Arlington’s members of Congress are touting wins for federal workers, veterans, Metro and the Virginia economy in a new federal spending bill.
The bill, a rare bipartisan budget compromise, passed both houses of Congress this morning. It includes a raise for the federal workforce, $150 million for WMATA, $30 million for Arlington National Cemetery, and billions for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and various other military spending priorities.
The office of Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) described it as “good news for federal employees” in a press release.
There is finally some good news for federal employees in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress this morning. The $1.1 trillion spending package included a pay raise for federal employees and service members, as well as significant additional funding for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), some of which is earmarked for cybersecurity.
“Federal employees suffered through enough with years of wage stagnation, furloughs and shutdowns, and, perhaps most egregiously, the theft of their personal information as a result of the OPM hacks,” said Rep. Beyer. “In addition to cybersecurity investments to prevent future breaches, this deal gives our federal workforce a modest 1.3 percent pay raise for the second year in a row.”
“These efforts will help improve the recruitment and retention of federal employees to help our government grow the new American economy,” Beyer added.
The agreement provides $272 million for OPM and the OPM Inspector General, a $132 million increase over the previous year. The legislation also provides $21 million for critical upgrades to OPM’s cybersecurity infrastructure and to ensure protections to prevent similar security breaches are installed. Individuals affected by the OPM data breaches will be provided with identity protection coverage for 10 years — much more than the previous commitment — and identity theft insurance in the amount of $5,000,000.
After the jump, a joint press release from Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, including details of specific spending and tax provisions of note for Virginia residents, businesses and federal workers.
Metro announced yesterday that Paul Wiedefeld, the former CEO of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, has been selected as the agency’s next General Manager and CEO.
Following a lengthy search process, the WMATA Board of Directors is expected to make Wiedefeld’s appointment official on Nov. 19.
With Metro in turmoil due to ongoing rail service reliability problems and financial challenges, state officials and lawmakers welcomed the appointment of an experienced executive to Metro’s top post.
From Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.):
“Today’s news concludes a period of uncertainty for Metro. Paul Wiedefeld’s transportation and executive experience gives him the tools to provide WMATA with the leadership a first class transit system needs. I look forward to working with him to ensure a safe, reliable future for Metro as a critical part of the national capitol area’s transportation infrastructure.”
From Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe:
“I am pleased to see that the WMATA Board has unanimously chosen Paul Wiedefeld to lead the agency as its General Manager and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Wiedefeld’s significant experience in managing safety and operations in the transit industry will surely serve him well as he steps into his role with Metro. I am hopeful that this appointment, though overdue, will give WMATA the stability and expertise it needs to produce meaningful change across the agency. I look forward to Mr. Wiedefeld’s formal confirmation by the Board on November 19th.”
A joint statement from U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.):
“We’re pleased to finally see this progress in bringing on new management for Metro after a year-long search.
“As federal lawmakers, we have been strong advocates and effective partners for Metro. In his years of service to BWI, Mr. Wiedefeld has proven himself to be a creative and successful infrastructure manager in the public sector. We are eager to meet with him to emphasize our shared commitment and steady focus on turning-around the troubled Metro system.
“We’re prepared to work with Mr. Wiedefeld as he accepts the challenge of improving the safety and reliability of this pivotal regional investment for Metro passengers and visitors to the national capital region.”
After a jump, a press release from the recently-formed WMATA Riders’ Union.
If there’s one lesson to take away from Arlington’s Metro Safety Seminar Wednesday night, it’s don’t evacuate a train until told to do so. Even though a woman died after not being able to evacuate a disabled, smoke-filled train outside of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station earlier this year.
In the case of smoke in a tunnel, Arlington County Fire Department and Metro will work together to figure out the source of the smoke and decide if evacuation is necessary, officials said Wednesday at the seminar in Ballston.
Self-evacuating early often leads to injuries and more trouble, said Robert Joy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority during a panel on Metro safety hosted by the county’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission (EPAC).
There’s also the problem of the third rail, which is a major electrocution hazard, running at more than 700 volts, Joy said.
Joy was joined by ACFD Captain David Santini and ART Director Stephen Yaffee to speak about how to be a safe rider on public transit, including Metrobus, Metro or ART bus. The panel spoke to a small audience, mostly consisting of older Arlington residents, many of whom identified themselves as members of EPAC.
For the most part, audience members were concerned about smoke filling Metro cars, noting the L’Enfant Plaza incident in January.
Smoke in Metro tunnels is not an unusual occurrence, Sanitini said.
“We report to smoke on the Metro several times a month,” he said, adding that most are “minor in nature” usually resulting from trash burning on the rails or small insulator fires.
In the case of smoke filling the cars, passengers should listen to the intercoms, Joy said, as the conductors will tell people when to evacuate.
“Just because the trains stop doesn’t mean it’s an emergency,” he said. “And we’ve had some people self-evacuate a perfectly good train.”
If a train needs to be evacuated, firefighters will come to the train to help passengers evacuate, Santini said. Metro also posts instructions for opening the doors in emergencies and how to evacuate.
Evacuation should be the last resort as walking in the tunnels and jumping from the train can result in injuries, such as broken ankles or legs, he said.
Joy acknowledged that there were problems with understanding the intercoms, which can make emergency situations more stressful. Dust often gets in the speakers, which make them hard to hear.
“We understand that the intercom system isn’t always up to snuff,” Joy said. “I sometimes wonder what they are saying.”
Fixing the intercoms by making sure they are cleaned is an easy step that Metro can do to make riding safer, said John Brown, director of Arlington County Office of Emergency Management.
“I don’t think we can wait for a federal report. There’s low hanging fruit that we know we can fix,” Brown said.
Throughout the discussion, audience members offered suggestions that Metro can implement to improve passenger safety, including more information on car walls. These suggestions will be compiled in a letter and brought before the Arlington County Board, said Board member Libby Garvey.
Garvey and Brown also took a couple of minutes to talk about emergency preparedness in general, telling the audience they should know what to do for everyday emergencies, like weather-related events, or in the case of a decidedly not-everyday emergency: a nuclear attack.
“We really all need to be prepared, not just for these events that happen pretty regularly but also when the unimaginable happens,” Brown said.
In the case of a nuclear attack, people should “shelter in place” and put as much concrete between them and outside, Garvey said.
The last thing people should do is go outside and see what happened, she said. Instead, people should “camp inside” until its safe to go outside.
“We all need to be prepared for camping for three days,” Garvey said.
Fire Station 8 Task Force — At its Tuesday meeting, the Arlington County Board approved a charge for its new Fire Station No. 8 task force. The task force will review viable sites for the fire station, will seek a location that will improve fire and EMS response signs, and will seek to balance costs with service needs. [Arlington County]
More Metro Delays This Morning — Delays and overcrowded trains made for “another miserable day” on the Orange Line during this morning’s commute. Metro says it’s hoping to have full service restored on the Silver, Orange and Blue lines by the end of the year, following a catastrophic fire at an electrical substation in D.C. [WMATA, Twitter, Twitter]
Old Growth Forest in Arlington Recognized — A 24-acre portion of Glencarlyn Park, just south of Route 50, has been recognized by the Old Growth Forest Network. The park has trees that were likely saplings while the British burned the White House across the river during the War of 1812. [Arlington County]
GW Parkway Repaving Nearly Complete — Crews are starting to wrap up a repaving project on the GW Parkway that has prompted lane and ramp closures over the past few weeks. The formerly pockmarked section of the Parkway north of Reagan National Airport now has a smooth coating of asphalt. [WTOP]
Lee Highway Streetlight Upgrade Approved — The Arlington County Board last night approved a $2.2 million project to replace 1.5 miles of aging streetlights along Lee Highway with new, energy efficient LED streetlights. Some residents have previously complained of an “ugly” blue tint from the county’s LED streetlights. [Arlington County]
Ballston IHOP is Turning 50 — The IHOP restaurant in Ballston will turn 50 years old early next year. Reportedly, it was the first Virginia location for the chain. [InsideNova]
Arlington Hosting Metro Safety Seminar Tonight — Officials from Arlington County and WMATA will be participating in a Metro Safety and Preparedness Seminar tonight in Ballston. A panel of officials will discuss Arlington’s response to Metro incidents and emergency preparedness tips for Metro riders. [Arlington County]
Photo by Justin Funkhouser
In 2004, Metro Chief Richard White predicted a “death spiral” for the Metrorail system due to chronic underfunding.
Federal and state budget disputes were preventing Metro from getting the $1.5 billion in maintenance investment it needed, leading White to warn of “a systemic service meltdown.”
Eleven years later, White’s prediction seems to be coming true. And he wasn’t the only one to see it coming.
“Right now, there’s no money for transportation funding in anyone’s budget,” Chris Zimmerman, who at the time served on both the Arlington County Board and the Metro board, told the Washington Post in 2004. “I’ve got a state government that’s happy to let everything fall into the toilet. And we’ve got local governments that have limited means to raise money. We’ve got nothing to work with.”
Zimmerman resigned from the Metro board in 2010, and stepped down from the County Board in 2014. Now serving as Vice President for Economic Development for the group Smart Growth America, Zimmerman shared some thoughts on Metro’s current woes during a phone interview with ARLnow.com.
In 2002, Zimmerman and the Metro Board were actively seeking additional capital funding for Metro from Maryland, Virginia and the federal government — but to little avail. With inadequate funding, Metro wouldn’t be able to afford the track and station maintenance and new trains needed to keep the system running smoothly.
“It was foreseeable and it was foreseen,” he said of Metro’s problems today.
What would it take to fix the chronic system breakdowns that are causing long, frustrating commutes and chasing away riders? Zimmerman said it would take a lot more than that $1.5 billion figure sought in 2004 — and would likely require intervention by the federal government in the form of increased annual funding.
“What would actually make a difference is if [the federal government] would partner with our system… we have federal folks on the board but we don’t really have a federal funding partner,” he said. The feds have been providing funds to Metro for capital improvements, but Zimmerman argues that the level of funding doesn’t reflect Metro’s critical importance in helping the federal workforce in D.C. get to their jobs.
Little Change to Office Vacancy Rate — There was little change to Arlington’s high office vacancy rate in the second quarter of 2015, compared to one year prior. On a neighborhood level, the vacancy rate was up significantly in the Clarendon and Courthouse area but down in Virginia Square. [InsideNova]
Metro Offers Credits for Friday Mess — Metro is issuing a SmarTrip credit to riders who travelled on the Blue, Orange or Silver lines between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. The credit is being issued automatically, as an apology for major delays caused by a track power issue near the East Falls Church station, among other Metro snafus last week. [WMATA]
Move-In Date Delayed for New Apartments — The move-in date for the new Verde Pointe apartments on Lee Highway has been delayed. Originally planned for Aug. 1, the building opening is now reportedly expected to take place within three weeks. Would-be residents are being told that building safety inspections are still taking place. [NBC Washington]
Dems Move Chili Cookoff — The annual Labor Day chili cookoff organized by the Arlington County Democratic Committee has been moved this year. The event will be held at the Barcroft Community House (800 S. Buchanan Street) rather than the usual venue of the Lyon Park Community Center, which is in the midst of renovations. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
Arlington County might have a tech-driven answer for commuters looking to save money and help the environment.
Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS) and D.C.-based tech firm Conveyal have developed CarFreeAtoZ, a new website that help commuters plan their trip to areas around Northern Virginia and the D.C. area by looking at the different transit options available including Metro, buses, driving, Capital Bikeshare and personal cycling.
CarFreeAtoZ plans trips in a manner similar to Google Maps or Mapquest, but it combines different transit options, such as walking, using the Metro and biking. The website is mobile friendly, so users can pull it up on their phones while on the go.
“It’s got more modes than any brand of app,” Mackie said.
Users plug in their current location’s address, the address of where they want to go and the time they’re planning to leave, and then the website calculates the different travel methods. At the moment, the users need to have the exact address as the website cannot find places such as the U.S. Capitol or a specific Metro station.
Commuters can sort the different travel methods by total time, total cost, calories and walking distance. They can also see the cumulative estimated benefits of making the trip via a non-car method on a yearly basis.
For instance, CarFreeAtoZ recommends biking from Fairlington to Rosslyn, estimating that it would save $3,242 plus result in 21 lbs of potential weight loss and a gain of 138 hours of “productive time.” The bike trip takes 36 minutes during the morning rush hour, compared to 18 minutes via car or 43 minutes via transit.
“It actually ranks what would be best for you,” Mackie said.
Arlington County paramedics were called to the station around 1:30 this afternoon, to treat the suspect after the pepper spray incident.
According to Metro spokesman Dan Stessel, then man had “rammed” the Crystal City station manager while attempting to run through the emergency gate to evade the transit fare. Metro Transit Police officers responded to the station and found the man sitting on the floor in the station entrance area, smoking a cigarette.
“As they began talking to the man, the suspect abruptly kicked one of the officers from his position on the floor,” Stessel said. “The officers moved in to make the arrest, and in that process, utilized [pepper] spray to gain compliance. The suspect was arrested without further incident.”
The man is being charged with assault, for bumping the station manager, and assaulting a police officer. The station manager was not injured.
Arlington Unemployment Down — The unemployment rate for Arlington County residents fell below 3 percent in April. The jobless rate fell to 2.9 percent from 3.1 percent in March. Arlington has the lowest unemployment rate in Virginia. [InsdeNova]
Office Vacancy Still Rising — The office vacancy rate in Arlington rose to 21.7 percent during the first quarter of 2015. That’s up from 20.5 percent one year prior. [InsideNova]
Evolent Health IPO — Updated at 9:45 a.m. — Ballston-based Evolent Health is completing its initial public stock offering. The software company is raising about $195 million at a price of $17 per share. Public trading of ticker symbol EVH on the New York Stock Exchange is expected to begin today (Friday). [DC Inno, Venture Beat]
Beyer Speaks Out Against Metro Cuts — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and a group of eight other D.C. area members of Congress have joined to oppose Republican-proposed cuts to WMATA. “We saw earlier this week at Memorial Bridge what happens when Congress abdicates its responsibility to fund our nation’s infrastructure,” Beyer said in a press release. “Now is not the time to back out of our commitment to the national capital metro system. For the safety of all the thousands of tourists, commuters, and federal employees that ride it every day, Metro has to improve. Bleeding the system dry with shortsighted reckless funding cuts is no way to do that.” [U.S. House of Representatives]
Water Main Repairs Continue — Emergency water main repairs that started last night are continuing on Washington Blvd at N. Kensington Street. Drivers should expect traffic impacts, particularly during the morning rush hour. [Twitter]
Beyer Blasts Proposed Metro Cut — A U.S. House committee has released a plan to cut federal funding of Metro for maintenance and safety upgrades in half next year. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) blasted the plan, calling it “shortsighted” and saying it will “jeopardize rider safety [and] derail improvements to the system.” [NBC Washington]
Cherrydale Tea Shop Owner Profiled — Lyndsey DePalma, owner of House of Steep, is doing what she loves in running the Cherrydale tea shop. Despite the store exceeding financial expectations, however, DePalma is still “earning far less” than she did in her previous job as a human resources manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers. [Career 2.0]
County Manager Won’t Be Hired Until 2016 — The permanent successor for retiring Arlington County Board member Barbara Donnellan won’t be selected until 2016. The decision was made so that the two new, yet-to-be-elected County Board members replacing Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes have a chance to weigh in. In the meantime, Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz will serve as acting County Manager after Donnellan retires on June 30. [InsideNova]
Rothstein to Bisnow — ARLnow reporter Ethan Rothstein will be leaving the site to report on commercial real estate for Bisnow. Rothstein’s last day is May 15. [Washingtonian]
Endorsements in School Board Race — Updated at 9:10 a.m. — School Board candidate Sharon Dorsey has picked up endorsements from Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson, outgoing School Board member Abby Raphael and former School Board member Noah Simon. “Sharon Dorsey’s business and technology background along with her knowledge of education issues make her the right choice,” Ferguson said in a statement. Dorsey’s opponent in the race for the Democratic School Board endorsement, Reid Goldstein, has been endorsed by School Board member Nancy Van Doren, former state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple and County Board member Jay Fisette, among others.
The Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City together are projected to account for 65 percent of the county’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth in the next three decades, and Arlington doesn’t have a long-term transit plan in place for the Pike to accommodate that growth. So far, much of the discussion has revolved around bigger and better buses.
But there is another option, a much bigger, bolder and pricier option than even the streetcar: taking advantage of an existing stub tunnel at the Pentagon Metro station and building a new Metrorail line under Columbia Pike. Such a line was envisioned as a likely expansion by the Metrorail system’s original planners in the 1960s.
When the proposal for Arlington’s short-term plan for the former-streetcar corridor comes before the Arlington County Board next year, two of the five members of the Board will be newly elected, replacing the retiring Board chair and vice chair, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.
So far, seven candidates have declared they’re running for the two open seats: Democrats Christian Dorsey, Peter Fallon, Katie Cristol, Andrew Schneider, James Lander and Bruce Wiljanen, and independent Audrey Clement. Will this new crop of Arlington leaders revive the idea of Metro as long-term a solution for the Pike’s growth?
Dorsey tells ARLnow.com that he’s open to Metrorail as part of a more holistic discussion of the Pike’s transportation future.
“We haven’t undergone a process to really do that in a sufficient way, where we’ve looked at a variety of transit options that are possible — not feasible, but possible — and determining whether or not that matches long-range projections,” he told ARLnow.com. “I absolutely think that’s something that needs to be done in consultation with regional partners on heavy rail.”
The county is still planning to install 23 more transit stations along Columbia Pike, for a total of $12.4 million — redesigned to cost far less than the Walter Reed Super Stop prototype — and those stations are designed to accommodate enhanced bus service. However, other than assumptions that more, bigger and fancier buses will be coming to the Pike, it’s unclear how those stations will be integrated. The county has vowed to spend $200 million on the corridor’s transit over the next six years.
Cristol agreed with Dorsey, saying Arlington needs to consider all long-term options in the corridor’s future.
“I believe we need to keep everything on the table as we contend with the forces shaping re-development and transit demand in Arlington,” she said. “Rapid population growth and demand for public transit on the Pike will be a defining feature for Arlington’s coming decades … I will always be for considering and discussing big ideas — even the expensive ones that seem infeasible in the immediate — as we look to address those dynamics.”
WMATA already has a 40-year plan in place for Metrorail’s future development, but that plan, adopted in 2013, includes a connection between Arlington’s since-cancelled and D.C.’s embattled streetcar lines. WMATA has since discussed plans for a second tunnel in Rosslyn and another line in Virginia, but public discussions from the agency have not included Columbia Pike.
Wiljanen said Arlington taking on that discussion would distract from the immediate needs of the Pike’s residents.
“If a Metro line opened tomorrow under Columbia Pike, I would be elated,” he told ARLnow.com in an email. “However, given the current political and budgetary climate, starting the process now will prove to be an exceedingly heavy lift, and the timeline could easily extend 30 years or more into the future. I think we need quicker solutions.”
Clement, a perennial candidate for Arlington public office, thinks Arlington needs to take up these discussions as soon as possible.
“It is definitely time to plan for a Metrorail line under Columbia Pike,” she said. “One of the principal reasons I opposed the Pike trolley was the fact that the trolley tracks would have to be dug up to accommodate the subway, which is the ultimate solution to congestion on the Pike.”
(Fallon, Schneider and Lander did not respond to ARLnow.com’s email asking for comment.)
Dorsey also opposed the streetcar, while Cristol, a Pike resident, and Wiljanen didn’t say whether they supported the project, only that Arlington needs to move on.
Police: Pair Stole Car, Shrimp, Underpants — (Updated at 2:00 p.m.) A man and a woman allegedly under the influence of crack cocaine and alcohol were arrested in Rosslyn Tuesday afternoon. Police say the pair had stolen a car, men’s underwear and a “large quantity of shrimp.” [MyFoxDC]
Playgroup Controversy in Fairlington — Members of a cooperative playgroup that uses the Fairlington Community Center say that Arlington County is attempting a “takeover of the group.” The parents say the county is trying to buy the playgroup’s toys, take over registration and raise the playgroup fee from $20 to $190. [Patch]
How One Teacher Is Using iPads — There’s some question about just how well Arlington Public Schools has trained its teachers on the use of technology in the classroom — particularly the individual iPads and MacBooks that are being assigned at certain grade levels. One teacher at Carlin Springs Elementary School, however, is taking advantage of the iPads in a big way, using them for various interactive lessons. That, officials say, is indicative of how such technology will increasingly be used in schools. [InsideNova]
ACFD Metro Training — Arlington firefighters are participating in department-wide Metro safety training this month. [Twitter]
Police say 42-year-old Daniel Groseclose of Edgewater, Md. was employed by Kone, a company that does elevator and escalator repair work for Metro, when the thefts were discovered. He’s accused of stealing copper that was located on a construction site near the Rosslyn Metro station. The copper was owned by the electrical contractor M.C. Dean.
Metro Transit Police announced Groseclose’s arrest Friday afternoon.
“It is alleged that on at least two occasions last fall, Groseclose stole sections of copper wire and tubing from the site,” Transit Police said in a press release. “Kone was cooperative with the investigation, and has advised Metro that they have since dismissed Groseclose as an employee.”
“Groselose was arrested by Anne Arundel County Police on MTPD’s arrest warrant in Virginia,” the release continued. “He is expected to face two counts of grand larceny once extradited to Arlington County.”
Commuters hoping to avoid icy roads were met with huge crowds and delays on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines this morning.
A disabled train outside Stadium-Armory at around 8:00 a.m. was when the problems began, resulting in single-tracking on all three lines. According to several commuters on Twitter, a Blue Line train passed Arlington Cemetery and turned around. Some trains were offloaded, forcing passengers back out into frigid weather at outside platforms.
Uber in Arlington was instituting surge pricing at four times the regular rate at one point.
WMATA reported that the train was clear at 8:53 a.m., but residual delays persisted well after 9:00 a.m.
A cracked third rail between the Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn Metro stations caused at least four Blue Line trains to stop on the tracks, causing major delays and overcrowding on Blue, Orange and Silver Line platforms this morning.
The problems started before 8:00 a.m. as Blue Line trains traveling into D.C. from Arlington were becoming disabled when they were going over the cracked rail. On Twitter, one rider reported “Just past [Arlington National Cemetery] there was a loud pop and train went dark and shut off. We broke down after [Foggy Bottom].”
At 8:23 a.m., WMATA announced that all inbound Blue Line service had been suspended. By that time, Orange and Silver Line trains were experiencing significant delays, and platforms along the line — notably Ballston — were heavily crowded. At 9:10 a.m., Metro announced it had found the cracked rail, but didn’t return the Blue Line to service, via single-tracking, until 9:50.
Blue Line trains will continue to operate at about a 10-minute delay until the rail is repaired, according to WMATA, and Orange and Silver line trains may be slightly delayed at Rosslyn while the single-tracking continues.