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.”
For one day only, drivers parking in Arlington are getting a reprieve. Because the frigid temperatures are a danger to enforcement workers and because the weather is causing an increase in meter malfunctions, meters will not be enforced.
The Department of Environmental Services maintains the county’s meters and reports this week’s colder weather and last week’s freezing precipitation led to a higher than usual number of malfunctions on the multi-space meters that dispense tickets. An average day typically requires around 15 repairs throughout the county. However, there were 29 repairs last Thursday, 76 on Friday and 61 yesterday.
DES also has received a higher volume of calls to the broken meter hotline (703-228-3298). Instead of the usual 40 calls per day, 90 came in on Friday and 117 came in on Saturday and Monday. DES does not yet have a tally for today, but anticipates similar numbers.
The multi-space meters have a wireless connection that automatically informs DES of any malfunctions, but the department relies on phone calls for learning about problems with coin operated meters.
Although DES maintains the meters, members of the Arlington County Police Department take care of enforcement. In light of the issues today, the department decided to suspend meter enforcement.
“Enforcement has been suspended due to a combination of the extreme cold weather creating a danger to public service aides, and the growing number of malfunctioning meters,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “That’s just for today.”
The Arlington County government will still open on time. Federal government employees have the option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework today.
The Arlington County Office of Emergency Management reports that trees and wires came down around the county during the overnight hours. Crews are currently on the scene of a large tree and wires down in the roadway at S. 23rd Street between S. Kent Street and S. Lynn Street. The road will be closed until the obstruction is safely removed. The incident has knocked out power to more than 500 homes, according to Dominion Power.
A number of roads, including some main arteries such as Washington Blvd. (pictured above), are covered in a layer of frozen slush because of the frigid temperatures following the storm. The Department of Environmental Services reports the county’s roads were not pre-treated yesterday because the forecast called for rain, to be followed by some snow.
“If we pre-treated the streets, the salt or brine would have been washed away and ineffective. Of course, the weather changed on us and snow came earlier and the temperature dropped sooner,” said DES Spokeswoman Jennifer Heilman. “Despite the change, WSS (Water, Sewer, Streets Bureau) has had 21 trucks out spreading salt since midnight. We were able to get some trucks on the roads treating high elevations and bridges around 9 p.m. (Thursday) when the snow started earlier than expected. They have been on primary (red) and secondary (blue) streets as well as the school routes (green). Many residential streets were also treated.”
More resources about the county’s snow response and any alerts can be found on the Arlington Snow & Ice Central website.
The new $32.6 million facility, on the opposite side of N. Moore Street from the current entrance, will feature three high-speed, high-capacity elevators.
The entrance will be able to serve up to 2,000 riders per hour, according to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. Officials have said that they hope the entrance will help keep pace with the station’s soaring ridership, which has increased 23 percent in the past decade and is expected to increase even more with new office and residential development in the area.
Arlington County will be holding a grand opening ceremony for the new entrance — at 1811 N. Moore Street — on Monday, Oct. 7 at 9:30 a.m. The event will feature members of the County Board and will be open to the public.
In addition to the elevators, the station improvements include an emergency evacuation stairwell, a mezzanine passageway, a new station manager kiosk and new fare collection equipment. The Rosslyn Metrorail station is the busiest in Virginia, servicing more than 36,000 passengers per day, according to DES.
The county is asking residents to complete a survey by Sept. 13 in order to gauge interest in the addition. Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services estimates that adding yard and food waste to the recycling program will increase the county’s recycling rate from 50.3 to 79.3 percent. About 50 percent of what residents throw away is yard or food waste, DES says.
Representatives from local civic associations will also be participating in focus groups about the proposed changes.
The proposal comes as the county prepares to award new solid waste collection contracts by the end of the year. The new contracts will take effect in July 2014.
If collected, the food and yard waste would be diverted away from landfills and would instead be composted.
ARLnow.com contacted the Department of Environmental Services regarding the section of N. Veitch Street between Clarendon Blvd and Wilson Blvd.
The street does not have a yellow divider line and on numerous occasions, it has created confusion over which lanes belong to southbound drivers and which belong to northbound drivers. Some drivers even believe it may be a one way street.
According to DES spokeswoman Jennifer Heilman, the lane that is closest to the bike lane and bordered by the solid white line is for southbound drivers heading straight. The one directly next to it is for northbound vehicles turning west onto Wilson, and the final lane is for northbound traffic traveling straight.
Now that the county is aware of the confusion, we’re told a white arrow will be painted on the street in the lone southbound lane to reinforce the direction of travel. The intersection will remain without a yellow line because that could actually cause even more confusion for drivers based on where it would be placed, Heilman said.
“The reason there is no yellow line is because first of all, it technically would not be in the middle of the intersection,” said Heilman. “If you put in a yellow line, drivers would be crossing over the line into the middle of the turn lane.”
Heilman admitted that this is indeed a tricky area for drivers to navigate.
“It’s a very oddly shaped intersection, is what it comes down to,” she said.
Because the need for the new painted arrow was just discovered today, a formal request still has to be made and there is no set time for when drivers should expect to see it added.
Photo via Google Maps
The $39 million Route 50/Courthouse Road/10th Street interchange project is apparently running behind schedule.
The project was originally slated for completion this fall but, in a new county-produced video, Greg Emanuel, Director of Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services, says the project is now slated to be complete by the summer of 2014.
“It’s a multi-phased project,” Emanuel said in the video (above.) “It takes some time, because while it’s going on we need to maintain traffic.”
Arlington is contributing $1 million to the $39 million cost of the VDOT-led project. Construction started in April 2011. Recent work includes a realignment of the ramp from Courthouse Road to westbound Route 50, and the January demolition of the bridge from eastbound Route 50 to Courthouse Road.
The Courthouse Road bridge, and the 10th Street bridge that was torn down last year, were both originally built in 1954. No word yet on when they’ll be rebuilt, given the change in the project timeline.
Emanuel says the project will make the interchange safer and will help traffic flow more smoothly.
“Right now traffic is kind of complicated at these intersections,” he said. “This is going to provide new acceleration and deceleration lanes, and make it much safer for the traveling public that’s coming on and off these intersections.”
So far representatives from VDOT and DES have not responded to a request for comment.