Arlington, VA

The Dept. of Justice has filed a civil action that would seize nine acres of county land on the eastern end of Columbia Pike by eminent domain, in order to expand Arlington National Cemetery.

The suit appears to be part of the long-standing plan to expand the cemetery around the Air Force Memorial, and includes no indication of resistance from the county. Arlington endorsed the federal proposal in April, which realigns and upgrades a portion of Columbia Pike in exchange for the county-owned land next to the cemetery.

As of Tuesday morning neither the Justice Department nor the county responded to requests for comment by ARLnow.

The action was announced Monday, with the DOJ touting it as a win for both military veterans and local residents.

“When completed, the Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Project will provide for approximately 60,000 additional burial sites, including an above ground columbarium,” said a press release. “The expansion will extend the timeline for Arlington National Cemetery to continue as an active military cemetery.”

“The expansion project will benefit Arlington County and its residents by, among other things, burying overhead power lines and incorporating the Air Force Memorial and surrounding vacant land into Arlington National Cemetery,” the press release continues. “The project will transform Columbia Pike from South Oak Street to Washington Boulevard by re-aligning and widening it. The project includes streetscape zones with trees on both sides of Columbia Pike, adding a new dedicated bike path, and widening pedestrian walkways. The project also provides for the construction of a new South Nash Street.”

The full press release is below.

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Morning Notes

Petition for Intersection Improvements — “Last Friday, our life turned upside down when a car traveling upward of 40-50 mph mowed down our 10-year old daughter and puppy… We would like to see three simple measures put in place at each of these intersections – (1) stop signs, (2) crosswalk stripes on the asphalt and (3) curb extensions or mini-circles if deemed appropriate/necessary by County traffic experts.” [Change.org]

County: Support Civil Rights By Taking Census — “Census data on both race and origin are used to ensure civil rights protections including voting rights and fair housing. The data are also used to address employment discrimination, provide language services and fund schools, as well as many other programs and services.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: Foot Chase in Falls Church — “Police received two separate calls about two women who felt threatened by a man while they were walking near the 400 block of W. Broad Street. Police located the man and pursued him as he fled on foot. Officers attempted to communicate with the man, but he became aggressive. Officers gave warning, then used capsaicin or “pepper” spray… After officers consulted with one of the victims, no arrest was made and no charges were pressed at this time.” [City of Falls Church]

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Morning Notes

Amazon Orders Thousands of Meals from Freddie’s — “Amazon has hired Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant, which is widely known as an LGBT establishment, to prepare and deliver 10,000 meals in the month of May for front line healthcare workers and first responders in Arlington and nearby Alexandria who are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement released to the Washington Blade, Amazon said it was investing $200,000 to pay for the 10,000 meals.” [Washington Blade]

VRE Ridership Down 97% — “First, the good news, such as it is: Ridership on Virginia Railway Express stabilized in April as the public-health pandemic rolled on. The bad news: The ridership decline is now averaging 97% compared to normal times.” [InsideNova]

Meat Section Bare at Local Costco — A photo posted Wednesday evening shows the Pentagon City Costco store’s meat section picked clean, amid a worsening meat shortage in the U.S. [@dccelebrity/Twitter]

Arlington Getting Big Check via WMATA — “The Arlington County government can expect a check for $7.2 million at some point in the future from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, as federal COVID-19 relief funding makes its way among government agencies. The funding will be part of $110 million that WMATA plans to reimburse to its member localities, so they can support non-Metro local transit systems, such as Arlington’s ART buses.” [InsideNova]

Army Navy Drive Project Pushed Back — “Anticipated completion of the Army Navy Drive Complete Streets project quietly slips an entire year with no explanation.” [@alongthepike/Twitter]

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Arlington and the Virginia Department of Transportation are looking at how to improve the situation along the notably crash prone stretch of Route 50 (Arlington Blvd) between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.

Between 2014 and 2018, VDOT said there were 247 total crashes with 61 crashes resulting in injuries, a few severe but none resulting in fatalities. Most of these crashes were concentrated around intersections.

“This segment of Route 50 experiences congestion in the morning and evening peak periods and a high number of crashes,” VDOT noted. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles a day within the study limits.”

In an online presentation, VDOT proposed three alternatives with a variety of sub-options to cut down on conflict points — places where vehicles intersect. Two of the options would add new raised medians to Route 50, and each of them had sub-options that would limit left turns or turn Irving Street or Fillmore Street into one-way streets.

The three primary alternatives are:

  • Wide Raised Median Separating EB and WB Route 50: the widened, raised medium would reduce conflict points at intersections without signals and at trail crossings. The only four-way intersections would be at Irving Street and Fillmore Street, where there are traffic lights. This alternative also includes left-turn lanes along Route 50 at Irving Street. The increased separation between eastbound and westbound travel lanes, and the additional turn lanes, would require the widening of Route 50.
  • Narrow Raised Median Separating EB and WB Route 50: the narrower median accomplishes the same reduction in conflict points as the first alternative, but would also not include left-turn lanes at Irving Street, meaning there would be reduced widening requirements. Left-turns at Irving would be prohibited and the third lane would likely see more use. But while this plan would improve the situation at Irving Street, VDOT warned that it would not reduce conflicts at Fillmore Street and could create higher traffic volumes and delays there.
  • No Left Turn at Unsignalized Intersections: the final alternative would add no median, but extensive signage prohibiting left turns along the street at all intersections without a signal. The widening impact would be low or non-existent, but VDOT warned that enforcing the new restrictions would be more difficult.

The sub-options to the first alternative include prohibiting any turning onto Irving Street and no left-turns at Fillmore Street, or flipping those so there are no left-turns onto Irving Street and no turning at all onto Fillmore Street.

Traffic signal improvements are also proposed.

VDOT data presented at the meeting said that two of the sub-options within the first alternative — which includes a wider raised median —  would have the highest chance of improving safety conditions, resulting in a total 69% reduction in conflict points, while the other two options reduce conflict points by 63%.

The first alternative is also the most costly, however, at an estimated $14-18 million budget. The second alternative, the narrow median, is cheaper at $12-14 million, while the third alternative is cheapest at $5-7 million.

“Cost estimates will be prepared for alternatives under consideration,” a VDOT official said in the video. “Improvements identified as part of the story have not yet been funded and there’s no timeline for construction”

Other potential additions to Route 50 would be new service roads along either side of the highway. One would be on the south side of Route 50 would extend past S. Old Glebe Road, which would eliminate five residential driveways onto the main lanes. The other would be on the north side of Route 50, extending an existing road west of Irving Street.

Comments on the project can be submitted online until Friday, May 29. Recommendations are scheduled to be finalized and posted online this summer, with Arlington County submitting a SMART SCALE funding application in August.

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The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on the federal government’s plan to realign Columbia Pike to facilitate the southern expansion of Arlington National Cemetery.

Under the plan, Southgate Road, which runs from the entrance to Henderson Hall to the intersection of the Pike and S. Joyce Street, would be removed to make way for new cemetery grounds and interment spaces. Columbia Pike would be realigned near the Air Force Memorial to run directly down to Joyce Street rather than curving around the memorial.

The County Board is expected to endorse the plan — part of the federally-funded Defense Access Roads program — this weekend, allowing it to move forward.

Also on the Board agenda is a Memorandum of Agreement with a federal transportation agency for the creation of a new segment of multi-use trail between Washington Blvd and Arlington National Cemetery.

The long-proposed trail would run along the western side of Washington Blvd, from the realigned portion of the Pike to Memorial Drive. It would provide a safer alternative to an existing trail on the other side of the highway, which is well-utilized but has a number of harrowing crossings at ramps to and from the GW Parkway.

“Upgrading this portion of the trail provides an important connectivity from the Columbia Pike/Pentagon City area to Memorial Drive,” a county staff report said. “With the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery and the interchange modifications, the timing is perfect for this segment of trail improvements. “

The County Board is expected to approve the MOA, along with a half-million dollars in funding for the trail from the existing Columbia Pike multimodal improvements project.

“Representatives from [Arlington National Cemetery] have agreed to provide Arlington County the necessary easements for the trail improvements,” the staff report noted. “Under this MOA, Arlington County will provide advanced funding to Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division (EFLHD), in an amount of $500,000, for engineering design, construction advertisement, and procurement for construction services, and oversight of the construction required for the multi-use trail portion of the project.”

More on both items, from a County Board meeting preview:

The Board will consider two agreements with the federal government that, if approved, would endorse major design elements for the planned realignment of Columbia Pike and build a trail segment that will connect Columbia Pike Pentagon City to Memorial Drive. The realignment grows out of the federal government’s southern expansion project to create more burial space for Arlington National Cemetery by closing, realigning and relocating several Arlington roadways. The federal government has agreed to realign Columbia Pike modify the South Joyce Street intersection and the Columbia Pike/ Washington Boulevard interchange and replace Southgate Road with a new segment of South Nash Street. A second, related agreement that the Board will consider would, if approved, provide $500,000 for the federal government to design a multi-use trail along Washington Boulevard adjacent to the cemetery. This segment of the trail, adjacent to the cemetery, is an important connection from Columbia Pike Pentagon City to Memorial Drive. If approved, the agreement would give the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division the authority to move forward with designing the trail.

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(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Five arterial streets in Arlington are being considered as candidates for a Complete Streets overhaul.

The county’s Complete Streets program adds safety features to roadways that improve the experience of road users other than drivers, including pedestrians and cyclists. The changes are usually made in conjunction with repaving projects.

The streets that are up for a makeover later this year are:

  • Wilson Boulevard — N. Larrimore Street to McKinley Road (Dominion Hills/Boulevard Manor)
  • Potomac Avenue — S. Crystal Drive to Alexandria City Line (Potomac Yard)
  • Clarendon Boulevard — N. Nash Street to N. Oak Street (Clarendon-Courthouse/Radnor/Fort Myer Heights)
  • N. Lorcom Lane — Old Dominion Drive to N. Taylor Street
  • Military Road — Lorcom Lane to Old Dominion Drive

At an online open house scheduled for Monday, April 6, Arlington County staff members will reveal more details about the project and how community members can share their experiences.

The virtual public meeting is scheduled to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m. via Microsoft Teams Live Event. No account is needed to join.

Complete Streets upgrades may include “sidewalk expansion or obstruction elimination,” “curb ramp reconstruction,” “crosswalk and signal enhancements,” “pedestrian-scale lighting,” “improved access to transit stops” and bike lanes, per the county’s website.

Such changes have been implemented in other parts of Arlington, though they’ve also faced some public pushback from local residents concerned about traffic impacts. One Complete Streets project in neighboring Alexandria has become a legendarily contentious issue.

Photos via Google Maps

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Five e-scooter firms won approval to operate in Arlington County, but others currently operating in Arlington were told until they have until this Sunday to clear out.

Lyft and Spin, which as of Tuesday still have scooters on Arlington streets, had their permit applications denied, Arlington Department of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet said in an email.

Last fall, Spin was one of the few scooter companies leading the charge in Arlington on docks and incentives for proper parking for scooters.

E-scooter and e-bike company Jump also applied to offer e-bikes in Arlington but was denied. No other e-bike operators, including Lime which had previously deployed e-bikes to local sidewalks, were approved for operation. Lime did not apply for an e-bike permit, Balliet said.

According to Balliet:

Staff reviewed the applications and, based on scoring criteria, denied a permit to the following companies:

  • Lyft — Staff was not presented with a Lyft scooter that has a speedometer, so we denied their e-scooter application due to not providing the required speedometer on their devices, and because their overall application score was insufficient to earn a share of the initial fleet cap
  • JUMP — Their e-bike application was denied due to not providing a speedometer on their bikes
  • Spin — Their e-scooter application was denied because their overall application score was insufficient to earn a share of the initial fleet cap

While Jump’s e-bike permit was denied, the company was one of the five approved to operate scooters in Arlington. The other four are Bird, Jump, Lime, Razor and Skip.

Arlington isn’t alone in slimming down the number of companies operating scooters. In D.C. the number of scooter operators was cut from eight to four: Jump, Lyft, Skip and Spin. This means only Skip and Jump scooters can be ridden in both D.C. and Arlington.

For the scooter operators told to pack up, Balliet said they have until Sunday, March 15, to remove their devices from Arlington.

Photo courtesy Rob Mandle/Crystal City BID

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Thanks to some push from local advocates and the county’s Transportation Commission, a new mixed-use development at 1900 Crystal Drive could be required to include protected bike lanes on Crystal Drive, a long time sore spot for bicyclists in the area.

There are bicycle lanes on Crystal Drive, but motorists notoriously ignore the lane markers and drive or park in the lanes designated for bicycle traffic.

“It’s almost a hoax on bicycle riders to say there’s a bike lane here when as a practical matter there isn’t,” said Transportation Commissioner Jim Lantelme.

At the Transportation Commission meeting Thursday night, the Commission recommended that developer JBG Smith be required to turn the existing bicycle lanes into protected lanes while adding new protected bike lanes to 18th Street S.

“First the Commission recommended that the County Board require JBG Smith to build protected bike lanes on 18th Street either as part of their upcoming 1900 Crystal Drive development or as part of the already-approved Central District Retail development,” Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said in a press release. “Furthermore the Commission recommended that the County Board direct staff to study an appropriate cross-section for Crystal Drive that would safeguard those on bikes and scooters and, if schedules permit, incorporate the results of that study into the public space designs for 1900 Crystal Drive and any other unbuilt development approved along the Crystal Drive corridor.”

The last recommendation from the Transportation Commission was that the County and JBG develop a temporary southbound protected bike lane on Crystal Drive if the public process isn’t completed in time to be incorporated into the 1900 Crystal Drive plans.

County staff said in their report that making the lanes protected would require further traffic studies and analysis, with staff noting that a new bike lane would carve out part of the street and would have an impact on open space, traffic, or parking. That kind of impact would require a public process that would take additional time.

The developer said they hope to start construction at the end of March, with the streetscape being one of the last parts of the project to be completed.

“I worry there is the possibility we would not have a final decision-ready on Crystal Drive ready before this window closes,” Slatt said.

“There’s a lot of good, new information heard tonight,” said Gillian Burgess, chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee. “Crystal Drive bike lanes are blocked so often that they’ve become the test case for new apps and data collection that seek to test how often bike lanes are blocked.”

With three site plans in the area, Burgess said the County has a rare opportunity to improve the conditions for cyclists and other road users there.

The 1900 Crystal Drive proposal is set to be discussed by the Planning Commission tonight (Monday).

Photo via Google Maps

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A proposal to add new “reverse tolling” on to I-66, put forward by a delegate who suggested that Arlington should be returned to D.C., has been struck down in the House of Delegates.

The goal of HB 677, the bill proposed by Del. Dave LaRock (R), was to toll rush hour traffic heading both eastbound and westbound on I-66, instead of just tolling those heading in the peak direction.

LaRock, whose district encompases parts of Frederick, Loudoun and Clark counties, proposed implementing the new reverse tolling upon completion of the under-construction eastbound I-66 widening project. Revenue collected would be directed to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

More from the bill:

The Department of Transportation shall, upon completion of the Interstate 66 widening project from the Dulles Connector Road to Fairfax Drive, activate tolling on Interstate 66 east of mile marker 67 for vehicles using (i) the westbound lanes during the morning hours in which the eastbound lanes are tolled or (ii) the eastbound lanes during the evening hours in which the westbound lanes are tolled.

The bill was “passed by indefinitely” in the Transportation Systems Subcommittee and state Senate staff confirmed that there was no similar bill on the Senate side, meaning the proposal is dead for the time being.

It isn’t the first time LaRock has put forward a reverse tolling bill. Two years ago LaRock tried to simultaneously refund some toll revenue to commuters and implement a reverse toll.

LaRock made headlines recently for proposing that deep-blue swaths of Northern Virginia — namely Arlington and Alexandria — be given over to D.C., claiming that the progressive values of Northern Virginia were not in keeping with the rest of the state.

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Arlington is once again planning to convert an outside lane on Lee Highway to bus and HOV only.

The Transportation Commission unanimously approved staff’s request to seek $1 million in funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission for pavement treatment, restriping, and signage for a new bus lanes.

The lanes would operate eastbound from N. Veitch Street to N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn during morning peak period, and westbound from N. Oak Street to N. Veitch Street during evening peak periods, staff said in the application. The lane would otherwise be open to general-purpose travel.

The sections with a bus lane are three lanes in each direction, and during peak periods roughly 25 loaded buses travel down that stretch of Lee Highway per hour, according to county documents.

“The section between North Veitch Street and Rosslyn is very heavily congested and sharply degrades bus performance and reliability, which will be improved by the lane conversion,” staff said.

An application for the project was submitted last year, but staff said at the Transportation Commission that funding was not approved because the designs had not advanced enough and were too broad in scope.

“The FY 2021-2022 application has been re-scoped to focus on the portion of Lee Highway with the greatest need,” staff said in a request to file the applications. “That has in turn reduced the estimated cost by one-third compared with the previous application.”

Staff said the deadline for grant submission is the end of January and the county would hear back in the spring. If approved, funding would include a feasibility test and the project could be incorporated into ongoing plans to reshape Lee Highway.

Photo via Google Maps

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Arlington could finally make progress on a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Four Mile Run near Shirlington that’s been under discussion for nearly two decades, according to county staff.

Staff told the Transportation Commission at a Jan. 9 meeting that the current bridge, which carries two lanes of vehicular traffic in each direction on Shirlington Road, has inadequate bicycle-pedestrian facilities, with only a 3-5 foot sidewalk available.

Pedestrian access on Shirlington Road has been a thorn in the county’s side for years, with efforts made in the past to widen nearby sidewalks and make them more pedestrian-friendly — while the bridge bottleneck remained.

The bridge itself is still in good condition, staff said, so rather than reconstruct the bridge staff said a new bicycle and pedestrian-only bridge constructed 20 feet to the west would provide an alternative transit route without cutting into traffic on the Shirlington bridge.

The project, staff noted, has already been fully funded in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, but not plans have moved forward.

An open house for the pedestrian bridge project is scheduled for Feb. 11 from 6-8 p.m., in which nearby civic associations will be invited, though the location of the open house was not announced. Staff said renderings for the bridge will be available at the open house.

“We are starting to implement what came out of the Four Mile Run area plan,” staff said.

The Four Mile Run plan also considered a, underpass running beneath the bridge, negating the need for cyclists and other trail users to cross busy Shirlington Road, though that was not discussed at the Transportation Commission meeting. Arlington County is currently working on a $15.5 million renovation project for Jennie Dean Park, adjacent to the future bridge.

Photo via Google Maps

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