(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Transportation planners have nearly finalized designs for a long-awaited effort to overhaul Virginia’s only railroad connection to D.C.
Officials from Virginia, D.C. and an alphabet soup’s worth of federal agencies have spent years working on plans to replace the Long Bridge — which runs roughly parallel to the 14th Street Bridge — and improve rail capacity over the Potomac River.
Officials say they are almost ready to commit to more concrete plans to guide the redesign. The project still needs millions of dollars in funding to move ahead, and construction wouldn’t start until 2020 at the earliest, yet planners are pushing to have engineering and environmental analyses drawn up by summer 2019.
State rail officials told the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission at a meeting last night (June 7) that they’ve managed to narrow down a long list of alternatives for replacing the bridge, which stretches from near the Pentagon in Arlington to Southwest D.C., to two final possibilities.
Both plans involve building a new, two-track bridge alongside the existing structure, which was first built back in 1904. One alternative calls for the current bridge to stay in place; the other would involve fully replacing it.
Either way, officials believe the project is critical for initiatives like ramping up Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak service between Virginia and the District.
“It is really a bridge of national significance,” Jennifer Mitchell, the director of the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, told the commission. “It carries a tremendous amount of traffic with commuters that would otherwise be on I-66 or 395.”
Doug Allen, the CEO of VRE, stressed that increasing rail capacity across the Potomac will be particularly critical for his trains. Commercial freight trains from the company CSX, which owns the bridge, often have to compete with commuter trains for space on the tracks, and Mitchell suggested that running a second bridge alongside the Long Bridge would help avoid that sort of conflict.
“For us to be able to add more service to our trains, we need to add more tracks there,” Allen said.
But even with so many people invested in seeing the project finished, Mitchell was sure to note that the whole effort is “very complex.” The bridge stretches just past historic resources like the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, not to mention other, “sensitive areas dealing with security” in D.C. itself, Allen said.
The project will also require extensive conversations about how exactly officials can include bike and pedestrian options alongside the new bridge, a key point of concern for Arlington’s representatives on the commission.
Allen noted that officials are considering two options for bike and pedestrian crossings that would not be attached to the Long Bridge, running closer to the bridge for Metro trains nearby, but still included in the overall project. But he said planners could decide to add bike and pedestrian options on the new bridge itself, though he did note that could prompt some “security concerns.”
Whichever option officials choose, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol urged Allen to keep bicyclists, walkers and runners in mind throughout the planning process, given the unique opportunity this project presents. After all, she noted, the current crossing along the 14th Street Bridge does not offer a connection to the regional trail network on the D.C. side.
“By tying the regional trail network together, this would allows hundreds or even thousands of commuters to get off our roads,” Cristol said. “Trying to come back and do this at a later date… would be incredibly difficult due to the sensitivity of the assets here.”
Mitchell says officials hope to have more public meetings on the project this fall, with cost estimates, preliminary engineering plans and an environmental impact analysis all ready by next summer.
Then, leaders will have to somehow find funding for the project. She says the state rail agency and CSX have committed to chip in a total of $30 million for the effort, and she fully plans to ask state lawmakers for more money by the General Assembly’s 2020 legislative sessions.
“We are trying very, very hard to get this schedule completed on time,” Mitchell said.
Arlington Doctor Sentenced in Poisoning Case — Arlington doctor Sikander Imran was sentenced Friday to three years in prison, with 17 years suspended, for slipping pills into his pregnant girlfriend’s tea, causing her to lose the unborn baby. The now ex-girlfriend pleaded for leniency during the sentencing. [WJLA, New York Daily News]
Miniature Horses Could Be Allowed at Schools — “A new policy defining the rights and responsibility of those – students, staff or visitors – wishing to bring service animals into schools would allow for dogs and miniature horses… schools spokesman Frank Bellavia told the Sun Gazette there are no miniature horses used as service animals in the school system at the moment.” [InsideNova]
Powhatan Skate Park Renovations Approved — The Arlington County Board on Saturday unanimously approved a $1.87 million contract to overhaul the Powhatan Springs Skate Park, the only such park in Arlington. “This well-loved skate park is in need of a makeover to address crumbling concrete conditions,” said Chair Katie Cristol. “The result will be a safer park that both kids and adults in Arlington who are passionate about skateboarding, inline skating and BMX cycling can enjoy for years to come.” [Arlington County]
Residents Protest Amazon at County Board Meeting — Several public speakers at Saturday’s County Board meeting spoke out against the prospect of Amazon’s second headquarters coming to Arlington. They held signs saying “No Amazon” and decried the company’s “brutal working conditions” and “culture of toxic masculinity,” among other things. [Blue Virginia]
Walter Reed Drive Project Green Lit — “The Arlington County Board today approved a $1.8 million contract to A & M Concrete Corporation to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections on a short but critical segment of South Walter Reed Drive, between South Four Mile Run Drive and South Arlington Mill Drive. The project will provide safer connections between two of Arlington’s busiest trails: Washington & Old Dominion and Four Mile Run.” [Arlington County]
Trees Fall During Heavy Rain — A number of trees around the area fell late last week after a record-breaking stretch of heavy rain. Among the trees to topple was a large one that fell on a home on the 2100 block of N. Vernon Street and injured one person. [Twitter, Washington Post]
Lubber Run Farmers Market OKed — “Field to Table, Inc., an Arlington-based non-profit organization, won the County Board’s approval today to open the Lubber Run Farmer’s Market in the parking lot at Barrett Elementary School, 4401 Henderson Road. The market is expected to open in late May.” [Arlington County]
Nearby: Train Derailment in Alexandria — A large contingent of emergency personnel responded to the CSX tracks near Port City Brewing in Alexandria Saturday morning for a freight train that had derailed. About 30 cars came off the tracks but no injuries or hazardous spills were reported. [City of Alexandria, Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Tens of Thousands of Bees Found in Nauck Building — An elaborate series of bee hives were found in a now-county owned building set for demolition in Nauck, prompting the county to call a husband-and-wife beekeeping team that lives in the area. The couple helped “rescue” the hive — estimated to contain 70,000 bees and 100 pounds of inedible honey — and transport it to the community park at 10th Street and N. Barton Street near Courthouse. [Arlington County, Washington Post]
‘Oz’ Owners Splitting Up — “Real Housewives of Potomac” cast members and Oz restaurant owners Ashley Darby and her husband, Michael Darby, have reportedly split. Ashley Darby said she moved out of the luxury Courthouse condo she shares with Michael, but also “dangled the possibility of reconciliation” on a “reunion” show for the series. Despite the drama, the pair were all smiles when they jointly hosted a tasting dinner at Oz in Clarendon on June 27. [Washington Post]
County Wants CSX to Consider Fewer Train Horn Blasts — Arlington County has been working with CSX to try to encourage the railroad to cut down on trains blowing their horn while traveling through densely populated Crystal City. CSX has rules in place that require a horn blast on certain sections of track at certain times for safety reasons. [InsideNova]
Long Bridge Project Coming — Virginia’s new Atlantic Gateway transportation plan includes the reconstruction of Long Bridge, the rail bridge that runs parallel to the 14th Street Bridge. As proposed, the new bridge would carry four rail tracks instead of two. Local elected officials expressed support for the project at a press conference with Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Alexandria last week. [Arlington Connection]
Kids Attend ‘Peace Camp’ — A group of local children attended a week-long camp that was all about promoting peace through music, art and games. The event was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington and organized by the group Little Friends for Peace. [WUSA 9]
Sugar Shack Debuts ‘Donut Lab’ — Sugar Shack Donuts on Columbia Pike will be debuting new flavors every Wednesday as part of a social media competition with its sister store in Alexandria. Each week customers will vote on their favorite flavor. This week’s new flavor at the Arlington store is “Cannoli,” with cannoli cream filling and chocolate glaze. [Patch]
Community Zika Meeting — The Fairlington neighborhood will be holding a community meeting on the threat of the Zika virus tonight. [Twitter]
(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) A fire aboard a CSX locomotive near Potomac Yard is out, but Amtrak trains may be slightly delayed while crews work to clear the scene.
All CSX and Amtrak trains that use the tracks were temporarily halted while firefighters worked to put out the fire. Train traffic is now being allowed through again on two of the three tracks that run through the area.
Arlington Fire Department spokesperson Lt. Ed Hughes said there was a “minor smoldering fire” in the train’s engine compartment, caused by overheated bearings. The fire was extinguished quickly and the train will be moved shortly, Hughes said. Amtrak trains may experience minor delays, he said.
Blue and Yellow Line Metro trains that run on nearby tracks were apparently not affected.