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Virginia Tech, Transurban Plan New Research Effort to Make Highways Safer for Motorcyclists

Motorcycle riders represent just a small portion of traffic on the roads, but they’re consistently involved in more fatal accidents than anyone else — some researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute are looking to change that.

VTTI is teaming up with Transurban, the company building and operating toll lanes on Northern Virginia’s busiest highways, to try and spur the development of new technology to make the roads safer for motorcyclists.

Transurban announced at Virginia Tech’s Ballston research center yesterday (Tuesday) that it would be donating $400,000 to VTTI to kick off the “Motorcycle Technology Evaluation Challenge,” known as “MotoTEC.”

The goal is to pair small technology companies and startups working on devices and software that could be used for motorcycle safety with some needed funding and, perhaps more importantly, the expertise of Virginia Tech’s researchers. VTTI hopes to find some promising technology to test along Transurban’s express lanes on highways like I-495 and I-95, giving it a big boost in making it to market.

“This is all about: What can get on the road fastest to make the most impact?” said Andy Schaudt, project director for VTTI’s motorcycle research group.

Schaudt says the current challenge for tech companies looking to make motorcycles safer is that many have gone overlooked, even amidst the global embrace of “connected cars.” After all, he points out that “there aren’t a lot of places to put sensors” on a motorcycle.

That’s where MotoTEC can come in. Schaudt hopes to convene a steering committee made up of transportation researchers and industry experts alike to evaluate technology with potential, then put out a call to companies looking for a boost.

He expects to hold a “pitch competition” if VTTI gets enough of a response, and he hopes to “keep the funnel wide” in accepting all manner of technologies as possibilities. Jennifer Aument, president of Transurban North America, suggested that solutions could include things like a system to connect a rider’s helmet to road sensors or technology to somehow make work zones safer for motorcyclists.

“It’s about finding something with a big impact,” Aument said. “Our single focus is on how to save lives.”

Depending on what technology wins out, Schaudt said testing could start as soon as this fall. Should it need a little more time to develop, however, he said VTTI could instead wait for the next “riding season” to start next spring.

No matter the exact timeline, Schaudt says the goal is that “within one year of program starting, we want results ready to share.” He noted that testing out the efficacy of various technologies can often be “extremely expensive” for small companies, and he thinks VTTI can play a big part in making that process a lot smoother.

“This all goes towards expediting deployment,” Schaudt said. “If they have the right support, they can start putting it on roadways and benefitting motorcycle riders right away.”

Aument added that the research work could even have a more immediate impact along the highways Transurban is working on.

With construction on the I-395 toll lanes picking up in earnest, necessitating work zones that become especially dangerous for drivers and motorcyclists alike, she said her company would be eager to embrace any low-tech solutions VTTI proposes to improve signage or lane markings and make everyone safer on the roads.

“We’re looking for solutions in our work zones right away, so if they find something interesting, we want to hear about it,” Aument said.

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County Holding ‘Our Shared Street’ Block Party to Educate Commuters

Commuters looking to learn more about local transportation options can swing by a block party along Columbia Pike tomorrow night (Tuesday).

Arlington Transportation Partners is hosting its second “Our Shared Street Pop-Up” event on a closed street at the intersection of S. Oakland Street and Columbia Pike, just across from the Oakland Apartments.

The event is designed to connect people to county transportation resources like Walk Arlington and Bike Arlington, in addition to a host of private options as well. Notably, this year’s gathering will feature dockless electric scooter companies Bird and Lime — the former has already started operating in Arlington, while the latter is very much eyeing the county for expansion.

Lime will also be offering its dockless bikes for riders to try, and Capital Bikeshare will be on hand as well to show off its wares to potential customers. The event will also feature games, giveaways and free food from local restaurants.

The party will start at 5 p.m. Tuesday night, and the county has a list of frequently asked questions about the event on its website.

Photo via Arlington Transportation Partners

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VDOT Looks for Innovative Transportation Ideas at Hackathon

The Virginia Department of Transportation is looking to “developers, planners, futurists, big data lovers and problem solvers” to help address the state’s biggest transportation questions.

Today (July 17) and tomorrow, participants in VDOT’s second SmarterRoads Hackathon and Idea Jam Series will gather at startup incubator 1776’s Crystal City campus. They will use VDOT’s open data sets and SmarterRoads portal to develop projects.

Last year’s event, held in Virginia Beach, produced a mobile app capable of providing real-time traffic signal information and a system to optimize road pavement schedules, among other concepts.

Winners receive cash prizes up to $1,000 and some successful entrants will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas at a future workshop.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine will deliver a speech tomorrow afternoon, before the event wraps up with an awards ceremony at 4 p.m.

File photo

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Arlington Preparing to Embrace Dockless Vehicles With Pilot Program

Arlington is now gearing up to officially embrace dockless bikes and scooters, even though some scooters have already arrived in the county.

County officials have spent the last few weeks mulling how to respond to the sudden appearance of dozens of Bird’s dockless scooters around Arlington in late June. Though the county did receive some advance warning from the company that it planned to start operating in Arlington, County Manager Mark Schwartz and the county’s legal team weren’t sure exactly how to react to Bird’s arrival.

Some communities have even chosen to take legal action against dockless vehicle companies that start operating without the local government’s consent, but the county announced in a statement today (Thursday) that staff determined there “are no regulations currently in place that would prohibit the operation and use of these devices in Arlington.” The county doesn’t have any regulation prohibiting the scooters on sidewalks, but it does ban “motorized vehicles” from county bike paths, which would include the scooters.

Moving forward, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow that officials are planning to unveil a “pilot demonstration project” to test out all manner of dockless vehicles this fall.

Much like D.C.’s current pilot program, Balliet says he envisions the effort helping to “provide structure to the deployment, operation and use of scooters and dockless bikes within the county and to evaluate the overall performance and gauge the impacts of these mobility devices.” He says the current plan is to deliver a framework for that effort to Schwartz and the County Board for approval this September.

Should the county design a program similar to the District’s efforts, dockless companies like Bird would be able to partner with the county to participate in the pilot. Lime Bike has already been working with the Crystal City BID, as it eyes the county for expansion. Skip’s CEO also says his company, the third dockless scooter outfit operating in D.C., is interested in Arlington.

Balliet did not immediately provide details on what form the pilot program might take, but County Board member John Vihstadt says he’d be broadly receptive to clearing the way for more dockless vehicles to become available around Arlington.

“New methods of mobility are something we need to embrace,” Vihstadt said. “Some people will say, with the greater consumer choice one has with mobility, is that undercutting the Metro system or our bus system… but I think they can work together. If people have to get to to the Metro, or get to the bus stop, we can utilize these other modes of personal transportation.”

In the meantime, the county is urging anyone using dockless vehicles around Arlington to be considerate of other drivers and bike riders. The county also released a new tip sheet today with suggestions on the best ways to use the scooters, while officials hammer out a more detailed policy.

Between Bird and the other dockless companies currently operating in D.C. and Maryland, the county estimates that roughly 100 dockless vehicles pop up in Arlington each day.

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Construction Kicks Off on Eastbound I-66 Widening, New Lane to Open in 2020

Construction kicked off this morning (Thursday) on a persistently congested section of eastbound I-66 with a ceremonial groundbreaking on Fairfax Drive.

The estimated $125 million project will add a lane to stretch approximately four miles inside the Beltway — from the Dulles Connector Road to Fairfax Drive — while mostly maintaining the existing right of way.

VDOT plans to complete construction of the lane in fall 2020. There will be night time lane closures along the project route throughout the summer to accommodate construction, according to information presented at a June 5 community meeting.

Night time closures will continue on a more limited basis through summer 2019. By the end of this summer, VDOT plans to begin primarily conducting work during the day without lane closures.

The findings of a noise analysis in the fall will potentially allow VDOT to incorporate approved noise walls into final construction plans.

Two other projects are slated to be completed by October 2021 as part of the widening initiative. First, a new ramp will be built to establish direct access to the West Falls Church Metro station from the highway. Second, a pedestrian bridge will be constructed over Lee Highway on the W&OD Trail. Currently, the trail crosses Lee Highway at its intersection with Fairfax Drive.

These plans have not gone uncontested — Preservation Arlington included the inside the Beltway portion of the highway on its 2017 list of “endangered historic places” and some East Falls Church residents have expressed concerns about the pedestrian bridge, for example.

Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, noted in her keynote address at the groundbreaking that I-66 is often considered one of the worst highways in America. Efforts such as this project, dynamically priced tolls on I-66 and an increase in travel options aim to change that.

“As we move forward, smart, targeted investments like the eastbound widening today are steps… [toward] building a transportation platform that supports and enhances our workforce, jobs, business investment and growth,” Valentine said.

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More Dockless Scooters Could Soon Arrive in Arlington, As County Mulls Policy

Dockless electric scooters only popped up in Arlington for the first time last weekend, but it seems like a sure bet that more are on the way.

Lime Bike is eyeing the county for its next expansion of its dockless scooter service, after starting up operations in D.C. last fall. The company even teamed up with the Crystal City Business Improvement District to offer free scooter rides for people walking along Crystal Drive today (Thursday), as part of a bid to build community support ahead of an eventual rollout in Arlington.

“You can’t just serve the District and expect to offer a transportation solution for the entire region,” Jason Starr, Lime’s D.C. general manager, told ARLnow. “But we don’t just want to operate without some good will and support from residents and businesses alike… While, yes, we do want to operate in Arlington, one thing we really pride ourselves on as a company is working with jurisdictions to create a viable source of support for this.”

Starr makes this point, in part, to draw a contrast with Bird, another dockless company in D.C., which first deployed its scooters in Arlington on Sunday. County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that county officials “did receive a heads-up” from Bird about its plans, at least, but he added that the county is very much weighing how to react to Bird’s sudden arrival.

“We will be having discussions with the county manager and the county attorney’s office on how to respond to their deployment in Arlington,” Balliet wrote in an email.

Some cities have chosen to take legal action in response to such tactics by the scooter companies. For instance, Santa Monica sued Bird over its failure to secure necessary business licenses and permits, while San Francisco has temporarily banned all electric scooters in the city as it hammers out a new permitting process.

Balliet says county officials have “met informally” with the various dockless vehicle companies in the region, in part to avoid any such conflict. In fact, Balliet says the county’s commuter services bureau is crafting a draft policy to govern how all manner of dockless vehicles can be used around Arlington.

He’s hoping that will be ready for presentation to County Manager Mark Schwartz and Transportation Director Dennis Leach by September, who will then be able to provide “guidance on next steps,” such as deciding whether the County Board will need to review the document.

Starr suggested that part of the county’s reticence to take action on a more formal policy just yet could be that officials are waiting to see how D.C. handles its ongoing pilot program with dockless vehicles, which is set to run through August. However, he stressed that he doesn’t think that’s “totally necessary,” considering the willingness of companies like Lime to work with the county.

Even with Bird’s arrival in Arlington, Starr doesn’t expect to change the company’s plans to work hand-in-hand with Arlington and its business community, however.

“There’s naturally a reason to act quickly, but I don’t want to do that at the expense of making sure we have a relationship with everyone here,” Starr said. “If we get the sense that this is something people are in favor of, that will be a natural time to approach Arlington and say, ‘We want to start operating the service now,’ but right now we’re still in the early phase.”

Yet it seems competition in the county is only set to increase in the coming weeks.

The head of Skip, the third dockless scooter company currently active in D.C., says their conversations with the county have been “incredibly positive” and hinted that Skip would also be interested in Arlington.

“We plan to invest in the local community and be a responsible partner in Arlington just as we’ve done in D.C.,” CEO Sanjay Dastoor wrote in an email.

Rob Mandle, chief operating officer of the Crystal City BID, expects that any competition among the dockless companies will only be healthy for Arlington.

He sees offering a full range of transportation options, dockless vehicles included, is crucial to attracting businesses to area. After all, companies tend to follow the demands of their potential workers, Amazon included, and young professionals are increasingly clamoring for the scooters.

“Mobility solutions is what top talent looks for,” Mandle said. “So if you don’t have those solutions, then you are at a competitive disadvantage.”

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More Than 100 Cyclists Flood Columbia Pike to Advocate for Better Bike Routes

More than 100 bicyclists hit Columbia Pike on Saturday (June 23) to draw attention to a new push to improve bike routes along the road.

The newly-formed advocacy group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County organized the roughly two-mile-long “Bike for the Pike” protest ride, which ran down Columbia Pike from the Penrose Square Park to the intersection with with S. Four Mile Run Drive.

The group is lobbying county leaders to consider a slew of improvements to make the Pike corridor easier on cyclists, arguing that large sections of the road remain unsafe. County Board members Libby Garvey and Erik Gutshall attended Saturday to lend their support to the effort.

“Despite budgeting over $100 million in the current adopted capital plan to make Columbia Pike a complete street, the county’s current plans wouldn’t even provide a complete bike facility that runs the full length of the Pike, let alone one that is safe, direct and low-stress,” Chris Slatt, the group’s founder and a transit-focused blogger, wrote in a statement. “#Bike4ThePike was a chance to say ‘We’re here, we ride, we pay taxes, we deserve safe, direct, low-stress routes.'”

The county has indeed made efforts to improving transit options along the Pike, with long-awaited changes to Metrobus service along the corridor starting yesterday (June 24). But Slatt’s organization is pressing for a variety of new roadway improvements and policy revisions to make the Pike even more hospitable to cyclists.

In the near term, Slatt wants to see the county conduct a “comprehensive safety review” of the Pike’s intersection with Washington Blvd. In a news release, the group notes that the area “has been the site of numerous bicycle and pedestrian crashes” since VDOT finished a major overhaul of the interchange a few years ago, and Slatt wants to see the county commission a study of the area within the next year.

His group is also advocating for the construction of a parallel bike and pedestrian bridge over Four Mile Run in the next three years, arguing that the current bridge is “dangerously narrow and lacks any sort of buffer from speeding traffic.”

They’re also pushing for traffic signal changes to make 9th Street S. friendlier for bicyclists as it intersects with both S. Glebe Road and S. Walter Reed Drive, as well as the construction of an access road connecting the Arlington View neighborhood to Army Navy Drive within the next five years — the county likely won’t start work on the latter project until 2027.

Slatt’s group plans to hold additional advocacy events focused on bicycling, walking and public transit around the county in the coming weeks.

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Bird’s Dockless Electric Scooters Now Available in Arlington

Dockless electric scooters have now made their way to Arlington.

The electric vehicle company Bird scattered dozens of its scooters across the county on Sunday (June 24), becoming the first company to offer the vehicles in Arlington. Bird’s operated in D.C. for the past few months, in addition to several other electric bike and scooter “ride sharing” firms like Lime and Skip.

Company spokesman Nick Samonas says Bird scooters are now available in Ballston, Clarendon, Crystal City, Pentagon City and some areas along Columbia Pike, and he noted that “as ridership grows, the company will expand its fleet to serve all of Arlington’s residents and communities.”

“As Arlington rapidly develops, it’s clear there’s an urgent need for additional transit options that are accessible, affordable and reliable for all residents and local communities,” Samonas wrote in an email. “Birds are a great solution for short ‘last mile’ trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive.”

Anyone hoping to use the scooters needs to download the company’s mobile app, then use it to find an available scooter. The app then guides would-be riders through the process of piloting the scooter, parking it and, of course, paying for the ride. Bird charges a base fee to “unlock” each scooter, then assess an additional fee based on how long riders use the vehicle.

Samonas declined to discuss how many scooters the company has made available across Arlington — though a quick scan of the app Monday morning shows more than 50 scooters around the county — but he said the company will only add more vehicles “when each is being ridden three or more times per day.”

Spokesmen for Lime and Skip, the other dockless scooter companies operating in D.C., didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they plan to follow suit and expand to Arlington. As of Monday morning, Lime’s app does show one scooter available just outside Crystal City; Skip’s scooters, meanwhile, remain on the other side of the Potomac River for now.

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Podcast: George Mason Regional Researcher Terry Clower

Arlington’s economic outlook is “so bright you need to wear shades,” according to Terry Clower, an expert on the D.C. region over at George Mason University.

As a professor of public policy and director of Mason’s Center for Regional Analysis, Clower can speak with some authority on just how Arlington is doing. But between Amazon’s potential arrival in Arlington and all of the problems surrounding the region’s transportation, Clower does see a few clouds on the horizon.

On this edition of the 26 Square Miles podcast, we discussed the county’s odds of landing Amazon, what would happen if the county is successful, and all manner of the hottest economic and transportation-related debates around Arlington.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

Photo courtesy of George Mason University

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County Scores $83 Million in Funding for ART Facilities, Pentagon City Improvements

Arlington is now in line to receive nearly $83 million in funding to help the county afford four major transportation projects over the next six years, including the construction of two bus maintenance facilities and a major expansion of transit options in Pentagon City.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority announced its new Six Year Program today (Friday), outlining the regional body’s plans to shell out a total of nearly $1.3 billion for transportation projects through 2024. The NVTA collects a select set of regional taxes, then identifies which construction efforts around the region are most likely to reduce in congestion before doling out money to help localities fund them.

State lawmakers recently decided to pull tens of millions of dollars away from the group each year, in favor of sending the money to Metro as part of the new dedicated funding agreement for the rail service. That’s constricted the NVTA’s ability to hand out funding for transportation projects, much to the chagrin of officials across Northern Virginia, but the group still has the capacity to help pay for 44 different projects around the region.

In Arlington, that includes:

  • $39 million for two new Arlington Transit operations and maintenance facilities
  • $28.8 million for Pentagon City road improvements and Transitway expansion
  • $10 million for improved traffic signals around the county
  • $5 million for a second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station

Notably, the NVTA declined to award additional funding to one of the county’s other top priorities: a second entrance to the Ballston Metro station. Arlington previously received $12 million from the group to start work on the effort, and was looking for another $72.3 million to make the project a reality, but NVTA leaders warned that such a project was unlikely to win out over other efforts more focused at relieving traffic congestion.

The $5 million for the second entrance at the Crystal City station is also substantially less than the $87 million the county requested to complete the project. County Manager Mark Schwartz has previously warned that Arlington’s funding challenges will make it difficult for the county to build both second entrances without the NVTA’s help, but the $5 million will help the county complete additional design, engineering and environmental work.

Those issues aside, the NVTA did manage to fund the bulk of the county’s request for the new ART facilities, the top priority for Arlington officials this year. The county is planning to spend a total of $98.4 million on additional facilities for buses over the coming years — a new “heavy maintenance” facility in Springfield and an “operations center” along Shirlington Road.

ART believes those new facilities are necessary as the bus service prepares to accommodate significantly higher ridership by 2026. ART buses have also experienced a series of mechanical problems over the last few weeks.

In Pentagon City, the NVTA money will help the county fund a $46.6 million effort to improve the area running from Army Navy Drive near the Pentagon City mall to the Crystal City Metro station off Route 1. The project will involve adding new bike lanes and turning lane throughout the area, as well as an expansion of the Transitway service to the Pentagon City Metro station and Army Navy Drive.

The service, which involves buses running in dedicated lanes, currently ends at 15th Street S., and officials hope expanding it will better connect the area to Columbia Pike.

Finally, the NVTA is sending $10 million to the county for “intelligent transportation system improvements,” which will include upgrades to traffic lights to reduce traffic and improve safety for pedestrians at select intersections. The improvements are slated for lights along Washington Boulevard and Columbia Pike, as well as throughout Crystal City.

Outside of Arlington, some of the NVTA’s largest funded projects include the widening of Route 1 in Fairfax County and improvements to Route 28 in Prince William County.

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County Picks Three Troublesome Intersections for Improvements

Three troublesome intersections across Arlington are now set for some improvements, as part of the county’s “Neighborhood Complete Streets” program.

The county revealed yesterday (Wednesday) that it has chosen a trio of intersections for “pilot projects” of the program, which is designed to fund a whole host of local road projects in areas plagued by frequent accidents. In the coming months, workers will start construction at:

  • 6th Street S. at S. Adams Street in Penrose
  • N. Buchanan Street at 13th Street N. and 14th Street N. in Waycroft-Woodlawn
  • 6th Street N. at N. Edison Street and N. Emerson Street in Bluemont

At 6th Street S., officials chose the intersection due to its “extremely wide pedestrian crossing,” according to the county’s website.

“Though there is a center median, it doesn’t provide a refuge for pedestrians crossing 6th Street South, which is both a bicycle and transit route,” staff wrote.

Similarly, county staff note that the “intersection of 6th Street N. and N. Emerson Street has a sharp bend that leads to the intersection of 6th Street N. and N. Edison Street, which is extremely wide.”

“The large width of this neighborhood intersection makes it easy for cars to travel quickly through this area, even while turning, and makes for a longer pedestrian crossing,” staff wrote.

Finally, the county is aiming for improvements at N. Buchanan Street in order to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to gain access to nearby Woodlawn Park.

Officials have yet to decide on the exact details of the construction at these intersections, and will hold a series of public meetings to collect community input:

  • 6th Street S.: Trinity Episcopal Church Children’s Center, Tuesday (June 19) at 7:30 p.m.
  • N. Buchanan Street: Entrance of Woodlawn Park at N. Buchanan Street and 14th Street N., June 23 from 9:30 to 11:30 am and June 25 from 8:30 to 10:30 am.
  • 6th Street N.: Arlington Traditional School, June 27 at 7:30 p.m.

The county is planning to add “tactical/interim improvements” at each intersection this fall, as it works on more extensive plans.

Arlington officials picked these three projects after asking for public submissions of tricky intersections around the county and reviewed 169 potential projects in all. The county is currently studying all of those intersections, and will eventually score and rank each one for potential funding going forward.

However, transportation officials warn that the county’s recent budget squeeze has forced staff to trim funding for the program a bit, though they have not eliminated it entirely.

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Proposed 10-Year Capital Plan Rolls Back Transportation, Neighborhood Improvement Projects

With Metro expenses climbing and tax revenue growth slowing, the county’s top executive is calling for a rollback in new construction on some transportation improvements and other neighborhood infrastructure projects.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz unveiled his proposed Capital Improvement Plan in a presentation to the County Board Tuesday (May 22), detailing the $2.7 billion in construction projects he wants to see Arlington take on over the next 10 years, and he did not have much in the way of good news for county officials.

Schwartz’s proposal does not call for the county to stop work on any existing construction efforts, or cancel some of Arlington’s major new facilities projects. For instance, Schwartz noted that his CIP still has full funding for things like the Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center, the new Lubber Run Community Center and a replacement for Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway.

However, he believes the roughly $90 million in additional bond funding the county will need to put towards Metro, under the terms of the dedicated funding deal hammered out by state lawmakers earlier this year, will seriously squeeze Arlington’s ability to take on major new projects over the next 10 years. When combined with rising school costs, and the Metro funding deal’s cuts to regional transportation funding available through the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Schwartz feels there’s every reason to believe Arlington will be under some serious budget pressure for the next few years.

“This is not one of the better CIPs I’ve ever worked on,” Schwartz told reporters Tuesday. “You’re not going to find anything new in here… but I’ve proposed a CIP that sticks to what we’re committed to doing. Even still, I think there are things we should be doing that will have to be postponed.”

One of the largest changes Schwartz is proposing is to the county’s Neighborhood Conservation program, which funds modest community improvements like sidewalks, signs and landscaping. The county originally planned to spend $60 million on the program over the next 10 years; the new CIP would slash that to $36 million.

“We’ll be able to catch up on our backlog of projects already in the pipeline, and do some planning for future programs, but not much else,” said Michelle Cowan, the deputy county manager.

Schwartz’s plan also does not include any money for buying land for new parks; the county’s last CIP two years ago included $15 million for that purpose. However, his proposal does include $18 million for the first phase of redevelopment at Jennie Dean Park in Nauck, after the County Board just approved a new policy framework for the Four Mile Run valley.

Transportation projects on “arterial roads,” such as S. Walter Reed Drive or S. George Mason Drive, could also get pushed back under Schwartz’s proposal. He noted that the county still will devote $91 million over 10 years to improvements along Columbia Pike, largely aimed at beefing up bus service in the corridor to help compensate for the death of the controversial streetcar, but he also emphasized that Arlington’s “number one priority” with its transportation money is meeting its Metro obligation.

Even still, Schwartz echoed the warning by some county leaders that the county will likely have to abandon or severely delay plans to add second entrances at the Crystal City, Ballston and East Falls Church Metro stations. The county expected to use regional funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to pay for the combined $230 million in costs — now, NVTA leaders warn that they’ll likely have less money to dole out under a hotly debated provision of the Metro funding deal, and Schwartz told officials that he “can’t tell you a way to come up with the funds for those” projects without NVTA money.

Schwartz added that the CIP does include about $3 million for development at the Buck property along N. Quincy Street and $1.5 million for improvements at parcels along Carlin Springs Road. However, Schwartz noted that the county was originally planning on moving forward with ambitious new projects at those sites, which it will now largely have to put on hold.

In all, the county’s financial picture is so strained that Schwartz believes Arlington’s county government and school system are spending about as much on debt payments each year as they can “in good conscience.” That will likely come as bad news to School Board members, who have been hoping the county would help the school system take on a bit more debt to fund expensive high school projects at the Arlington Career Center and Education Center sites.

“If we’re going to put more money toward schools, something has to go away,” Schwartz said. “And I’d be hard pressed to figure out what it would be.”

Board member John Vihstadt echoed that point once Schwartz’s presentation was finished, even as he noted that the lack of money for new park land was “very disappointing.”

Schwartz and some Board members expressed some optimism that the 2019 elections could change the outlook in the General Assembly, particularly as some Northern Virginia Democrats agitate for a chance to re-do the Metro funding deal that’s so squeezed localities.

But, for now, the county is stuck with a gloomy financial forecast. Schwartz even concluded his presentation by noting that he expects to propose tax rate increases in his next budget, an outcome the Board managed to avoid this year.

The Board will now hold a series of work sessions on the CIP over the next month, and is set to approve it by July 14.

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VDOT Seeking Feedback on Shirlington Circle Improvements

State transportation officials want to hear from you about how to best improve the I-395 interchange at exit 6 near Shirlington.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is in the midst of studying safety and operational improvements to the area, known as Shirlington Circle, and they’re convening a public meeting on the project this Monday (May 21). The gathering is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Fairlington Community Center (3308 S. Stafford Street), and VDOT staff plan to give a presentation on potential improvement options at 7 p.m.

VDOT is also eyeing changes to several other roadways in the area, including:

  • The ramp from S. Glebe Road (Route 120) to southbound I-395
  • The intersection of S. Shirlington Road and S.Arlington Mill Drive
  • The intersection of Gunston Road and Martha Custis Drive

VDOT is examining ways to “reduce congestion, crashes, and boost the interchange’s overall performance,” according to a press release.

The agency plans to wrap up the public comment period for the Shirlington improvements on May 31, then study a few alternatives in more detail starting this summer. VDOT plans to issue a report on a “preferred alternative” by this fall.

Anyone looking to comment on the project can do so at the meeting, send comments by e-mail, or even mail them to Olivia Daniszewski, Virginia Department of Transportation, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030, by May 31.

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County Board Poised to Approve Construction of Shirlington Road Improvements

Some long-awaited improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians on S. Walter Reed Drive in Shirlington could soon move forward.

Arlington County has been hoping for years to add a series of new features to the road as it runs between S. Arlington Mill Drive to S. Four Mile Run Drive, and the County Board is poised to award a roughly $1.8 million contract for the construction this weekend.

County planners are looking to improve access to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and the Four Mile Run Trail along the road, and the county is aiming to add new crosswalks and curb ramps, ADA-compliant bus stops, upgraded traffic and pedestrian signals and additional street lighting in the area.

The plans also call for a slight widening and resurfacing of S. Walter Reed Drive, and the elimination of a westbound turn lane on Arlington Mill Drive to improve the crossing for walkers and cyclists. County officials started testing the latter change last summer, briefly prompting a few traffic back-ups in the area. According to a report by county staff, transportation planners managed to resolve those problems by tweaking the timing of traffic signals around the end of 2017.

The Shirlington Civic Association is supportive of the project. Its president said in a letter that the association hopes, among other things, that the project will improve access to the western end of the Shirlington dog park.

The county is hoping to start construction sometime this spring or summer, pending the Board’s approval of the contract. The Board is set to vote to vote on the matter on Saturday (May 19), as part of its “consent agenda,” which is generally reserved for noncontroversial items that are approved all at once.

The total cost of all phases of the project, including the current contract, is listed as $2.8 million.

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Transportation Planners Invite Arlingtonians to ‘Visualize 2045’

Transportation planners are inviting Arlingtonians to look three decades into the region’s future at a meeting tomorrow night.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board is hosting a public forum focusing on its “Visualize 2045” initiative at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (May 2) at the Arlington Central Library.

The organization — which includes representatives of 22 local governments around the D.C. region and a variety of other federal, state and local transportation officials — is convening a series of town halls on its long-range plans for the area over the coming weeks.

The group wants feedback on seven broad goals for the region:

  • Bring jobs and housing closing together
  • Expand bus rapid transit regionwide
  • Move more people on Metrorail
  • Provide more telecommuting and other options for commuting
  • Expand express highway network
  • Improve walk and bike access to transit
  • Complete the “National Capital Trail

While officials are already working on some of these goals, others are deemed more aspirational and need funding to become a reality. But Transportation Planning Board officials hope to get public feedback on all of them to shape the development of policies to support these benchmarks.

Anyone who can’t make it to the meeting but still wants to submit comments on the plan can do so on the group’s website through May 31.

Photo via National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board

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