Arlington, VA

(Updated at 9:10 a.m.) Drivers and pedestrians should expect to see construction signs, crews and heavy equipment along parts of N. George Mason Drive and Washington Blvd near Lacey Woods Park through the fall.

The county kicked off sidewalk improvement work last week on N. George Mason Drive and Washington Blvd. from 14th Street N. to N. Evergreen Street. Projected changes include new five-foot concrete sidewalks, storm inlet enhancements and bus stop upgrades.

Construction crews are expected to occupy a lane along Washington Blvd. from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays while work is underway. On N. George Mason Drive, crews will occupy a lane from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

No detours are expected while construction takes place.

Photo 1 via Arlington County, 2 and 3 via Google Maps

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Supporters of Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation program are warning county leaders that the steep budget cuts they’re contemplating could effectively kill it.

County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing slashing $24 million from the program’s funding over the next 10 years as part of his new Capital Improvement Plan, dropping its coffers down to $36 million through 2028.

Neighborhood Conservation has long helped dole out money for modest community improvements, like new sidewalks or landscaping, yet the county’s grim budget picture convinced Schwartz to target it for some hefty cuts. That prompted several community activists and managers of the program to lobby the County Board to restore that funding at a public hearing last Wednesday (June 27).

“This is almost a death knell for Neighborhood Conservation,” said Bill Braswell, a former chair of the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. “All the interest in it will dissipate, and it will take forever to get started again.”

County staff say that these proposed cuts would mean that projects already in line for funding will still move ahead, but any new applications from neighborhoods will go on the back burner. Accordingly, Phil Klingelhofer, deputy vice chair of the program’s advisory committee, believes that such a delay would mean that any “neighborhood with a recently proposed project should expect to wait 15 to 30 years for a project to come to the top for current funding.”

“If you decide to accept this… we recognize this is really the end of the program, and at that point, you should take the final step and end the program permanently,” Klingelhofer said.

For some in the community, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. Some activists have started arguing that the program has outlived its usefulness, including columnist Peter Rousselot, who points out that it can already take five or 10 years for a project to move through the Neighborhood Conservation process.

County Board member John Vihstadt has similar concerns about the program’s efficacy, noting that those delays are often driven by “quality control or monitoring issues” with the county switching contractors for some projects two or three times each. That’s why he sees this CIP process has a chance to reform the program, and “mend it, not end it.”

“Things are not good right now, and we’re looking at what we’re going to do,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “If we’re going to fund the program, it needs to be modified and reformed.”

Braswell and Klingelhofer both told the Board at the hearing that they’d be willing to study ways to make the program run more efficiently, particularly if the alternative is steep funding cuts.

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The County Board is set to approve a construction contract that would install the final “missing link” of sidewalk along Old Dominion Drive.

Sidewalk installation would run along the eastbound side of Old Dominion Drive, between N. Thomas Street and Fire Station No. 3. The fire station is approximately 440 feet from Military Road.

Proposed sidewalk enhancements include “ADA curb ramps, crosswalks, and provisions for future streetlights.”

This is the last section of sidewalk installed on Old Dominion Drive east of 37th Street N. County documents note that the project has been coordinated with the nearby Stratford School Project.

Tree removal along Old Dominion Road began earlier this year in anticipation of sidewalk construction.

The County Manager’s office has recommended approving the $789,324 contract to the Capitol Heights, Md.-based Sagres Construction Corporation.

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The curbside lane along eastbound Old Dominion Drive will be closed today, tomorrow and on Monday as the county removes trees to make way for a new sidewalk.

Closures will remain in effect from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Monday and from 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. tomorrow. The “missing link” sidewalk project is anticipated to begin construction this spring/summer with completion expected in spring 2019.

Once trees are removed, utility adjustments will begin to complete the sidewalk from the south side of Old Dominion Drive from Cherrydale Firehouse to N. Thomas Street.

The county has allocated $1.15 million for the project, a spokeswoman said.

Photos via Arlington County

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Work to rebuild the Wilson School in Rosslyn could cause some inconveniences for those in the area as crews closed a sidewalk and street near the project.

Due to construction at the school at 1601 Wilson Blvd, 18th Street N. is closed to non-construction traffic between N. Quinn Street and N. Oak Street for the entirety of the project.

And pedestrians walking along that side of Wilson Blvd near the soon-to-be-rebuilt Fire Station 210 and a 7-Eleven convenience store will need to cross over as the sidewalk outside the school is closed too.

Construction on the new $100 million building appears to be underway, with work expected to be done in fall 2019. It will house 775 students from the future H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs.

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The Arlington County Board on Saturday is expected to consider five neighborhood improvement projects with a cumulative price tag of $5.3 million.

The projects have been advanced by a county committee via Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Program, which encourages neighborhoods to apply for funding for various types of local improvements.

The projects set for approval are:

  •  A new neighborhood sign for Long Branch Creek ($12,500)
  • Street improvements and new streetlights along 31st Street S. in Fairlington, between S. Randolph and Woodrow Streets ($1.7 million)
  • New streetlights on S. Oak, Ode and Orme Streets in Foxcroft Heights ($562,704)
  • Intersection improvements along 2nd Street S. at S. Wayne, Uhle and Wise Streets in Penrose ($1.6 million)
  • Street improvements along N. George Mason Drive between 11th Street N. and I-66 in Waycroft-Woodlawn ($1.4 million)

The County Board is expected to vote on the Neighborhood Conservation projects at its Saturday meeting. The measure also includes an additional $200,000 for the county’s “Missing Link Program,” which funds the construction of small stretches of new sidewalk to connect existing sidewalks.

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The renovation of the Ballston Common Mall have forced the closure of a sidewalk near the building, disrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic there.

The aging mall is undergoing a major rehab project and is slated to reopen as the “urban village” known as Ballston Quarter in 2018.

As part of the construction, a fence now blocks off the sidewalk around the former entrance on Wilson Blvd and N. Randolph Street, forcing pedestrians to either walk on the street or cross to the other side — the latter being the safer, recommended course of action, but many pedestrians seem to be choosing the former.

When an ARLnow.com reporter visited the construction site yesterday, numerous pedestrians were spotted walking along Wilson Boulevard in front of the mall,  within a few feet of moving vehicles.

Along with the sidewalk closure, Arlington Transit has had to move one of its bus stops 100-150 feet south of its usual location.

So far, the sidewalk closure has ruffled a few feathers. A tweet from a concerned resident says the ongoing work puts pedestrians in danger and calls for the construction of a temporary walkway.

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New sidewalk along 8th Street S. (file photo)Arlington County staff has agreed to stop trying to jam five-foot-wide sidewalks into residential areas where conditions call for a narrower path.

Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten discussed the change during last week’s Arlington County Board meeting. She said the problem isn’t county policy — which was updated in 2011 — it’s the application of that policy.

The county’s Master Transportation Plan calls for 4-5 foot wide sidewalks in residential neighborhoods, with the narrower sidewalk in areas where it would preserve mature trees, parking, slopes or structures.

Sidewalk width tableCounty staff’s approach, however, has been to design and “start the conversation” with a five-foot-wide sidewalk, even in areas that would otherwise call for the four-foot-wide sidewalk. That led to conflicts and neighborhood consternation.

“There are important accommodations to preserve neighborhood character,” Mitten said. “We think that the policy the Board passed strikes the right balance, whereas our application of the policy perhaps has not.”

While “it is desirable to have a five foot minimum width where possible in order to comply with ADA regulations and for general ease and safe accessibility,” Mitten said, the new approach — of starting the conversation with a four-foot-wide sidewalk where appropriate — “maximizes the opportunity to provide sidewalks along streets where now there are none without compromising the integrity of the overall policy.”

County Board member Jay Fisette said the issue was first raised more than a year ago, after a five-foot-wide sidewalk plan led to the cancellation of some potential Neighborhood Conservation projects.

Libby Garvey, County Board chair, said the county shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good, especially in areas where there currently are no sidewalks.

“There are too many streets where to get the perfect sidewalk they’re getting no sidewalk, and that’s not safe for anybody,” she said.

File photo

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Morning Notes

9/11 flag in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by Kevin White)

Arlington Remembers 9/11 — Arlington County is marking the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks with a solemn ceremony in Courthouse. A moment of silence will be held at 9:37 a.m. [Arlington County, Twitter]

Sidewalks on the Pike Still Need Work — The new Freedman’s Village Bridge over Columbia Pike includes new, wider sidewalks along the Pike, but there are problems. Just up from the new sidewalks, narrow old sidewalks have telephone poles in the middle of them, obstructing pedestrians and bicyclists. And there are multiple crossings among the new sidewalks that make the going slow. [Greater Greater Washington]

Letter Writer: Everything Is Awful — Most people probably find Arlington a pleasant place to live. But a resident who wrote a guest commentary about Arlington for a Falls Church newspaper finds a lot to dislike, warning Falls Church residents of Arlington as a “cautionary tale” of development gone wrong. The letter blasts Arlington’s overcrowded schools, “scorched-earth development practices,” “critical shortage of parkland and green space,” “failed policies and inadequate planning,” “poor local air quality,” lack of mature tree canopy and “urban heat island effect.” [Falls Church News-Press]

AHC Repays Loan — Nonprofit affordable housing developer AHC Inc. has made a $2.5 million loan repayment to Arlington County, one of the organization’s largest lump sum repayments. AHC presented retiring County Board members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, along with other county officials, a giant check to mark the occasion.

Janet Howell Announces Breast Cancer Diagnosis — State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd), who represents part of Arlington, announced yesterday that she was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer. She has undergone treatment and says her prognosis is “excellent.” [Reston Now]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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The sidewalk at Washington Blvd in front of Westover Library in March

Don’t expect Arlington’s crumbling sidewalks to be repaired any time soon.

That’s the message from a memo sent by the county’s Dept. of Environmental Services.

ARLnow.com first reported in March that many sidewalks built over the past two years were crumbling, most likely due to the combination of a snowy winter, salt and water-laden concrete.

While ugly, the sidewalks are not dangerous and are unlikely to crumble further, the memo says. While a possible repair method has been found, DES says it will not be widely applied until it can be tested during “a harsh winter.”

The memo, as obtained by ARLnow.com:

Dear Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee:

This is a follow-up notification to inform you about the status of sidewalk deterioration on recently constructed projects in the County. Since our last communication, we discovered the deterioration was not just isolated to a few locations that could quickly be repaired, but is in fact a region-wide problem. We want to keep you informed about what we have learned over the past few months and what our plan of action will be moving forward.

We conducted an extensive investigation including an independent analysis of deteriorated concrete samples, as well as a review of our specifications and construction practices. The investigation concluded that the concrete has a weak surface due to high water content and this weak surface can flake off when exposed to repeated freeze-thaw cycles in the presence of salt. This is known as scaling and is superficial in nature as it only affects approximately the top 1/8″ in most locations. This is also occurring in surrounding jurisdictions, including Fairfax and Montgomery County, who have similar specifications and construction practices.

Our investigation has also revealed that the strength of the concrete below approximately 1/8″ to 1/4″ is significantly higher and the scaling at most locations is not expected to get worse. Considering the overall depth of a sidewalk is 4″; the overall durability is also not likely to be affected.

We want to emphasize this is not a safety concern and only affects the appearance of the sidewalk. We have identified a possible repair methodology that may be viable for use at the most severely affected locations. This method will be evaluated at a few pilot sites before considering wider use.

The evaluation process will require the sites to go through a harsh winter to confirm efficacy. At that point, we will determine our next steps on repairs or continued monitoring for each affected location. Unfortunately, this will be a lengthy process and we ask for your patience.

As we continue to construct new sidewalks, the County is taking additional quality assurance measures to minimize the likelihood of more scaling, while still balancing costs against the risk of deterioration and its overall impact. The County has implemented new material testing protocols and has enhanced our construction inspection methods. We will also be proactively communicating with residents in areas where new concrete is installed about the importance of limiting salt use within the first year.

Arlington County will be working closely with other jurisdictions to compare repair methods and approaches and will continue to collaborate to find the best solution. We appreciate your understanding as we work to resolve this issue and we will continue to keep you informed.

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(Updated at 5:00 p.m.) Many of the sidewalks built over the last two years in Arlington are already crumbling, and the county is trying to figure out why.

At least a dozen sidewalks all over the county — like the ones pictured above — appear significantly damaged, their surfaces crumbling and creating tiny pieces of debris. These are not pieces of aging infrastructure that plague the county, these are recently installed sidewalks that have worn down rapidly.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services oversees the sidewalks, and Engineering Bureau Chief Ramzi Awwad said DES knows about the issue and has been investigating it for “several months.” All of the sidewalks they have inspected — between six and 12, he said — were installed within the last one or two years. All of them have been built by the same specifications the county, and other surrounding jurisdictions, have used well before these issues came to the fore.

“Each location is unique with its specific properties,” Awwad said today. “There’s elevated water content in the top millimeter or two. When salt is applied to newly poured concrete, that’s when the deterioration occurs.”

Awwad said it’s not a safety issue — the damage is just to the very top level of the sidewalk — but he said the elevated water in the concrete was present during construction, not a result of excess precipitation. At this point, the county doesn’t know how the excess water got into the concrete, and doesn’t have a plan to repair it.

The specific type of deterioration occurring in Arlington’s newest sidewalks could be attributed to freezing and thawing. According to engineering training center PDHOnline, freezing and thawing can take its toll on any concrete with excess water underneath the surface. The photo used to illustrate freezing and thawing damage (on page 6 here) looks nearly identical to the issues Arlington’s new sidewalks have encountered.

According to a paper by concrete supplier Cemex, “It is not uncommon in the concrete industry for the contractor to add water to the load prior to or even during the unloading process to increase the slump and improve the workability of the concrete.” Too much water can cause the concrete to be more permeable, and therefore more susceptible to further water infiltration

Awwad said all of the sidewalks DES has inspected for deterioration were county projects completed by private contractors. Some private developers install their own sidewalks, adhering to county specifications, and none of the privately built walkways have reported this problem.

“The majority of what we’ve observed and we’re aware of has been county projects built by contractors,” Awwad said. He said different contractors have built the sections of now-deteriorating sidewalks.

Since discovering the problem, DES has instituted some changes.

“We’ve studied and implemented some best practices that will help this from occurring in the future,” he said. “That’s our first goal. In addition, as part of our investigation, we are studying repair methods that can remedy the issue.”

Awwad said the investigation should be wrapping up in a matter of weeks. He said the county investigates based on resident complaints, and the spots they have inspected so far have been brought to them by the public. The public can report crumbling sidewalks online or on Arlington’s app.

“Our residents are really our eyes and ears, particularly in capital improvement projects,” he said. “Residents are the ones who notified us, and we’re always appreciative when they do.”

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