Arlington, VA

A pedestrian tunnel under Route 1 in Crystal City is too difficult to maintain, county officials say, so the Arlington County Board is considering a plan to close it.

The closure has been in the works for several years. County staff, VDOT, Arlington police and local business owners are all in support of closing the tunnel, citing “maintenance costs, underutilization, loitering, perceived safety concerns, and the realignment of 23rd Street per the Crystal City Sector Plan.”

That’s in addition to complaints that the tunnel is “aesthetically displeasing,” infrequently used for its intended purpose, and often confused for a Metro station entrance.

At its Saturday meeting, the County Board will consider approving resolutions and agreements with VDOT that would lead to the tunnel being permanently closed and dismantled, at a cost of about $300,000 to the county and $87,500 to VDOT.

County staffers say the tunnel, which links either side of busy Route 1 at the 23rd Street S. intersection, costs Arlington about $20,000-25,000 to maintain annually. The maintenance costs include pressure washing areas where people have urinated and repairing “occasional vandalism.”

“The 23rd Street Merchants and the Crystal City BID have routinely complained to County staff and the County Board concerning loitering, public urination, and the unattractive nature of the 23rd Street Tunnel and canopy,” the staff report says. “Observations by County staff showed over 95 percent of users cross at grade as opposed to using the tunnel.”

“The tunnel is generally avoided by pedestrians due to the perception of it being a public safety risk,” the report goes on to note. “Merchants believe that this is having a negative impact on their business district.”

Not everyone is in favor of closing the tunnel, however. From the staff report:

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association submitted written comments requesting that the tunnel remain open with increased cleaning, improved lighting and signage, and added security. The Chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee also expressed reservations about closing the tunnel unless improvements to the at-grade crossings were made at the same time. As an additional note, there have been two reported pedestrian/vehicle crashes in the past five years at the intersection. Both were classified as “non-incapacitating injury” crashes.

Despite pushback from the nearby neighborhood association, officials say planned improvements to the intersection over the next few years, detailed below, will further negate the need for the tunnel.

DES has identified some minor improvements to the at-grade crossings that will be implemented during the construction of the 23rd Street capital improvement project between Richmond Highway and South Eads Street, scheduled for late 2019.

  • 23rd Street will be narrowed between South Eads Street and Richmond Highway to decrease crossing distance at the intersection with Richmond Highway;
  • The crosswalk on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street will be upgraded to current standards: asphalt and high-visibility thermoplastic markings; and
  • Curb ramps will be upgraded on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street to be accessible per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Additional improvements will be made when 23rd Street between Richmond Highway and Crystal Drive is reconstructed, scheduled for 2022.

  • The Crystal City Sector Plan anticipates the realignment of 23rd Street to the south, creating a shorter crossing distance at the intersection of Clark Street and Richmond Highway;
  • New pedestrian respite areas will be installed in the median of Richmond Highway;
  • Curb ramps will be upgraded to be accessible per ADA standards at all crossings (not previously improved by phase 1 above); and
  • New traffic signals will be installed per the new roadway geometry and include pedestrian push-buttons at each ADA ramp location
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The future of a highway marker on Jefferson Davis Highway is uncertain after state and local officials voted to rename the roadway.

The monument was erected in 1946 on the shoulder of the highway, which soon will be named Richmond Highway in place of the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The stone marker is located along Route 1 near the Pentagon. An Arlington County spokeswoman told ARLnow that it is on VDOT land and that “unless VDOT has information otherwise, the County Manager’s Office has no information at this time on how the marker will be handled.”

When reached for comment, a spokeswoman for VDOT said the department didn’t have specific details about the marker’s future, “but we are working with the County to determine the next steps for this particular piece.”

The renaming is part of a broader movement to strip Confederate references from neighborhoods, public schools, and a special education program in Arlington.

The county agreed to pay $17,000 to cover the cost of new street signs for Route 1 — the updated signs are expected to be placed in October — after the Arlington County Board approved the renaming in April. It’s unclear if any of those funds will be used for the marker.

An inscription on the Route 1 marker indicates the United Daughters of the Confederacy was the organization that placed it along the highway.

Arlington County also removed a Confederate memorial after requests from residents in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville white nationalist rally. The plaque commemorated a Civil War lookout post and was also placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Photos courtesy of Twitter user 202FSUNole

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(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) Police and firefighters are on scene of a potentially serious motorcycle crash at the busy intersection of Route 1 and S. Glebe Road, near Crystal City.

The driver of a car struck a motorcycle shortly before 11 a.m. Images from the scene show medics treating the injured motorcycle rider and preparing to place him or her on a stretcher, while a car with a shattered windshield and significant front-end damage sits nearby.

Drivers should expect delays near the intersection due to blocked lanes. As of around 11:30 a.m., southbound Route 1 is currently blocked and eastbound S. Glebe Road is being diverted onto S. Eads Street, according to scanner traffic. A traffic camera at the intersection that initially showed the crash scene appears to have been turned off.

The rider’s injuries “are considered critical but non-life threatening,” according to Arlington County Police. Detectives are in the process of documenting the scene and investigating the cause of the crash.

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Arlington will now join Alexandria and Fairfax in renaming Jefferson Davis Highway as “Richmond Highway.”

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously approved changing the name for the highway, which is also known as U.S. Route 1, earlier this morning.

The state Board’s approval was the last step in the months-long process to strip the Confederate president’s name from the roadway. The Arlington County Board unanimously approved a renaming resolution last month.

One of the attendees at this morning’s meeting asked the CTB “what the direction was for the future” considering that renaming one highway may lead the Board to “be overrun with requests for the future.”

CTB Secretary Shannon Valentine responded by sharing a passage from a letter Gov. Ralph Northam sent the group urging them to approve the name change.

“While it is necessary for us to honestly discuss and interpret Virginia’s history, I feel strongly that commemorating the president of the Confederacy through the name for a major thoroughfare is not appropriate,” Valentine read.

The Arlington Chamber of Commerce shared the news on social media, calling it an “action to support businesses.” The Chamber said hotels along Route 1 have lost business due to the Jefferson Davis Highway name, according to WTOP.

In their request to the state Board, Arlington County requested the CTB change the name to either Richmond Highway or Richmond Blvd.

The county argued to CTB that renaming would help “to avoid confusion and promote consistency” for motorists and businesses.

It’s the same argument local officials used before their own vote last month and one that potentially counters the historical preservation arguments that opposed other local Confederate renaming resolutions like changing Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty.

The county estimated last month that the costs involved in rolling out the new name would be around $17,000.

“No street numbers will be changed, and the United States Postal Service will, in perpetuity, continue to deliver mail to the businesses and residences along the highway addressed to Jefferson Davis Highway,” an April county press release on the name change read.

The General Assembly renamed the highway to honor Davis in 1922. Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey spoke at the CTB meeting, which was held at a Crystal City hotel, and told the Board that the Jefferson Davis’ name “symbolized white supremacy in a Jim Crow south,” reported WTOP.

The Crystal City BID thanked the Board for its Wednesday vote in a tweet, sharing applause symbols with the message.

Google Maps already renamed the highway on its maps several months ago.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, whose legal opinion in response to an inquiry from Del. Mark Levine allowed Arlington County to seek the renaming, called the CTB’s vote “a step in the right decision.”

Near the end of the meeting, Valentine said the CTB is considering forming a “task force” to handle future Confederate re-naming requests and create guidelines.

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Morning Notes

Police Memorial Service in Courthouse — “N. Courthouse Road will be closed between 14th Street N. and 15th Street N. from approximately 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on May 10 to accommodate the Observance of Peace Officers Memorial Day.” [Twitter]

New CPRO Director Sets Vision for Pike — “‘My greatest fear is we are going to be completely gentrified,’ [new Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization director Kim Klingler] said. ‘The market will drive [redevelopment], but at the same time, we want to be able to control what we’re able to control.'” [InsideNova]

Another N. Arlington Power Outage — “More than 1,000 Dominion customers without power in parts of North Arlington [Wednesday] morning, per outage map. Marymount U. Is within the outage area. Power restoration expected this afternoon.” [Twitter]

Arlington Offers Larger Apartments — The median income for renters in Arlington affords an apartment nearly twice the size as the equivalent in D.C. [CNBC]

Column in Va. Paper Bashes J-D Highway Renaming — “In response to Arlington County, Virginia’s proposal to rename its Jefferson Davis Highway, local man Max Perrine has written a very questionable column for Virginia newspaper The Roanoke Times.” [The Week]

Mr. Knick Knack Facing Child Porn Charges — Children’s performer “Mr. Knick Knack,” a 58-year-old Reston resident named Steven Rossi, is facing 10 felony counts of possession of child pornography. Rossi performed a number of shows in Arlington over the past few years. [Reston Now]

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Arlington County is asking a state transportation board to rename Jefferson Davis Highway.

As expected, the Arlington County Board voted last night to approve a resolution asking that Jefferson Davis Highway, also known as Route 1, be renamed Richmond Highway within Arlington’s borders.

In doing so the Board is following the lead of Alexandria, which last year also voted to change the name.

The unanimous vote was framed in a county press release as a move that will make driving on Route 1 through Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County — which also uses the Richmond Highway name — less confusing for motorists.

The costs and disruption, according to the county, would be minimal.

“Arlington would pay for the new street signs (estimated to cost about $17,000),” says the press release. “No street numbers will be changed, and the United States Postal Service will, in perpetuity, continue to deliver mail to the businesses and residences along the highway addressed to Jefferson Davis Highway.”

Google Maps, meanwhile, already renamed Route 1 “Richmond Highway” in Arlington a few months ago.

More from the press release, after the jump.

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The Arlington County Board is wasting no time in exercising its newfound ability to push for a new name for the portion of Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) within county limits.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion last month that gives Arlington the ability to request the change from the Commonwealth Transportation Board, rather than relying on the state legislature to make the change — something that was unlikely to happen with Republicans in power.

The County Board is scheduled to vote next week — at its Thursday, April 25 meeting — on whether to adopt a resolution requesting Jefferson Davis Highway be renamed “Richmond Highway” in Arlington, following the lead of Alexandria which last year also voted for the Richmond Highway name.

According to a county preview of the upcoming Board meeting, below, Arlington is requesting that the name change take effect on October 1 of this year.

The Board will hold a public hearing and consider adopting a resolution asking that the Commonwealth Transportation Board change the name of the portion of Jefferson Davis Highway that lies within the boundaries of Arlington to “Richmond Highway.” The Board’s consideration of a proposed resolution follows neighboring Alexandria voting in 2018 to rename its portion of the state-owned Jefferson Davis Highway “Richmond Highway,” and the Attorney General’s March 22, 2019 advisory opinion that the Commonwealth Transportation Board has the legal authority to change the name of the portion of the highway that runs through Arlington, provided the Board passes a resolution requesting the change. The resolution, if adopted, would ask that the name change, if approved, would take effect Oct. 1, 2019.

Google Maps has already unilaterally renamed the main thoroughfare “Richmond Highway” in Arlington, though it’s unclear if that was a mapping error or a deliberate decision on Google’s part.

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Late last week, a mini legal bombshell dropped: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion that Arlington County can, in fact, initiate a renaming of Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) within its borders.

After years of unsuccessfully pushing for state legislation to allow it, the Arlington County Board can now just go ahead and pick a new name for “J-D Highway” and ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to make it so, bypassing the change-resistant General Assembly.

Herring’s opinion came at the prompting of local state legislator Del. Mark Levine (D), who cheered Arlington’s newfound ability to request the removal of the Confederate leader’s name from the main thoroughfare through Crystal City and Pentagon City.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey told the Washington Post that he expects the Board to move forward with a renaming.

So what should Route 1 now be called as it runs through Arlington? The obvious option is Richmond Highway: that’s what it’s already called in Alexandria and what Google Maps has unilaterally decided to label it as of January.

Of course, there will also be those who think that Jefferson Davis Highway should remain named as such, for old time’s sake. And still others may want a completely different name — Jeff Bezos Highway, anyone? (Just kidding.)

What do you think?

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With Amazon hoping to open a headquarters in Arlington, Crystal City’s transportation network can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight.

Major redevelopment is coming whether or not local resistance turns the e-commerce giant away, but the attention-grabbing headlines and all-at-once infrastructure proposals don’t reveal how mobility investment is a gradual process – or how Crystal City has been steadily improving its transportation infrastructure since long before the HQ2 contest even began.

Crystal City has long been slated for some major transportation investments: Long Bridge reconstruction could enable MARC to bring commuters straight from Maryland to Crystal City and let people bicycle straight to L’Enfant Plaza. A new Metro entrance would make it much easier to connect to bus service. A remodeled VRE commuter rail station would enable larger and more trains, Metroway expansion will strengthen ties with Pentagon City and Alexandria, and a pedestrian bridge to the airport would take advantage of the fact that DCA is three times closer to Crystal City than any other airport in America is to its downtown.

These projects are big: big visibility, big impacts, big cost. They have all been in the pipeline for years, and Amazon is bringing them renewed attention and new dollars.

However, these major investments aren’t the only projects that will update Crystal City’s decades-old transportation infrastructure. Just as important as these headline-making proposals are the more incremental projects that, block by block, are making Crystal City an easier place to get around — and, just like their larger counterparts, these smaller projects have been given some extra weight by HQ2.

Old Visions, New Funding

One document has guided much of Crystal City’s development for the past decade: the Sector Plan. The Crystal City Sector Plan made many suggestions for possible improvements. Not all of them have yet come to fruition, but many have, and the plan continues to drive Arlington’s conversation about Crystal City.

That conversation has recently become a little more ambitious. Amazon’s HQ2 announcement brings not only attention, speculation and more than a little resistance — it will also bring very definite funding. Arlington and Alexandria, combined, “have secured more than $570 million in transportation funding” while the commonwealth of Virginia has committed to $195 million for the same.

This new funding flows mostly toward old designs, all of them focused on alternatives to the car. Arlington’s Incentive Proposal discusses 10 transportation “example projects.”  Five of them fall within Crystal City itself, of which all but one follow ideas that originated in the Sector Plan (the remaining project, VRE station expansion, isn’t new either).

Moving Block by Block

Most of Crystal City’s streets were built in the 1950s and 1960s, and followed the “modernist” school of city planning.

They separated pedestrians from cars as much as possible, often putting pedestrians in bridges or tunnels; located stores in malls rather than on sidewalks; and spaced out intersections widely so that cars could accelerate to highway speeds. The Sector Plan calls to convert these into “Complete Streets” that will “accommodate the transportation needs of all surface transportation users, motorists, transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians.”  

It can be easy to think of transportation investments as one-off projects. The CC2DCA pedestrian bridge to the airport, for example, is an all-or-nothing endeavor. Half of a bridge wouldn’t be very useful for anybody.

Because of its focus on the street level, the Sector Plan calls for gradual change. It endorses street transformation projects that can be completed incrementally — block by block, street by street, improving the area’s transportation network over time. It seeks “to balance any proposed investments in transportation infrastructure with improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing network, so that the maximum benefit can be delivered at the lowest cost.”  

This approach pairs well with Crystal City’s desirability for land developers. Most significant developments in Arlington are governed by the site plan process, through which the county negotiates with developers for community benefits — which might include a street renovation. Robert Mandle, chief operating officer of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, explained that “as a redevelopment plan, many [Sector Plan] improvements were anticipated as occurring in conjunction with opportunities presented from redevelopment.”

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Arlington officials remain stymied in their long push to rename the section of Jefferson Davis Highway running through the county — but you’d never know it by glancing at Google Maps.

The tech company’s virtual atlas now identifies Arlington’s section of Route 1 as “Richmond Highway,” dating back to at least Friday (Jan. 11). An ARLnow reader, who asked to remain anonymous, first noticed the switch.

That matches the new name Alexandria leaders picked for the road last year, stripping the Confederate president’s moniker from the highway. Arlington’s County Board is anxious to make a similar change, but a complex provision of state law currently bars it from doing so — Attorney General Mark Herring’s office issued an opinion clarifying that cities like Alexandria have the authority to change the names of state roads within their boundaries, but counties don’t.

Accordingly, signs around Crystal City and Pentagon City will still bear the “Jefferson Davis” name for the foreseeable future, but many people looking up the road online would never know it was there. Apple Maps users, however, will still see the Confederate president’s name on the highway, as of today (Tuesday).

The swap will surely come as good news for the Board, which recently urged state lawmakers to renew old efforts to pass a bill giving the county the power to change the name on its own. The impending arrival of Amazon in the neighborhood added some urgency to that push, given the company’s stated commitment to inclusivity and diversity and Davis’ connections to Virginia’s slaveholding past.

But Arlington legislators say they likely won’t raise the issue in this year’s new General Assembly session.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) initially signaled that he could be willing to back legislation on the matter this time around if the local business community, or perhaps some Republicans, came on board with the issue. But without that backing, he’d rather wait to see if Democrats can seize control of the legislature in this fall’s elections first.

“It might not be the best year to push forward on that,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “We’re looking into the best strategies for 2020, to see if we go ahead with allowing them to name contiguous roads the same as in adjacent localities. That’s probably the most palatable case we can make to others that have strongly held beliefs on this.”

On the House of Delegates side of things, Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) added that he doesn’t plan to introduce any bill on the subject and that “I don’t know that any of my colleagues will either.”

So far, his prediction has proven to be correct — as of Tuesday, no legislation on the topic has been filed down in Richmond.

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Demolition work on the elevated section of S. Clark Street in Crystal City is slowly moving forward.

Workers kicked off a project to demolish the road and transform the area’s transportation network in earnest this summer, when they tore down S. Clark Street’s overpass over 15th Street. S. Since then, the county says workers have still had to use “10 to 15 dump trucks per day” to remove all the soil that supported that structure.

“To date, the contractor has hauled approximately 12,000 cubic yards of soil material off-site, out of an estimated project total of 22,000 cubic yards,” county staff wrote on Arlington’s website this month.

Crews have also recently finished “demolishing the concrete walls and abutment next to the 15th Street off-ramp and the south abutment on 15th Street S. eastbound,” leaving just a few pieces of the old overpass structure remaining.

Now, workers are moving their “excavation and demolition activities to locations between 12th and 15th Streets” as Crystal City approaches Pentagon City. Workers are also busily installing “new traffic signal and street light equipment at the intersection of Route 1 and 20th Street S. and along the median and northbound right shoulder of Route 1 between 15th and 20th Streets.”

Eventually, contractors will also demolish S. Clark Street’s bridge over 18th Street. S., prompting more detours. However, the county says it has yet to set a firm date to start that work, and will provide two weeks’ warning before it begins.

The county’s ultimate goal for the $6.6 million project is to create new open space along Route 1, opening up more development opportunities along a suddenly quite popular section of the county. Workers are hoping to wrap up construction by this coming summer.

Officials are also aiming to bring Route 1 itself down to the same grade as other nearby roads as part of some of the transportation improvements it promised Amazon, leading to a complete transformation of the area’s roadways in the coming years.

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