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Pro-Palestinian protests in D.C. caused major morning rush hour backups on Arlington roads.

Demonstrators blocked several major commuter routes and intersections in the District, including I-395 and Constitution Avenue, bringing inbound traffic to a standstill on the GW Parkway, I-66, Route 50 and I-395. The Virginia Dept. of Transportation diverted drivers from I-66 onto Route 110 and advised others to seek alternate routes.

Some side streets — including in the Courthouse and Rosslyn areas — were also congested as drivers try to avoid the highway backups.

Constitution Ave has reopened in both directions, according to WTOP, which some observers link to arrests made by Metropolitan Police Department. I-395 also recently reopened.

Arlington has seen a handful of pro-Palestine demonstrations since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last October. Most recently, demonstrators camped outside Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s house in Arlington, near the McLean border.

 

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Police car at night (file photo courtesy Kevin Wolf)

(Updated at 8 p.m.) Residents were asked to stay inside Monday evening as police searched part of the Radnor-Fort Myer Heights neighborhood following reports of gunfire.

The initial call for gunshots heard along the 1700 block of Arlington Blvd came in around 5 p.m. Police verified with nearby Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall that no firing drills were underway at the time before starting to search the area.

The U.S. Park Police Eagle helicopter was called in to assist amid more reports of shots being heard, but has since left the county after not finding any suspects, according to scanner traffic.

“ACPD is investigating the report of shots heard in the 1700 block of Arlington Boulevard,” Arlington police said around 5:45 p.m. “At this time, no injuries or property damage have been reported. A police helicopter is assisting with an aerial search of the area. Expect continued police activity.”

The search appeared to be focused on one particular building.

“Community members are asked to avoid the area as police continue to investigate the report of shots heard in the 1700 block of Arlington Boulevard,” ACPD said around 6:20 p.m. “If you are in the area, go inside and stay inside.”

Police also closed the N. Rhodes Street bridge, near where the search was taking place, according to Arlington Alert.

Shortly before 8 p.m., the search was called off.

“A search of the building has concluded,” said ACPD. “No evidence of a shooting was located and there is no apparent ongoing threat to the community. We appreciate the community’s patience during the investigation. The avoid the area/stay indoors has been lifted.”

More, below, via social media.

 

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Three years after studying a crash-prone stretch of Arlington Blvd, the Virginia Dept. of Transportation is moving forward with plans to make some improvements.

There will be a virtual meeting this Thursday on changes coming for a nearly mile-long stretch of Route 50 between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2030, VDOT spokesman Mike Murphy tells ARLnow.

The changes, based on study recommendations made in 2020, include building a raised median along Arlington Blvd and adding eastbound and westbound dedicated left-turn lanes at Irving Street.

Difficulty making left turns and a lack of dedicated left-turn lanes were a top concern for surveyed members of the public, says VDOT. Other top concerns included “aggressive driving.”

Currently, this segment of Route 50 averages 58,000 vehicles a day and has a median that ends just east of the Glebe Road underpass. It also has a few tricky intersections where drivers can turn left, such as at Irving Street. During rush hour, drivers going straight can be seen jumping around those turning left to avoid waiting for them to turn.

Beyond adding left-turn lanes at Irving Street, VDOT also plans to:

  • extend the eastbound and westbound left-turn lanes at Fillmore Street
  • extend the eastbound service road to connect existing driveways between S. Old Glebe Road and Jackson Street
  • extend the westbound service road to connect existing driveways between Irving Street and Jackson Street
  • Reconstruct portions of the shared-use paths on both sides of Arlington Blvd

The state transportation department is also mulling new lighting between Irving and Fillmore streets, on-street parking between Garfield and Fenwick streets and bus stop improvements.

These recommendations came from VDOT’s 2020 Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions study. This assessed safety and operational upgrades for this segment of Route 50, which VDOT says experiences congestion during rush hour and a high number of crashes.

Crashes on Arlington Blvd between Fillmore Street and Glebe Road (via VDOT)

Within four months of the release of recommendations, the Arlington County Board endorsed an application for $25 million in grant money to realize these upgrades.

In 2021, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $29 million in Smart Scale funding for this project, Murphy says.

But the plan did not sit well with members of the county’s Transportation Commission. Downvoting the application, they argued VDOT did not evaluate how high speeds contribute to crashes or consider how to lower speeds, such as by narrowing lanes. County staff, meanwhile, sought the commission’s approval retroactively.

In a column subsequently written for ARLnow, Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said the following:

VDOT’s decision to select a costly, construction-intensive capital project to solve the safety issues in this stretch means our community will be stuck with six to eight years of additional crashes, injuries and even fatalities when VDOT’s own study makes it clear that a the majority of the safety benefit of their preferred alternative could be implemented in the short-term, with temporary materials and a much lower cost.

Residents and road users can provide feedback through Thursday, Sept. 14.

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Two-vehicle crash on Washington Blvd ramp in May (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 8:30 p.m.) The Virginia Dept. of Transportation is exploring potential upgrades for sections of Route 50 and Washington Blvd in Arlington in response to concerns about safety and congestion.

The department is urging residents and road users to share their feedback – via an online survey through Aug. 15. Possible improvements identified by VDOT include better bike and pedestrian access, improved safety at intersections, and traffic congestion management.

The study, conducted by VDOT as part of its Project Pipeline program, will assess three-quarters of a mile of Arlington Boulevard, from Fillmore Street to N. Pershing Drive, and about a mile of Washington Boulevard, between Columbia Pike and N. Pershing Drive. The study is expected to be complete by the summer of 2024.

Any potential project solutions that come from the study may be funded through various programs, including Smart Scale (a federally funded statewide program that allocates money to states every six years for transportation projects), Revenue Sharing, and interstate funding, among others.

“The Commonwealth is partnering with Arlington County to develop targeted improvements for the Route 50 and Route 27 study that minimize community impacts and address priority needs in a cost-effective way,” VDOT said in a press release Tuesday.

The study area includes some crash-prone ramps to and from Washington Blvd and Route 50.

In addition to the online survey, comments can be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to Khalil Minhas, P.E., Virginia Department of Transportation, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.

Route 50 and Route 27 study area (via VDOT)
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A midcentury modern-inspired apartment project, heralded as the “gateway to Lyon Park,” is headed to the Arlington County Board for approval.

The 8-story, 251-unit building, with nearly 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail, would replace the Days Inn motel along Arlington Blvd, once a 1950s-era roadside motel named the “Arva,” a portmanteau for “Arlington, Virginia.”

When complete, the motel’s historic sign and lobby will be recreated. There will be protected bike lanes on both sides of N. Pershing Drive and N. Wainwright Road — a vestigial frontage road for the motel — will become a 12-foot multi-use trail with a bike “fix-it” station.

Applicant and owner Nayan Patel, doing business as Arlington Boulevard LLC, is making monetary and in-kind contributions to an on-site public space project that the Dept. of Parks and Recreation will design.

There will also be seven committed affordable units on site: 1-2 bedroom units with either a loft or den attached, as well as two three-bedroom units. The developer intends to plant 25 new, healthy trees to replace the 28 unhealthy ones that will be removed.

Although the project — dubbed the Arva Apartments — could clear the finish line this weekend, some Arlington Planning Commissioners had quibbles with the project or dug into criticisms levied by the public speakers related to tree planting and other community benefits.

The tree plantings, for instance, are “clearly an improvement, but the bar is so low to begin with,” Planning Commissioner Leonardo Sarli. “We still have to aspire to something.”

Lyon Park resident Anne Bodine, who has spoken in other meetings as a member of the slow-growth group Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, says she was underwhelmed by the on-site affordable housing provision and tree planting plans.

She asked the Planning Commission to reconsider how it weighs community benefits.

“If we see these at-cost, we can better assess these trade-offs,” she said.

She said she felt the county effectively told residents it was too early to advocate for benefits during a special study of the site — completed in advance of redevelopment proposals and adopted in 2021 — but it was too late once the public review process began for this project.

Planning Commissioner Jim Lantelme had a different view.

“I do want to commend the staff and developers for how closely they did work with Lyon Park, which did participate at every phase in every meeting and they were very vocal,” he said. “They were very much involved. Their input was heard and responded to, so I think this project did evolve in response to that community process.”

Climate Change, Energy and Environment Commission Chair Joan McIntyre said this project relies too heavily on fossil fuels for its HVAC and water systems, though she was heartened to see these systems could be converted to electric in the future.

A project architect said that the method selected, counterintuitively, would emit less carbon than a fully electric system, based on an analysis of “where the electricity is coming from.”

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Crash on Route 50 (image courtesy Dave Statter)

Three people were hurt, two seriously, after a two-vehicle crash along Route 50 this morning.

The crash happened around 11:45 a.m. in the westbound lanes of Route 50 at N. Jackson Street, near the pedestrian bridge, prompting numerous calls to 911. A tipster described it to ARLnow as a “terrible accident.”

The circumstances surrounding the crash are unclear, but one vehicle ended up mangled, with a row of seats exposed, on the grass in front of the Lutheran church.

Two people suffered potentially serious injuries and another suffered minor injuries, according to initial reports. One of the seriously injured people was rushed to the trauma center at GW Hospital, while the other was brought to Virginia Hospital Center.

All lanes of Route 50 were blocked for a period of time. Later, just the westbound lanes were closed. The closures lasted for nearly two hours while crews worked to clean up the crash.

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Weather appears to be a factor in a crash that left a woman trapped in her car on an embankment this morning.

The crash happened around 11:15 a.m. on a ramp from Route 50 to Washington Blvd. The driver apparently lost control and the car came to rest halfway down the embankment, between the ramp and the Sequoia Plaza complex that houses a number of county offices.

Initial reports suggest that the driver was uninjured, but was stuck in the car due to concerns about it sliding further down the hill. Firefighters stabilized the vehicle and brought the woman to safety.

As of noon, first responders and a tow crew remained on scene, working to get the vehicle back up the hill and onto the flatbed tow truck.

This was not the only crash along Washington Blvd this morning.

An earlier two-vehicle collision nearby, on the crash-prone merge from Sequoia Plaza onto Washington Blvd, was still causing some delays at the time of the single-vehicle crash. The crash involved a Porsche SUV that appears to have rear-ended a Nissan sedan.

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The intersection of Route 50 and Park Drive was shut down for part of yesterday’s evening rush hour after a serious crash.

The crash happened around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Scanner traffic suggests that only one vehicle — a gray SUV, which came to rest on the driver’s side — was involved. The driver was trapped in the SUV after the crash.

Firefighters worked to stabilize the vehicle and safely remove the driver, who was initially reported to be unconscious but was alert once rescuers arrived. The driver was then taken via ambulance to a local trauma center.

In addition to shutting down the busy commuter route for an extended period of time, the crash uprooted a road sign at the intersection.

A resident who lives nearby noted that this intersection has seen numerous crashes over the years.

“Lots of accidents at that intersection,” said Michael Thomas, who lives a block or two away. “Lots of inebriated drivers departing from Outback Steakhouse. They (and others) make right turns on red from Park onto Route 50 despite the signed prohibition. And people on Route 50 drive too fast and run red lights.”

Thomas said firefighters cut open the roof the the SUV, a Toyota RAV4, to remove the driver. It was “hard to tell” what caused the crash, he said.

A crowd of local resident gathered as the rescue operation took place. The intersection reopened by 7:45 p.m., according to Arlington Alert.

The intersection of Route 50 and Park Drive was reconfigured several years ago in an attempt to improve safety.

Shortly after the rollover crash, another notable wreck was reported elsewhere in Arlington. A driver rear-ended an ART bus near the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Courthouse Road.

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Arlington County police responded to an unusual incident on Route 50 this afternoon.

It happened around 1 p.m. at the intersection with Park Drive, near the Arlington Forest Shopping Center and the Outback Steakhouse.

Multiple 911 callers said the driver of a flatbed AAA tow truck parked in the travel lanes, got out, started dancing and “acting erratically.” Callers told police they were concerned for the driver’s welfare.

A traffic camera viewed by ARLnow showed the tow truck stopped in a middle eastbound lane as traffic drove by. The truck driver then drove off just before police arrived on scene.

The tow truck was not found after an initial search of the area. It is unclear whether the driver’s actions constitute anything more than a traffic infraction.

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A new developer has reprised long-dormant plans to turn a house, a large tree and two surface parking lots near Courthouse into apartments.

D.C.-area developer Fortis Companies proposes building a 166-unit, 12-story apartment tower at 2025 Fairfax Drive, along a frontage road for Route 50 that dead-ends in front of a complex of historic brick apartment buildings. It also proposes an underground parking garage and an interior walkway between the nearby apartments and Fairfax Drive.

This application, filed in February and processed in October, takes over previously approved plans to build a 104-unit, 12-story building on the site.

The new building would be located on the southeast corner of Fairfax Drive on the same block as the existing, historic Wakefield Manor and Courthouse Manor garden apartment complexes. In 2011, the Arlington County Board guaranteed the preservation of these buildings when it approved the original site plan.

The approved development “was never constructed, for a variety of reasons,” says Andrew Painter, an attorney representing Fortis, in a presentation. “We believe the proposed building will, at long last, fulfill the county’s land use, density, height and diversity goals for the site, and deliver high quality architecture and a building within easy walking distance of many community amenities.”

Fortis Vice-President of Acquisitions Matt Bunch says a design team spent two years studying the site and the 11-year-old plans to come up with a new proposal.

“We’re very excited to bring this project to fruition in a way that satisfies the existing residents’ parking needs, improves project overall viability and addresses the county’s planning guidance,” he said in the same presentation. “We believe this underutilized site is an excellent opportunity to provide new, smart-growth housing within the county that is easily walkable to the Courthouse Metro station.”

A parking garage accessible from N. Troy Street will have 30 parking spaces set aside for Courthouse Manor and Wakefield Manor residents.

The site is less than half a mile from the Metro station as well as bus stops along 15th Street N. Also a half-mile away is the Inn of Rosslyn, which is also slated for redevelopment.

The 1.8-acre site is bordered by the Woodbury Heights Condominiums to the north, Taft Towers condominiums to the east, Arlington Boulevard to the south and the Arlington Court Suites hotel to the west.

“The site is subject to the Fort Myer Heights North Plan (2004), which seeks to balance preservation and redevelopment with an emphasis on affordable housing, historic buildings, open space, significant trees and neighborhood scale,” the county says in a virtual walking tour of the site. “The building façade will be comprised of brick and metal panels with stone and pre-cast concrete accents.”

Wakefield Manor and Courthouse Manor were later preserved from future development through a transfer of development rights involving the old Wendy’s site in Courthouse.

Courthouse Manor (1940) and Wakefield Manor (1943) were designed by notable architect, Mihran Mesrobian,” according to the county. “Both buildings are known for blending Art Deco and Moderne styles with traditional Classical Revival characteristics. They are recognized as unique garden-apartment buildings and identified as ‘Essential’ properties on the Historic Resources Inventory.”

Mesrobian also designed the Calvert Manor apartments in Arlington as well as some prominent hotels and residential buildings in D.C.

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A cyclist and pedestrians near Route 50 (via Google Maps)

A number of options have emerged for upgrading an iffy portion of the Arlington Blvd Trail.

Engineers found it would be possible to accommodate a trail up to 11 feet wide with buffers and guardrails, between the bridge to Thomas Jefferson Middle School and George Mason Drive. That could be accomplished by narrowing a few on- and off-ramps, closing slip lanes and reducing the number of thru-lanes and turn lanes in some places.

This summer, Arlington County asked trail users how they feel navigating the 1.3-mile stretch of the trail, which runs along the busy and congested six-lane Route 50. Many said they feel unsafe due to bicycle, pedestrian and vehicle conflicts and the lack of buffer between the trail and vehicle travel lanes.

“It’s not very welcome to users. It feels narrow, it’s not continuous and there are poor pavement conditions,” Arlington County transportation planner Bridget Obikoya said in a Nov. 17 meeting. “We want to develop design concepts that improve the existing conditions, such as widening key pinch points and removing barriers and obstructions, improving connectivity and making the trail overall a much more pleasant place to be.”

Over the years, several plans have recommended improvements to the Virginia Department of Transportation-owned trail, which runs east-west from D.C. through Arlington to Fairfax County and bisects a 16-mile bike loop ringing the county.

The 2022-24 Capital Improvements Plan allocated $200,000 to study potential intersection improvements and accessibility upgrades to the area, which has a number of destinations: Thomas Jefferson Middle School and community center, Fleet Elementary School, the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, the Columbia Gardens Cemetery and several churches.

Despite these features, there isn’t much of a trail, and sidewalks are not continuous, says Jim Sebastian, an engineer with Toole Design, a firm that studied the corridor and developed the proposed changes.

“It is challenging, but it’s also exciting thinking about some of the improvements we can make to allow biking and walking to be a little more safe and comfortable,” Sebastian said.

The 1.3-mile stretch was broken into seven segments, four on the north side of Route 50 and three on the south side.

Segments of the Arlington Blvd Trail that could get upgrades (via Arlington County)

All but one segment has two proposed alternatives, and details of these proposed alternatives can be found in a presentation and explained in a recorded online meeting.

Residents can share their feedback on the proposed alternatives through Monday, Dec. 5. There will be pop-up events along the trail corridor, hosted by the county and local churches and other community destinations.

“This is extremely preliminary,” Nate Graham, a DES public engagement specialist, said in the Nov. 17 meeting. “This is an opportunity… to hear what parts you prefer and develop some combination of first and second alternatives between these seven segments to meet the goals of this project and serve the needs of the community.”

The study found that accommodating the trail, along some segments, could require changes to vehicle traffic.

For instance, between Glebe Road and George Mason Drive, one alternative calls for the closure of the off-ramp slip lane west of N. Thomas Street. The connection between the service road and George Mason Drive would also be closed, with traffic rerouted up to N. Trenton Street.

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