Major Traffic, Metro Woes — It was extremely slow going for commuters crossing the 14th Street Bridge this morning. Wet roads and a couple of crashes backed up traffic on I-395 and feeder routes for miles. Traffic issues were also reported on Columbia Pike, due to malfunctioning traffic signals at S. Queen Street. Meanwhile, a fire response at the L’Enfant Metro station and track issues on the Yellow Line bridge have resulted in speed restrictions and delays for Yellow Line riders. [Twitter, Twitter, Washington Post]
Waiting for Joaquin — Arlington County is keeping a close eye on Hurricane Joaquin, which some models are suggesting may have a big impact on the D.C. area. [Twitter]
Cristol Touts Endorsements — Following a snub by County Board member John Vihstadt, who endorsed her Democratic ticketmate Christian Dorsey and independent candidate Mike McMenamin, County Board candidate Katie Cristol is touting her own endorsements. “Twenty elected officials, comprising all of Arlington’s School Board, Constitutional Officers and Richmond delegation, and much of the County Board, today endorsed Katie Cristol’s campaign,” the campaign said in a press release Tuesday. [Katie Cristol]
Juror Qualification Process Begins — A random selection of Arlington and Falls Church residents are being mailed juror questionnaires, which will be used to qualify residents for jury duty in 2016. [Arlington County]
Attorney General Holds Arlington Newser — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced a new training initiative for police at a news conference in Arlington yesterday. The training is intended to help officers de-escalate dangerous situations, thus preventing the need to excessive use of force, while also recognizing potential biases they may bring to the job. Arlington County already conducts similar training. [NBC Washington]
(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) The county’s plan for “Super Stop” bus stops on Columbia Pike, which led to the much-maligned $1 million Super Stop at the corner of the Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive, has been scrapped in favor of a more affordable design.
The county announced this afternoon that the new plan calls for building the 23 additional transit centers along the Pike for about 40 percent less than the previous budget, dropping the total price from $20.9 million to $12.4 million. The cost of individual stations will be between $362,000 and $672,000.
The freshly-redesigned stops — which were designed by the county and a consultant — will feature six covered, concrete seats, as opposed to the Super Stop’s steel seats. The canopies, which on the Super Stop did little to keep out the elements, will be lowered in height from 13 feet to 10 feet and the angle reduced from 10 degrees to 1.5 degrees. The total canopy coverage will also increase from 243 to 295 square feet on standard transit centers. In addition, side windscreens will be added to enhance weather protection.
“Our goal was accountability, to pinpoint what went wrong in the project management on the Super Stop design, to account for how the money was spent and, going forward, to ensure the transit stations will be built effectively,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said at a press conference held at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike. “Our new design firm has produced… a transit station with a price tag far below the Walter Reed prototype.”
The new stops, which the county is rebranding from “Super Stops” to “transit centers,” have a modular design, meaning each is built with standardized parts that can be added on to in order to create larger stations, as needed. A “single-size” station will cost $362,000, a “standard” transit center will cost $469,000, and an “extended” transit center — planned for the north side of the Pike at S. Glebe Road, for example — will cost about $672,000.
The county will soon issue a request for proposals, after which it will undergo a design phase, with hopes to start work on the first eight stops by FY 2017. The county will directly oversee construction, whereas WMATA was the construction lead on the original Super Stop — something Arlington officials blamed in part for project delays and high costs.
Donnellan said the review of why the Super Stop was so expensive and took too long to build isn’t finalized yet, but hopes to announce its findings within two months.
“I am disappointed the review is not done yet,” she said. “We are working really collaboratively with Metro to finalize the information. It’s sort of like a reconstruction of the information that’s been compiled over the last 10 years.”
The first eight stops to be built are expected to be on either sides of the Pike at S. Glebe Road, S. Oakland Street, S. Barton Street and S. Buchanan Street. As for the Walter Reed Super Stop, it won’t be torn down, said Transit Bureau Chief Stephen Del Giudice. Instead the county will “examine what can be done to improve its performance and weather protection.”
The county surveyed 732 individuals, 515 of whom were users of the Walter Reed stop, and used their input — largely complaints about the lack of weather protection — to design the new transit centers. The survey respondents all liked, however, the real-time information display and the “overall aesthetic” of the stop. Both elements have been incorporated into the new stops.
The county’s press release on the topic, after the jump.
The director of Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) says the county and utility companies are “making slow and steady progress” in the cleanup and recovery efforts following Friday night’s storm.
At a press conference today, OEM Director Jack Brown told reporters that Dominion is making “yeoman strides” to restore power to tens of thousands of Arlington residents. Despite the widespread power outages — 26,997 Dominion customers were without power as of 12:45 p.m., down from 68,000 Friday night — Brown said there has so far been no loss of life as a result of heat following the storm.
Dominion expects to restore power to 80-85 percent of customers by Tuesday night, and 90-95 percent of customers by Thursday night. Restoration works is being focused on high-density areas.
“It is a matter of priorities,” Brown said. “Eventually Dominion will get to the neighborhoods.”
Brown said power has been restored to most critical county infrastructure, but noted that Culpepper Garden, home to 276 low- and moderate-income Arlington seniors, is running on generator power and currently does not have air conditioning. The seniors are being kept in the facility for now while Dominion is being asked to prioritize power restoration to the facility, Brown said.
Brown encouraged residents who don’t have power to go to the county’s 16 cooling centers, its shopping malls, or its community pools. Arlington has set up a 24-hour drop-in cooling center at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.). Daytime cooling centers include other Arlington community centers and libraries, as well as the Ballston and Pentagon City malls. Currently the Yorktown and Wakefield high school community pools are open, while the Washington-Lee pool has closed due to a lack of water pressure.
“We need to pull together,” Brown said. “This event could last for several days, possibly a couple of weeks. Let’s check on your neighbors. It’s really about neighbors helping neighbors. Volunteer to transport those in need to county cooling centers.”
Brown said that all major county thoroughfares are open, although 19 county road remain blocked by storm debris. A dozen county crews are working to clear the debris, and debris pickup is expected to continue for the next 2-3 weeks, Brown said. Meanwhile, 39 traffic signals are still dark this afternoon (down from a peak of 96) because of power outages. Citing last night’s fatal pedestrian accident, Brown encouraged motorists to drive carefully on county streets.
“Please drive safely,” Brown said. “We really need people to slow down, particularly at these intersections. Please treat all… intersections [with non-functioning traffic signals] as four way stops.”
Brown said 911 service “remains spotty” in Arlington. He said residents who want to report an emergency should first try 911, then the county non-emergency number at 703-558-2222, then — if all else fails — seek help at the nearest fire station.
Verizon provides the Arlington’s 911 infrastructure and Brown said the county is going to investigate what went wrong.
“The county is going to conduct a thorough investigation of what happened to our 911 system… so we don’t have a repeat of this in the future,” he said. So far, he said, there have been no reports of anybody suffering serious consequences as a result of a delay in response due to a 911 failure.
Brown said that other county communications infrastructure has performed well. Despite some disruptions in the hours following the storm, Brown said cell phone service has been one of the county’s most reliable forms of communication. He noted, however, that the county’s radio systems did not suffer any outages as a result of the storm. Brown also said that RACES, the county’s emergency amateur radio network, was activated over the weekend.
All in all, Brown said he’s pleased with the response to the storm so far.
“The county’s resources have been stretched very thin,” Brown said. “I think we’ve done a good job of responding.”
(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) Police chiefs and sheriffs from a dozen Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies gathered for a press conference today to warn about the dangers of “look-alike or replica guns used by children and young adults.”
Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott, who participated in the news conference, said replica weapons — including realistic-looking Airsoft and BB guns — are being used by kids for play and by criminals for robberies. In all cases where replica guns are used in public, Chief Scott said, they put the person holding the weapon at great personal danger.
“The message today was really to parents and kids about the dangers of using this kind of weapon in a public place,” Scott said. “People see the weapons and they believe them to be real, and they call police.”
“Police officers have to make a split second-decision,” Scott continued. “If someone turns and brandishes a weapon… it could be tragic for everybody and we want to avoid that if at all possible.”
Scott said those brandishing replica guns in public might also be confronted by armed citizens, especially in Northern Virginia where concealed weapons permits are fairly common.
“They may be confronted [by armed citizens] in a way they did not expect,” Scott said. “There’s great danger in that… even though they did not intend to harm anybody.”
Scott said replica weapons, which are cheaper than real guns, are also increasingly being used by criminals for robberies.
“We’ve had a number of robberies this year alone where later we determined… the weapon used by the robber looks like a replica weapon,” Scott said. According to the department, there have been at least four confirmed incidents involving a BB or Airsoft gun in Arlington so far this year.
Arlington County Police say they’re planning to launch a public education campaign about replica weapons. The campaign is expected to include outreach to students by school resource officers, as well as outreach to local civic associations.
This article has been updated to remove an erroneous reference to legal differences between the use of a real gun and a fake gun in the commission of a crime.
The first of several planned safety improvements along the GW Parkway will be made today (Friday).
This morning, the National Park Service is expected to starting installing the first of 46 signs (including 9 pedestrian warning signs and numerous trail and route guidance signs) that will be placed near five crosswalks around Memorial Circle. The signs, along with planned directional pavement markings, rumble strips and a trail crossing relocation, are all steps being taken in response to numerous accidents between cars, pedestrians and bicyclists near Memorial Circle.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, officials said the changes, though simple and relatively inexpensive, will help improve the safety of all parkway users.
“We believe these improvements will increase the awareness of the dangers of crossing a very busy parkway for all travelers, whether it be on foot, bicycle or motor vehicle,” said Capt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Park Police. “Our officers have handled many, many crashes related to this area, and we continue to look for ways to improve the safety of the park’s visitors and travelers. The steps being taken should held decrease the crashes and educate the public of the surroundings and challenges they may face as they visit the park.”
“We’re going to see a major reduction in accidents,” promised Rep. Jim Moran, at the press conference. “This is going to affect thousands of people on a daily basis. It’s the right thing to do, it doesn’t interfere with anyone, and it makes everyone feel more safe and secure.”
The changes are all expected to be complete by the end of October. The Park Service, meanwhile, says it will explore more dramatic, long-term changes that could be made to improve safety, including creating a traffic island in the middle of the northbound lanes of the GW Parkway.
Fear said Park Police are considering stepping up speed enforcement along the parkway, but no final decision has been reached yet.
See the full National Park Service press release, after the jump.
Newt Gingrich will come to Arlington tomorrow to officially end his presidential run, the National Journal reported today.
In a video message thanking supporters, Gingrich confirmed he’ll suspend his campaign at a press conference on Wednesday. His website shows the announcement will take place at 3:00 p.m., at the Hilton in Ballston (950 N. Stafford Street).
Arlington County Police will be assisting with traffic control outside the hotel, where a number of news networks are expected to be broadcasting live, according to ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
Although presidential candidate Mitt Romney is also scheduled be in Virginia tomorrow, he’s not expected to appear at the press conference to accept an endorsement from Gingrich, according to ABC News.
Romney is in Arlington for a fundraiser tonight at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City.
Northern Virginia residents were exposed to “dangerous” levels of smog on 33 days last year, the report said. There were also “3 ‘red-alert’ days, when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects,” according to a press release.
The report was released locally by Environment America offshoot Environment Virginia. Rep. Jim Moran and Del. Patrick Hope were among the speakers at a press conference yesterday at the Langston-Brown Community Center in Arlington.
Environmental Virginia spokeswoman Sarah Hyman said the report is troubling for local residents — particularly children and the elderly, who are a higher risk of adverse health effects from air pollution.
“Virginians deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the D.C. Metro area, including Northern Virginia, are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” Hyman said. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
Hyman went on to criticize the Obama administration’s decision to put off updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s national smog pollution standards until at least 2013.
“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” Hyman said. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Virginia’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”
An American Lung Association study released in April said the D.C. area has the 14th worst smog levels in the country.
Photo courtesy Anne Hughes/Office of Rep. Jim Moran
Speaking in front of TV cameras and about 15 audience members at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Route 50, immigrant advocates said the bills represent the kind of “divisive, partisan politics” that Virginia’s immigrant community has “always feared.”
“Now more than ever we cannot be silent, we have to act,” said Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez, an Arlington County School Board member and a board member of Northern Virginia Community College. “We have to defeat all these anti-immigrant bills.”
Violand-Sanchez said she was particularly concerned about HB 1465, which passed the Virginia House of Delegates by a vote of 75-24. The bill would deny undocumented students the opportunity to attend public colleges, including community colleges, in Virginia. Violand-Sanchez said the bill would affect about 200 undocumented Northern Virginia Community College students who are currently paying the out-of-state tuition rate.
“We cannot create a permanent underclass of marginalized young people who are not allowed to continue to their education,” she said. “These students work hard to pay for their education… Will we close the door to them now?”
Melanie Maron Pell, Director of the American Jewish Committee of Washington, which supports immigrant rights, said there’s an economic argument to be made for the defeat of HB 1465.
The nationwide law enforcement and public outreach initiative — with the tagline “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit, Under Arrest” — will spend more than $7 million on national TV and radio advertising starting Wednesday. It seeks to reduce the number of drunk driving crashes around the holidays. Last year, 753 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes during the month of December alone.
Today LaHood highlighted the new “No Refusal” strategy that a number of states are adopting. “No Refusal” allows police officers to quickly obtain warrants from on-call judges in order to get blood samples from suspects who refuse to take a breathalyzer test.
“Drunk driving remains a leading cause of death and injury on our roadways,” LaHood said in a statement. “I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement officials who have pioneered the ‘No Refusal’ approach to get drunk drivers off our roads.”
LaHood was joined by National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland and Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Laura Dean-Mooney at a press conference at the Arlington County Jail. A number of law enforcement officials from around the country were also present at the event, which kicked off at 10:30 this morning.
Virginia has a form of the “No Refusal” strategy currently in place. The state’s “implied consent” law calls for a drivers’ license to be suspended if he or she refuses to take a chemical test when stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated on a state road.
Arlington County and the Rosslyn Business Improvement District held a press conference today to show off Arlington’s nearly-completed cultural center, Artisphere. The venue is a centerpiece of the effort to revitalize the workaday Rosslyn business district.
The $6.7 million, 62,000 square foot facility will open to the public on Sunday — 10/10/10 — at 10:10 a.m. A ritzy opening gala ($250 per ticket) will be held Friday night, while a hipper, cheaper “second opening” sponsored by Pink Line Project and Brightest Young Things will be held Saturday night.
Within Artisphere are three theaters, three formal exhibit spaces, a multi-use ballroom, an expansive outdoor terrace, a bar/restaurant (which is currently lacking a tenant), a two-level Wi-Fi lounge, and a retails crafts store.
The theaters include the 350-seat Dome Theater, a repurposed Imax venue; a 200-seat black box theater that will be the new home of the Washington Shakespeare Company; and the existing, adjacent 367-seat Spectrum theater.
The terrace will be used for openings and for private events, especially during the warmer weather months. The Wi-Fi lounge will be open to anyone who wants to hang out, get work done or get food or drinks from the restaurant. (We’re told the bidders looking to manage the restaurant space include several well-known local restaurateurs.)
If you must drive, parking garages under Artisphere and the Spectrum theater offer about 300 spaces that will be free after 6:00 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends.
Those who crave the limelight take note: a reality show camera crew from TLC will reportedly be at Saturday’s opening event. They’re following a balloon artist who will have three elaborate exhibits on display.
More photos after the jump.