Arlington, VA

(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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Morning Notes

Flood Watch in Effect — Expect periods of rain today. The National Weather Service has issued a Flood Watch for much of the region through late tonight. “Excessive runoff from already saturated soils will cause the potential for streams and creeks to rise out of their banks as well as flooding in low lying urban areas,” forecasters say. [Weather.gov, Twitter]

Arlington Doesn’t Want to Pick Fight Over J-D Hwy — “The Arlington County government’s efforts to rename its portion of Jefferson Davis Highway could face familiar legislative roadblocks in 2019. But County Board members say they have no interest in forcing a confrontation with the General Assembly on the matter.” [InsideNova]

New Year’s Meeting Scheduled for Jan. 2 — Next week, what used to be a New Year’s Day organizational meeting for the Arlington County Board will again be held on Jan. 2 instead. The Board will elect a new Chair and Vice Chair at the meeting. [Arlington County]

Developer Buys Wilson Blvd Property — “The Meridian Group has picked up its next value-add Arlington County office building as it… closed Wednesday on its acquisition of 2500 Wilson Blvd. and several adjacent parcels from an affiliate of TH Real Estate for a consideration amount of nearly $39 million, or roughly $373 per square foot, according to Arlington County land records.” [Washington Business Journal]

Dulles Toll Road Rates Rising — “Starting Jan. 1, prices are scheduled to go up for those driving on the Dulles Toll Road. The cost to passenger vehicles will increase from $2.50 to $3.25 at the main toll plaza and from $1 to $1.50 on ramps.” [Tysons Reporter]

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With Amazon coming to town, Arlington leaders believe the time is ripe to finally change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway — and some of their allies in Richmond are ready to hit the gas on that effort, even as others look to pump the brakes.

Once again, the County Board plans to ask the General Assembly for the authority to remove the former Confederate president’s name from its section of the state-owned Route 1. Alexandria leaders have already taken a similar step, but state lawmakers have repeatedly refused to grant Arlington the permission to make such a change over the years.

But with a socially conscious tech giant planning to set up shop in Crystal City and Pentagon City, the very neighborhoods where signs currently honor Davis’ legacy, the Board hopes skeptical legislators might be a bit easier to convince. Board members held a joint work session with six of the county’s representatives in Richmond Friday (Dec. 7), in order to underscore the importance of the switch ahead of the start of the General Assembly’s session on Jan. 9.

“We should be clear that this is an effort to elevate white supremacy and honor Confederate leaders on our highways,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “A nongovernmental company choosing our area to locate underscores how we should be thinking about things differently.”

While all in attendance could agree that the name of the highway needs to change, preferably to match Alexandria’s newly adopted moniker of “Richmond Highway,” there wasn’t much in the way of consensus on how to achieve that goal.

Some lawmakers urged patience, noting that the upcoming 2019 elections could flip control of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate to Democrats for the first time in nearly two decades — Republicans hold one-seat majorities in both chambers, following last year’s wave election for Democrats in the House.

Until that happens, however, most lawmakers aren’t willing to spend political capital battling on the issue, particularly considering that the upcoming legislative session will last less than a month.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) carried legislation to spur the name change this year, only to see it narrowly die in committee on a party-line vote, and she’s already sworn off interest in renewing that effort. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) has backed other such bills in the past, but he expressed similar skepticism about the legislation’s prospects next year.

“The only way I’m putting it in is if we have any hope of passing it,” Ebbin said. “I’m polling some Republicans on the prospect of that… but I’m not introducing it unless can we can get a very narrow bill together.”

Ebbin suggested that the Board might have more success if it secured some allies in the business community for that effort, urging officials to solicit support from groups like the Arlington Chamber of Commerce or the Crystal City Business Improvement District. Representatives from both groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they’d be interested in supporting such a bill.

Other lawmakers suggested that Amazon itself might provide a powerful push, considering the company’s robust lobbying efforts and its growing importance to the state’s economy. But, after speaking with the company’s representatives about just such a prospect, Ebbin is less than optimistic.

“I don’t think Amazon will be taking active political positions until after things cemented in,” Ebbin said, noting that state lawmakers and local officials still need to formally sign off on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed deal with the company. That isn’t set to happen until early next year, meaning that Amazon likely won’t have much of a say in the upcoming legislative session.

Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) was similarly pessimistic on the prospect of his Republican colleagues taking action on any name change legislation in 2019, but he believes the county shouldn’t wait on Richmond.

He argued that Arlington could act immediately to remove any road signs referencing Davis, even if the county doesn’t formally change the name. After all, Levine pointed out that the highway is known by all manner of other names as it winds its way throughout the state.

“There is zero Virginia law that requires that highway to have those street names,” Levine said. “If the question is: ‘can you change the street signs?’ Of course you can change the street signs. If it has some name in a dusty book somewhere, that’s fine.”

Levine argued that the county should go directly to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the executive agency overseeing all of Virginia’s road and transit operations, to ask for such a change. He suggested an appeal to Northam, a Democrat, might help that effort, considering that “we have a very friendly governor right now, and we have a much less friendly General Assembly.”

County Board Chair Katie Cristol noted that Arlington officials have had some conversations with the CTB about such a prospect, but have not come away with the clarity that Levine sees in the law. A spokesman for the CTB did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.

Cristol also pointed to an advisory opinion from Attorney General Mark Herring suggesting that the county might not be able to make such a change, which Levine waved away quickly as having “no force of law.”

Still, Dorsey and his colleagues argued that they’d much rather pursue a more cautious path, in order to avoid unnecessarily ruffling feathers in Richmond.

“In the absence of universal certainty, we’re not interested in figuring out what think we can get away with,” Dorsey said. “This is not about if we can somehow figure out if we can do it and somehow not suffer adverse consequences. That’s a risk we’re not willing to take.”

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Arlington officials are gearing up once more to ask state lawmakers for permission to change the name of the county’s section of Jefferson Davis Highway, and adopt Alexandria’s new chosen moniker for the road.

The County Board will review its legislative agenda for the upcoming General Assembly session for the first time tomorrow (Nov. 17), sketching out a host of priorities they hope the county’s representatives in Richmond will fight for when the legislature reconvenes in January. The county has long hoped for the state’s permission to change the name of Route 1, but Alexandria’s move to rename its section of the road “Richmond Highway,” when combined with Amazon’s impending arrival in Crystal City, could well lend new urgency to the effort.

Virginia law bars localities from assuming powers that aren’t specifically ascribed to them by the state code — a principle commonly referred to as the “Dillon Rule” for a notable court case on the matter — and that means the county doesn’t have the ability to change the highway’s name without the General Assembly’s permission.

But Republicans have consistently blocked any efforts to give Arlington the authority it needs to strip the former Confederate president’s name from the highway. Most recently, State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) introduced a bill to do so earlier this year — that measure was killed on a party-line vote in a Senate committee.

This time around, Arlington could specifically ask lawmakers for permission to “rename the section of Jefferson Davis Highway that runs through the county with the same name adopted by an adjacent jurisdiction,” in a nod toward Alexandria’s June vote to rename the highway. As a city instead of a county, Alexandria has a bit more latitude on the matter.

Republicans still hold narrow majorities in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, however, meaning that any name-change effort will face an uphill battle once more. Amazon’s decision to locate its new headquarters in the exact section of Arlington that’s home to Jefferson Davis Highway could prove to be a complicating factor, though.

Gov. Ralph Northam frequently made the state’s “inclusivity” a key part of his pitch to the socially conscious tech giant, and many Arlingtonians have pointed out the incongruity of Amazon’s public positions on social issues with a new headquarters sitting in the shadow of signs tied to the state’s legacy of slavery.

The County Board is set to open up the legislative agenda for a public hearing at its Dec. 17 meeting, then sign off on the document soon afterward. Other notable proposals include a renewed push to issue driver’s licenses to non-citizens, the expansion of renewable energy initiatives and the maintenance of last year’s dedicated funding deal for Metro.

Photo via Google Maps

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