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Clarendon and Lyon Park power outage (via Dominion)

Update at 3:20 p.m. — The number of outages is down to just over 600, according to Dominion. Police are in the process of removing cones from intersections with traffic signals that are working again.

Earlier: More than 3,500 homes and businesses are currently without power in Arlington due to a reported transformer fire.

The outage is centered around the Clarendon and Lyon Park neighborhoods. Initial reports suggest that a tree fell on power lines somewhere in the area and sparked the transformer fire that is causing the large outage.

Traffic signals are said to be dark at numerous busy intersections. Police are responding to assist with traffic control.

Another several hundred Dominion customers were initially reported to be in the dark around Courthouse, though power is back on in most of the neighborhood.

One office worker in Courthouse described experiencing 3-4 power surges that “went through the building like a wind blowing… about 2 minutes from start to finish.”

In addition to calls about non-functioning traffic lights, police and fire radio channels have been busy with reports of smoke coming from sidewalk grates — a normal occurrence in commercial areas during outages, caused by diesel generators starting up.

As of 2 p.m., Dominion’s website estimates a timeframe of between 5-8 p.m. for restoration of power.

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Last week we reported on a call to police made after an Amazon delivery van was towed. This week, another commercial vehicle tow led to another police response.

Advanced Towing — the Ballston-based trespass tow company with a reputation for being prolific or predatory, depending on your perspective — is at the center of both.

This time around, police were dispatched to the tow lot on 5th Road N. for a report of an alarming incident: a Dominion power crew supposedly had a vehicle towed during emergency repair work. A short time later, several police units could be seen at the lot, talking with the crew.

Arlington’s towing ordinance specifies that public safety vehicles and vehicles responding to an emergency are not to be towed, even if parked on private property.

But is seems that the reality did not quite match the initial report. First, it was a utility contractor’s pickup truck that was towed, not a Dominion-owned vehicle, as seen in the photos above. On top of that, police said the incident was soon cleared by responding officers.

“At approximately 12:35 p.m., police were dispatched to the 4000 block of 5th Road N. for the report of a dispute,” said Arlington County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “Upon arrival, it was determined the dispute was related to a vehicle tow from private property. The incident was determined to be non-criminal and the scene was cleared by responding officers.”

Advanced Towing asserted in a brief statement that the vehicle that was towed was parked on private property for non-emergency work across the street.

“This was a construction crew, and not an emergency crew, with several vehicles parked illegally on private property, while doing work across the street,” the company told ARLnow. “They were not working on the property they parked at. Contractors cannot violate someone’s private property rights, especially to do work and a completely different property.”

The exact details could not be independently confirmed and it’s unclear from which property the vehicle was towed, but the circumstances are not unlike last week’s Amazon tow. Initially, police were told that the van had been stolen, but they later determined that it had been towed from private property; Advanced said the van was parked in a fire lane.

And these were not the only commercial tows to catch the attention of locals over the past week or so. On Twitter yesterday, a user noted a locksmith’s van being towed near the Pentagon City mall.

Police are frequently called to the Advanced lot, but not just for commercial vehicle tows.

Advanced’s poor reputation mostly comes from its towing of private vehicles. The speed with which such tows occur have, along with other factors, at times enraged vehicle owners to the point that police are called for reports of heated disputes at the lot.

In 2020, a rideshare driver become so irate that he struck Advanced owner John O’Neill with his car, injuring O’Neill and also reportedly striking another vehicle before running into a utility pole. That driver pleaded guilty to reckless driving and a felony hit and run last August.

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Update at 6:05 p.m. — The number of outages in Arlington is now down to just 67, according to Dominion.

Earlier: More than 2,000 Dominion customers are still without power after two strong storms knocked down trees and power lines Sunday.

As of 9:45 a.m. the utility company reported 2,084 customers in the dark, down from 8,295 outages immediately following the second of yesterday’s storms.

The outages are scattered across the county but mostly in south Arlington. Among the largest of the remaining outages are in the Aurora Highlands and Columbia Forest neighborhoods.

Dominion’s power outage map currently lists the estimated restoration time as between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. tonight.

The utility company has been struggling to restore power due to widespread damage from the storms. Currently Dominion is reporting  8,992 outages across Northern Virginia, including 2,832 in Fairfax County and 3,873 in Alexandria.

The downed trees and power lines are affecting bus service in Columbia Forest.

“Due to downed power lines, the ART Route 75 will not be servicing stops on S. Frederick Street until further notice,” Arlington Transit said in an alert earlier this morning. “Passengers can board on George Mason Drive.”

The outages are also affecting library service in Aurora Highlands.

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A project scheduled to begin this summer will tunnel under the Four Mile Run near the Route 1 bridge to move overhead power lines underground.

As part of the project, Dominion Energy will rebuild its Glebe Substation next year, modernizing the facility that was built in the 1970s and is reaching the end of its service life. The substation serves parts of Arlington and Alexandria.

“Everything will look a lot cleaner, a lot of the equipment will be a lot smaller,” said Ann Gordon Mickel, Dominion Energy’s communication and community lead for the project.

A virtual community meeting will be held tonight (Wednesday) at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the status of the project and what to expect during and after construction.

When work begins, a 250-foot by 250-foot area will be fenced off in the Potomac Yard shopping center parking lot in Alexandria to allow for a 40- to 50-foot deep pit for tunneling.

In Arlington, a pit will be constructed at the substation and there may be temporary intermittent closures on S. Eads Street, as well as on nearby sidewalks and pedestrian paths. Electric service will not be affected.

The underground line will run between the substation and the Potomac Yard Transition Station, which will be decommissioned at the end of the project. The rebuilt Glebe Substation will incorporate new technology, requiring less maintenance and making it more reliable, the power company said.

“Any time you address aging infrastructure and replace it with new technology the reliability always enhances,” said Greg Mathey, a manager of electric transmission communications for Dominion Energy. “The transmission system feeds the distribution system, so the more reliable and hardened we can make the transmission system, the better the distribution system can perform.”

The construction to convert to underground lines is scheduled to continue through 2024. The whole project should be completed by late 2025.

A chart outlining the timeline of the Glebe Electric Transmission Project (via Dominion Energy)

The entire project is expected to cost about $122.8 million. The State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in Virginia, approved the project in 2019. It was originally scheduled to be up and running by this month, but due to the nature of the construction, the timeline was pushed back.

Using a trenchless microtunneling method will increase costs by about $16 million — but it shortens the construction timeline, according to project documents.

This type of tunneling will also reduce construction-related impacts to the Potomac Yard shopping center, as it won’t require as much space for pipes above ground.

The overhead lines that can be seen over Four Mile Run will be removed at the end of the project.

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Dominion on scene of power pole fire in 2020 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

An early morning power outage Tuesday left more than 2,000 Dominion customers in the dark. The culprit: balloons.

The incident prompted Dominion Energy to remind residents about the danger posed by those metallic balloons one might buy in a grocery or party supply store.

“In the overnight hours mylar balloons came in contact with our power lines causing a short circuit or power surge which put 2,085 customers in the dark,” Dominion spokeswoman Peggy Fox tells ARLnow. “The balloons damaged a circuit which had to be replaced.  Fortunately, there was no fire and our crews were able to gradually switch customers to other circuits.’

“Power was restored to all of those customers by 5 a.m. — in under three hours from when the outage began,” she added.

Letting balloons fly up into the sky may seem harmless — and in the case of balloons held by young children, it’s sometimes hard to avoid — but aside from the fact that the balloons eventually come down and end up as litter, mylar balloons in particular pose an acute danger on the way up.

“Mylar balloons have a metallic coating that conducts electricity,” Fox explains. “When they touch power lines they can cause large-scale outages, melting of electrical wires and even fires. It’s happened across the country.”

“We would ask people to not release any balloons outside and to dispose of them properly,” she said.

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The lonely utility pole at Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street in Sept. (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The lonely utility pole protruding into a Columbia Pike intersection has not come down yet, the county confirms, despite assurances it was going to by the end of last year.

In September, ARLnow learned that an errant utility pole sitting a few feet from the sidewalk at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street was scheduled to be removed. But that has yet to happen, due to at least one utility company not completing work to bury wires as part of the Columbia Pike multimodal project.

“Dominion Energy crews have completed removal of their overhead lines, with [the] exception of one property. Comcast’s contractor has completed removal of their overhead wires. Verizon is dealing with material shipment delays, which have deferred the process of scheduling their undergrounding work,” reads the county’s Jan. 6 project update. “When all three companies have removed their overhead wires, the utility poles along the roadway will be removed.”

The update on the website was made shortly after ARLnow reached out for more information based on a reader tip that the pole was still there.

There’s no timeline as to when the pole will be removed, a county spokesperson tells us.

The work may eventually result in the temporary closure of Columbia Pike lanes between the Arlington/Fairfax County line and the Four Mile Run Bridge during construction hours, they note.

In the fall of 2020, a traffic signal was installed at the intersection of S. Frederick Street and Columbia Pike near Arlington Mill. It was in response to a years-long request from residents and advocates to improve the intersection’s safety, which had seen a number of crashes and accidents over the years, including some involving pedestrians.

As part of that construction, the driveway to Arbor Heights — an affordable housing complex with an entrance right off Columbia Pike — was redone to align with S. Frederick Street. Previously, a cement island with a strip of sidewalk held the pole but that island was removed, leaving the pole all alone.

It’s surrounded by bollards and, though the county says it hasn’t received any complaints about it blocking or being dangerous to traffic, ARLnow has received several notes about it from concerned motorists.

A new underground duct bank was built and the utility companies are using it to bury the lines.

All of the ongoing work is part of the Columbia Pike multimodal street improvements project, which extends from the Arlington/Fairfax County line to S. Joyce Street in Pentagon City.

The goal is to “make Columbia Pike a safer, more accessible route for all users” as well as to transform “this main thoroughfare into a complete street that balances all modes of travel and supports high-quality, high-frequency transit service.”

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Looking down Lynn Street in Rosslyn toward Georgetown, in the snow (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 10 a.m.) A frigid night is on tap and the refreezing of melting snow could make roads and sidewalks extra slippery.

The National Weather Service on Monday issued a Special Weather Statement about the ice concerns overnight:

…Icy Patches Likely Overnight Into Tuesday Morning… Falling temperatures and water from melted snow will result in patchy ice on area roads overnight into early Tuesday. This will be especially problematic on untreated roadways. Motorists should exercise extra caution overnight into early Tuesday, and assume that any surfaces which look wet or slushy may in fact be icy.

Adding to the driving danger in Arlington: many neighborhood roads have yet to be touched by a snow plow. As of Monday night, the county remained in “Phase 2” of its snow removal plan, during which crews focus on primary and secondary roads only.

Arlington snow plow map as of 10:15 p.m. The roads in red have not yet been plowed. (via Arlington County)

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services says that crews will “work throughout the night to clear roadways,” but the county said Monday night what some had suspected: that Covid has reduced snow plow staffing.

“The County’s snow removal is currently impacted by COVID-19 related staffing shortages,” the county said. “Roads are being cleared as quickly and safely as possible. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

Monday’s winter storm was one for the record books.

The 6.9 inches of accumulation recorded at Reagan National Airport is a new official D.C. record for Jan. 3 and the first major snowfall event in about three years. In Arlington, storm spotters reported between 6.5 and 9.2 inches of snow, with higher amounts generally to the south.

The storm’s impact will be felt Tuesday and perhaps beyond.

As previously reported, Arlington Public Schools will be closed while trash collection has been cancelled for both Monday and Tuesday. Additionally, Arlington County government offices, recreation centers, vaccination clinics, and — as of Tuesday morning — Covid testing booths will be closed on Tuesday.

The federal government will be opening on a three hour delay on Tuesday, the Office of Personnel Management said tonight.

While unnecessary travel is being discouraged, particularly overnight, limited bus service is now available.

After being suspended for most of the day, some Metrobus service started a gradual return as of 6 p.m. ART bus service in Arlington is currently expected to be restored at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

It’s going to be a cold night, meanwhile, for more than a thousand households around Arlington.

As of 10:30 p.m., 1,240 homes and businesses were without power in Arlington, according to Dominion. It could be days before the outages, scattered across the county, are fully resolved.

“Please prepare for the possibility of being without power for multiple days,” power company spokeswoman Peggy Fox said tonight. “This is a multi-day restoration effort.”

Dominion reported more than 90,000 customers without power across Northern Virginia — and even more statewide — Monday night.

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Power outages in Arlington just before 12:15 p.m., amid heavy snow (via Dominion)

(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Roads around Arlington are impassible, schools and the federal government are closed, and to make matters worse thousands of homes and businesses are without power throughout Arlington.

Amid the heavy, wet snow — some 6+ inches have fallen so far, with a couple of hours of additional snowfall expected — there have been numerous reports of branches snapping, trees falling and power lines down around the county. In some areas, power lines are sparking or on fire, with snow-laden branches leaning against them.

Among other reports, first responders are on scene of a significant power line fire on Robert Walker Place, near Taylor Elementary, according to scanner traffic. They have asked Dominion crews to expedite their response to the scene.

The fire department has also been dispatched to a report of a tree that fell into a house.  Most of the reports of tree damage are in North Arlington neighborhoods.

As of 2:45 p.m., Dominion reported 4,767 outages in Arlington — a number that has been steadily increasing. Of those, about 2,200 are part of a large outage centered around Marymount University’s main campus. Other small outages are spread across the county.

That’s still well below the more than 48,000 homes and businesses that are in the dark in neighboring Fairfax County as of 2:45 p.m., however. In all, Dominion is reporting more than 145,000 outages across Northern Virginia.

Some trees are also reported down across roads, including on N. Glebe Road near Chain Bridge and S. Arlington Ridge Road near Gunston Middle School. Additionally, the Bluemont Junction Trail is blocked by a fallen tree.

Local authorities, including Arlington police, continue to urge people to stay home and off the roads as the flakes keep falling.

As of noon, Arlington snow crews were in “Phase 2” of their response, focused on primary and secondary routes instead of neighborhood streets.

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Morning Notes

Power Payment Scam — “Arlington County is warning the public about a phone scam of unsolicited calls claiming to be representatives of Dominion Energy. Dominion Energy will not call you to pressure you to pay. If you have issues, contact the customer service line (1-866-366-4357) immediately.” [Twitter]

Youngkin Voters Cite Schools — From WAMU’s Rachel Kurzius: “I cannot stress enough how much the issue of education has motivated Youngkin supporters. It comes up in every convo. Charmaine and Jack Yoest of Arlington say that ‘what’s going on in our schools today’ cuts across party lines and that helps explain Youngkin’s success tonight… One thing I keep hearing is that parents didn’t like what they overheard on Zoom classes.” [Twitter]

Leadership Center Picks Leader — “Lisa Fikes, who has served as head of Volunteer Arlington for five years and in recent months has served as interim CEO of the Leadership Center for Excellence, has been tapped for that post in a permanent capacity.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Wednesday — Today there will be areas of frost before 10 a.m. Otherwise it will be sunny, with a high near 52. Sunrise at 7:37 a.m. and sunset at 6:05 p.m. Tomorrow will be mostly sunny, with a high near 53.

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(Updated at 1:25 p.m.) Flooding is not the only imminent threat from today’s wild weather. The saturated ground and gusty winds have brought down several trees and large limbs around Arlington already, causing power outages.

As of 12:30 p.m. more than 2,250 homes and businesses were without power from Virginia Square to Bellevue Forest, with a large chunk of residential North Arlington in between, according to Dominion’s outage map. (The number dipped to 1,925 as of 1:15 p.m.)

Power flickered briefly in Ballston around noon, before coming back on. The outage knocked out traffic signals on Washington Blvd and Langston Blvd, among others. The Lyon Village Shopping Center, including The Italian Store, is also reportedly affected.

One likely cause is power lines that are down across Lorcom Lane near N. Edgewood Street, in the area of the Maywood and Woodmont neighborhoods. A falling tree took down the lines, which Dominion crews are now working to repair. Lorcom Lane is closed in the area.

The current estimated restoration time for the outage is listed as between 2-8 p.m, according to Dominion.

Meanwhile, more trees are likely to fall.

This morning the National Weather Service issued a statement cautioning about falling trees. NWS has received more than a dozen reports of trees falling around the region, including in Fairfax County where more than 5,000 Dominion customers are currently in the dark.

From NWS:

1122 AM EDT FRI OCT 29 2021

…GUSTY WINDS AND WET GROUND LEADING TO MINOR TREE DAMAGE…

GUSTY EASTERLY WINDS OF UP TO AROUND 40 MPH COMBINED WITH WET GROUND FROM RECENT RAINFALL IS RESULTING IN SPORADIC TREE AND POWER LINE DAMAGE. REMAIN ALERT IF TRAVELING THROUGH WOODED AREAS, AND AVOID THEM IF POSSIBLE.

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(Updated 9:20 a.m.) A Dominion Energy substation under renovation near Crystal City is set to electrify the neighborhood with an artistic façade.

The energy provider is expanding and remodeling its substation at the intersection of S. Hayes Street and S. Fern Street to meet the increasing demand for electricity as the population in the National Landing area — and Amazon’s nearby HQ2 — grows. It obtained the extra land needed for the expansion a year ago through an agreement with the County Board.

As part of the renovation, Dominion will be adding public art to one building face — “inVisible” by California-based artist Elena Manferdini — and building a public plaza.

Manferdini’s energetic design features vibrant ceramic tiles interacting with grayscale panels that extend toward the sky. But it’s a big departure from the “cloud concept” Dominion chose last year in response to community feedback.

Dominion Energy’s original “cloud concept” proposed for its substation near Crystal City (via Dominion Energy)

Her livelier proposal proved polarizing. While well-received by Dominion — and approved by the Arlington County Public Art Committee in March — reactions during last month’s Arlington Ridge Civic Association meeting were negatively charged for two reasons, says one attendee.

“1) Although the good intention to keep the building from being bland was well understood by the attendees, the artwork seemed too ‘busy’ for them, and 2) the artwork is being done by a non-local artist,” Tina Ghiladi said in an email. “At best, some reactions were neutral, because the substation is not in Arlington Ridge nor within our line of sight.”

Dominion Energy spokeswoman Peggy Fox says Manferdini, an award-winning artist with two decades of experience, was chosen on the strength of her proposal.

“We were hopeful to find a local artist for this project,” Fox said. “However, Elena proved to be the superior candidate by listening to both the desires of the community and representing the function of a substation and its ‘invisible’ importance in the community. It was clear she did her homework and drew inspiration from both angles. Elena (and her design ‘inVisible’) was chosen because she was the best candidate for this job.”

Manferdini describes her project as a representation of the unseen force of electricity and an invitation to the audience to question their relationship to it.

“Every day, we are surrounded by one of the most important innovations of all time, electricity,” she said in a March meeting. “Its energy powers every area of our modern lives. And yet we can’t see it. Like gravity, electricity is an invisible force we only recognize when it acts upon other objects.”

“inVisible” by Atelier Manferdini, the planned artwork for Dominion Energy’s substation near Crystal City (via Dominion Energy)

Ghiladi says some negative reaction softened when Dominion explained her vision and that she was selected “because of her experience in, and passion for, the subject.” Overall, neighbors like the other changes, she says.

“The members were positive/supportive about all other aspects of the project, namely improving our power network, as well as the removal of the lattice roof,” she said.

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