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Arlington National Cemetery Warns of Big Crowds for ‘Wreaths Across America’ Tomorrow

Anyone planning on heading to Arlington National Cemetery for this weekend’s “Wreaths Across America” event might want to consider using public transit to get there, or prepare for some hefty delays.

ANC officials say they’ll be barring all personal vehicles from the cemetery’s grounds during the length of the annual wreath-laying event, set to run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 15).

They’re also planning on welcoming a larger number of volunteers at the event than in years past, prompting “numerous changes to ensure the safety and security of those who participate,” according to a press release. Accordingly, officials are urging participants to arrive promptly at 8 a.m., and rely on Metro, if at all possible.

“We encourage all volunteers to arrive early and recommend taking the Pentagon or Rosslyn Metro and walking into the cemetery,”ANC Operations Director Micheal Migliara wrote in a statement. “It’s a short, 15-minute walk from these stops and the most seamless way to access our hallowed grounds on this special day.”

ANC leaders are expecting so many people to use the cemetery’s Metro stop that they expect the other stations will be a bit easier for visitors to use. Anyone getting off at Rosslyn should enter through the cemetery’s Ord & Weitzel gate by walking along the N. Meade Street sidewalks, and anyone getting off at the Pentagon station should use the cemetery’s South Gate entrance.

General public parking will still be available at the Pentagon’s north parking lot (in lanes 50-60) and south parking lot (lanes 1-18), as well as at the Pentagon City Mall parking garage.

The Arlington National Cemetery Welcome Center parking garage, however, will only be available to “ANC Family Pass holders” who have preregistered for the event.

All the cemetery’s gates will open to the public at 8 a.m., followed by an opening ceremony inside the cemetery at the McClellan Gate at 8:30 a.m. The wreath laying is set to start by 9 a.m.

County police are also warning of traffic changes starting at 5 a.m., including:

  • Southgate Road, between Columbia Pike and S. Oak Street, will be closed and restricted to authorized vehicles only. Temporary no parking signs have been posted and vehicles in violation will be towed after noon today (Friday)
  • Marshall Drive, between N. Meade Street and Rt. 110, will be closed and restricted to shuttle bus traffic only.
  • Memorial Avenue, from Memorial Circle to the Ccmetery entrance will be closed.
  • Access to the Memorial Bridge from southbound George Washington Parkway and northbound Rt. 110 will also be closed.
  • Additional road closures will be implemented in locations along I-395, the G.W. Parkway, and the Pentagon Peservation by the Virginia State Police, U.S. Park Police, and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.
  • Other roads not listed may be closed for short duration at the discretion of law enforcement.

Flickr pool photo by Jeff Reardon

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Kaine, Warner Hope to Lend a Hand on Affordable Housing Issues to Prepare for Amazon’s Arrival

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has never been much of a fan of the name “Crystal City.”

As a longtime Alexandria resident, the state’s senior senator has had to spend plenty of time in and around the Arlington neighborhood that will soon become home to Amazon’s vaunted new headquarters, all the while rolling his eyes at its moniker.

“I’m not sure ‘National Landing’ should be the name, but I’d be so glad to get rid of ‘Crystal City,'” Warner quipped Thursday (Dec. 13) at a roundtable discussion hosted at George Mason University’s Virginia Square campus.

Luckily, his colleague on stage, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), had an alternative suggestion for the Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yard corridor ready to go: “Warner Plaza,” he said, prompting a round of laughter from the crowd of Northern Virginia business leaders and politicians.

That light-hearted banter aside, both senators acknowledged that the county will soon face far more dire problems than just naming its neighborhoods. Kaine and Warner both see Amazon’s impending arrival as a huge net positive for the county, and the state as a whole, but they also expressed a desire to take some action to help address the thorny issue of affordable housing in the area.

Kaine sees room for Congress to lend a hand, perhaps by expanding the federal “Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.”

The program is designed to incentivize affordable development, and Kaine teamed up with Democrats and Republicans alike to introduce a bill last year expanding its funding by 50 percent. His office estimates it would create or preserve 1.3 million affordable homes over the next decade, about 400,000 more than would be possible under the program’s current funding levels.

“We don’t have to recreate the wheel,” Kaine said. “We can take things that work and do more of them. It’s already a good program to create workforce housing, but we can do more of it.”

Considering the county’s challenges finding cash for its own affordable housing loan fund, more help from the feds would likely come as quite welcome news indeed for Arlington leaders. But, despite its bipartisan support, Kaine’s legislation on the subject has yet to make any progress.

Warner envisions a more local approach to the matter. While the state already has its own housing development authority, which is set to pour tens of millions more into affordable housing initiatives as part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed deal with Amazon, Warner thinks the area’s localities could stand to team up as well.

“I think there needs to be work done on a regional housing authority to make sure there will be affordable housing, and make sure people don’t get pushed out of their homes,” Warner said.

Warner does expect, however, that Congress can help out by ensuring stable federal funding for Metro in 2019.

Though the rail service did manage to score its first dedicated revenue stream this year, thanks to commitments from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. lawmakers, it remains subject to the whims of Congress for another $150 million or so in cash each year. And with Amazon bringing thousands of workers to the area, many of whom will likely rely on the Blue and Yellow lines to reach the offices, Metro’s health has been a key focus as officials look to prepare for the company’s arrival.

As Democrats prepare to assume control of the House of Representatives, Warner fully expects the “odds and leverage [for more Metro funding] will go up” next year. But that doesn’t mean he’s counting on adding more federal funds for the service, either, considering that Republicans still control most levers of power in D.C.

“I would love to say we could plus up that number, but I don’t think that’s in the cards with this Senate and this president,” Warner said. “But if we can get $150 million again, let’s take the money and run.”

Beyond the housing and transportation challenges Amazon may well exacerbate in the area, Warner echoed the views of his colleagues around the state that the new headquarters will be a “game changer” for the region.

With such high office vacancy rates even in a prosperous part of the state like Arlington, Warner says the region had a “level of vulnerability that I’m not sure the whole business community appreciated” before Amazon tabbed Arlington. Of course, he hopes that that tech company doesn’t simply bring prosperity for Northern Virginia when it gets here.

“I know it’s a little bit of heresy to say with an Arlington crowd, but I hope to find some Amazon contractors and partners to put jobs downstate too,” Warner said. “As the commonwealth makes a substantial investment, an investment that is about one quarter per job what New York overpaid for, by the way, we need to show that it will benefit the whole commonwealth.”

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County Officials See Plenty of Room on Roads, Metro Stations Near Amazon’s Future HQ

To combat growing concerns about how Amazon’s new influx of workers might put a strain on Arlington’s congested roads and Metro’s troubled rail system, county leaders are increasingly embracing the same argument — so many people have left Crystal City and Pentagon City over the years that the area’s transit network is ready to welcome new residents.

There’s little doubt that the 25,000 workers Amazon plans to eventually bring to the region will have an impact on commute times for drivers, and crowd more people onto local trains and buses. But Arlington officials stress that they already planned to move plenty of people through and to the newly dubbed “National Landing,” only to see thousands of federal and military employees flee the neighborhood years ago.

That means the area’s trains and buses still have available seats, ready to accommodate Amazon’s new arrivals.

“Transportation system utilization is reflective of building occupancy,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during a question-and-answer session live streamed on Facebook yesterday (Thursday). “We’re down about 24,000 jobs and we see it on the rail system, we see it on the roads… so we have that capacity, we just have to get people to use [these options].”

Leach points out that Crystal City has been hardest hit in recent years, particularly by the Base Realignment and Closure process. He noted that he “had to go back to 1986 to find a lower annual passenger count” at the neighborhood’s Metro station; for Pentagon City, he had to go back to 2001.

Similarly, Leach said that traffic volume on Crystal City and Pentagon City roads is “down 20 percent since 2000,” another “reflection of lower employment” in the area. He believes there’s even ample parking available, despite some neighbors’ concerns to the contrary, arguing that the neighborhoods’ “parking assets are incredibly underutilized.”

That being said, Leach admits that the county would much rather see Amazon’s new arrivals using public transit, and the county has some “work to do” in that department. Metro presents a particularly thorny challenge for leaders — even if stations in the “National Landing” area aren’t seeing as many riders as they once did, the rail service is still trying to improve its safety and reliability after years of struggles.

But Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s assistant general manager for customer service, communications and marketing, believes that the agency is moving in the right direction in solving those problems. She’s particularly enthusiastic about General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which would see Metro return to running nothing but eight-car trains and even expand its “Rush Hour Promise” program to offer more refunds to commuters for lengthy rides.

“I think the capacity is really going to be there as these jobs come to Arlington,” Bowersox said. “Especially with these improvements we have in the pipeline.”

Of course, it’s no guarantee that Wiedefeld will win all those promised changes from Metro’s governing board. The full suite of service improvements Wiedefeld is calling for come with a hefty price tag, and Arlington officials have cautioned that they may not be able to afford everything Wiedefeld is asking for. The new budget could end up costing the county another $8 million per year, a particularly worrying prospect for county leaders, given Arlington’s existing budget pressures.

With or without those enhancements, however, Bowersox is confident that Metro’s safety and reliability improvements will be enough to win Amazon employees over.

“We believe in our reliability and we’re standing behind it,” she said.

Leach is optimistic about as well about the state’s planned investments to help the county build its long-planned second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station, making it even more accessible to both Amazon’s future office space and the rest of the neighborhood. The state will also help Alexandria fund another entrance at the soon-to-be built Potomac Yard station, even though funding concerns initially convinced leaders to cancel the project.

Yet officials also recognize that the area is still not as walkable, or accessible for cyclists, as it could be. That’s due in large part to Route 1, which Leach points out acts as a “divider” between Pentagon City and Crystal City with its large, elevated sections of highway.

The state and county are both planning on spending $250 million on Route 1 improvements, but they haven’t identified the exact source of all that money, or even what the improvements will be. Generally, Leach does hope that the change help “knit the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods together,” and that will likely mean bringing the highway down to the same grade as the rest of the street network.

Renee Hamilton, deputy administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia District, said that officials only have a “broad concept” for what those changes will look like, and are still discussing the exact timeline for how the project will move forward. But, like Leach, she does expect that substantial changes are in the offing.

“It’s very difficult to get from one side of Route 1 to another,” Hamilton said. “So we’re going to look at creating a boulevard feel to it, which will likely require us to lower some of the roadways.”

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Morning Notes

Reminder: Yellow Line Shutdown Starts Today — There will be no Yellow Line service today through Sunday, Dec. 9 as Metro works to repair the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac. Yellow Line riders can instead take the Blue Line and/or free shuttle service. [ARLnow, Twitter]

New ‘Clarendon Circle’ Traffic Restriction — Work on improvements to the busy “Clarendon Circle” intersection are underway and have resulted in at least one traffic pattern change. During construction, drivers will not be allowed to make the “tricky” left from eastbound Washington Blvd to Clarendon Blvd, and will instead have to follow a detour via N. Kirkwood Road. [Twitter, Arlington County]

Civ Fed Prepares Tree Canopy Resolution — “The Arlington County Civic Federation in December will weigh in on the development plan of Upton Hill Regional Park and, more broadly, on Arlington government policies on retaining or removing trees during redevelopment on public land. A resolution demanding a temporary halt to current development plans at Upton Hill was introduced at the Civic Federation’s Nov. 13 meeting and will be debated and voted on Dec. 4.” [InsideNova]

Minor Bluemont House Fire — Firefighters extinguished an out-of-control fire in the fireplace of a Bluemont house Saturday night. No injuries were reported but the home, on the 900 block of N. Frederick Street, suffered some smoke damage. [Twitter, Twitter]

Another Traffic Nightmare at DCA — As if the gridlock caused by the Veterans Day shutdown of the National Airport Metro station wasn’t bad enough, the traffic nightmare repeated itself Sunday evening, during one of the busiest travel days of the year. Some drivers reported spending hours trying to get to and from the airport. [NBC Washington, Twitter]

CBS Looks at Clarendon’s Vpoint Apartments — On Saturday morning, CBS News took a close look at the vPoint affordable housing project in Clarendon. The project, which converted a stand-alone church to a combination worship space and apartment building, is potentially a model for other communities struggling with affordable housing. At the time, however, the redevelopment faced lawsuits and other community opposition. [YouTube]

Amazon News Roundup — Arlington saw only modest successes in its quest to pitch itself as a tech hub over the past few years, but Amazon’s arrival changes that narrative in a big way. That said, half of the jobs Amazon brings to Arlington will be non-technical. Meanwhile, Amazon may benefit lower-income residents in New York City more than in Arlington, as subcontractors in New York will be subject to the state’s $15 per hour minimum wage; Virginia’s minimum wage is currently the federal $7.25 per hour minimum. And Nashville, some say, will be the biggest winner in terms of Amazon’s new presence boosting the local commercial real estate market.

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Metro Plans Lengthy Yellow Line Shutdown Starting Next Week

Metro is planning a full Yellow Line shutdown starting next week, and is warning riders of hefty delays along the Blue Line the two-week-long construction work.

The rail service hoping to complete major renovation work on the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River, prompting the closure. In all, the work will run from Nov. 26 through Dec. 9.

“During rush hour, trains will run about half as frequently as usual, due to capacity limits at the Rosslyn tunnel,” Metro wrote in a release. “Customers may experience crowding.”

Blue Line trains will run every 16 minutes on weekdays through 8 p.m., then switch to 20-minute headways. Riders can also expect 16-20 minute headways on weekends.

The transit agency will offer free shuttle bus service to compensate for the shutdown, including:

  • Between Franconia-Springfield and Pentagon and between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza from opening until 8 p.m.
  • Between Franconia-Springfield and L’Enfant Plaza and between Crystal City and L’Enfant Plaza, rush hour only.

Metro is urging riders to consider Virginia Railway Express service between Franconia-Springfield, Crystal City or King Street to L’Enfant Plaza or Union Station, or local bus options instead.

The shutdown will also coincide with a weekend shutdown of five Green Line stations from Dec. 1-2, when the Navy Yard, Waterfront and Archives stations will be closed, along with the Yellow and Green Line platforms only at Gallery Place-Chinatown and L’Enfant Plaza.

This construction is Metro’s last planned major construction work of the year, and comes on the heels of a Veteran’s Day shutdown on the Blue and Yellow lines that prompted huge traffic woes for travelers hoping to reach Reagan National Airport.

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Amazon’s Arrival Brings Plans for Transportation Transformation Around New Headquarters

For pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, Crystal City has never been the easiest neighborhood to navigate — and Amazon’s looming arrival in the neighborhood has stoked fears that things could get worse in the area long before they get better.

But now that the tech giant has officially picked Arlington for its new headquarters, county officials are free to unveil their grand plans for allaying those concerns and fundamentally transforming transportation options along the Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yard corridor.

Virginia’s proposed deal with Amazon calls for the pairing of state dollars with money from both Arlington and Alexandria to make a variety of projects long envisioned for the area a reality — so long as the tech giant holds up its end of the bargain and creates targeted numbers of new jobs, of course.

It adds up to a complex mix of funding sources that defies easy explanation, but would be in service of a massive shift in the transportation network surrounding the newly christened “National Landing.” And, as last week’s nightmarish traffic conditions created by the shutdown of the Crystal City and National Airport Metro stations helped prove, the county is in desperate need of an upgrade in the area.

“All of these plans which been long gestating without a path to realization, they’re all going to come together,” County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow. “All the great things we’ve diagrammed on paper now have a path to reality.”

The main transportation projects included in the pitch to Amazon are:

  • A second, eastern entrance to the Crystal City Metro station
  • A second, southwestern entrance to the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station
  • A new pedestrian bridge connecting Crystal City to Reagan National Airport
  • An expansion of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard bus rapid transit system
  • Improvements to Route 1 through Crystal City and Pentagon City

“Many of these we’ve already included in our prior commitments, whether it was our [10-year Capital Improvement Plan] or other long-range planning documents,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “But we pulled these together as a way of saying, ‘This is our overarching vision for the area.'”

Certainly, the aforementioned projects were all on various county wish lists over the years — the Crystal City Transitway expansion to Pentagon City is perhaps the most developed of any of the proposals, with the county convening a public meeting on the matter just last week.

The difference is that many of the projects have largely lacked the necessary funding to move forward. The county still needs another $15 million to fund the Transitway project, which is now set to come from the state, and the other efforts need substantially more money than that.

The second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station has been a particularly challenging project for the county.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body doling out funding for transportation projects, recently awarded Arlington only a small shred of the funding it was looking for to move the station forward. The county’s gloomy revenue picture previously forced Arlington to push the project off into the long-term future, and it remained a very open question whether the second entrance would score highly enough on state metrics to win outside funding.

Those concerns vanish virtually all at once for the county, and that could be quite good news for both Crystal City residents and Amazon’s future workers. Though the exact details need to be worked out, the new entrance would be located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S., with $82.5 million of the project’s $90 million price tag coming from the state through the Amazon deal.

Cristol hopes the project will “transform the beating heart of Crystal City” and encourage its new residents to rely on Metro. She notes that the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations have seen a combined 29 percent drop in ridership since 2010, as the military and federal agencies moved out of the area, and hopes thoughtful transit strategies around Amazon’s arrival will reverse that trend.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the transit advocacy-focused Coalition for Smarter Growth, added that a second entrance will help the area manage demand as thousands of employees flock to one of Metro’s sleepier stations.

“By having entrances at each end of the platform, you’re reducing the people congestion at escalators and gates, which is huge,” Schwartz said. “And we know that walking distance makes a big difference in how many people use transit. So to the degree we can shorten it, we should do it.”

Schwartz also hopes the new entrance will provide better accessibility to the area’s Virginia Railway Express station (located a few minutes’ walk up Crystal Drive) for anyone looking to reach the more distant sections of D.C., or Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs. The VRE is even weighing an expansion of the station in the coming years, which would put an entrance directly across from the second Metro access point.

County Board member Erik Gutshall points out that the proposed bridge to DCA would land in just about the same spot. A feasibility study backed by the Crystal City Business Improvement District suggested that an office building at 2011 Crystal Drive would make the most sense for the pedestrian connection, which Gutshall notes also matches up with an entrance to the Mt. Vernon Trail.

All of that could someday add up to a promising transit hub in the area, which developer (and future Amazon landlord) JBG Smith has already begun advertising in its marketing materials.

“You can bike, walk, ride VRE and ride Metro, all together,” Gutshall said.

The project will need about $36 million to become a reality, with $9.5 million chipped in from the state and the rest coming from Arlington and the NVTA.

The county will need even more cash for the Route 1 improvements: about $250 million in all, with $138.7 million coming from the state’s Amazon deal. The proposal doesn’t include a funding stream for the rest, but the changes could be quite substantial indeed.

The documents don’t lay out details beyond a goal of improving the “pedestrian improvements” on the road, but officials say a guide could be the changes detailed in the county’s Crystal City sector plan. Those plans involve bringing the highway to the same grade as other local roads, eliminating the soaring overpasses that currently block off large sections of the neighborhood.

“This may, in fact, lead to the total reimagining of Route 1,” Dorsey said.

In all, the county expects to spend about $360 million — about $222 million in already committed funding and $137 million in future grants — to fund transportation improvements in the area. The state’s total could one day go as high as $295 million, depending how many workers Amazon ends up hiring for the area.

The county’s commitment is large enough to give some local budget minders heartburn.

“Where will Arlington get $360+ million in transportation bond capacity — since we are bumping up against our credit limit for the next decade or more, without meeting all school needs?” local activist Suzanne Sundberg wrote in an email. “Raising the tax rate would be my first guess. We can probably expect to see our real estate taxes double over the next 15 years.”

County Manager Mark Schwartz has often warned about the strain on the county’s debt limit precipitated by recent fiscal pressures, and taxes may well go up on residents in the coming years, even with the Amazon revenue windfall.

But Dorsey waived those concerns away, noting that the county has long planned for the spending associated with many of these projects, and will have hefty state dollars to rely on for the rest.

“Our investments are already planned,” Dorsey said. “We’re not bringing anything new to the table.”

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Metro Shuts Down Crystal City, Reagan National Stations Over Holiday Weekend

Expect major delays on Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines this holiday weekend, as the rail service is shutting down both the Crystal City and Reagan National Airport stations to allow for some major construction work.

Starting today (Friday) and running through Monday, Metro will run shuttle buses between the Pentagon City and Braddock Road stations to compensate for the closures. Trains will operate on substantially extended headways as well, particularly on Saturday and Sunday, and Metro is warning of heavy delays across the two lines.

Metro plans to upgrade several switches leading up to the airport station, as well as “install new concrete grout pads beneath the rails along the aerial structure there,” according to a press release.

Full details from the release:

On Friday & Monday:

  • Blue Line trains will operate in two segments: between Franconia-Springfield & Braddock Road every 12 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Largo Town Center every 12-16 minutes.
  • Yellow Line trains will operate in two segments: between Huntington & Braddock Road every 12 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Mt Vernon Square every 12-16 minutes.
  • Buses will replace trains between Braddock Rd, National Airport, Crystal City and Pentagon City. Additional Express shuttle buses will operate between Braddock Road and Pentagon City from 5 a.m. – 8 p.m. and between Franconia-Springfield and Pentagon from 5 a.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Rush Hour Promise will not be in effect for trips on the Yellow and Blue lines on Friday, November 9, but will remain in effect for customers on other lines.

On Saturday & Sunday:

  • Blue Line trains will operate in two segments: between Franconia-Springfield & Braddock Road every 12-15 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Eastern Market every 24 minutes all day.
  • Yellow Line trains will operate in two segments: between Huntington & Braddock Road every 12-15 minutes during daytime hours and between Pentagon City & Mt Vernon Square every 24 minutes all day.
  • Buses will replace trains between Braddock Rd, National Airport, Crystal City and Pentagon City. Additional express shuttle buses will operate between Braddock Rd and Pentagon City from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday and from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Metro scheduled the shutdown for Veterans Day weekend, after originally planning it for last weekend, in order to reduce the impact on commuters. However, some stations still saw big crowds on Friday as people adjusted to the closures:

Metro recommends that commuters turn to local bus service if possible, or even VRE train service between Franconia-Springfield, Crystal City or King Street in order to reach L’Enfant Plaza or Union Station.

Anyone heading to DCA this weekend may also want to allow for extra time. The airport is already facing transportation challenges associated with “Project Journey,” major renovations primarily impacting Terminal B/C, and the Metro closure could worsen those conditions substantially.

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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Metro Wants to Increase Service Next Year, But Arlington Leaders See Major Legal, Financial Challenges

(Updated Thursday at 3 p.m.) Metro leaders are hoping to increase service during the morning and evening rush hours next year, but they could well face an uphill battle in convincing Arlington officials to help fund the change.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld proposed a budget for the new fiscal year that doesn’t include any fare increases, but does call for rush hour service to extend to 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. to better serve commuters. The budget, set to be reviewed for the first time by Metro’s Board of Directors tomorrow (Thursday), also beefs up service on the Yellow and Red lines and expands all trains to a maximum eight cars as part of a broader bid to win back riders for the struggling rail service.

The catch, of course, is that such service increases won’t come without a steep price tag. Even though Metro expects to bring in some new revenue with the added service, Wiedefeld expects that he’ll need an extra $20 million from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to afford those changes.

Virginia relies on individual localities like Arlington to chip in for WMATA each year, and that means Wiedefeld’s proposed changes would increase the county’s annual funding obligation to Metro from $75 million each year to $83 million. That works out to a 9.8 percent increase, a number that is giving Arlington officials some real pause.

“It’s not that it’s a bad idea,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “It’s a question of, where does the money come from?”

Christian Dorsey, the County Board’s vice chair and Arlington’s representative on the Metro Board of Directors, agrees that he’d love to see some service increases, particularly as Metro wrestles with a thorny internal debate about how to boost ridership. Yet he’s concerned that Arlington won’t be able to afford all of Wiedefeld’s changes, at least all at once.

The county is already dealing with an intense funding squeeze, driven in part by falling revenues but also by the deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated funding to Metro, which already put a larger burden on Arlington’s budget. This latest funding increase could make the county’s already grim financial picture even gloomier, Dorsey said.

“That’s a challenge, and there’s not the ability for any jurisdiction to just say, ‘Let’s take this budget and adopt it as is,'” Dorsey said. “I’ll be honest with you, this surprised me… I can’t quite come up with a rational reason why these service enhancement proposals were developed in this way.”

As Dorsey puts it, “something’s got to give, and something’s got to shift” in Wiedefeld’s proposal. He expects that some of the proposed changes to boost ridership “might need to wait until later,” due not only to Arlington’s specific budget challenges but one specific issue affecting all of Virginia’s localities.

A provision included in the dedicated funding deal prohibits the state from increasing its funding level to Metro by more than 3 percent each year, as part of a bid to control costs. Yet Wiedefeld’s proposal calls for an increase closer to 16 percent for the entire state, though that is largely driven by new construction costs for the second phase of the Silver Line, borne primarily by Loudoun County.

To Cristol, who doubles as the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and argued forcefully for the dedicated funding legislation last year, fighting to exceed that 3 percent cap seems like a perilous decision for Metro.

She notes that the General Assembly included that cap in the funding bill as a way to control costs, and it became an essential way to justify the legislation to lawmakers skeptical of Metro’s management over the years. Cristol believes that the state exceeding that 3 percent cap so soon “flies in the face of” the spirit of what the funding bill was designed to achieve.

“The NVTC has talked a lot about demonstrating that Northern Virginia and the Metro jurisdictions are taking this piece of legislation and, the accountability parts of it, very seriously,” Cristol said. “This is not sending a good signal… and we have to remember that the dedicated funding resolution is still new. It’s fragile.”

Metro spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how Wiedefeld plans to manage the challenge of the 3 percent cap. But, according to documents prepared for the Metro board, he seems set to argue that an exception to the cap would allow Metro ask for more money from the Virginia jurisdictions. The law does allow WMATA to ask localities for more cash, but only if it’s to afford an increase in service above and beyond what Metro is obligated to provide.

Yet Cristol points out that Metro is not the sole authority on interpreting Virginia law, meaning that any discussion of upping funding to pay for service increases is essentially “a legal question and not just a policy question.”

Dorsey agrees that the cap “could become a problem,” but he’s waiting to hear Wiedefeld’s pitch before becoming more definitive on the matter. Cristol suggested that Metro might be better served by putting more of the funding burden on D.C. and Maryland to avoid Virginia’s strictures.

But, even if Wiedefeld can find a way to surpass this legal hurdle, Dorsey wonders whether Wiedefeld’s focus on increasing service around the morning and evening rush hours is misplaced.

While Metro ridership has fallen across the board in recent years, he points out that the declines have been steepest during off-peak times and on weekends, when riders might encounter waits of 20 minutes or more for a train. For instance, numbers set to be presented to the NVTC Thursday show that average weekend Metro ridership in Arlington dropped by 15.3 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Wiedefeld’s budget does call for implementing a $2 flat fare for weekend trips, but Dorsey doesn’t expect that will do much to reverse the ridership slide.

“From everything we’ve seen, at least anecdotally, it’s not price sensitivity driving people away, it’s the lack of frequency of service driving people away,” Dorsey said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it is not. But, uncoupled with the ability to deliver increased service, I’m not sure we’re achieving what we need to here.”

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Morning Notes

Metro Assault Suspect Arrested — The registered sex offender from Maryland suspected of groping a woman on an Orange Line train in Arlington has been arrested by Metro Transit Police “following media coverage” of the case. MTPD is now looking for additional victims. [Twitter]

Scott Parker Eyes D.C. for Next Venture — “Boston burger chain Tasty Burger has closed its sole D.C. location… Eater has learned Scott Parker — the restaurant owner of millennial-targeted bars such as Clarendon’s Don Tito and Ballston’s A-Town Bar and Grill — is pursuing a project at the Shaw location of the former burger joint in the Atlantic Plumbing building (2108 8th Street NW).” [Eater]

Circus Coming to RosslynJack Burkman, conspiracy theorist and Rosslyn area resident, says he’s going to hold a press conference at the Rosslyn Holiday Inn tomorrow to “reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sex assault victims” — though he has not offered any evidence to back up the accusation and is now facing a possible FBI investigation into a woman’s claim that he tried to pay her to testify that she was abused by Mueller. Burkman’s last Rosslyn press conference, in which he promised a bombshell revelation, was instead panned by fellow conspiracy theorists. [The Atlantic, Daily Beast, Heavy]

Arlington Nursing Homes Lauded — Two Arlington nursing homes — ManorCare and The Jefferson — were included in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Nursing Home” list. A total of 2,975 facilities across the U.S. received the “Best Nursing Home” distinction. [WTOP]

Caps Host Special Hockey Players in Ballston — Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals hosted more than 80 players from the American Special Hockey Association at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Ballston on Tuesday. [NHL]

Snowy Winter Ahead? — “Consulting meteorologists and weather companies like AccuWeather and the Weather Company unanimously agree: Washington is in for a snowy winter. So, now, do the forecasters you watch on television.” [Washington Post]

Nearby: 5K to Raise Money for Pittsburgh Victims — A 5K run/walk has been planned to raise money for the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting victims and the non-profit refugee group HIAS. The run is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 2 along the C&O Canal Towpath in D.C. [Active, Safety and Health Foundation]

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Maryland Man Wanted for Assaulting Woman on Orange Line Train in Arlington

Update 10/30/18: Timothy Day has been arrested, according to Metro Transit Police. Officers are now trying to determine if there are additional victims in the case.

Earlier: Police are looking for a registered sex offender from Maryland who’s accused of touching a woman inappropriately on a crowded Orange Line train.

The alleged incident happened around 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 21. Metro Transit Police say a 24-year-old woman at the Court House station reported that she was on the train when “a male subject who was not known to her placed his hand on her buttocks.”

“She also observed him standing ‘abnormally’ behind another female patron and put his hands down his shorts and ‘adjust his crotch area,’ said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. “The victim stated that the suspect followed behind another female patron as he got off the train at Foggy Bottom.”

After a review of video footage and other evidence, Transit Police identified the suspect as Timothy L. Day, 58, of Rockville, and charged wim with assault. As of Friday evening a warrant was issued for his arrest but he was not yet in police custody.

Day is a registered sex offender, according to MTPD. He was previously accused of other sexual crimes on a Boston MBTA subway train in 2004 and a Metro train in Arlington in 2002, according to news reports.

“Anyone with information on his whereabouts is urged to call MTPD,” said Stessel.

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NoVa Officials Remain Willing to Send County Cash for New Crystal City, Ballston Metro Entrances

A major funder of transportation projects across Northern Virginia isn’t giving up on Arlington’s long-stymied efforts to build second entrances for the Crystal City and Ballston Metro stations, though any substantial progress remains elusive.

For years, the county has planned on paying for the new entrances by pairing its own money with some funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a group that doles out sales tax revenues to transportation projects around the region.

Transportation planners view second entrances at the stations as crucial to encouraging Metro ridership in each neighborhood, and coping with the rapid pace of development in both areas.

However, Arlington’s plans have come under some serious pressure along two fronts in recent months. The county’s declining revenues and rising expenses have forced officials to pare back funding for some long-range construction projects, and that’s included the second entrances at Ballston, Crystal City and East Falls Church.

Meanwhile, the NVTA took a major funding hit when the landmark deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated funding for Metro diverted tens of millions away from the group each year, a move condemned by Democrats but insisted upon by Republicans as a way to fund Metro without raising taxes.

That’s prevented the NVTA from funding all the projects it might like, including the second entrances. Even still, Monica Backmon, NVTA’s executive director, says that the county remains well positioned to earn the cash it needs to complete the projects from her organization — though, perhaps, not as quickly as its leaders might like.

“When we’ve already invested in projects like these, we want to see them come to fruition,” Backmon told ARLnow. “We still believe in them.”

The second entrance in Crystal City seems particularly likely to earn a bit more cash from the NVTA in the near term, Backmon said. Her group could only hand out about $5 million for the effort in its most recent round of awarding funding for projects, which she expects will fund about “half of the design costs” for the effort.

The county is still settling on the specifics around the second entrance, though it will likely sit at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. Given the substantial new development JBG Smith is already plotting for that location, when combined with the close proximity of the Virginia Railway Express station, Backmon said the NVTA remains quite bullish on the project going forward.

“There’s a lot of development going on in the area, so we know there’s a need,” Backmon said. “Provided they’re advancing on the design work, they can come back and reapply for more funds.”

Backmon even expects that the NVTA could send the county the other half of that design funding as soon as next year. She plans to wait a bit to see what state officials might do — the county has applied for $78 million of the project’s $91 million price tag as part of the state’s “SmartScale” funding program, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board is set to make a decision on that cash by next June.

Then, in July, the NVTA will start its own funding process, allowing Backmon to see whether or not her group needs to step in to give Arlington a boost. By then, officials will also likely know whether they also need to prepare for Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City or not, another key variable in the discussion.

“The density in Arlington really is different than in the outside the Beltway localities,” Backmon said. “That project is important to relieve bottlenecks, on Metro and on roads.”

The process for finding funding for the Ballston second entrance is a bit murkier. The NVTA has already sent the county $12 million to fund a western entrance to the station, though that’s far short of the $72 million Arlington officials hoped to receive for the effort.

Backmon’s group declined to devote any additional cash to the Ballston project this summer, and she notes that the NVTA saw needs elsewhere that were “a little more pressing.” But county officials have been anxious to show some progress on the effort, not only to better prepare to cope with the slew of new developments on N. Glebe Road, but also to ensure that Arlington doesn’t lose out on the state funding it’s already received for the project.

Backmon says she can’t be sure whether the Ballston project will be a strong candidate to earn more NVTA money next year, but she is confident that the existing cash isn’t going anywhere.

“We haven’t given up on the project and still think it’s important,” Backmon said. “The fact that we’ve already invested $12 million in it speaks for itself… so we’re comfortable we’re in a place that the project is advancing. We’re not looking to take away any funds.”

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt the project’s chances either if state lawmakers acted early next year to restore the NVTA to its former funding levels.

She pegs the group’s current annual loss from the Metro funding deal at close to $102 million, a bit up from earlier estimates, and is desperately hoping that the General Assembly follows through on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to bump up a few Northern Virginia tax rates to make the math work for the NVTA.

Northam and his fellow Democrats have already pledged to reexamine the issue next year, though, as Backmon acknowledges, any such effort “in an election year” for the General Assembly will be a tricky one.

“Our statewide funding pots are shrinking, but our needs are growing,” Backmon said. “We want to make sure this is on everyone’s radar, and that people understand that, while we made adjustments, we definitely want to be restored to where we were before.”

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Arlington Gets Warmed Up for Marine Corps Marathon Traffic

The Marine Corps Marathon returns to Arlington next Sunday (Oct. 28), likely bringing over 30,000 runners to Arlington and a resulting tangle of road closures and transportation changes.

The opening ceremonies for the marathon will be held at 6 a.m., followed by the wheelchair and handcycle race starting at 7:40 a.m. Races will continue throughout the day until 3:10 p.m. Award celebrations are scheduled to continue until 9:30 p.m.

Street parking near the race will be restricted and motorists should keep an eye out for temporary “No Parking” signs. Use of rideshare and public transportation is encouraged.

Metrorail will open at 6 a.m. for the race, two hours early, and run extra Blue and Yellow line trains. The closest stop to the race will be the Pentagon station, which will be exit-only until 8:30 a.m.

According to an Arlington County press release, the following roads will be closed for the race.

3:00 AM-5:30 PM      Marshall Drive from N. Meade Street to Route 110

3:00 AM-5:30 PM      N. Meade Street from Marshall Drive to Lynn Street

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Route 110 from I-66 to Jefferson Davis Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Wilson Boulevard from N. Nash Street to Route 110

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Lynn Street from N. Meade Street to Lee Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      Fort Myer Drive from N. Meade Street to Lee Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      N. Moore Street from Wilson Boulevard to Lee Highway

3:00 AM-6:00 PM      19th Street N. from Lynn Street to N. Nash Street

3:00 AM-4:00 PM      Route 110 ramp from Washington Blvd. to Pentagon North parking

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    Lee Highway (eastbound) from Lynn Street to Kirkwood Road

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    Spout Run Parkway from southbound George Washington

Memorial Parkway (GWMP) to Lee Highway

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    GWMP from Spout Run to Memorial Circle Drive

6:00 AM-12:00 PM    Francis Scott Key Bridge (all lanes)

6:00 AM-2:00 PM      HOV lanes from 14th Street SW to HOV ramp at S. Eads Street

5:00 AM-4:30 PM      S. Eads Street from S. Rotary Road to Army Navy Drive

5:00 AM-4:30 PM      Army Navy Drive from S. Fern Street to 12th Street S.

6:00 AM-10:00 AM   15th Street S. from Crystal Drive to S. Eads Street

6:00 AM-4:00 PM      12th Street S. from Army Navy Drive to Crystal Drive

6:00 AM-4:00 PM      Crystal Drive from 12th Street S. to 23rd Street S.

6:00 AM-4:00 PM      Longbridge Drive from 12th Street S. to I-395

3:00 AM-5:00 PM      Boundary Channel Drive from I-395 to Pentagon North Parking

3:00 AM-5:00 PM      Washington Blvd. from Columbia Pike to Memorial Circle

(southbound lanes will reopen at approximately 9:30 AM)

A map of the course, as well as additional race information, can be found at the Marine Corps Marathon website.

File photo

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Morning Notes

ACPD Expands Push to Make County Bar Scene Safer — County police are making their “Arlington Restaurant Initiative” permanent after piloting the program earlier this year. The initiative involves working directly with local bars to promote responsible alcohol service and reduce crime. [Arlington County]

Prepare for Years-Long Memorial Bridge Lane Closures — As part of extensive renovation work that’s involved complete shutdowns of the bridge, federal officials say they need to shut down three of the bridge’s six lanes, and a sidewalk, from now through 2021. [NBC4]

Sun Gazette Endorses John Vihstadt for County Board — Arlington’s weekly paper supports the independent incumbent for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall, arguing that Democrat Matt de Ferranti deserves consideration but has not “made much of an attempt at telling the electorate what, specifically, the incumbent has done wrong in the past four years.” [InsideNova]

Metro Leaders Show Little Interest in Service Increases — With debate heating up over Metro’s strategy to lure back riders, a WMATA Board meeting turned contentious today. One member charged that “it would be crazy for this authority to simply run more trains in off-peak times chasing additional passengers.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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Metro Needs Better Reliability, Not Service Increases, to Attract Riders, NoVa Officials Say

As Metro’s leaders wrestle anew with the question of how to bring riders back to the troubled transit service, Northern Virginia officials are offering their own suggestions: focus on reliability, and create new fare card plans to entice riders.

In a new report to Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly set to be considered tonight (Thursday), the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission plans to urge Metro to use those strategies to boost ridership, and put WMATA on sounder financial footing in the process.

The document is the first such set of recommendations delivered to state lawmakers from the regional transportation planners at the NVTC, as part of the new oversight powers the group won through legislation to provide Metro with dedicated state funding.

Notably, however, it does not include any recommendation that Metro increase service to bring back riders. The push for service boosts, long backed by transit advocates, has become a particularly hot topic in recent days, after the Washington Post uncovered an internal Metro report insisting that service changes are the surest way for reversing WMATA’s declining ridership.

Members of Metro’s Board of Directors, including Arlington County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey, expressed no such certainty on a path forward when questioned by the Post, and said they had no knowledge of the internal report on service increases. But the NVTC report represents a chance for regional leaders — including NVTC commissioners like Dorsey, County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey — to offer some of their own thoughts on the matter to Metro and its overseers.

The group’s “2018 Report on the Performance and Condition of Metro” notes that just 79 percent of trains arrived at stations “at or close” to their scheduled times in fiscal year 2017, underscoring the NVTC’s recommendation that improving reliability should be WMATA’s prime long-term focus in bringing riders back to the service. To do so, NVTC expects the system will need to devote plenty of cash to capital projects.

The report deems the $500 million in annual dedicated funding that Metro will now receive from D.C., Maryland and Virginia “an invaluable tool” in achieving its maintenance goals. Even still, the group notes that Metro reported an “unconstrained capital need” of $25 billion in projects in 2016, and will need to focus on the area for years to come to catch up on many years worth of work.

In the short term, however, the NVTC recommends developing “new fare-pass products” to “ease the transit riding experience.”

Examples could include the expansion of passes designed for college students, or new partnerships with hotels and conventions “to provide fare products directly to visitors as a part of hotel and/or convention registration.” Metro’s internal report also cites the importance of developing new fare pass options, recommending strategies like offering shorter term passes and making all passes useable on both Metro trains and buses, but those options are listed firmly below the priority of increasing service.

Yet the NVTC expects that exploring those fare pass strategies would also improve fare collection and boost Metro’s coffers, another key point of emphasis of the NVTC report. The document suggests that Metro “develop the next generation of fare collection technology” in the long term, and test methods for “off-vehicle fare collection” on Metrobus routes to juice revenues.

The report also includes recommendations on how Metro can control costs, with a special focus on labor costs. With a new Government Accountability Office analysis of WMATA’s pension liabilities igniting new debates on Metro’s relationship with its unions, the NVTC is urging Metro’s board to consider private contracting in select situations and other collective bargaining tactics to keep labor costs down.

Metro only recently cooled tensions with its largest union, which briefly threatened a strike this summer.

Photo courtesy of Metro

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Shutdown for Repairs Rescheduled for Metro’s Blue, Yellow Lines

A four-day construction project for Metro’s Yellow and Blue lines has been rescheduled to reduce the impact on commuters.

Work on replacing a series of switches and installing new concrete pads outside of Reagan National Airport will close the Reagan National Airport and Crystal City stations. The project was originally scheduled for Friday, Nov. 2 to Monday, Nov. 5 but has been moved to the following weekend, Metro announced today (Friday).

The stations will be closed from Friday, Nov. 9 to Monday, Nov. 12, which is Veterans Day. The change will reduce the commuting days impacted by the work from two to one.

During the closure, shuttle buses will replace trains between the Braddock Road and Pentagon City stations. Metro warned that customers on the Blue and Yellow lines will likely experience additional crowding due to less frequent service during the repairs.

Later in November, repairs to the Yellow Line Bridge will shut down the Yellow Line completely for ten days. Between Nov. 26 and Dec. 9, the Yellow Line will not be functioning and customers wishing to travel between Virginia and D.C. will need to use the Blue Line.

File photo

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