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The Long Bridge Park Aquatics & Fitness Center (staff photo)

Arlington County is paying the contractor who built the Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center an extra $1.2 million to make up for project delays.

Despite this overage, the entire project is expected to come in at least $2 million under its overall budget.

It’s a high note to end on for the controversial project, which nearly a decade ago was put on hold after bids well exceeded the original $79.2 million budget, forcing the county to downsize its original plans.

The Arlington County Board approved the $1.2 million payment to the contractor on Saturday.

A report explaining the payment blames Dominion Energy for the delays. Dominion which was supposed to provide permanent power to the new facility by the fall of 2020, but final electrical power was not complete until July 2021.

“This delay hampered completion of critical elements” of the project, the said. “While the County generously granted additional time to the Contractor, the Contractor incurred additional costs due to the significant extension of the contract completion period and the extended general condition costs for the Contractor’s on-site construction staff.”

If the facility had gotten power on time, the county says, the $70.7 million project would have been completed months earlier and within the $5.3 million contingency budget originally approved.

Instead, the overages cost $1.8 million, wiping out the $602,000 that remained in contingencies, thus requiring the extra appropriation.

The Arlington County Board awarded a $60 million contract to design and build the facility to Coakley & Williams Construction, Inc. in November 2017. The contractor and county staff began working with Dominion Energy before construction started to ensure that electrical power could be supplied to the site when needed.

“Permanent electrical power could have been supplied to the site as early as Spring 2019 had work gone according to plan,” the report says. “Dominion received construction permits for electrical work within the right-of-way of Long Bridge Drive in Fall 2020. Work was not begun, and the permit expired. Another permit was issued to Dominion, and this also expired due to inactivity.”

By March 2021, the facility and park had permanent power, but a transformer had to be replaced in July. The facility opened on Aug. 23, 2021 and was closed for emergency electrical repairs in April.

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A proposed bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians between Crystal City and the Southwest Waterfront area of D.C. has received $20 million in federal funding to move forward.

When complete, the 16-foot-wide shared-use path will connect Long Bridge Park and East and West Potomac parks via the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the Virginia side, the bridge will be located behind the Long Bridge Park Aquatics & Fitness Center (333 Long Bridge Drive), which opened last year. It will eventually provide a connection to the expanded and relocated Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station set to open in 2024.

Several local elected officials, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey and Alexandria Vice-Mayor Amy Jackson, gathered this morning (Friday) at the aquatics center to hold an oversized $20 million check and celebrate the project, which could be completed by 2030.

“This is going to be a major gateway for Arlington that allows residents and visitors who walk, bike or roll to come to this beautiful facility and the environs around Long Bridge Park, but then be able to move on to Crystal City and National Landing and points beyond via the Mount Vernon Trail and the robust bicycle infrastructure that we are developing that will go all the way through to the City of Alexandria,” Dorsey said. “This helps meet Arlington and our region’s goals of moving more people with less automobile traffic. ”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) secured the funding from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, which was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Warner co-wrote.

“I am thrilled to announce this new funding for the Long Bridge Pedestrian Crossing project. This $20 million investment was made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law I was proud to help write and will help the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VRPA) complete a new span across the Potomac dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians,” Warner said in a statement. “This project is a key component of the broader effort to fix a major rail chokepoint and expand commuter and passenger service over the Potomac River.”

The shared-use bridge serves as environmental mitigation for the Long Bridge Project to add a two-track rail bridge next to the existing two-track 117-year-old Long Bridge, owned by the freight railroad company CSX Transportation. Once completed, the expanded railway is projected to bring an annual $6 billion in benefits to the region by 2040, according to a press release.

“We would never even be in the running [for funding for this project] if it weren’t for the infrastructure bill,” Warner told reporters after the event. “That’s got $58 billion additional dollars for passenger rail. We intend to make sure the District and Virginia get its share and it’s our hope the passenger rail bridge would open before the end of the decade.”

The goal of the $2 billion Long Bridge Project, discussions for which began in 2010, is to alleviate rail congestion on the existing Long Bridge. Annually, up to 1.3 million Amtrak passengers and 4.5 million VRE commuters traverse the bridge, in addition to CSX freight trains, according to a project website.

Officials say that the aging bridge is heavily utilized and frequently experiences bottlenecks, and — as if to prove their point — a freight train and an Amtrak train sped by within five minutes of each other during the media event.

Meanwhile, pedestrians and cyclists looking to cross the Potomac at this point have to navigate crossings shared with vehicles and maneuver a 10-foot-wide shared-use path on the 14th Street Bridge.

The lead agency on the project will be the VPRA, which the Virginia General Assembly created in 2020 to “promote, sustain and expand the availability of passenger and commuter rail service in the Commonwealth,” said VPRA Executive Director DJ Stadtler.

While elected officials heralded the new pathway over the Potomac, pedestrians and bicyclists in attendance told ARLnow that the 16-foot bridge is still too narrow to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Stadtler told ARLnow that VPRA’s initial 10% complete designs proposed a 14-foot bridge, but in response to feedback, is widening it to 16 feet for the 30% complete designs. The agency has “considered all options” and has determined the current proposal is an appropriate width, he added.

There will be opportunities for the public to weigh in next spring.

During the event, Dorsey joked about the bridge width.

“What did you say, a 20-foot bridge?” he said, to cheers from cyclists in attendance.

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Changes coming to Boundary Channel Drive and I-395 interchange (image via VDOT)

Construction is starting next week to make Boundary Channel Drive and the I-395 interchange near Crystal City and the Pentagon safer.

The impact on locals should be “minimal,” Virginia Department of Transportation spokesperson Mike Murphy told ARLnow. While there could be lane closures, access to surrounding facilities will be kept open.

“Some day and overnight lane closures may be scheduled along I-395, Boundary Channel Drive, and Long Bridge Drive in the project area,” Murphy said. “Access to I-395 via Boundary Channel Drive, as well as access to Pentagon facilities and the Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center will be maintained during construction.”

The long-planned $20 million project is set to reduce traffic lanes on Boundary Channel Drive to make room for paths and sidewalks, install roundabouts, reconfigure ramps, and add crosswalks.

The purpose of the renovations is to simplify traffic patterns and to make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

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

The VDOT-led project is expected to be completed about a year from now, in fall 2023.

Crews will begin with work on Boundary Channel Drive, where both directions will be reduced to one lane to allow for the construction of the new roundabouts, utility work, and pedestrian improvements.

Those improvements include a path along the south side of Boundary Channel Drive, complete with crosswalks, landscaping, and street lighting.

The new shared-use path, varying in width between ten and twelve feet, will start at the Long Bridge Aquatic Center parking lot entrance. It will then follow Long Bridge Drive northbound before connecting with westbound Boundary Channel Drive, per Murphy. The half-mile-long path will pass under I-395 and turn north at the soon-to-be-built western Boundary Channel Drive interchange roundabout.

The new path will ultimately connect with the existing one that parallels the southbound George Washington Memorial Parkway ramp to I-395 southbound.

This project has been in the works since at least 2014 and is estimated to cost $19.6 million. It’s being paid for by a combination of state, federal, regional, and county money.

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Forever Grateful Market (photo courtesy of Anthony Allen)

A new locally-focused antique and collectibles market is coming to Long Bridge Park next month.

Forever Grateful Market is set to take place on Saturday, September 3 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. outside of the now-year-old Long Bridge aquatic center in Crystal City. This will be the second time the market has been held there, with the first one taking place earlier in August.

Vendors confirmed include those selling art, automobilia, handcrafted items, sports cards, Hollywood memorabilia, and antique toys. More are likely to be added since vendors have until Sept. 2 to sign up.

Forever Grateful Market flyer (image via Forever Grateful Market)

The event’s organizers are local. Co-founder Anthony Allen is from Arlington, having grown up in Arlington Heights and attended Wakefield High School as well as Marymount University. In fact, Allen was part of the Wakefield High School basketball team that went to the state tournament in 2005.

He says he and the other co-founder, Tiffanie Cross, are both collectors themselves, with Allen collecting sports memorabilia. They saw a need for a market in Arlington that was “family-friendly and inclusive” for vendors and shoppers alike.

At the first market back on Aug. 13, Allen said, around 1,500 to 2,000 people attended and about 25 vendors were selling items.

“It was a huge turnout. We weren’t sure if that location [would attract] that many people,” said Allen. “But what we found out… was that we got a lot of people who were in traffic going to D.C. […] and saw a whole line of white tents.”

Allen expects that this month’s market will be even bigger with more attendees and vendors. This time around, Allen and Cross are hosting a back-to-school giveaway and a backpack collection drive, with the hopes of attendees donating 1,000 backpacks to elementary and middle schools in Arlington.

The two co-founders say they have come to an agreement with the county to host the Forever Grateful Market outside of the aquatic center on a regular basis going forward. There are currently four more markets scheduled for 2022 including October 1, either October 29 or 30, November 19, and December 17.

The ultimate goal is to open a “Forever Grateful Emporium,” said Allen, a dedicated brick-and-mortar space, potentially in Arlington, where they can host a market every day. They are already taking vendor applications for it.

For the moment, Allen is happy that the county is providing space in an easily-accessible location for the antique and collectible market, providing vendors and shoppers alike a place to sell and find unique items.

“We want to make sure that no one really feels left out. You can either join us as an attendee or join us as a vendor,” he said. “Either way, we’re going to make space for you.”

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A view of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics & Fitness Center (courtesy of Susan Kalish/Parks Department)

The Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center closed early yesterday (Thursday) due to an electrical emergency.

“At approximately noon on Thursday, the incoming voltage to the building began spiking beyond what was safe for our equipment,” Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow.

DPR closed the facility so that power could be shut down, and Dominion Energy responded yesterday afternoon to make repairs.

“The spiking stopped and contractors replaced or repaired damaged equipment,” she said. “We are happy to report the community could dive in once again by 8 a.m.”

Typically, the center opens at 5 a.m. on Friday for early risers to get in their morning swims and dives.

Members were notified of the closure “due to emergency maintenance” in an email time-stamped at 12:55 p.m., according to a copy shared with ARLnow.

This is the first reported emergency repair resulting in the temporary closure of the Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center since it opened in August of last year.

The facility will next be closed on Sunday, April 17 for Easter Sunday.

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The 25-yard lanes, which can be turned into a 50-meter pool, in the Long Bridge Park Aquatics & Fitness Center (staff photo)

This year saw major changes to how Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools run community swim classes, to the surprise of some locals.

In July, Arlington Public Schools launched the APS Aquatics School for students and residents, while the county opened the Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center in August.

APS’s new program prompted the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation to relocate most of its classes from local public high schools to the new facility near Crystal City. Since September, Long Bridge has been home to all county classes — save youth swim team practices — which officials say centralizes the county’s program and serves more people.

“Arlington County has long known the community demand for aquatics programs far exceeded the pool capacity in Arlington Public Schools,” said parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish. “Opening a long-awaited community treasure is hard enough, opening it amidst a pandemic has been amazing. We are happy as to how the Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center has been received. And with the opening, there are now more opportunities than ever.”

Until this fall, DPR scheduled all classes, competitive swim team training and public swim time in the pools at Wakefield, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools. With Long Bridge and the new school program up and running, APS and DPR are hammering out a new policy for sharing facilities. In the meantime, folks are still learning about and adjusting to the changes, per social media and emails to ARLnow.

“This is huge,” one tipster tells us. “The neighborhood school pools are one of the silent gems of Arlington… I don’t think anyone thought the aquatic center would take neighborhood pool classes.”

The school system started its swim class program on July 14 to recover more of the costs to maintain the pools and offer affordable classes, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.

Initially, Kalish says the school system asked DPR to move all programs to Long Bridge, including practice for the youngest members of Arlington Aquatic Club — the county-run competitive swim program that helped train Olympic medalist Torri Huske.

“It became apparent that youth swim teams are more successful when their training base is close to home,” she said. “This school year, per [a School Board policy], APS is allowing five practice groups to train about 15 hours a week at Wakefield and W-L pools.”

DPR decides which groups to schedule at the high school pools and pays APS to use them, Bellavia said.

Today, APS offers drowning prevention and learn-to-swim classes for babies, toddlers, children and adults, and fitness classes for adults and seniors.

Classes are staffed and filling up, Bellavia says, despite difficulties recruiting lifeguards and swimming instructors — another impact of nationwide workforce shortages.

“[The] APS Aquatics School implementation plan is on schedule and both the Summer and Fall term have been fully staffed and the courses, especially PreK School and Swim School, have been fully subscribed with a few experiencing small waitlist,” Bellavia said.

Classes generally fill up within the first week of registration, which opens 30 days before the session starts, he added.

“We have a new teacher who is very good,” said one Facebook user of her experience in W-L’s water aerobics class. “I get a true workout.”

Likewise, Kalish says the Long Bridge aquatics programs are “very popular.”

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Morning Notes

Va. ‘Seals Deal’ for Rail Expansion — “Virginia finalized agreements Tuesday with CSX, Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express as part of the state’s $3.7 billion passenger rail expansion program that seeks to relieve a rail bottleneck and get more commuters onto trains. The signing of agreements advances a pledge Gov. Ralph Northam (D) made in December 2019 to significantly grow passenger rail service this decade by building a new rail bridge over the Potomac River, adding new track in the Washington-Richmond corridor and buying hundreds of miles of passenger right of way from CSX.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

Affordable Housing CEO Retiring — “Longtime CEO of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing Nina Janopaul will retire June 30, 2021, after a remarkable 14-year career at the helm of the organization, leading APAH through a period of transition and rapid expansion. The APAH Board has appointed Executive Vice President Carmen Romero to lead APAH into its ambitious next phase of growth and service.” [Press Release, Twitter]

New Restaurant Fighting for Funding — “Andrew Darneille had a sense of deja vu when he clicked on the link from his certified public accountant. It led him to a page that said, in essence, that the Restaurant Revitalization Fund would not be the lifeline he had hoped for. Based on the fund’s grant calculations buried in the larger $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, his Smokecraft Modern Barbecue in Arlington, Va., would not get a cent in federal relief during a pandemic that has left many restaurateurs hanging by a thread.” [Washington Post]

No GOP County Board Candidates Yet — “The Arlington County Republican Committee remains on the hunt for a candidate or candidates to challenge for the one County Board seat on the November ballot. ‘We have had people reach out to us,’ party chairman Andrew Loposser said on March 24, though none has yet stepped forward publicly.” [Sun Gazette]

Green Valley Church Helping with Vaccinations — “At Macedonia Baptist Church in Arlington, the sanctuary has sat empty since the start of the coronavirus pandemic… So when Harcum was recently approached about a new vaccine equity partnership with Arlington County and Neighborhood Health, he said he was happy to offer up space inside the church.” [WJLA]

Photo courtesy James Mahony

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A proposed rendering of the new VRE station in Crystal City (Rendering courtesy of National Landing BID)

A new Virginia Railway Express station could bring Amtrak service to Crystal City, says a new report.

The expanded and relocated station is set to open in 2024 and Amtrak is currently “exploring” adding regional service to this station.

This according to a National Landing Business Improvement District report released earlier this month, detailing a number of significant transportation projects scheduled for completion over the decade (many of which long have been in the works).

Responding to inquiries from ARLnow, an Amtrak spokesperson wrote in an email that the planning remains underway “so it’s premature to discuss in depth expansion plans.”

The VRE station station will be built on land owned by real estate developer JBG Smith and will be designed to host Amtrak trains as well as Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains. (Neighboring Alexandria has an existing Amtrak station.)

The $50 million two-track station will be built on Crystal Drive between 12th Street S. and Airport Access Road, about a quarter mile from the current one-track station. That existing station was built about 40 years ago and has been called a “operational bottleneck.”

Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, executive director and president of the National Landing BID, says bringing an Amtrak station to Crystal City would “shrink the region” and would enable a “direct one-seat ride between our region by commuter rail.” Some day those heading to New York City might be able to just head to Crystal City to get on a train, rather than trek into D.C. and battle crowds at Union Station.

Gabriel does note that Amtrak has yet to decide about adding a station there.

Along with a new VRE station, a new two-track railway bridge across the Potomac is also being planned. It will replace the 116-year-old Long Bridge and is estimated to be completed by 2030. Gabriel says the existing bridge is also a “bottleneck.”

Other projects highlighted in the report include the $650 million Project Journey at Reagan National Airport set to be completed this year, the continued construction of the new Potomac Yard Metro station, adding a new entrance to the Crystal City Metro station, replacing Route 1 with a “unifying, urban boulevard,” and a pedestrian walkway over the George Washington Memorial Parkway connecting Crystal City to the airport.

According to Gabriel, the airport bridge would create a five-minute walk from the train station to the airport, as opposed to a walk that’s currently long and somewhat dangerous.

All of these projects together, including the possible presence of Amtrak, could transform the neighborhoods collectively known as National Landing, said Gabriel.

“Investments of this scale are really positioning us to be the most connected downtown in the country,” she said.

Full press release about the report is below.

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An act of Congress may help to streamline the planned Long Bridge project.

The project to build a new rail bridge across the Potomac, accompanied by new bike and pedestrian facilities, is one of the key components of a $3.7 billion plan to expand passenger and freight rail in Virginia.

To help it along, this week the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would cede National Park Service land near the river to Virginia or D.C. “as necessary for the Long Bridge Project.” The land transfer would reduce the complexity and cost of the project, as well as the time required to complete it.

The bill still must pass the Senate and be signed into law by the president. Its passage was hailed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and the National Landing Business Improvement District as an important step forward.

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Morning Notes

Local Dog Adoption Demand is High — “Kim Williams, who volunteers for the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation of Arlington, Virginia, has tapped into a puppy pipeline of sorts to bring some of Georgia’s homeless pet population to the mid-Atlantic region where they are bombarded by requests for dogs to adopt.” [WMAZ]

American Reducing Service at DCA — “American Airlines is discontinuing service to more than 20 destinations from Reagan National Airport in January, according to new data reported by the Official Airline Guide. Cities and/or airports dropped range from major (New York-JFK; Las Vegas; St. Louis; Minneapolis-St. Paul) to smaller (Jackson, Miss.; Manchester, N.H.; Greensboro, N.C.). Many were served just once or twice per day.” [InsideNova]

Land Transfer May Speed Bridge Project — “Interesting: NPS is ‘supportive’ of conveying four acres of parkland to VA and DC to construct the Long Bridge(s), rather than just permitting. That would likely speed design and construction, and could result in a ped/bike span that doesn’t compromise as much on width and lighting in order to conform to NPS interests.” [@CarFreeHQ2/Twitter]

Local Wildlife Caught on Camera — “Arlington resident Levi Novey and his wife Alicia have captured footage documenting quite an array of critters passing through their yard via a fence that Levi has dubbed a ‘wildlife superhighway…’ So far their fence camera has photographed foxes, raccoons, mice, housecats, chipmunks, and lots of birds and possums.” [WJLA]

Redistricting Commission Applications Open — “Beginning Monday, Virginians will have a month to apply for one of eight public seats on the state’s new redistricting commission, which has begun its work with a panel of retired judges setting out plans for the application process.” [Washington Post]

Stormy Day Today — “Get ready for a wild weather finish to November. A strong storm system develops and moves through… bringing a mix of hazards to our area in a short time frame, capped off by the potential for strong to possibly severe storms Monday afternoon. No specific warnings or advisories have been issued, but expect a good soaking of one to two-plus inches of rain (and some wild temperature swings).” [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]

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Morning Notes

More APS Tech Issues Reported — Several people contacted ARLnow yesterday to report more technology issues involving remote learning. While Wakefield High School’s principal posted a possible fix on social media, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said that any remaining problems were isolated: “At last check this morning, there were 25,273 APS-provided student devices active on our network. There are some issues at the secondary level, but we are working directly with those students to reset their devices.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Sept. 11 Commemoration Tomorrow — “Arlington County will commemorate the lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and express gratitude to all those who responded that day with a virtual event. To ensure everyone’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the public will view the event online or on the County’s cable channels.” [Arlington County]

State Grant to Boost COVID Testing — “The Virginia Department of Health has provided the Department of Human Services with $320,287 to increase COVID-19 testing capacity. The grant award covers the period August 1, 2020 through December 30, 2020. Grant funds will support operations and logistics at testing sites.” [Arlington County]

Amazon Holding Virtual Career Day — “Amazon is looking to build on the success of last year’s Career Day events across six U.S. cities that hosted 17,000 job seekers with over 200,000 people who applied for jobs in the week leading up to the event. The new completely virtual event will open Amazon Career Day 2020 to everyone, regardless of their location. Some of the new employees will be placed at Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia, which is continuing to expand following its opening last year.” [Good Morning America, Amazon, WTOP]

Progress on DCA Expansion — “Project Journey is well on its way. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority this week offered an update on its two-pronged, roughly $650 million modernization program at Reagan National Airport. The final product will deliver a new north concourse, replacing the oft-maligned Gate 35X, and new security checkpoints. The former is expected to open in July 2021, and the latter by the fourth quarter of 2021.” [Washington Business Journal, NBC 4, InsideNova]

Wide Pedestrian Bridge Proposed — “The final EIS for Long Bridge recommended building 14′ wide pedestrian and bike bridge connecting Long Bridge, the MVT and East Potomac Park. Governor Northam committed to funding pre-COVID. This will be huge for regional trail connectivity.” [Twitter, Friends of the Mt. Vernon Trail]

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