Press Club

The 21st Street N. bridge over I-66 is set to get a minor makeover.

The bridge — located north of Courthouse, near the MOM’s Organic Market — was built in 1980 and carries around 1,400 vehicles per day. It was described as “deteriorating” in a project review carried out by the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2017.

VDOT plans to resurface the concrete bridge deck, close the deck joints, repair the concrete piers and abutments of the bridge, as well as replace its bearings, according to a news release. The project is not expected to change the width of the existing lanes and sidewalks on the bridge, which is also located near McCoy Park.

Construction is scheduled to begin next summer. The work is not expected to close any existing roads that may significantly disrupt traffic, according to the project’s website, and should improve the bridge’s safety and longevity.

The estimated cost is $3.4 million, which is paid for by federal and state funds, including money from Virginia’s State of Good Repair program, VDOT said.

A virtual public meeting is set for 7 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday), during which the project team is scheduled to give a presentation and answer questions from the audience.

Those interested in participating can register for the meeting on the project website beforehand. Those who do not register can instead call 1-866-901-6455 to listen in on the meeting, according to VDOT.

After the meeting, interested members of the public will be able to voice their opinions on the project through an online form, email or U.S. Mail. The public comment period is set to end on Monday, July 11.

Map via Google Maps

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The School Board reviews the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee report at a work session (screenshot via Arlington County)

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) An advisory group meant to guide facilities planning has several concerns with Arlington Public Schools’ proposed capital spending plan, namely the cost of a new Arlington Career Center.

APS would only be able to construct the Career Center by nearly maxing out its debt capacity, according to a Joint Facilities Advisory Committee report published June 7.

The county and APS cap debt repayments at 10% of their projected budgets. Under the School Board’s proposed CIP budget, the debt service is expected to remain around 9.8% from fiscal year 2027 to fiscal year 2032, according to JFAC’s report, leaving little wiggle room for maintenance projects and unforeseen needs.

At the same time, the CIP contains “discrepancies in the accounting for available bonding capacity for APS,” JFAC says.

The group Arlington Parents for Education explained in a newsletter today:

APS shares bond capacity with the county. This week, it was revealed that the county has a very different idea of how much APS has available in bond capacity; the County’s CIP has only $78 million in available bond capacity for APS. This is a discrepancy of $242 million.

“The main concern of JFAC is this CIP in the broader context all the known facility and infrastructure needs of APS and ACG,” JFAC’s chair and vice chair wrote in a recent letter. “It presently does not transparently demonstrate long-term financial viability for short term projects and expenditures or demonstrate that long-range planning processes for land use or capital projects have been fully considered.”

The lack of transparency “makes it harder for the public to recognize the planning commitments APS is making in this CIP,” the committee report stated.

However, APS believes it is being fiscally prudent.

“I don’t think we have anyone on this School Board or anyone on the staff is recommending that in the out years, we bump our CIP up to the maximum 9.8% target that we used to come up with that bonding capacity. It was just to show that there is room available in the out years for other projects that will come in those next CIPs,” said Assistant Superintendent Leslie Peterson during a work session reviewing the committee report.

The proposed CIP was also vague on the details of how the capital projects would be funded, the JFAC report said. The proposed budget did not set a specific amount of funding for long-range plans to renovate existing facilities, nor did it account for their cost estimates in setting its desired bond capacity, according to the report.

The School Board and county government projections for bond capacity are also at odds, with the School Board budgeting $242 million more than the county.

School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said bond capacity may open up if the county — and, by extension, APS — receives more revenue than what was projected, allowing the board to carry out all the identified projects. If that doesn’t happen, the School Board would then discuss how to best handle new capital spending needs.

“If that’s the way it is, we’re gonna have that conversation then, there’s no pre-having that conversation,” she said.

The proposed CIP estimates the new Career Center building, which would be the most expensive project the school system has ever undertaken, would cost around $174 million. It would be funded by about $136 million from a 2022 bond referendum, as well as $37.4 million in past bond funding.

The JFAC report expressed concern at this decision since the School Board would be asking for a large sum of money at “a time of high inflation and financial uncertainty.”

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Arlington County staff present the details of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $3.9 billion CIP for 2023-32 (via Arlington County)

From a new Columbia Pike library to a dedicated pickleball court, County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed 10-year $3.9 billion capital improvement plan would fund projects across Arlington.

The first 10-year plan for capital projects in four years would budget for infrastructure projects between 2023 and 2032. The CIP proposal, slated for adoption in July, is a 40% increase from the plan approved four years ago, Schwartz said in his presentation to the County Board Tuesday.

“This CIP proposal aims to address current and future capital needs in Arlington County as we emerge from the financial setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Schwartz said in a statement. “We want to focus on key planned investments in addition to following through on commitments from prior plans to benefit county residents and businesses long-term.”

Stormwater projects would receive $331.3 million in funding, including $77 million for Spout Run, $14.7 million for Torreyson Run, $28.5 million for Crossman Run and $49.5 million for Lubber Run — all flood mitigation efforts. Streams and water quality funding is proposed at $52.1 million and maintenance at $50.2 million.

A slideshow outlining what Arlington’s investment in environmental goals looks like in the 2023-32 CIP (via Arlington County)

While Metro remains one of the largest investments in the CIP, at $356.4 million, the proposal also outlines $1.8 billion in non-Metro transportation funding. This includes $16 million for Vision Zero street safety improvements program, $64 million for bridge replacements and renovations, and $89 million for bike and walk programs.

Other highlights include:

The proposed CIP includes new park programs that focus on emerging needs and natural resiliency, a new fire station on the west end of Columbia Pike, and facilities consolidation to enable remote work for county staff.

Schwartz said the needs of the county have changed since the last 10-year CIP, as the county is in “a world shaped by the pandemic where we do our business differently.”

Michelle Cowan, deputy county manager overseeing the Department of Management and Finance, noted during the presentation that the finance department works entirely remotely now, potentially a harbinger of a money-saving reduction in the county’s office footprint.

“We have reduced our footprint which… allows us then to do some really strategic consolidations that you’ll hear about in other county buildings that could get us out of some aging assets,” Cowan said.

The CIP will continue to fund debt service obligations for the investment in housing at Barcroft Apartments, construction of Fire Station 8, which is scheduled to be completed in fall 2023, and the design and planning process for the proposed Arlington boathouse.

Preliminary construction funding for the lower boathouse site is included in the later years of the CIP.

This CIP returns funding levels for the Arlington Neighborhoods Program, formerly the Neighborhood Conservation Program, which are projects identified by individual neighborhoods and include street improvements, streetlights, parks, beautification and sidewalks. The program had steep cuts in previous CIPs.

The 2023-32 CIP proposal would provide $85.2 million in funding to the program. That includes $4 million of funding for projects in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, and would increase to $9 million in 2030 and 2031, Director of Management and Finance Maria Meredith said.

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(Updated at 12:35 p.m.) The West Glebe Road bridge over Four Mile Run will be completely closed to vehicles in two weeks, and will remain closed for nearly a year.

The circa-1956 bridge, which connects Arlington and Alexandria near the I-395/S. Glebe Road interchange, has been deemed “structurally deficient” since 2018. A $10 million project to replace its deck and beams was approved by the Arlington County Board last April and was slated to start this year, but in the meantime engineers have found “continued degradation of the bridge beams.”

As a result, the bridge is closing to drivers on Monday, May 9, the county announced today. That’s after southbound bridge traffic was detoured for the same reason in March.

New detours will be put into place that will divert vehicular traffic either over the Mount Vernon Avenue bridge to the east or Shirlington Circle to the west. Both of those bridges, coincidentally, are also aging and set for repairs over the next couple of years; the former received funding from the recent federal infrastructure bill.

The county expects two vehicle lanes on the West Glebe Road bridge to reopen in early 2023, while it’s still under construction. Work is expected to start shortly after the May closure and last until the summer of 2023.

Pedestrians and cyclists will still be able to use the bridge for a few more months. A temporary pedestrian path across Four Mile Run is expected to open in July. Four Mile Run Trail users, meanwhile, will re-routed to a parallel path, as the portion of trail under the bridge will be closed.

More from a county press release, below.

Because of continued degradation of the bridge beams, engineers will close the West Glebe Road Bridge to all motor vehicle traffic beginning on Monday, May 9, 2022, for construction of a planned replacement superstructure (road deck and beams). Two motor vehicle lanes on the renovated bridge are expected to reopen in early 2023 along with one of two widened sidewalks.

The current structure connecting Arlington and Alexandria over Four Mile Run was built in 1956. Elements have experienced noted deterioration in recent years.

In 2018, a 5-ton weight restriction was placed on all user vehicles. In March 2022, all southbound traffic was detoured away from the bridge amid signs of continued structural beam degradation.

Allowing continued motor vehicle traffic with the additional stress of construction has now been ruled out. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to use the bridge through June, after which they will be directed to a temporary crossing, independent of the superstructure, to be built along the bridge, expected to open in July.

The Mount Vernon Avenue Bridge further east over Four Mile Run will continue to handle vehicular traffic detouring from the West Glebe bridge.

The bridge’s original piers are stable and will be used to support the new superstructure, reducing project costs, construction time, and impact on the watershed.

The project is set for completion by summer 2023.

Arlington County and the City of Alexandria continue continue to coordinate closely on the bridge replacement project. Crews will mobilize for the job later this month.

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A 50-year-old bridge over I-395 near Shirlington is slated for upgrades next year.

Locals can learn more about the planned bridge work next Tuesday evening during a virtual meeting hosted by VDOT, which is managing the project.

The bridge connects the southbound I-395 collector-distributor lanes and southbound Shirlington Road to N. Quaker Lane at the I-395 Exit 6 interchange.

First constructed in 1973, the bridge needs upgrades to improve safety for drivers and to extend its usable lifespan, says VDOT. Today, the bridge is crossed by about 7,400 vehicles daily.

The bridge over I-395 in Shirlington slated for repairs (via Google Maps) 

According to the project webpage, VDOT will:

  • Resurface the concrete bridge deck and closing deck joints
  • Repair concrete piers and abutments
  • Repair and repaint steel beams
  • Add protective concrete barriers adjacent to piers
  • Replace bearings
  • Upgrade guardrails adjacent to the bridge

The $4.3-million project will be financed with federal and state funding, including State of Good Repair funds used for bridges.

Next Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m. VDOT staff will make a short presentation and then answer questions from the public for an hour. Project materials, which are not yet available, will be posted on the meeting webpage before the meeting starts, the department says.

Through Friday, March 25, VDOT will accept feedback via email and U.S. mail, addressed to Vicente Valeza, Jr., P.E., Virginia Department of Transportation, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.

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The Mount Vernon Avenue bridge is a vital link between Alexandria and Arlington, but it’s in rough shape and in desperate need of a refit.

This morning (Friday) Sen. Mark Warner and local leaders met with engineers to review the state of the Arlington Ridge Road/Mount Vernon Avenue bridge and advocate for it to get a significant boost from federal funding. Federal funding for bridge infrastructure is currently in the hands of state leaders who will allocate funding to bridge projects around the state.

Greg Emanuel, director of the Department of Environmental Services for Arlington County, led Warner and other leaders on a tour of the bridge and highlighted where the issues are. Beneath the Arlington side of the bridge, where the Four Mile Run trail runs, Emanuel said the superstructure will require replacement to the tune of around $28 million.

The nearby West Glebe Road Bridge is in a similar state of disrepair and Emanuel said Alexandria and Arlington are working together for bridge replacement over the course of this year and into 2023. Once that’s completed, Emanuel said Arlington and Alexandria will turn their attention to the Mount Vernon Avenue bridge in the 2024-2025 timeframe.

Emanuel said the current bridge is comprised of stacked slabs of concrete that are difficult to inspect without taking the bridge apart. While the piers and abutments holding up the bridge will remain, an inspection in 2018 found that parts of the roadway superstructure have deteriorated and need to be replaced with a steel bridge — which Emanuel noted will also be easier to inspect.

As part of a new infrastructure bill, Virginia is receiving $537 million for bridge repair. Of the bridge replacement’s $28 million estimated budget, up to 80% of that can be paid for from that federal funding that the state is currently divvying up.

“What we don’t want in Virginia is what happened in Pittsburgh a week ago,” said Warner. “Help is on its way for additional funding.”

Local leaders said more state and federal support for the bridge repair projects would be greatly appreciated.

“Bridges are about connecting communities,” said Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “We do have a plan to address [the bridge repair] but could use federal support. This project will make a big difference and improve connectivity between low-income communities.”

Alexandria City Council member John Chapman said he grew up around the area and saw little difference as a local between the Alexandria and Arlington sides of Four Mile Run. Chapman said residents on both side of Four Mile Run need to be able to move seamlessly from one side to the other.

“This is a great opportunity to show we caught something before it became a problem,” said City Council member Sarah Bagley. “Inspections are vital.”

Emanuel said localities are currently waiting for more announcements from the state on how the federal funding will be allocated, but Emanuel said the bridges that are in poor condition — which the Mount Vernon Avenue bridge qualifies as — will be first in line for funding.

Despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin getting a less-than-warm reception in Alexandria yesterday, Jennifer Deci, Youngkin’s Deputy Secretary of Transportation, was a welcome presence at the tour and said that state leadership was eager to work with federal and local partners to fund bridge projects and seek more infrastructure funding from the federal government.

Deci said the timeline for allocating the bridge funding is still being worked out, but will likely be sometime in the first half of this year.

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A technology initiative to help Arlington emergency responders — by relying on the heat mapping of crowds — is expected to ramp up next month.

The pilot program looks to equip streetlights with sensors on the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, feeding information to county emergency operations staff and allowing them to monitor potential incidents while helping first responders.

“This means that emergency responders will have more information and more knowledge about an event when arriving upon a situation,” Holly Hartell, assistant chief information officer for strategic initiatives with Arlington County, said in an email.

The sensors won’t provide images of individuals but instead will help with counting people, bicycles and vehicles, according to the county. The devices in the pilot will also be able to gather changes in temperature, relative humidity and air quality, the county says.

Sketch images will be gathered during a one-week testing period to compare actual crowd sizes to an algorithm connected to the sensors, but no images will be captured after that time, Hartell said.

The sensors will be on a wireless network, and non-visual metadata will be anonymized, aggregated and eventually sent to the county’s Open Data Portal and Emergency Operations Center watch desk, a room next to the county’s main dispatch floor that’s typically used for monitoring larger events.

Hartell said the installation and testing of the sensors are scheduled for mid- to late-June. Information gathered by the sensors could be shared on the county’s Open Data Portal as early as this fall.

The project initially considered gathering other kinds of data, such as logging information from nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices like mobile phones, but decided on optical sensors to maximize privacy protection, a county FAQ guide says.

“Arlington County has ownership and full authority over what data is collected,” the county noted in the FAQ.

The county says the technology could improve medical and other public safety response times, as well as awareness of erratic and unexpected incidents.

The project comes through a partnership with Comcast, the nonprofit U.S. Ignite and the state-funded Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.

“To launch the demonstration project, the County is accepting a donation of approximately $90,000 from the project partners,” the county said. “The County’s estimated contribution to the project is $13,601 for contractual services needed to mount and maintain the proposed light fixtures throughout the demonstration project.”

The yearlong demo could also help county officials consider using the technology at other locations in the future.

Photo 1 via Google Maps, photo 2 via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

New County Infrastructure Plan Proposed — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $1.25 billion three-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that focuses on meeting Arlington’s existing commitments, increasing infrastructure maintenance, and beginning investments in long-term plans and programs. The three-year proposal follows a one-year CIP that was adopted last summer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The County anticipates returning to a traditional 10-year plan next year for FY 2023 – FY 2032.” [Arlington County]

Rosslyn Developer Dies from Covid — “Marvin Weissberg, a herald of Northern Virginia development whose portfolio of early projects still mark Rosslyn’s modern skyline, has died. He was 94. The founder of Weissberg Investment Corp. passed away Monday at his home in Annapolis of complications from Covid-19.” [Washington Business Journal]

Marine Corps Marathon Returning — “Good news for runners: the Marine Corps Marathon will take place in-person this year after it was held virtually in 2020 due to Covid. The 26.2-mile race follows a course through DC and Arlington, and typically sees more than 20,000 participants. This year, the marathon and accompanying races and events will be held over the weekend of October 29 through 31.” [Washingtonian]

New Gold’s Gym Opening in Rosslyn — “Rosslyn’s newly constructed Gold’s Gym officially opens for members [today], May 20. Located inside Rosslyn City Center (1700 N. Moore St.), this space is nearly 40,000 SF of brand new equipment and modern facilities!” [Rosslyn BID/Instagram]

Cemetery Flyover Planned Today — “Four Air Force T-38 Talon jets are scheduled to fly over the National Capital Region at 1:50 p.m. The formation is part of a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for retired Air Force Col. George Benoit.” [Patch]

This Year’s Bond Referendums — “Arlington voters will be asked to approve a modest package of bond referendums in November, if County Board members accede to a request made May 18 by County Manager Mark Schwartz. The proposal calls for a bond package of $62.5 million (not counting an expected school-bond request) that would fund Metro, paving, courthouse renovations and Neighborhood Conservation projects.” [Sun Gazette]

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President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan has added a glimmer of hope to those who would like to see an expanded Metrorail system.

The initial planning for the system in the 1960s envisioned a line down the Columbia Pike, ultimately terminating in Annandale, but the proposed line was nixed in order to save on costs. A physical remnant of the planning is a pair of stub tunnels near the Pentagon Metro station, built to accommodate a potential future Columbia Pike expansion.

Decades later, in 2019, Metro published the results of a study that suggested a number of ways to expand the capacity of the Metrorail network, including a second Rosslyn Metro station and tunnel, and a Silver Line expansion down the Pike and up Route 7.

Proposed new Silver Line Connection through Columbia Pike (via 2019 Metro study)

The possibility was especially enticing considering the disappointment of transit advocates following the 2014 cancellation of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar line.

While Metro faces plenty of maintenance, service, budget and ridership challenges — the latter three exacerbated by the pandemic — that hasn’t stopped some from dreaming of a world in which more local residents are within easy walking distance of a light rail commute.

Among those discussing such a possibility, given the massive infrastructure spending that would result should Biden’s plan pass, are some of Arlington’s state lawmakers.

Even should the stars align and federal funding become available, digging up Columbia Pike and building a new Metrorail tunnel and stations would be fantastically expensive and would likely require a decade or more of planning and construction.

The new connectivity would also result in new development, sharply higher property prices, and other big changes, which could be viewed in a positive or a negative light, depending on your perspective.

What do you think about the idea of a Metro line on Columbia Pike?

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A number of major changes are coming to Boundary Channel Drive and the I-395 interchange near Crystal City.

The modifications include a shared-use walkway, pedestrian and bicycle access to the yet-to-open Long Bridge aquatics center, and reduction of four lanes to two.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board voted to endorse the $20.4 million Virginia Department of Transportation project. It was part of the consent agenda, meaning they are non-controversial and can be acted upon by a single vote.

“We’ve long sought these improvements,” said County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti at the meeting. “They will reconfigure the interchange that you see to make it work a lot better and safer for everyone.”

Major components include adding roundabouts on each side, as well as building a 12 foot shared path that connects to the Mount Vernon Trail, the Long Bridge Park esplanade, and a new loop that goes around the aquatics center. Also along Boundary Channel Drive, there’ll be 8 foot wide sidewalks, landscaping, crosswalks, and street lighting.

A public hearing was held in November where, according to the county report, the public “expressed strong support for the project.”

Much of the feedback revolved around the shared-use path, making sure it was wide enough to accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists safely. There were also a number of comments about the crosswalks and proposed safety measures.

The project is funded by a combination of state, federal, regional, and county money. Construction is expected to start in spring 2022 and be completed in fall 2023.

Construction of the Long Bridge Park Fitness and Aquatic Center, meanwhile, is still expected wrap up later this year, according to the county website. The upcoming FY 2022 county budget will decide when it ultimately opens to the public.

Image via VDOT

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A pedestrian tunnel under Route 1 in Crystal City is too difficult to maintain, county officials say, so the Arlington County Board is considering a plan to close it.

The closure has been in the works for several years. County staff, VDOT, Arlington police and local business owners are all in support of closing the tunnel, citing “maintenance costs, underutilization, loitering, perceived safety concerns, and the realignment of 23rd Street per the Crystal City Sector Plan.”

That’s in addition to complaints that the tunnel is “aesthetically displeasing,” infrequently used for its intended purpose, and often confused for a Metro station entrance.

At its Saturday meeting, the County Board will consider approving resolutions and agreements with VDOT that would lead to the tunnel being permanently closed and dismantled, at a cost of about $300,000 to the county and $87,500 to VDOT.

County staffers say the tunnel, which links either side of busy Route 1 at the 23rd Street S. intersection, costs Arlington about $20,000-25,000 to maintain annually. The maintenance costs include pressure washing areas where people have urinated and repairing “occasional vandalism.”

“The 23rd Street Merchants and the Crystal City BID have routinely complained to County staff and the County Board concerning loitering, public urination, and the unattractive nature of the 23rd Street Tunnel and canopy,” the staff report says. “Observations by County staff showed over 95 percent of users cross at grade as opposed to using the tunnel.”

“The tunnel is generally avoided by pedestrians due to the perception of it being a public safety risk,” the report goes on to note. “Merchants believe that this is having a negative impact on their business district.”

Not everyone is in favor of closing the tunnel, however. From the staff report:

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association submitted written comments requesting that the tunnel remain open with increased cleaning, improved lighting and signage, and added security. The Chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee also expressed reservations about closing the tunnel unless improvements to the at-grade crossings were made at the same time. As an additional note, there have been two reported pedestrian/vehicle crashes in the past five years at the intersection. Both were classified as “non-incapacitating injury” crashes.

Despite pushback from the nearby neighborhood association, officials say planned improvements to the intersection over the next few years, detailed below, will further negate the need for the tunnel.

DES has identified some minor improvements to the at-grade crossings that will be implemented during the construction of the 23rd Street capital improvement project between Richmond Highway and South Eads Street, scheduled for late 2019.

  • 23rd Street will be narrowed between South Eads Street and Richmond Highway to decrease crossing distance at the intersection with Richmond Highway;
  • The crosswalk on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street will be upgraded to current standards: asphalt and high-visibility thermoplastic markings; and
  • Curb ramps will be upgraded on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street to be accessible per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Additional improvements will be made when 23rd Street between Richmond Highway and Crystal Drive is reconstructed, scheduled for 2022.

  • The Crystal City Sector Plan anticipates the realignment of 23rd Street to the south, creating a shorter crossing distance at the intersection of Clark Street and Richmond Highway;
  • New pedestrian respite areas will be installed in the median of Richmond Highway;
  • Curb ramps will be upgraded to be accessible per ADA standards at all crossings (not previously improved by phase 1 above); and
  • New traffic signals will be installed per the new roadway geometry and include pedestrian push-buttons at each ADA ramp location
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