evidence, some around Arlington have said it’s only a matter of time before an ART bus causes more serious injuries. Serkan Altan, a Columbia Pike resident, has been contacting Arlington transit officials complaining about their drivers’ behavior.
“ART bus drivers are driving crazy in my area, especially around Dinwiddie Street,” Altan wrote in an email. “ART supervisors… were made aware of the safety issues with its [reckless] drivers, especially in that area where I live. They should be held liable.”
A resident’s complaint about a sidewalk closure led to action by county officials on Friday.
Arlington Ridge area resident Ted Billings snapped the photo above, showing a woman pushing a double stroller in the northbound lane of Army Navy Drive. The woman and her children were in the path of fast-moving traffic due to the closure of the only sidewalk on the long stretch between S. Nash Street and 20th Street S.
Billings talked to county staff members and also contacted ARLnow.com about the closure. Officials responded to the scene and determined that the construction crew that put the closure in place did not apply for the proper permits.
From Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jennifer Heilman:
This work is being performed by private contractor who is involved with a residential build project in that vicinity. The sidewalk closure shown in the photo below did not go through the proper DES permitting review process nor were they issued the proper permit to close the sidewalk. County staff has informed the contractor of the violation and has directed them to get proper permits if they need to close the sidewalk again. The sidewalk has since re-opened. We appreciate the information provided by the resident.
Though pleased that the sidewalk was finally reopened, Billings said it required persistence — multiple county staff members initially told him nothing could be done about it, he said.
Arlington posted the open position on its jobs page this morning. According to county spokeswoman Mary Curtius, the position has been open for six months after interim deputy manager Jay Farr returned to his original post as deputy chief of the systems management division with the Arlington County Police Department.
Farr had replaced former Deputy County Manager Marsha Allgeier, who stepped down about a year ago into a part-time position as assistant county manager of special products, Curtius said.
The salary for the open position is “negotiable for up to $195,000” and the responsibilities include overseeing the Department of Environmental Services, the county’s largest department.
“This executive will be a visionary leader who will focus on overseeing the Transportation, Environmental and Capital Programs,” the posting states. “The Deputy will focus on ensuring that the strategic vision and goals are being met and are aligned with the County mission and vision by providing oversight to all staff associated with the Programs and in collaboration with task forces, citizen groups and other stakeholders.”
The county also announced it was seeking a new director of Arlington Economic Development, who would become the full-time replacement for the late AED Director Terry Holzheimer. Holzheimer died in March of a heart attack. Deputy Director Cindy Richmond has served as acting director since Holzheimer’s death.
Arlington County has stepped up it pothole repair effort this year due to the harsh winter.
County crews were out filling potholes in response to resident requests this weekend, after spending the week plowing snow and cleaning equipment, according to Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Robyn Mincher. One of the stretches of road where crews worked “extensively” was the 2200 block of N. Harrison Street, where numerous potholes were reported.
The county has up to five times as many employees working potholes repairs this winter, Mincher said.
“We have five teams, about 35 employees, in our streets maintenance section concentrating on either potholes or snow,” she told ARLnow.com. “In lighter winters, we would typically have one team assigned to potholes.”
“We anticipate continuing to concentrate on potholes [this] week, and assessing over the next few weeks our needs for later in the spring,” she added.
In addition to responding to problem reports from residents — there have been more than a dozen pothole reports in the past 24 hours — crews are also “fixing other potholes we find along our travels,” Mincher said.
Video via Arlington TV
It’s a source of frustration for many residents, who have emailed and tweeted ARLnow.com about slippery back roads. It’s also a stark contrast for those who have lived in northern cities with more practiced snow-removal operations.
Why is Arlington, arguably the wealthiest county in America and a self-styled paragon of good government, seemingly overwhelmed by a few inches of snow when small workaday suburbs to the north can clear all of their streets with ease?
Is it lack of practice? Lack of resources? To try to figure that out, we took a look at another Arlington, an Arlington that doesn’t flinch when 4 inches of snow falls — Arlington, Massachusetts.
Arlington County has a population of 212,900 as of Jan. 1, 2013, and an area of about 26 square miles. Its total budget for FY 2014 is about $1.4 billion.
The town of Arlington, Mass., has one-fifth of the population of Arlington, Va., and one-fifth of the area. Its population is 42,844, according to the 2010 census, and it spans about 5.5 square miles. Its annual operating budget is about $132 million. It has 250 lane miles of roads compared to just under 1,000 for Arlington County.
The county, with an average snowfall just over 15 inches a year, allocates $1.1 million per year for snow preparation and removal, according to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jennifer Heilman. It usually spends all $1.1 million, even the past two years when there was little accumulation at all.
According to Arlington, Mass., Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, the town, which has averaged more than 58 inches of snow per season the past three years, allocates $724,000 per year for snow removal, with a $500,000 reserve in case more is needed, but the amount spent fluctuates depending on how snowy it is. According to the town’s visual budget tool, it spent $2 million on snow removal in 2011, $550,000 in 2012 and about $1 million in 2013.
By way of comparison, the town spends about 1 percent of its budget on snow removal to clear 4 times as much snow as Arlington County, which spends less than 0.1 percent of its budget on snow removal.
Reagan National Airport recorded 3.8 inches of snow in total for the storm, according to Capital Weather Gang, which stopped before midnight Tuesday. Heilman said about 50 trucks were on the road — 40-45 county trucks and eight contractors — in three-and-a-half 12-hour shifts starting at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday until midnight on Wednesday. Hooking up plows to trucks started at 10:00 a.m. on Monday and road treatment began that afternoon.
“Not all side streets will be plowed to bare pavement,” Heilman wrote in an email, “however we believe all have been plowed and treated to some extent. Sun and warmer temperatures are needed now to help get down to more bare pavement over the coming days. We will continue to respond to calls and online notifications of areas that can use more treatment or plowing as needed, but we have ceased full operations.”
The town has a full-time fleet of 12 large trucks called “snow fighters,” Chapdelaine said, and it has pickup trucks and other vehicles to which plows are attached. After more than 2 inches of snow accumulates, the town brings in outside contractors.
Chapdelaine outlined the town’s snow removal strategy, beginning with sanding and salting the roads before a drop of snow falls, sending out watch teams to assess snowfall and accumulation, and strategically placing the bigger trucks on the hilliest streets that are most difficult to navigate in the snow.
Chapdelaine says the town has seven different “operational levels” for snow, which allows it to clear large amounts of precipitation in a matter of hours, not days. Each operational level signifies different personnel and equipment, intended to efficiently scale the town’s response to each winter storm. In towns like Arlington, Mass., that includes clearing the back roads of snow before they are allowed to turn into ice and slush.
“All-in-all they do a pretty good job,” said Spencer Buell, a reporter for the Arlington Advocate, the town’s local newspaper of record. “We have a multiple-step plan, the idea being we can dispatch with the snow fairly quickly. It’s a topic of conversation every year… [250 lane miles] to clear and they can usually do it in about a day. The issue is where to put all the snow sometimes.”