What’s Next with Nicole is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.
High speed rail isn’t just a pipedream. But to make it a reality in Arlington, it will require a new bridge.
In the next decade or two, high speed rail lines will shuttle passengers between Richmond and D.C. in less than an hour. A train ride between Arlington and Baltimore will take the same amount of time as taking the Metro to Union Station. This will only happen, however, if we approve and fully fund the Richmond to D.C. Long Bridge rail project.
Long Bridge is the only railroad crossing between D.C. and Virginia — spanning from Crystal City to L’Enfant Plaza. The bridge is 115 years old and currently owned by the rail transportation company CSX. At 98% capacity, it serves 76 trains per day and has become a massive bottleneck for our regional train network.
The five year, $1.9 billion project would expand Long Bridge from two to four tracks and increase the number of trains served everyday by over 250% to 192.
Doubling the number of tracks at Long Bridge is now the highest transportation priority in Virginia, according to state officials. This month, the federal government cleared the environmental impact study requirements to build a high speed rail line between Richmond to D.C., which includes making significant improvements to the Long Bridge. While the project is currently underfunded, it is now eligible for federal transportation funds.
I strongly support the Long Bridge project for four primary reasons:
- It creates not only a more connected Richmond to Baltimore regional economy, but it will also create the potential for high speed rail spanning the entire East Coast along I-95
- To relieve congestion along I-95, thus creating a more efficient workforce
- It is environmentally beneficial, helping to get more cars off the road
- It will help decrease regional housing costs by making it faster for people living further from urban centers to get to work, expanding what we consider to be Northern Virginia’s housing stock.
I strongly support the Long Bridge project and hope you will join me in showing your support during the public comment period, which ends October 26.
Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.
(Updated on 07/12/19) A new independent candidate has thrown his hat in the ring to challenge Del. Alfonso Lopez’s bid for re-election this year.
Terry Modglin is former non-profit organization executive who also served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam for four years. He’s now running against the Democratic incumbent to represent parts of Arlington and Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates. This is the second candidate to run against Lopez, who recently defeated Democratic challenger Julius “JD” Spain, Sr. in the primary election.
Modglin’s campaign platform is centered around green energy, public transportation, and opposing expanded access to abortion.
Modglin said he supports the Independent Green message of “More trains, less traffic.” He’s also calling for new Orange or Silver Metrorail stations at Seven Corners and Skyline, advocating for more walkable and bikeable communities, and tax incentives for solar and wind power.
Modglin has run before with the Independent Green Party of Virginia in 2015 for the Virginia state Senate and as a Green Party candidate for the House of Delegates in 2013. He clarified that this time around he is running as an independent.
Modglin told ARLnow one of the main reasons he decided to run was because of Lopez’s support for House Bill 2491, also known as the Repeal Act.
The bill would remove Virginia’s requirement that women undergo an ultrasound before they’re allowed to undergo an abortion and would make it easier for women to obtain a third-trimester abortion if their doctor found the women’s life was in danger. President Donald Trump criticized the bill in a rally earlier this year, focusing on the regulations around third-trimester abortions, which he and others have called “late-term abortions.”
The Repeal Act was tabled during the most recent legislative session.
When asked whether his anti-abortion stance could hurt his chances among Arlington voters, Modglin acknowledged the majority vote progressive but said he was convinced “voters in the 49th District do not favor late-term abortions. Mr. Lopez and I have a difference there.”
One area both candidates agree on is the need for greater gun control in Virginia. Modglin said he supports the ream of reforms from Gov. Ralph Northam, which include universal background checks, protective orders, and bans on bump stocks and large-capacity magazines.
(The GOP-led state Senate adjourned yesterday before votes could be taken on gun control bills during a special legislative session called by Northam.)
Modglin said he has a personal connection to calls for gun reform. When he was serving in Vietnam, his 13-year-old brother accidentally shot himself in the face with a friend’s gun.
“He would have died from choking on his own blood except for the tracheotomy given him by the EMTs,” said Modglin. “I asked him a few years later what happened with that gun. He said the young owner a few years later pulled over to the side of the road and shot himself through the head.”
Lopez has served in Richmond since 2012 and has racked up several endorsements from labor groups for his bid for reelection. He’s also raised a sizable war chest from green energy proponents after dropping campaign contributions from Dominion Energy.
Earlier, Lopez told ARLnow that his biggest accomplishments this year were increasing funding for affordable housing, ending a driver license suspension policy some say punished poor people, and mandating the state notify veterans whose military identification information was stolen. He’s since pledged to continue increasing affordable housing funding and countering “far right legislation” such as bills restricting access to reproductive health care.
Modglin will face off against Lopez in the general election on Nov. 5. Virginia residents can check their voter registration status here.
Image 1 via Facebook
(Updated at 7:50 p.m.) A person has been struck by a train at the Courthouse Metro station.
Firefighters are on the scene and have entered the trackbed, after power was shut off to the third rail.
The person appears to have intentionally jumped in front of train, according to Metro Transit Police, and was reportedly found deceased by firefighters.
Trains are now single-tracking on the Orange, Silver and Blue lines as a result of the incident. The station is temporarily closed to passengers.
Court House update: Unfortunately, the individual struck by train did not survive. Confirmed intentionally placed themselves in the path of an arriving outbound Orange Line train at approx 6:40 p.m. Investigation ongoing. #wmata
— Metro Transit Police (@MetroTransitPD) February 1, 2019
Blue Line Alert: Trains are single tracking btwn Arlington Cemetery & Foggy Bottom due to a person struck by a train. Expect delays in both directions.
— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) January 31, 2019
Orange/Silver Line Delay: Trains are single tracking btwn Clarendon & Foggy Bottom due to a person struck by a train. Expect delays in both directions.
— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) January 31, 2019
— Daniel Danckaert (@danckaert) January 31, 2019
Photo courtesy @SteveBoyntonVT
Virginia Railway Express leaders think they’ve just about nailed down funding for a new and improved Crystal City station, a key component of the area’s impending transportation transformation with Amazon on the way.
VRE officials have been eyeing improvements to its existing station, located at 1503 S. Crystal Drive, for years now, considering that its platform isn’t quite long enough for the commuter trains. Right now, anyone hoping to get off at the station needs to walk to one of their train’s first four cars, even though many are 10 cars long.
The station is also only set up to serve one train at a time, and sits a bit far away from the neighborhood’s Metro station, a challenge for commuters from Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs who use VRE to reach destinations in D.C. or elsewhere in Arlington. A new, relocated station could solve all of those problems at once.
The challenge, of course, is coming up with money to pay for the roughly $41 million project. But on that front, VRE officials seem to be nearing a solution, according to documents prepared in advance of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s meeting tonight (Thursday).
The VRE is asking the NVTC, a collection of regional leaders that helps oversee the rail service, for permission to make a variety of budgetary moves, including strategies to fund the new Crystal City station. Primarily, the VRE plans to ask for a combined $30 million in state funding for the project: half would come from a grant from the state’s rail agency, half from gas tax revenues set aside for VRE capital projects as part of the dedicated Metro funding deal last year.
Notably, the station overhaul was not included among the promised transportation improvements designed to lure Amazon to the area. But, with the tech giant expected to bring 25,000 jobs to the neighborhood, VRE officials are ready to get moving on the project sooner rather than later.
“VRE’s commuter rail service will also be critical to serving these expected new workers, and the planned relocation and expansion of VRE’s Crystal City Station has taken on additional importance,” staff wrote in a report delivered to the NVTC.
The rail service previously won $4 million in regional transportation dollars to cover design and engineering costs, and is nearing completion on a final design for the station now, VRE staff wrote.
The Arlington County Board and VRE agreed on a new location for the station in fall 2017, selecting a site behind 2011 Crystal Drive. The new station will be accessible via a tunnel to 18th Street S. between the Crystal Place residential buildings and the Crystal City Water Park, in addition to a pedestrian bridge from the second level of 2121 Crystal Drive.
It will also sit across the street from a new second entrance to the area’s Metro station, set to be located at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. Considering that VRE estimates that about 18 percent of passengers headed to the Crystal City station then transfer to the Metro, county officials have long viewed improving the connection between the two rail services as a key way to boost transit ridership.
The station will also include an “island platform” to serve two tracks simultaneously, and work on the project is set to move in conjunction with the state-backed “Atlantic Gateway Initiative” to construct a new rail track between D.C. and Fredericksburg. The old station will eventually be demolished.
There are no firm dates for when the project might be completed, but VRE estimates suggest it wouldn’t be finished until 2023 at the earliest, depending on how quickly officials secure the necessary funding.
In Planning: New Rail and Pedestrian Bridges — “The only solution, they say, is to add two tracks and create a four-track crossing over the Potomac to handle more commuter and intercity rail service as well as expected increases in freight transportation over the next decades… A stand-alone bike and pedestrian bridge would be built upstream from the new rail bridge, allowing people to walk or bike across the Potomac.” [Washington Post]
School Libraries to Buy New Print Material — “Officials with the school system’s libraries say they are working to ensure that, by the end of the school year, the average age of materials in their print collections is no more than 10 years old.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool by John Sonderman
(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.
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.