Arlington, VA

(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Residents have been evacuated from homes in the Rock Spring neighborhood due to a “major outside gas leak.”

Williamsburg Blvd is currently closed between George Mason Drive and N. Harrison Street, near Williamsburg Middle School.

Initial reports suggest that workers digging up part of Williamsburg Blvd struck a large, 12-inch gas line. A crew from Washington Gas is on scene working to stop the leak.

“Residents closest to the leak will be evacuated,” the Arlington County Fire Department said. “Only evacuate if required to do so by firefighters.”

Map via Google Maps

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“We’ve seen too many accidents here. Think [before] you cross!”

So reads signs recently placed on Little Falls Road, at the crash-prone intersection with Old Dominion Drive, below signs restricting traffic to right turns only during rush hour. A few yards from the signs, around lunchtime Friday, was yet another crash.

The two-vehicle, T-bone crash involving an SUV and a minivan resulted in at least one vehicle occupant, a young woman who was visibly shaken, being evaluated by medics. A young girl appeared to have been riding in a car seat in the minivan at the time but was uninjured.

“It’s always this intersection here,” a police officer directing traffic could be heard saying to a passerby.

Friday’s crash was the eleventh so far this year at Old Dominion and Little Falls, according to Arlington County Police Department data. By comparison, there were 14 crashes there during all of 2019 and 13 throughout 2018.

Locals have long known the intersection — with no stop for Old Dominion traffic and limited sightlines for Little Falls traffic — to be dangerous, so much so that three years ago a 13-year-old took it upon himself to start a petition for safety changes, ultimately leading to the rush hour restrictions. Though the restrictions have been in place for a year, the crashes have not slowed down.

A wreck in May sent an SUV careening over the sidewalk and into the front yard of a home in the corner. No injuries were reported. A subsequent ARLnow morning poll found that more than 70% of respondents think a four-way stop or a traffic signal should be installed at the intersection.

There was another two-vehicle crash at the intersection on Monday, though it’s not clear whether it actually occurred in the intersection.

No additional changes are currently planned for the intersection, though some may be forthcoming — eventually.

Arlington County officials tell ARLnow that VDOT has applied for grant funding for the intersection on the county’s behalf, a process that might take some time.

“This intersection continues to pose safety challenges, and has been investigated by our Transportation Engineering and Operations (TE&O) staff,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “As the intersection is under VDOT control, we’ve applied to the VDOT STARS (Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions) program for grant funding.”

Hui Wang, Arlington’s Transportation Engineering and Operations Bureau Chief, said the state grant would help fund a study that will then provide recommendations for safety changes.

“If approved, VDOT has a group conducting comprehensive review of all aspects with community engagement included,” Wang said.

Garvey said she has also asked about “interim solutions.”

“I’ve asked our staff for a briefing to better understand the situation and, if there are any further interim solutions to pursue, I’m hopeful we can advanced them,” she said.

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There was another crash at the intersection of Old Dominion Drive and Little Falls Road yesterday afternoon.

No one was seriously injured in the wreck, which temporarily closed the eastbound lanes of Old Dominion Drive in the Rock Spring neighborhood. But it’s just the latest in a long string of crashes.

The crash-prone intersection has been the subject of local discussion for years. It was the scene of 27 crashes over a two-year period between mid-2017 and mid-2019, according to Arlington County police.

Minor safety changes rolled out last year — restricting traffic on Little Falls Road to right turns only during the morning and evening rush hours — have not eliminated the danger. In May, a two-vehicle crash at the intersection sent one car careening into the front yard of a house on the corner.

In 2017, a Williamsburg Middle School student led an effort to convince the county to implement safety changes at the Old Dominion and Little Falls intersection. Ultimately, only the rush hour restrictions were deemed appropriate — county staff said that stop signs for traffic on Old Dominion, an arterial street, would result in too much queuing, while a traffic light was not justified because there was not enough traffic on Little Falls Road. (There are existing stop signs for traffic on Little Falls.)

Given the continued collisions, what, if anything, do you think should be done?

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For the second time, someone has vandalized a Black Lives Matter sign at Rock Spring Congregational church in North Arlington.

Sometime between last night and noon today, someone cut out the word “Black” in the sign at the corner of Rock Spring Road and Little Falls Road.

Someone did the same thing to a Black Lives Matter sign on the church lawn in 2015.

“I no idea who’s doing it,” Rev. Dr. Kathryn Dwyer told ARLnow Tuesday afternoon. Dwyer, the church’s senior pastor, said there are no video cameras that might have captured the incident. She has filed a police report, after initially learning about the vandalized sign from a neighbor.

Dwyer said the church is ordering two new signs as a replacement, and plans to place them higher, on the church building itself.  A community member, meanwhile, has offered to try to fix the existing sign.

“I think that the vandalism demonstrates that we clearly have an issue, even here in Arlington, Virginia,” Dwyer said. Cutting out the word Black is “sort of like saying ‘all lives matter,'” she said.

“When I explain this to my congregation, I’ve explained how if your child asks if they love them, responding ‘honey I love all children’ is not satisfying,” Dwyer said. “We’re at a point in time in our country where people of color are being so oppressed it’s the job of all of us to assure them that they’re loved and they matter.”

Tomorrow the church will be holding the first of a six-week virtual course over Zoom entitled “Challenging White Supremacy: Becoming Anti-Racist.” All 100 spots sold out within 4-5 days, Dwyer noted.

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Old Dominion Drive is closed in both directions because of a crash at a particularly dangerous intersection in the Rock Spring neighborhood.

The North Arlington arterial street is closed between Williamsburg Blvd and Rock Spring Road, following a crash that happened around 1:30 p.m. Police are on scene directing traffic.

A Mercedes SUV collided with a Honda SUV at Old Dominion and Little Falls Road, a crash-prone intersection that recently added rush hour turn restrictions in an attempt to cut down on wrecks. The force of the crash sent the Mercedes careening into the front yard of a home, knocking down a county light pole in the process.

No serious injuries were reported. There’s no word on how soon Old Dominion Drive might reopen.

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A rental box truck ran off the side of Old Dominion Drive this afternoon, damaging a bench, a sign and a fence.

The crash happened shortly after 4 p.m., just west of the intersection of Old Dominion Drive and Williamsburg Blvd, in the Rock Spring neighborhood.

Traffic camera images show a yellow Penske rental truck on the sidewalk and a Metro bus stop sign on the ground. A black metal bench was also reportedly smashed, along with a fence and a tree in the yard adjacent to the sidewalk.

It’s not clear how the crash happened, nor whether any other vehicles were involved. No injuries have been reported. Police are on scene.

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When given a daunting task, like vacuuming up the leaves in front of every home in the county, one might be tempted to try to rush through it as quickly as possible.

But for one of Arlington County’s leaf vacuum crews, helping out residents and getting the job done right is the priority.

On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a resident of the Rock Spring neighborhood near Yorktown High School posted on social media that a leaf collection crew was helping an elderly neighbor rake the leaves from her yard to the curb, where they could be vacuumed.

“Hats [off] to these guys,” she said, in a post that scored more than 100 likes on Twitter.

The resident, Kathie K., tells ARLnow that there’s even more to the story.

“I went to get coffee… as I was pulling out I noticed someone in a work uniform raking a pile of leaves on my street. He gave me a big wave as I drove by,” she recounts. “When I pulled back into my cul-de-sac he and the truck had made their way around the circle and were now at the end.”

The crew of two were now working in the yard of two older sisters who live together, going above and beyond even what was seen in the photo, Kathie said. They were raking and talking to one of the sisters, as well as a father and son who were out raking and had brought the crew some water.

“The leaf collector that gave me a big wave was in their yard raking leaves. Not just on the curb, he was all the way to her front door raking leaves to the street. She was helping, they were all chatting,” she continued. “I took a picture because the guys were just being kind. They changed my day and I’m sure everyone else who has seen the picture. I thought it was a nice way to start the holiday season.”

Peter Golkin, a spokesman for the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services, which handles leaf collection and other public works in the county, tells ARLnow that leaf collection crews are not required to help residents rake, but are often happy to help someone in need.

In this case, Golkin says driver Michael Hendricks, a permanent staffer in the Solid Waste Bureau and former Arlington Public Schools bus driver, and veteran seasonal crewperson Anthony Leftwich decided to help out — despite having a schedule to keep as they worked to wrap up the first leaf collection pass around the county by the end of the next day.

Hendricks “hopes someone would do the same for his own grandmother,” Golkin said.

With the second leaf collection pass now underway as of Monday, Hendricks offered some tips for residents.

“Try to keep cars away from the piles and don’t pile near cars to make it an easier reach for the vacuum hose,” he said. Also, Golkin noted, dry leaves can be a potential fire hazard when vehicles with hot catalytic converters park above them.

Leaf collection season is set to end on Dec. 18. That may seem like a relief to the crews, but Golkin said getting out into the residential neighborhoods and interacting with residents is usually a highlight of the season.

“The leaf crews especially enjoy sweeping through neighborhoods on Saturdays because kids are home from school and love watching the truck from a safe distance,” he said.

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After years of public outcry, and dozens of car crashes at an intersection in the Rock Spring neighborhood, county officials said they are working on a possible solution.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) says it will be installing signs with new rules for drivers on Little Falls Road at the intersection with Old Dominion Drive later this month. The changes will forbid drivers on Little Falls Road from turning left or going straight at the intersection during morning and evening rush hours — only right turns will be permitted.

“The changes are intended to help address a crash trend at this location that includes a high number of angle collisions involving drivers either turning left or continuing through the intersection from Little Falls Road,” said DES spokesman Eric Balliet.

The right-turn-only restriction will be in place between 7-9:30 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Signs will be posted later this month before the start of the new school year, according to Balliet.

Last week, authorities closed the intersection due to a crash, something that neighbors say is all too common.

“Every single week there is at least one major accident at this intersection,” one resident wrote on social media in response to the article. “[The] last one was so bad two cars ended up in the front yard of the house in the corner.”

“It feels like there’s an accident there weekly,” another commentator wrote. “Neighbors have repeatedly asked for a four way stop or some traffic control at this location and have been told it’s not possible due to the proximity to the traffic light at Old Dominion/Williamsburg.”

In 2017, Williamsburg Middle School student Andy Nogas asked the County Board for help installing a stoplight at the intersection. An online version of his letter gained 112 petition signatures.

“I have seen more than 15 crashes and many near misses [at this intersection and] I am writing to ask you to do something about this,” he wrote.

In response, the Board pledged to assign a county staff member to the problem. Balliet said the resulting research indicated a traffic signal wasn’t the right solution:

Transportation Engineering & Operations staff evaluated several traffic management countermeasures for this location, including adding a traffic light, adding an all-way stop, and restricting certain types of vehicle movements. A signal is not warranted per engineering standards, as traffic volumes on Little Falls Road are too low. An all-way stop is not suitable as Old Dominion is a major arterial, and not feasible due to excessive queuing on Old Dominion based on traffic modeling. Adding movement restrictions is the recommended countermeasure to address the safety concerns.

About two years ago Arlington County completed a major road improvement project for this stretch of Old Dominion Drive, adding sidewalks, street lights, stormwater infrastructure and updated traffic signals.

Since Nogas’ letter, police have recorded 27 crashes at the intersection, according to Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage: seven in 2017, 13 in 2018, and 7 as of 2019 so far.

In total, Savage said people were injured in nine of those crashes.

“Once implemented, we will monitor its effectiveness and will encourage the community to share their experiences with the new restrictions,” Balliet said of the new turning rules.

Map via Google Maps

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A portion of Old Dominion Drive in the Rock Spring neighborhood, near the McLean border, is scheduled to be closed during the day this week for “urgent” repairs.

The road will be closed near the 37th Street N. intersection from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today through Friday, according to VDOT. The agency says a detour will in place.

The urgent repairs follow the flash flood emergency earlier this month.

More from VDOT:

Old Dominion Drive (Route 309) between North Edison Street and 37th Street North will be closed daily Monday, July 22 through Friday, July 26 for urgent slope repairs, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Old Dominion Drive will be closed between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day.

Traffic will be detoured via North Edison Street, 37th Street North, North Harrison Street, Williamsburg Boulevard and North George Mason Drive back to Old Dominion Drive.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Overnight House Fire in Rock Spring — The Arlington County Fire Department battled a blaze in the basement of a home in the Rock Spring neighborhood early this morning. One occupant of the home was brought to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. [Twitter]

ACFD Battles Falls Church Fire — Arlington and Fairfax County firefighters battled a two-alarm house fire in Falls Church early Sunday morning. The home’s occupant was able to get out but was transported to the hospital. The house, which had “hazardous hoarding conditions” inside, it believed to be a total loss. [City of Falls Church, Falls Church News-Press]

Warner Blasts ‘Dark Underbelly of Social Media’ — Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) went on NBC’s Meet the Press over the weekend and addressed the topic of Facebook’s privacy issues and alleged Russian election interference. “I think the whole industry has been reluctant to accept the fact that we’re seeing the dark underbelly of social media, and how it can be manipulated,” Warner said, adding: “frankly, Mr. Zuckerberg needs to come and testify.” [YouTube]

Arlington on ‘Healthiest Communities’ Rankings — Arlington County ranked No. 31 on U.S. News and World Report’s new Healthiest Communities rankings. Neighboring Falls Church ranked No. 1 while the City of Fairfax ranked No. 6 and Loudoun County ranked No. 10. [WTOPU.S. News]

County Recognizes Businesses for Transportation Programs — “The Arlington County Board honored 19 local businesses and properties for their dedication to providing sustainable transportation to employees and tenants, as part of the Champions program. The program… motivates businesses, multi-family residential communities, commercial properties and schools to recognize the impact they can make on reducing traffic congestion in Arlington County.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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The Arlington County Board pushed back a decision on lighting athletic fields near Williamsburg Middle School, so plans can be studied further by county staff.

The Board’s unanimous 5-0 vote came after almost six hours of public testimony and discussion by opponents and proponents of the lights, with many opponents wearing matching green shirts. It means any decision on lights will be delayed to next year.

Instead of following staff’s initial recommendation to fund lighting the fields, Board members voted for County Manager Mark Schwartz to further study ways to increase the county’s stock of athletic fields, including through the use of synthetic turf and lights.

The study will include drawing on a section of the Williamsburg Field Working Group Final Report that concerns how to evaluate potential field lighting.

Schwartz announced in June he is recommending lights for the fields near Williamsburg Middle School and Discovery Elementary School in Rock Spring. He recommended that the two fields be lit with shielded LED lights that could be dimmed during evening play, and that lights be left on no later than 9:45 p.m. He suggested 84 lights installed on six 80-foot poles.

Board vice chair Katie Cristol said further study should take into account field usage and impacts on neighborhoods (referred to as “externalities”), as well as the usage of fields by those who live nearby.

“It seems appropriate to me that those who derive the benefits should also look to bear the externalities,” Cristol said. “I think it is appropriate that we bring both the benefits and the externalities, such as they are, to the users where they are.”

But the moods of some Board members began to fray towards the end of the discussion. John Vihstadt tried to add language to avoid what he described as the “singling out” of Williamsburg Middle School and give the study a broader context. But Cristol and others objected.

“To me the question is, what do we do with five years of community input, with countless hours of staff work, hundreds of thousands of dollars in analyses spent?” Cristol asked. “We’re simply going to throw that out and start with a new process? The question becomes: what more info does this Board need to make a decision on the question before us?”

The Board also directed Schwartz to study amending the county’s Zoning Ordinance to allow lights above the current maximum height of 68 feet, thus not requiring a special approval process. Board member Christian Dorsey expressed some reservations about directing “a study that already determines an outcome,” but the study will proceed.

“The whole idea that we would direct at the moment that we’re going to have a study with an outcome really doesn’t give it a whole lot of credence,” he said.

Divisions on the topic were apparent in both public testimony and the slew of letters about the project submitted by county commissions both in support and against. Opponents say lights are incompatible with the residential neighborhood, would create more traffic and light pollution while damaging wildlife and trees.

Dorsey said it was not so simple as to term opponents as “NIMBY” neighbors and supporters as youth sports advocates. He noted that there are no “neat boxes” on an issue like this.

“I think it would be a mistake to go away from this process thinking only that the people who oppose lights are NIMBYs, and the people who favor lights don’t care about neighborhoods,” Dorsey said.

Board chair Jay Fisette and colleague Libby Garvey expressed a willingness to vote for lighting the fields, citing the work at Wakefield High School to mitigate the lights shining on nearby houses as proof the technology has evolved.

Fisette noted “disappointment in the room” from all: opponents who wanted the lights plan nixed altogether and proponents who wanted them approved that day. The direction for further study means any decision will not be made until next year.

“We’ll all be back again, someday,” Vihstadt said. “And hopefully we’ll all find a better place.”

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