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County Gears Up to Ask for Millions for Lee Highway Changes, Including Dedicated Bus, HOV Lane

Arlington is gearing up to ask for millions in I-66 toll revenue to fund a series of changes along Lee Highway, including the creation of a dedicated bus and HOV lane along the road during rush hours.

The County Board is set to sign off this weekend on funding requests for six transportation projects, totaling $6.9 million, four of which focus on reducing traffic along Lee Highway as it runs from Rosslyn to East Falls Church.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission doles out a portion of the revenues collected through the year-old I-66 toll program to localities, in order to help afford road improvements along the corridor inside the Beltway. Accordingly, Arlington is looking for cash for the following efforts along Lee Highway, per a county staff report:

Metrobus Route 3Y Service Improvements — $520,000 per year for five years, total request $2.6 million

This project will increase morning peak hour frequency and provide running time improvements for better on-time performance on the subject Metrobus route that connects the East Falls Church Metrorail Station with the Farragut Square and McPherson Square areas in the District of Columbia via Lee Highway and a short section of I-66 from Rosslyn to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

Intersection Improvements at Lee Highway and Washington Boulevard — $400,000

This project will add a second left turn lane from northbound Lee Highway to westbound Washington Boulevard and provide pedestrian improvements at the intersection north of the bridge over I-66, which is 0.25 miles from the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.

Enhanced Vehicle Presence Detection on Lee Highway — $20,000 per intersection for 15 intersections, total request $300,000

This project will install forward looking infrared (FLIR) video cameras at key intersections along Lee Highway. FLIR technology uses thermographic cameras that improve the accuracy of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle detection in all lighting and weather conditions, and in turn improve optimal signal, intersection, and corridor operations and performance.

Design and Construct Peak Period, Peak Direction HOV and Bus-Only Lane on Lee Highway from just east of N. Kenmore Street to N. Lynn Street — $1.5 million

This project would convert the outside lane of Lee Highway to an HOV and bus only lane through pavement treatment, restriping, and signage. The lane would operate eastbound during the morning peak period and westbound during the evening peak period only; at other times it will continue as a general purpose travel lane.

The final project on the list is one that the county initially considered back in 2016 as an effort to prepare for Metro’s “SafeTrack” schedule disruptions, and the new lane would’ve run from Court House to Rosslyn. However, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that lane was never constructed, and the new proposal calls for it to run from Cherrydale to Rosslyn instead.

The county expects a new lane would be particularly impactful along that section of the highway because about “25 loaded buses per hour” drive along it during peak period, and they often run into heavy delays near the highway’s intersection with N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn, according to the report.

In addition to the Lee Highway changes, officials are also hoping to earn $750,000 to add a new traffic light to the Washington Blvd entrance to the East Falls Church Metro station, as well as crosswalks and other pedestrian improvements at the intersection.

Finally, the county plans to ask for a total of $1.3 million over the next three years for “enhanced transportation demand management outreach” along the corridor, educating commuters about public transit and other strategies for getting cars off the road.

The Board is set to approve these funding requests at its meeting on Saturday (Dec. 15), and the NVTC will accept applications through Jan. 16. The organization plans to hand out $20 million in funding across the region through the program next year.

Photo via Google Maps

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Virginia State Police Set to Crack Down on I-66 Toll Cheaters Tomorrow

Starting tomorrow, Virginia State Police are set to start enforcement activities intended to punish High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) violators on I-66.

VSP will start a focused HOV enforcement on I-66 express lanes inside the Beltway tomorrow (Thursday) during the morning and afternoon rush hour periods, the Virginia Department of Transportation recently announced.

Violators caught in this area face fines ranging from $125 for a first offense, up to $1,000 for a fourth or subsequent offense within a period of five years from the first one.

Drivers must have an E-ZPass device or E-ZPass Flex for vehicles with two or more people to travel during rush hours.

All vehicles with two or more people may use the road during rush hours for free, but need an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV-mode. Drivers who choose to pay a toll and drive by themselves in the express lanes also need an E-ZPass.

VSP’s last focused HOV enforcement initiative in the same area caught 32 violators, and police wrote 19 other citations on Nov. 30.

HOV hours are from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. westbound, Monday through Friday.

File photo

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TRAFFIC ALERT: I-395 HOV Lanes Blocked by Crash

A reported four-vehicle crash has completely blocked the HOV lanes of I-395 near Shirlington.

Police and firefighters are on scene, evaluating four people for possible injuries, according to scanner traffic.

Traffic cameras show northbound HOV traffic at a standstill past King Street.

Update at 12:20 p.m. — All lanes have reopened.

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TRAFFIC ALERT: Car Overturned on I-395

A vehicle overturned in the southbound HOV lanes of I-395 during Tuesday’s evening rush hour.

The crash was reported shortly before 6:45 p.m. near Shirlington. It left one vehicle on its side, completely blocking the HOV lanes.

The driver of the vehicle was reportedly able to get out and was not seriously injured. Traffic is being diverted onto Shirlington Circle.

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Bus-Only Lanes May Soon Be Possible on Columbia Pike

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.

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Morning Notes

Children playing soccer near Arlington Hall (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

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

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Arlington Residents Voice Criticism of VDOT Plan for I-66 Tolls

(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.”

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Public Meeting Scheduled on I-66 HOV Lanes, Tolls

Traffic on I-66

(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.

An Arlington resident has also started a group to oppose the changes. The 66 Alliance had 350 members as of June 17.

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New Commuter Group Decries Proposed I-66 HOV Changes

Traffic on I-66(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Some I-66 commuters have banded together in an attempt to oppose the Virginia Department of Transportation’s proposed changes to the highway.

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.

(VDOT is, in fact, holding numerous public meetings and collecting online comments ahead of the project.)

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.

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Morning Notes

Inside a piece of art at the Arlington Arts Center in Virginia Square

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]

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Board to Consider Decreasing Speed Limits

Stretch of Wilson Blvd and Clarendon Blvd in Courthouse (photo via Google Maps)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.

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Sandy Fells Trees, Knocks Out Power

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.”

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HOV Restrictions Lifted On I-66 Through Tuesday

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.

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Morning Notes

‘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

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Morning Notes

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

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