Arlington, VA

A tree has reportedly fallen, blocking the ramp from westbound Lee Highway to I-66, near Rosslyn.

Both lanes of the ramp are currently blocked. Drivers, including the driver of a commuter bus, could be seen heading back up the ramp in reverse. An Arlington County Police officer and VDOT sign truck are now on scene and blocking off the ramp.

Those on Lee Highway hoping to reach I-66 should continue heading westbound to the entrance near Spout Run.

No injuries have been reported as a result of the tree falling.

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(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) A meeting is planned for Wednesday, July 10 in Arlington to provide an update on the I-66 widening project.

Work is underway to add a third travel lane to eastbound I-66 between the Dulles Connector Road and Fairfax Drive, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) website.

The meeting, scheduled from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Yorktown High School (5200 Yorktown Blvd), will discuss a planned noise wall replacement, among other topics:

Work will begin in the coming months to add and replace noise walls in many locations along the project corridor as well as build a new ramp connection between two existing ramps at Route 7 to allow direct access from eastbound I-66 to the West Falls Church Metro Station. The open house will include a presentation and opportunity for attendees to view plans and talk with project team staff.

VDOT had previously announced plans to replace deteriorating sound walls along I-66 in Arlington as part of the widening project. A report in January noted that at least three segments of the wall were in a state of disrepair.

Photo (1) courtesy Del. Patrick Hope/Twitter, (2) via VDOT

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(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) The westbound lanes of I-66 are blocked approaching the Spout Run Parkway in Arlington due to a vehicle fire.

The fire is now reported to be out, but the lanes are temporarily closed due to emergency activity. Traffic slows just past Rosslyn.

Police are in the process of opening up one lane of traffic to squeeze by the scene of the fire.

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New projects approved by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) could improve some bus offerings around Arlington.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted yesterday (Wednesday) to use nearly $20 million in toll revenue to fund commuter projects along I-66.

“We [will] fund 13 projects that will provide connections to places people want to go, add options for commuter and local bus riders, encourage ridesharing and make it easier to choose transit,” said NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice in a press release. “The projects funded through I-66 Commuter Choice will save Northern Virginia commuters approximately 485,000 hours of travel delay each year and move over 3,000 additional people through the corridor during rush hour.”

Additional bus trips are funded for some of Arlington’s major commuter destinations:

  • Metrobus 3Y: Lee Highway-Farragut Square — The $1 million project will increase the frequency of Metrobus 3Y, a peak-direction route that operates between the East Falls Church Metro and downtown D.C. via Lee Highway (I-66).
  • OmniRide Express: Gainesville-Pentagon — The $4.7 million project will add  three new buses and eight total trips to the route from Gainesville to the Pentagon. The route averages 300 riders daily, according to the project description, and connects riders to multiple Metro lines.
  • OmniRide Express: Haymarket-Rosslyn — The $776,700 project would add a new express bus between Haymarket Park and Ride lot to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The lot was built in December and offers 230 parking spaces.
  • New Bus: Stone Ridge-Pentagon — The $1.3 million project would fund a new bus line running from Stone Ridge II Park near Dulles to the Pentagon. The route will feature two morning and two evening peak-direction trips.

Five other bus routes enhanced or newly funded would pass from the outlying suburbs into D.C. along I-66.

The NVTC also agreed to spend $1.4 million to support I-66 marketing and outreach efforts of Arlington County Commuter Services — an agency that works to reduce traffic congestion and parking demand through programs like BikeArlington and The Commuter Store. The project will be continued for another three years.

“The approved projects for the FY 2020 Commuter Choice program provide connections to key destinations, address the needs of commuter and local bus riders and encourage commuters to use transit, carpools and vanpools,” the NVTC said in a report.

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A proposed streetscape improvement project has revealed rising construction costs in Arlington County due to ongoing work to add new lanes to I-66 and I-395 — and associated projects.

“We believe the shortage of qualified contractors resulting from the abundance of work generated by the I-66 & I-395 Express Lanes projects is contributing to the higher than expected bid prices,” according to a county staff report.

The project in question — which “will reconstruct curbs and sidewalks to install [Americans With Disabilities Act] compliant curb ramps and sidewalk areas,” mostly along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor — will be considered by the Arlington County Board at its Saturday (June 15) meeting.

The county selected Fort Meyer Construction Corporation, which submitted the lowest bid for the project at $718,580.97.

“We have observed a high volume of construction in the region because of many projects, including major ones such as the I-66 and I-395 Express Lanes, and this work is distributed over a limited number of qualified contractors,” Ramzi Awwad, the engineering bureau chief at the Department of Environmental Services, told ARLnow today (Thursday).

“Contractors have indicated they are paying more to compete for qualified laborers, and we have observed less competition in the form of lower numbers of bidders for some projects,” Awwad said. “The result is higher than expected costs in comparison to estimates.”

He added that this trend has affected other recent projects, especially in the last six months.

VDOT does not provide funding to offset the rising construction costs in Arlington, according to Awwad.

On Saturday, the Board will vote to accept Fort Meyer’s bid and could approve an additional $107,787 for the project in case costs rise further.

For now, the pedestrian proposal is still within the $2.02 million budget set for the two-phase project.

The pedestrian project aims to make eight areas in Rosslyn and Ballston ADA compliant by extending curbs, widening sidewalks, repainting crosswalks, and building new curb ramps. One of the sites is the intersection of 36th Street N. and N. Kensington Street, which aims to make students walking to Discovery Elementary School safer.

The seven other intersections slated for improvements are:

  • N. Nelson Street & 9th Street N.
  • Washington Blvd & N. Nelson Street
  • Washington Blvd & Jackson Street N.
  • Washington Blvd & 9th Street N.
  • Clarendon Blvd & N. Barton Street
  • Wilson Blvd & N. Barton Street
  • N. Troy Street & 14th Street N.
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Virginia needs to do more to catch people evading tolls, county officials said at an Arlington Transportation Commission meeting last Thursday.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials attended the meeting, with plans to boast about boosted speeds on I-66, but local officials were more concerned about what some saw as underenforcement of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) rules.

David Caudill, the division administrator for tolling for VDOT, explained that the current enforcement relies on Virginia State Police counting heads in passing cars in conjunction with checking a beacon that lights up on a gantry if the passing car registered as HOV.

But Commission member Audrey Clement said that fewer people are receiving citations for I-66 toll violations than would be even if there were a 99 percent toll-compliance rate.

“There were 702 HOV citations for a year, that averages to 2.7 citations for every eight hours of tolling. That’s three per day,” said Clement. “So we’re concerned that this phenomenon is being undercounted and underenforced, and that may be driving up tolls.”

According to VDOT staff, there are at least four state troopers assigned to enforcement on I-66 every day. Rather than just being able to focus on HOV rules, however, troopers also respond to emergency calls and traffic violations like speeding.

Caudill recognized that there is a lapse in toll enforcement and said that during enforcement “blitzes” the HOV usage rates drop by 3 percent, giving VDOT a rough estimate for how many drivers are ducking out of the toll.

“It’s a challenge, I’ll admit that,” Caudill said. “[It is] challenging to look at the light, count number of heads, and then chase them down… We’re not catching everyone, not by any means.”

VDOT staff said the group is partnering with Transurban to put together a pilot program for an electronic sensor system.

“We think there’s an opportunity there for better enforcement,” Caudill said, “[and] it does impact the tolls, probably.”

Clement was not alone in expressing her disappointment at the lack of enforcement. Chris Slatt, chair of the Transportation Commission, said the lapse in enforcement goes against what VDOT told Arlington when the toll lanes were first proposed

“When VDOT was here before tolling went into place, one of the main reasons presented [to us] was HOV violations were rampant then,” Slatt said. “We were told that this was going to be the solution to HOV violation problem, that we were going to do enforcement. And yet here we are, having this conversation again.”

Caudill said the new HOV lanes have also led to complications — for instance, electronic passes mean officers can’t get an estimate on toll-violators by just counting heads.

“I’m glad to hear pilot programs at least are in the works to try to get a handle on this, because HOV violators are slowing down legitimate HOV drivers,” said Slatt. “[They’re] driving up costs of people legally paying tolls, and taking money that could be used for multimodal transportation projects to keep us all moving.”

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Update at 3:35 p.m. — One lane of westbound I-66 has reopened, just in time for the evening rush hour. Crews remain on scene assisting with the cleanup.

Earlier: A tree has fallen across I-66 near Spout Run, blocking the westbound lanes of the highway.

The tree fell around 1 p.m. At least two cars crashed into the fallen tree, though so far no injuries have been reported, according to scanner traffic. All westbound lanes are blocked and traffic is stopped.

Eastbound lanes are not currently blocked, though traffic becoming increasingly backed up prior to the scene due to rubbernecking delays.

On traffic cameras, cars can be seen driven the wrong way in the westbound lanes, as drivers try to escape the jam. Due to the size of the tree the lanes may remain closed for at least part of the afternoon. Those driving in the area should expect delays in Rosslyn due to detoured traffic.

A number of trees are reported to have fallen around Arlington amid today’s gusty winds.

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(Updated at 11:40 p.m.) The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) says it intends to replace deteriorating sound walls along I-66 in Arlington.

The sound wall replacement is part of the larger project to expand the highway, a spokeswoman told ARLnow Thursday.

“If your community has a noise wall today, it will have one in the future,” VDOT’s website says. “Existing dilapidated noise walls within the project limits will be replaced with new noise walls.”

A January study on estimated noise impact noted that at least three of segments of “the existing metal noise barriers are in a state of ‘disrepair.'”

Communities affected by widening of I-66 eastbound between Exits 67 and 71 were mailed ballots in February to vote on the sound walls, according to VDOT’s website on the project.

Spokeswoman Michelle Holland told ARLnow that the ballots were sent to neighbors who would receive a new wall, not a replacement. Holland said that voting process  is still “underway.”

More than 50 percent of the respondents were needed to approve the sound walls.

Construction of the noise walls is expected to start this summer and continue until next fall, according to a presentation for neighborhoods.

The County Board approved the sound walls in February, including a plan to build a connection from Custis Trail onto the N. Harrison Street bridge in Bluemont after officials acknowledged sound walls would block off the trail.

Photo via VDOT

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Construction is ramping up on the widening of one of the most congested sections of I-66, and that will prompt some changes on county trails and streets lining the highway.

The County Board gave the go-ahead yesterday (Tuesday) for VDOT workers to relocate some local trails and build a noise wall and storm drain associated with the project. Once it’s completed, I-66 eastbound will boast an extra travel lane between Exit 71 in Ballston and the highway’s intersection with the Dulles Connector Road, long one of the worst traffic choke points in the region (and even the country).

The construction will impact areas along the highway throughout Arlington, however, prompting the Board’s latest action.

Perhaps the largest change is the relocation of part of the W&OD Trail near East Falls Church to a new pedestrian bridge running over Lee Highway, and county officials formally gave VDOT workers permission to start work on that project last night.

VDOT just finalized plans for the bridge this past fall, following a bit of controversy over its design, and hopes to start work on it sometime this spring.

Workers also now have the county’s permission to build a new noise wall near the N. Harrison Street bridge over I-66 in the Bluemont neighborhood. But that wall will block off a portion of the Custis Trail as it runs alongside the highway, and workers plan to create a new connection from the trail onto the bridge itself, according to a county staff report.

Additional construction on the highway widening will also force workers to connect a portion of the Custis Trail near Bon Air Park to an underground tunnel beneath I-66.

The county will also construct “park benches, trail signage, lighting, bike shelter and racks, railing and fencing” along the new sections of the trail, the staff report said.

State officials awarded a contract for the $85.7 million project in 2017, and they’re currently hoping to have the new lane open by fall 2020.

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Some long-awaited improvements could finally be on the way for the Ballston Pond, which could help keep trash out of the waterway and help better manage stormwater in the area.

County officials are planning a community meeting to discuss the project tomorrow (Wednesday) at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street). The gathering is set to start at 7:30 p.m.

The meeting is the first on the pond improvements since 2012, and the county has been eyeing some work on the small body of water since early 2011.

The pond, located near the intersection of I-66 and Fairfax Drive, was originally designed as a way to collect stormwater runoff from the highway back when it was first built decades ago. But sediment from the water built up in the pond over the years, and a combination of invasive plants and trash have also plagued the area.

Accordingly, the county has long sought to install new trash control devices and other new vegetation buffers around the pond. Officials have also decided to replace a walkway around its perimeter, particularly as it nears the CACI office building and AVA Ballston apartments, and add a new “boardwalk” along a section the pond as well.

The county drained the pond to clean it up a bit back in 2013, then spent the next few years removing unwanted plants growing nearby and securing the necessary easements to let the project go forward.

But with all that work finally completed, the county is now finalizing designs for the project and hopes to get work started later this summer.

So long as the community signs off on the designs, the County Board could vote to send the project out for bid this spring.

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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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