The Arlington County Board will consider a resolution at its meeting this week that could help pave the way for HOV or bus-only lanes on Columbia Pike.
The county took over management of the Pike from VDOT in 2010. The Board is considering an amendment to its agreement with VDOT that would provide for “active lane management practices and associated restrictions.”
Whereas the 2010 agreement specified that the county must maintain two through lanes in each direction, the amendment would allow “use by certain specified modes only, e.g., buses, high occupancy cars, and similar high capacity modes, in order to optimize person throughput during specified times of the day.”
Such restrictions may be in place during rush hour or any other peak demand period determined by the county. At least one lane in each direction “will be available for through traffic for all modes at all times.”
The language of the amendment was approved by VDOT’s oversight body, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, on Dec. 5, according to a staff county report. The County Board is now considering a resolution formally requesting the amendment from VDOT.
The overall goal, according to the staff report, is moving more people — but not necessarily more cars — along the constrained Columbia Pike corridor.
County staff has been reviewing options related to the County’s secondary road system for how the County can support the mutual goals of the Department and the County to use the existing public right-of-way to support transportation improvements and enhancements that move more people more efficiently. While the County has demonstrated its effectiveness in increasing mobility along Columbia Pike, the constrained right-of-way limits the extent to which the County can increase the movement of people. Because Columbia Pike has restrictions on how the County can use the public right-of-way, County staff, at the direction of the County Board, has been working with the Department to develop language that would provide the County with greater flexibility now and in the future to manage Columbia Pike in a way that supports the movement of people within and through the corridor.
The change could allow for a version of Bus Rapid Transit, which was often touted as an alternative to the since-cancelled Columbia Pike streetcar. The county said in 2016 that it was “looking at…the possibility of creating locations with dedicated bus lanes, along with other innovations” along the Pike.
The county has not solicited public feedback on the amendment itself, according to the staff report.
“Public outreach is not appropriate for an administrative amendment to the Agreement,” the report states.
Murder Victim Feared Her Estranged Husband — Bonnie Black, who was found dead in her home in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood on April 17, feared her estranged husband, court documents show. After months of continuing to live in the neighborhood a free man during the investigation, David Black is now in jail, charged with murder. [NBC Washington]
Wakefield, W-L Fall in Football Playoffs — The playoff runs for the Wakefield and Washington-Lee high school football teams have ended early. Wakefield could’t hang on to a 6-0 lead at halftime, falling to Potomac Falls 21-6, while W-L lost 44-20 to Westfield. [InsideNova, Washington Post]
Arlington Wants I-66 Widening Delayed — This week the Arlington County Board is scheduled to decide its position on the plan for tolling on I-66. At its Saturday meeting the Board made clear that it wants to delay the widening of the highway as long as possible. Meanwhile, responding to questions from county officials, VDOT says it’s not able to fully enforce existing HOV restrictions on I-66 because the enforcement causes significant traffic delays. Nearly half of the clogged rush hour traffic on I-66 is believed to be HOV rule breakers. [WTOP, WTOP]
County May Ask for Paper, Plastic Bag Tax Authority — Despite failing efforts in previous years, Arlington County’s draft legislative agenda seeks to again ask the Virginia General Assembly for the authority to levy a small tax on single-use paper and plastic bags. The proposal may exempt bags for certain items, like newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs. [InsideNova]
Historic House for Sale — A 145-year-old house known as “The Hill” is now for sale in Arlington’s Old Glebe neighborhood. Originally a summer home for a prominent D.C. family, the four-bedroom house is on the market for $1,568,000. [Preservation Arlington]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) At a public forum last night, Arlington residents spoke out against the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to turn I-66 into a toll road during rush hour.
VDOT officials met residents at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) to discuss the I-66 Inside the Beltway project, which would convert the highway into a toll road during rush hour by 2017 and increase the HOV requirement to three people by 2020.
While some Arlington residents have spoken out in the past about the HOV changes, the audience’s attention was on the dynamically priced tolls proposed by the transportation authority. Members of the audience — who mostly identified themselves as Arlington residents — had a chance to comment on or ask about the plan.
Not one person supported the tolls, even though the biggest impact is likely to be felt by commuters from the outer suburbs.
“The public isn’t benefiting from the HOT lanes, only the wealthy and the privileged,” said one person.
Under VDOT’s plan for I-66, during rush hour both directions of I-66 would be tolled, with the cost depending on the level of demand for the road. During the presentation last night, Amanda Baxter, a VDOT official, said tolls could be as high as $9 for the eastbound morning commute.
I-66 would be tolled for four hours during each rush hour period, possibly from 5:30-9:30 a.m. and 3-7 p.m., Baxter said.
The idea behind the I-66 project is to reduce the amount of congestion on the road, allowing people to move more quickly during rush hour, said VDOT official Rene’e Hamilton.
“Time is money, and basically we are giving people a reliable trip that they can calculate how much time it would actually take them to go through the corridor and to their destination,” she said.
The project aims to improve mass transit, as well, since buses get caught up in the rush hour traffic too, causing daily bus riders to be late to work at least once a week, said Kelley Coyner with Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
“The same things that hold you up in a car, hold you up in a bus,” Coyner said.
Using the tolls and converting to HOV 3 likely means fewer cars will use I-66 during rush hour. The goal is to have cars and buses consistently traveling at 45 miles per hour during rush hour, Hamilton said.
Currently, speeds can be as low as five miles per hour during evening commutes and 25 miles per hour in the morning. Other times, speeds are as high as 55 or 60 miles per hour, leaving people with an unreliable way of measuring how long their daily commute will be, she said.
“Tolling the facility will help to manage the congestion along the facility and create a reliable trip,” Hamilton said. “That 45 miles per hour that HOV facilities are required to meet.”
The audience mainly took issue with the price of the dynamic tolling, saying it would hurt people who can’t afford to pay $9 every morning.
“These tolls are for a reliable trip for the wealthy,” a resident said.
Another compared paying to use a road to paying to send a child to a public school.
“I’m opposed to tolls,” she said. “I feel roads, like our schools, should be paid for by our taxes.”
Money from the tolls would go into a fund that would pay for improvements to I-66 as well as the roads, like Wilson and Washington Blvds, that would possibly handle an increase in traffic from people diverting off of I-66, Coyner said.
The fund would pay for multimodal projects that would provide benefits to toll payers and move more people on the corridor, Coyner said, but she could not give additional specifics.
People also raised concerns about pushing traffic off on I-66 and onto Arlington roads like Washington and Wilson Blvds and Fairfax Drive.
“It’s already congested. Hearing all these meetings and being at all of them, I still do not see nor do I feel confident that we are properly addressing that, and for the community leaders, it is a huge issue. It already is. It’s going to get worse,” said Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association President Nia Bagley.
While few Arlington residents at the meeting supported the I-66 proposal, County Board member John Vihstadt said that some do support the I-66 plans. Vihstadt and County Board member Jay Fisette attended last night’s meeting.
“We’ve received letters from people all across the spectrum,” Vihstadt said, while noting that the majority has been against the proposal.
The County Board will hold a public hearing on I-66 and will vote on whether or not to support the plan in November, he said.
“I’m not sold on this plan yet,” Vihstadt said. “I’m looking forward to hearing more data and more information to help me make this decision.”
(Updated on 7/31/15) The Virginia Department of Transportation is going back to Arlington residents to hear their concerns about its planned Transform 66 project.
Del. Patrick Hope organized a public meeting featuring representatives from VDOT on Saturday at Arlington Central Library auditorium (1015 N. Quincy Street) from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to discuss the proposed changes to the highway inside the Beltway.
The planned features include turning the HOV lanes on I-66 between Rosslyn and I-495 into to High Occupancy Travel (HOT) lanes during weekday peak periods. These lanes would be open for anyone with three or more passengers or those who are willing to pay a toll. The new lanes would also not accept Clean Fuel license plates issued before 2006 as a way to avoid the toll.
The idea is to “deliver free-flowing and more reliable travel,” according to VDOT, but some Arlington residents have spoken out against the changes. Arlington residents packed into the library’s auditorium in June to hear from VDOT staff about changes. A lengthy Q&A period followed with many residents expressing their displeasure toward the proposed changes. County Board member John Vihstadt was also in attendance.
Attendees raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would be redirected to Arlington streets as a result of the lane changes. Others proposed that VDOT allow Arlington residents to use the HOT lanes for free since they were supposedly paying for the changes without getting any benefits.
VDOT is proposing to convert I-66 inside the Beltway to High Occupancy Toll lanes during peak hours, accessible only to buses, cars with three or more occupants, and those willing to pay a toll. Currently, I-66 is not tolled and is accessible to cars with two or more occupants during peak times.
The proposal also reportedly removes the allowance for Clean Fuel plates, which permits commuters with such plates, issued before July 1, 2011, to drive in the HOV lanes without meeting the passenger limit.
Hybrid vehicle owner, I-66 commuter and community organizer Greg Scott is the founder of a new group called the 66 Alliance. Scott says the new changes will hurt commuters who have used these lanes for years.
“That means that VDOT plans to repeal the commuting rules under which tens of thousands of Northern Virginians have made major life decisions — where to live, where to work, where to send their kids to school, and what vehicles to drive — without so much as a public hearing, notice or comment period,” Scott said in a press release.
The changes appear to be already decided, Scott claimed, based on conversations he had with VDOT officials. He said that his I-66 commute saves him about 30 minutes of travel times each way.
“So the choice would be [tolls] or 10 days of your life every year,” Scott said.
Park Activists Taking It Too Far? — Residents pushing for the Arlington School Board to scrap a plan to build a new elementary school on parkland next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School might have taken their effort to preserve parkland too far. Activists reportedly placed “Save TJ Park” signs in the yards of some school board members overnight before the vote on a new Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan. School-related activism “seems to be getting out of hand,” writes Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey. [InsideNova]
HOV Enforcement Today — Virginia State Police, Arlington County Police and other D.C. area law enforcement agencies are conducting an HOV enforcement campaign today on I-395, I-66 and other local highways. The enforcement took place during the morning rush hour and will take place again during the evening rush hour. [Associated Press]
WETA Takes Ownership of ‘NewsHour’ — Shirlington-based public TV station WETA has taken ownership of the PBS NewsHour from longtime owner MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. The NewsHour is produced at WETA studios in Shirlington, but has lately been struggling to raise funds for its $25-30 million budget. [New York Times]
The County Board may decide to decrease speed limits on a number of roads throughout Arlington, including the main thoroughfares from Rosslyn to Clarendon. Board members are scheduled to take up the issue at their meeting on Saturday (July 13).
The Department of Environmental Services conducted studies to examine the viability of changing speed limits on several streets. Information was gathered regarding factors such as vehicle speeds, collisions, traffic volumes, pedestrian and bicyclist activity and development patterns. Studies were performed in the following areas: N. Meade Street from Arlington Blvd to Marshall Drive (formerly Jackson Avenue), Clarendon Blvd from Washington Blvd to N. Oak Street, Wilson Blvd from Route 110 to Washington Blvd, and N. Sycamore Street from Washington Blvd to 17th Street N. and N. Roosevelt Street from 17th Street N. to the county line.
The studies indicated that speed limits along N. Meade Street, Clarendon Blvd and Wilson Blvd could be decreased from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. The N. Sycamore Street/N. Roosevelt Street studies indicated the speed limit could be lowered from 35 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour.
Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan includes a policy to design streets with lower vehicle speeds without impeding or diverting traffic. Part of that involves adopting a 25 mile per hour speed limit in the county’s “downtown” areas where pedestrian traffic is high, such as along Wilson Blvd and Clarendon Blvd.
The Board also has been asked to authorize the correction of speed limit discrepancies along parts of I-395 and I-66. According to VDOT records, the speed in the regular lanes of I-395 from Alexandria to D.C. is 55 miles per hour. The county code, however, was recently discovered to list a portion of the segment as 35 miles per hour, and that the entire segment is 55 miles per hour. There is a similar discrepancy between county code and VDOT records regarding the HOV lanes. Additionally, the county code does not include speed limits for I-66, but VDOT lists the limits at 45 miles per hour and 55 miles per hour, depending on the section in question.
County staff members recommend Board approval for the speed limit discrepancy corrections and for decreasing the speeds along the four stretches of county roads.
The cost of installing new speed limit signs to reflect the changes is estimated to be $5,000. Funds are available in the Fiscal Year 2014 Department of Environmental Services Transportation Engineering and Operations operating budget.
Superstorm Sandy — nee Hurricane Sandy — brought heavy rain and fierce winds to Arlington Monday night and early Tuesday morning.
Arlington was “spared the worst of the storm’s impact,” according to county officials, but Sandy and her 60 mph wind gusts knocked down dozens of trees across the county, many of which fell onto roadways and into houses.
As of 8:45 a.m., Arlington County was reporting 22 incidents of trees falling onto or into houses. No injuries were reported and authorities made sure all residents were safe. In fact, there are no known storm-related fatalities or injuries, according to county officials.
About 40 roads were still blocked by downed trees, including Washington Boulevard at N. Utah Street in Ballston, seen above. Crews were working to remove the trees, but some fell across power lines, requiring assistance from Dominion.
Approximately 20 traffic signals are not functioning this morning. All dark intersections should be treated as an all-way stop.
As of 9:10 a.m., Dominion was reporting 15,586 customers without power in Arlington, down slightly from more than 18,000 last night.
Statewide, from Sunday to 6:00 this morning, Virginia State Police responded to 2,549 traffic crashes and disabled vehicles, and received a total of 4,605 calls for service. At the height of the storm, state police say they were fielding 155 calls for service an hour. VDOT, meanwhile, has lifted HOV restrictions on I-395, I-95, I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road today.
While winds aren’t quite a strong today, Arlington officials say fallen debris, high standing water and remaining weather impacts are still making travel hazardous.
“We continue to urge caution,” the county said. “Conditions remain potentially dangerous outside. Avoid going out onto the roads. Never drive into standing water.”
Those who must travel today will eventually be able to do so via Metro. The transit agency says it will restore limited bus and rail service starting at 2:00 p.m. Trains and buses will operate on a Sunday schedule.
Update at 10:25 a.m. — Arlington Public Schools says a decision about reopening schools on Wednesday will be made “by early this evening.”
VDOT has lifted all rush hour HOV restrictions on I-66 inside the Beltway through Tuesday.
The agency says it made the decision to waive the HOV requirement today and tomorrow in order to “help ease delays on arterial routes due to signal outages.” Across Northern Virginia, VDOT says there are more than 80 traffic signals affected by power outages and about 50 roads closed due to downed power lines and trees.
Regular HOV restrictions will remain in effect on I-395 and on I-66 outside the Beltway. HOV rules on I-66 will also be waived on Wednesday due to the July 4 holiday.
Separately, the Office of Personnel Management announced today that it will extend its unscheduled leave/unscheduled telework policy through Tuesday for federal government employees affected by Friday’s storm.
‘SmokeHouse’ Coming to Pentagon City — Two veterans of The Palm restaurant are teaming up to create “Epic SmokeHouse,” described as a cross “between a fine dining steakhouse and a barbecue joint.” The restaurant will reportedly be located inside the Millennium at Metropolitan Park apartment building at 1330 S. Fair Street, near Pentagon City mall. [Washington City Paper]
County Launches ‘Green Streets’ Program — Arlington County has launched a pilot program to build bioretention systems into road medians, in an effort to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff before it reaches the Chesapeake Bay. [Connection Newspapers]
Hundreds Busted in HOV Crackdown — A Capitol Region HOV enforcement crackdown on Tuesday netted nearly 650 traffic summonses and arrests, including nearly 450 HOV violations. In Virginia, the enforcement was conducted by Virginia State Police, Arlington County police and other local law enforcement agencies. [CBS Local]
Expect Heavy Memorial Day Traffic — More motorists are expected to hit the roads in the D.C. area this Memorial Day weekend than at any time since the start of the recession, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. [WJLA]
AIM Offers Video Production Camp — Arlington Independent Media is offering a summer video production camp for youth ages 10 to 13. The two week camp will allow participants to “develop a story idea, write a script, shoot footage, and edit their own short production” with the guidance of media professionals. [Arlington Independent Media]
Flickr pool photo by Damiec
Bikes Stolen From Arlington Found on Craigslist — A woman who had her bike stolen from the Ballston Metro station last month ended up finding the bike for sale on Craigslist by a dealer in the District. When she went to D.C. police for help recovering the bike, however, she was reportedly told that police there can’t help her because she’s an Arlington resident. [DCist]
Pike Development Voted Down by Planning Commission — Last week the Arlington County Planning Commission voted against plans for a residential development at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Glebe Road. Planning commissioners objected to the project’s plans for routing traffic only onto eastbound Columbia Pike and southbound Glebe Road, as well as to the composite siding that will be used to cover the buildings. The vote against the project was made despite the fact that it complies with existing zoning codes. [Arlington Mercury]
Va. HOV Rules Clarified — “Virginia’s rules for who’s legal in the HOV lanes are a mess — and they keep changing,” writes Robert “Dr. Gridlock” Thomson, who goes on to explain what exactly the current HOV rules are for highways like I-395 and I-66. [Dr. Gridlock]
Real Estate Rise in Arlington — April was a good month for real estate sellers in Arlington. The number of sales and the average sales price were both up by double digits compared to one year prior. The average residential real estate sales price in Arlington is now $613,421 — $809,450 for single family homes only. [Sun Gazette]
Options for Recycling a Computer — If you have some old computer equipment you need to get rid of, there are several options for recycling a computer in and around Arlington. [Arlington Virginia Computer Repair]
Flickr pool photo by ddimick
The “I-66 Multimodal Study,” as its called, began in July 2011. Study organizers held public meetings in December 2011, are scheduled to hold additional public meetings in April, and are expected to wrap up in May with a final report.
“This study will identify a range of multimodal and corridor management solutions (operational, transit, bike, pedestrian, and highway) that can be implemented to reduce highway and transit congestion and improve overall mobility within the I-66 corridor, between I-495 and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge,” VDOT says on its web site.
Currently, I-66 is HOV 2+ in the peak direction during peak hours, with no other restrictions on the reverse peak direction or during off-peak hours. With the exception of the recently “spot improvements,” I-66 consists of two travel lanes in each direction.
Among the theoretical options the study is considering for I-66, as outlined at a recent public meeting:
- A. No new I-66 lanes. Peak direction to be bus/HOV 3+ only during peak hours. Reverse peak direction to be bus/HOV 2+ only during peak hours. No off-peak restrictions.
- B. Convert I-66 into an electronically tolled bus/HOV/high occupancy toll (HOT) highway. Single occupancy vehicles and HOV-2 vehicles would be tolled in both directions, 24/7. Buses and HOV 3+ vehicles would not be tolled. Optionally, a third travel lane may be added to I-66 in each direction.
- C1. Lane added in each direction on I-66. Peak direction to be bus/HOV 3+ only during peak hours. One reverse peak lane to be bus/HOV 2+ only during peak hours. No off-peak restrictions.
- C2. Lane added in each direction on I-66. Peak direction to be bus/HOV 3+ only during peak hours. All reverse peak lanes to be bus/HOV 2+ only during peak hours. No off-peak restrictions.
Additionally, the study is examining the following options for other roads, means of transportation and services:
- Enhance Route 50 by applying access management principles, adding a bus-only lane in each direction (either new lane or converted shoulder), possibly allowing general traffic on new bus lane during off-peak hours.
- Improve Metro service by adding two interline connections: from the Orange Line to the Blue Line between the Rosslyn/Courthouse and Arlington Cemetery stations, and from the Blue Line to the Yellow Line from the L’Enfant Plaza and Arlington Cemetery/Pentagon stations. Additional connections would “provide operating flexibility for Metrorail and a direct connection between I-66/Dulles Corridor and Pentagon/South Arlington.”
- Add Priority Bus service along I-66, Lee Highway and Route 50 corridors, with 10-minute peak period frequency.
- Implement Transportation Demand Management strategies.
- Enhance or add bike and pedestrian trails, parking (at transit stations) and transit access. Expand bikesharing system.
Anyone with questions about the study can email [email protected] or call 1-855-788-3966 (855-STUDY66).
In order to make your holiday traveling easier, the Virginia Department of Transportation is suspending most lane closures during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Here’s what VDOT said in a release:
RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is clearing a path for travelers this holiday season by lifting lane closures over the extended Christmas and New Year’s weekends.
VDOT will suspend lane closures from noon Friday, Dec. 23, to noon Tuesday, Dec. 27, and again from noon Friday, Dec. 30, to noon Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.
“We want everyone to arrive safely at their destinations during the year-end holidays,” said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. “We are opening lanes where appropriate to increase lane capacity on our interstates and other major roads. I encourage motorists to do their part to keep one another safe by obeying all traffic laws, staying alert and engaged behind the wheel, and being courteous to your fellow motorists.”
While temporary work zones are lifted during the holiday period, VDOT is always prepared to mobilize in case of inclement weather. VDOT will monitor weather forecasts for any snow or ice that could affect travel over the holidays. Its offices and snow-removal equipment will be fully staffed in the event of any accumulation.
In addition, the Northern Virginia High Occupancy Vehicle Lane schedule is as follows:
The I-95/395 reversible lanes will be open to all traffic:
- Southbound from 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23 until 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24
- Northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24 until 6 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27 when HOV-3 takes effect
- HOV restrictions on I-95, 395 and 66 are lifted on Monday, Dec. 26
The I-95/395 reversible lanes will be open to all traffic:
- Southbound from 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30 until 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31
- Northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31 until 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3, when HOV-3 takes effect
- HOV restrictions on I-95, 395 and 66 are lifted on Monday, Jan. 2
Free Coffee Today — 7-Eleven stores are offering a free medium coffee, any flavor, from 7:00 to 11:00 this morning. [Facebook]
Marshals Service Sheds Staff Cars — The free ride is over for dozens of employees at U.S. Marshals Service headquarters in Crystal City, the Wall Street Journal reports. The law enforcement agency is sending more than 100 take-home vehicles, including SUVs and high-powered sedans, from its headquarters to its field offices. Since the cars were law enforcement vehicles with emergency lights, they allowed Marshals Service employees to use HOV lanes on their commutes to work. Now, only about 30 headquarters employees will have that privilege. [Wall Street Journal]
Lackluster Fundraising for Arlington GOP — The Arlington County Republican Committee has been running a fiscal deficit since the beginning of the year. Even with the November election approaching, the organization was only able to raise $4 during the first 28 days of September. [Sun Gazette]
Grand Opening for Yoga Studio — The new Little River Yoga studio at 6025 Wilson Blvd will be celebrating its grand opening on Friday with a weekend of free classes, massages, and giveaways, according to owner Stair Calhoun. [Little River Yoga]
We’re riding along with Virginia State Police this morning as law enforcement agencies region-wide conduct a “Capitol Region HOV Awareness Day” mass enforcement operation.
So far drivers on I-395 have been well-behaved — we’ve only seen two HOV violators in the past hour and a half.
That will likely change, we’re told, as the commute goes on. Typically, more drivers will try to test their luck near the end of the morning rush hour.
The most surprising observation so far? The number of hybrid and clean fuel vehicles on the road. Such vehicles, with clean special fuel license plates issued before July 1, 2006, are exempt from HOV rules on I-395 and I-95. Hybrid drivers, it seems, take full advantage of that exemption.