Arlington, VA

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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(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) Big changes are finally coming to the intersection of N. Glebe Road and Lee Highway.

The Arlington County Board will consider a project to add left turn lanes to Glebe approaching the busy intersection. Also part of the project: undergrounding utilities, upgrading bus stops and streetlights, and replacing an old water main.

Currently, northbound and southbound traffic on Glebe each gets its own green light, allowing unobstructed left turns. The new turn lanes will allow simultaneous green lights, thus improving traffic flow and giving pedestrians more time to cross the street, according to a county staff report.

The construction will come with a steep price tag: between $3.4 and 3.9 million. The Board is set to vote on a contract with the low bidder, Rustler Construction, Inc., at its meeting this Saturday.

The first phase of the project, including utility undergrounding, kicked off in 2017. The county has spent years obtaining easements from property owners along Glebe, allowing the roadway expansion, which has general support from local residents.

“There is broad public support for this project because it is significantly improving multimodal mobility and access without any trade-offs aside from construction disruptions and right-of-way impacts,” says the staff report.

“During the lengthy easement acquisition process, the design was revised many times to accommodate surrounding property owners’ requests for considerations such as minimizing the amount of offstreet parking lost, maintaining existing driveway accesses, adding landscaping, and shifting bus shelter locations to not hinder the visibility of commercial monument signs.”

One slightly controversial aspect of the project is the LED streetlights Dominion plans to install.

“Several community members and stakeholder groups have expressed concern with the aesthetics and character of the streetlights selected for the project area – Dominion Energy maintained cobra LED style lights,” the staff report says.

“These lights were selected for the project area by the County’s Streetlight Management Plan (SMP)… Cobra LEDs are preferred for both the Lee Highway (Route 29) and Glebe Road (Route 120) project corridors because they more efficiently illuminate higher speed, wider arterial roadways than post-top lights, thus resulting in needing approximately 30% fewer light poles (and sidewalk pole obstructions) in the project area.”

More on the project from county staff:

The project will widen North Glebe Road (Route 120) to add northbound and southbound full-width left turn lanes. The widening of the street necessitated undergrounding the overhead utilities present throughout the project area. Crews began the utility undergrounding work in January 2017 and are nearing completion of this phase.

The subject intersection improvements will improve safety and mobility for motorists, pedestrians, and transit riders at the intersection, as well as reduce cut-thru traffic along adjacent residential neighborhood streets. Following construction of the new left turn lanes and replacement of the traffic signal equipment, the implementation of a new signal phasing and timing plan will significantly decrease vehicle, transit, and pedestrian travel times through the intersection.

The project is also replacing and upsizing over 1,750 LF of old cast iron water mains in the project area and is upgrading the five (5) existing bus stops with new amenities, pads, and shelters (installed by separate project), as well as installing empty underground conduits giving the shelters the capability to be equipped with real-time transit arrival boards if warranted in the future.

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Metro has released the results of a pivotal study of options for increasing capacity of the Metrorail system, and the preliminary conceptual designs suggest big transit changes might eventually be coming to Arlington.

Among the ideas floated by the transit agency are a second Rosslyn Metro station, a new tunnel under the Potomac, and an new stretch of the Silver Line to either run down Columbia Pike or through North Arlington.

Metro says its “Blue/Orange/Silver Capacity & Reliability Study” is necessary because the existing Rosslyn tunnel is a bottleneck for all three lines, producing delays and crowding that will only get worse — particularly in Arlington — due to expected population and job growth.

The study is intended to “identify the best and most cost-effective solutions to address future ridership, service, and reliability needs on these Metrorail lines,” Metro said. “The approval of dedicated funding from Metro’s jurisdictional partners provides funding to bring the existing system into a state of good repair and keep it well maintained going forward; however, there are future transportation needs that we must begin addressing now.”

Among the changes being considered are:

  • A second Rosslyn Metro station, with a pedestrian connection to the current station.
  • A second tunnel across the Potomac.
  • A Blue Line extension to run from Rosslyn through Georgetown and upper Northwest D.C., and into Montgomery County.
  • A Blue Line extension to run from Rosslyn through Georgetown and mid-city D.C., and into Prince George’s County.
  • A new urban core loop “connecting Pentagon, Rosslyn, Georgetown, the Dupont and Shaw neighborhoods, and the Navy Yard/Waterfront area.”
  • New “NoVa Circulator” option that will route some trains from the Pentagon, around Rosslyn and down the Orange/Silver line toward Courthouse.
  • A Silver Line extension down Columbia Pike and up Route 7, connecting with the West Falls Church Station.
  • A Silver Line extension north of I-66, through North Arlington and McLean.

Major capital projects like a Metro line extension would take several decades and the cost is only described as “high.”

The idea of running Metro down Columbia Pike was discussed while debate raged over the since-canceled Columbia Pike streetcar project, and might find some public support, but the concept of Metro running through mostly residential North Arlington seems much more politically infeasible. Wherever a new Metro line runs, big changes, development and a rise in property values can be expected, as happened with the original construction of the Metrorail system in Arlington.

A number of comparatively minor changes are also proposed, like pocket tracks, crossovers and turnarounds to better mitigate delays and incidents, reconfiguring train seats to provide more space, and adding new station entrances.

Metro says it is now embarking on a public engagement process, with a goal of selecting a set of “locally-preferred” options, both long- and short-term, by next fall.

A public open house is planned in Arlington next week, to be held Monday from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at George Mason University’s Van Metre Hall (3351 Fairfax Drive) in Virginia Square.

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Morning Notes

HQ2 Business Boom Strains County — “A full year after Amazon.com Inc. announced that it would set up shop in Arlington, there’s little doubt the company has drawn the sort of surge in business and development interest that local leaders promised as they pursued HQ2 — but all of that activity has also put a strain on the local government as it prepares for the tech giant’s arrival.” [Washington Business Journal]

Tour of Amazon’s Temporary Crystal City Office — “Amazon almost has 200 employees working in leased space in @ArlingtonVA, with more on the way.” [WJLA, Twitter]

‘National Landing’ Name Falls Flat — “It’s been one year since the HQ2 announcement, and with it the coordinated airdrop of the name, ‘National Landing,’ on an unsuspecting and bewildered population… So has National Landing stuck? Not really, at least among the common people, according to the folks I interviewed.” [Washington Business Journal]

Amazon Adjacent Real Estate Skyrockets — “The median home price in the 22202 ZIP code, which encompasses all of HQ2, was $815,000 in October. That’s about a 51% year-to-date increase or a $275,000 difference, according to data provided by MarketStats by ShowingTime, based on listing activity from Bright MLS.” [Washington Business Journal, WTOP]

Housing Affordability Increasing? — “With mortgage rates at a three-year low and a healthy job market, housing affordability rose to its highest level in three years in the third quarter of 2019… for the Washington area, high incomes helped to offset the pricey cost of housing, with the resulting regional opportunity index higher than the national average.” [InsideNova]

County Pleased With Water Main Break Response — “How well did Arlington County in Virginia think it handled the water main break that triggered a boil water advisory for more than 100,000 customers in the county and parts of Northwest D.C.? Pretty well, it seems.” [WTOP]

New American Legion Bridge Coming — “Commuters heading to and from Maryland on the Beltway may see some relief from the constant traffic woes. The governors of Virginia and Maryland announced an agreement Tuesday morning that would see the construction of a new American Legion Bridge.” [Tysons Reporter]

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The Virginia Dept. of Transportation is studying possible upgrades to Route 50 between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.

The 0.7 mile stretch, which is notably crash prone and difficult for drivers making left turns and pedestrians trying to cross the street, is a candidate for what VDOT has dubbed “Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions.” Possible upgrades range from new turn lanes to pedestrian enhancements to — perhaps — even roundabouts.

VDOT is holding a public information session about the possible changes on Thursday (Nov. 14) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road).

More from VDOT:

The concepts being studied will be based on public input and may include improving turn lanes, traffic signal timing and operations, and access management for properties and streets along the corridor. Other concepts being studied may also include pedestrian, bicycle and transit enhancements, turn restrictions and “Innovative Intersections” such as roundabouts and interchanges. Stop by between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to view displays and learn more about the project. A presentation will begin at 7 p.m. Project staff will be available to answer your questions.

“This stretch of Route 50 has long backups and delays during weekday peak commute times and several high crash locations due to the high number of access and conflict points,” VDOT said on a webpage for the study. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles per day within the study limits.”

An online survey for the project asks, among other things, which multimodal facilities are needed along the Route 50 corridor. The multiple-choice options include sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian signals, shared-use bicycle lanes, bus shelters and a park and ride lot.

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(Updated 11/3) A ten-year plan for the future of transportation in Rosslyn has been finalized after county officials spent two years of gathering public feedback.

Major projects in the final proposed plan include incrementally converting Fort Myer Drive to a two-way street, removing the Fort Myer Drive tunnel, widening sidewalks and adding protected bike lanes.

In 2015, the Arlington County Board adopted the Rosslyn Sector Plan, which included a vision for what the neighborhood’s street networks could look like by 2030. Later in 2017, the Core of Rosslyn study was introduced as an effort from the County Board to analyze the feasibility and potential impacts of the Sector Plan’s proposed changes.

“With the understanding of all of the future developments coming to the area, we wanted to make sure private developments would not be affected by this plan,” county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow.

After two years working on the study, county staff have finalized their “Preferred Alternative Plan,” which outlines several substantial projects to be built by 2030.

Per the study’s website, these projects include:

  • Removal of the Fort Myer Drive tunnel under Wilson Blvd to improve pedestrian crossing options and access to Metro, and to help reduce vehicle speeds in the Rosslyn urban core.
  • Incremental conversion of Fort Myer Drive to a two-way street once the tunnel is closed.
  • Enhancing the bicycle network within the Rosslyn core by including continuous, protected bicycle and scooter lanes on Fort Myer Drive, N. Lynn Street, N. Nash Street, and Wilson Boulevard.
  • Enhancing the pedestrian experience through the removal of slip lanes, improvements to 18 existing or new crosswalks, and inclusion of wider sidewalks.
  • Reconfiguration and signalization of the intersection of westbound Route 50 and N. Meade Street “to allow for northbound traffic flow on Fort Myer Drive and to improve pedestrian and bicycle access.”

Funding for the projects will be determined when the County Manager Mark Schwartz updates Arlington’s Capital Improvement Plan in May, Balliet said. County Board adoption of the plan is expected later in the summer.

County staff will continue to engage with the community on each project and each new project will have its own webpage, according to Balliet.

The study itself cost about $1 million, Balliet said.

One project outlined in the “Alternative Plan” is already underway: the first stage of the Dark Star Park (1655 N. Fort Myer Drive) slip lane closure and park expansion occurred in July, funded through county operating funds and a partnership with the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

Photo (top) via Arlington County, (below) via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Windy Day on Tap — After a windy night, more gusty winds are expected today. The gusts are expected to reach up to 40 miles per hour locally. [Twitter]

Lions Club Seeks County Lot for Xmas Tree Sale — “Christmas is coming early for the South Arlington Lions Club. Arlington County Board members on Oct. 19 are expected to allow, for the second year in a row, the service organization to use county-government property on South Four Mile Run Drive for its annual Christmas-tree sale.” [InsideNova]

Local Affordable Housing Group Expanding — “A leading affordable housing nonprofit in Arlington County is expanding its operations into Montgomery County, another sign of a growing regional focus on preserving or producing homes that lower-earning residents can afford.” [Washington Post, Press Release]

Earthquake Drill Today — “Participate in the world’s largest earthquake drill [today] at 10:17 a.m… Go to the lowest floor of the building, drop to your hands/knees, cover your head w/your arm, and hold on to shelter.” [Twitter]

VDOT Studying Changes to Route 50 West of Arlington — “The Virginia Department of Transportation is holding a public information meeting Monday, Oct. 21 on a study of potential safety and operational improvements for three miles of Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) between Jaguar Trail and Wilson Boulevard.” [VDOT]

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A pair of roads on the southern end of Crystal City opened to two-way traffic earlier today.

The new traffic pattern comes after several months of construction to facilitate the change. It’s the third phase in a multi-year process of opening former one-way streets in Crystal City to two-way traffic, through construction and and roadway restriping.

As we reported in 2011:

The first phase of the project will add a southbound lane to the portion of Crystal Drive between 12th Street and 15th Street, just north of the Crystal City water park. It will also convert a one-way section of S. Clark Street between 12th and 15th Streets to a two-way road. Construction on this phase of the project is expected to begin in the spring of 2012 and wrap up in winter 2012.

A second phase is expected to begin construction in fall 2012. That phase will add a southbound lane to the one-way portion of Crystal Drive between 23rd Street and 27th Street. Changes will also be made to 27th Street, which runs between the Courtyard by Marriott and the Hyatt Regency hotels.

“The Crystal Drive Two-Way Conversion project will begin to establish the street network needed to support future development and transit improvements planned by the Crystal City Sector Plan and Crystal City Multimodal Study,” Arlington County said on the project website. “The intent of the project is to improve the navigability of Crystal City by converting Crystal Drive and the surrounding street network from a one-way to a two-way directional roadway.”

In addition to converting traffic lanes, the project will also add new traffic signals, street trees, ADA-compatible intersection upgrades and a new southbound bicycle lane.

The vision of “future development and transit improvements planned by the Crystal City Sector Plan” mentioned in 2011 seems to be coming to fruition, with a new slate of major redevelopment projects announced this week; the removal of Route 1 overpasses being discussed; and the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway expected to expand to Pentagon City in the near future.

More on today’s changes, from Arlington County’s website:

On Friday, Oct. 4, after the morning rush hour, Crystal Drive between 26th and 27th Streets South will be changed from one-way northbound to two-way traffic. 27th Street between Crystal Drive and South Clark Street also will be changed to two-way operations.

This section of Crystal Drive will have one travel lane in each direction. 27th Street will have two eastbound lanes to access Crystal Drive and Potomac Avenue, and one westbound lane providing direct access to the Hyatt and Route 1.

Police and the County’s construction team will be on-site throughout Friday to monitor the switch and help direct traffic. If possible, avoid this area during the changeover on mid-day Friday, and be prepared for the new traffic pattern when using these streets in the future.

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Our reporting yesterday about plans to eliminate Route 1 overpasses in Crystal City and replace them with more urban-style, at-grade intersections was greeted with some skepticism.

Though the idea of making Route 1 — also known as Richmond Highway — more of an “urban boulevard” as Amazon moves in may seem appealing at first glance, the prospect of crossing the busy commuter route to get to and from the Crystal City Metro Station, as opposed to just walking underneath as one can currently on 18th Street, elicited some strong opinions.

There is, as some have suggested, another option, though it would be considerably more expensive: send Route 1 underground instead and build something pedestrian-oriented on top.

As seen in the illustration above, the original 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan actually presented a vision of Route 1 below grade, with roundabouts and some green space on top, at least at one intersection. It’s not an outdated concept — sending highways below ground and putting parks on top is a noted, recent urban design trend.

And it doesn’t need to be a park. Perhaps a pedestrian promenade surrounded by retail, restaurants and entertainment options — like the popular Third Street in Santa Monica — would work as the area grows. It could extend all the way from 12th Street to after 23rd Street, becoming a hub rather than a hindrance between the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods.

Undoubtedly, such a project would be expensive. And it would be disruptive in the short term. But would it be worth it, in your opinion?

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