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The lonely utility pole at Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street in Sept. (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The lonely utility pole protruding into a Columbia Pike intersection has not come down yet, the county confirms, despite assurances it was going to by the end of last year.

In September, ARLnow learned that an errant utility pole sitting a few feet from the sidewalk at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street was scheduled to be removed. But that has yet to happen, due to at least one utility company not completing work to bury wires as part of the Columbia Pike multimodal project.

“Dominion Energy crews have completed removal of their overhead lines, with [the] exception of one property. Comcast’s contractor has completed removal of their overhead wires. Verizon is dealing with material shipment delays, which have deferred the process of scheduling their undergrounding work,” reads the county’s Jan. 6 project update. “When all three companies have removed their overhead wires, the utility poles along the roadway will be removed.”

The update on the website was made shortly after ARLnow reached out for more information based on a reader tip that the pole was still there.

There’s no timeline as to when the pole will be removed, a county spokesperson tells us.

The work may eventually result in the temporary closure of Columbia Pike lanes between the Arlington/Fairfax County line and the Four Mile Run Bridge during construction hours, they note.

In the fall of 2020, a traffic signal was installed at the intersection of S. Frederick Street and Columbia Pike near Arlington Mill. It was in response to a years-long request from residents and advocates to improve the intersection’s safety, which had seen a number of crashes and accidents over the years, including some involving pedestrians.

As part of that construction, the driveway to Arbor Heights — an affordable housing complex with an entrance right off Columbia Pike — was redone to align with S. Frederick Street. Previously, a cement island with a strip of sidewalk held the pole but that island was removed, leaving the pole all alone.

It’s surrounded by bollards and, though the county says it hasn’t received any complaints about it blocking or being dangerous to traffic, ARLnow has received several notes about it from concerned motorists.

A new underground duct bank was built and the utility companies are using it to bury the lines.

All of the ongoing work is part of the Columbia Pike multimodal street improvements project, which extends from the Arlington/Fairfax County line to S. Joyce Street in Pentagon City.

The goal is to “make Columbia Pike a safer, more accessible route for all users” as well as to transform “this main thoroughfare into a complete street that balances all modes of travel and supports high-quality, high-frequency transit service.”

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All lanes of Columbia Pike are blocked due to a large gas leak.

The leak is along the Pike near S. Scott Street and a number of large apartment buildings. Police, firefighters and Washington Gas crews are on scene, repairing the leak and checking nearby buildings for elevated levels of natural gas.

The road closure is affecting several bus lines, including Metro and ART buses.

“Due to emergency utility repairs, Columbia Pike is closed between Quinn St. and S. Walter Reed Dr,” said Arlington Transit. “ART Routes 42, 45 & 74 will be on detour until further notice.”

As of 1:30 p.m. the road was expected to remain closed for at least another 30-60 minutes.

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Morning Notes

Blue Line Reopens — “On Friday, October 15, normal service will resume on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Intermittent delays are possible as the investigation into Tuesday’s derailment continues.” [WMATA, Twitter]

New County Website Launching Soon — “Arlington County Government is launching a new website, the first major refreshment of the County’s online presence in more than seven years. The site will launch Monday, Oct. 18. Users will continue to access the site by visiting www.arlingtonva.us.” [Arlington County]

Spotted: Bizarre Banner Bedecked Bus — From Nicole Merlene: “Outside the Courthouse today… What in the world? Civil service sure ain’t for wimps with crazies like this.” [Twitter]

Reuters Photo Shows Local Apartments — “A man sits on his balcony amid a sea of balconies at an apartment building in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Kevin Lamarque.” [Twitter]

New Utility Vault Near Clarendon — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Behold the 40-ton concrete utility vault installed under Washington Boulevard yesterday between N Kirkwood and Wilson. That stretch’s big safety upgrades and lane-shift makeover continues into next year.” [Twitter]

National Airport Getting Busier — “New data suggest the airport, which has had one of the most sluggish returns to normal(ish) performance in the COVID era, may be seeing better times for the rest of the year. New data from the trade group Airlines for America suggest that the airport will see just 11 percent fewer flights during the fourth quarter than during the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. That projected performance also is less than the 14-percent drop reported nationally, based on current flight schedules.” [Sun Gazette]

Water Main Break Closes SchoolUpdated at 9 a.m. — Arlington Science Focus School is closed today due to a 6-inch water main break on the 1400 block of N. Lincoln Street that’s affecting about 200 water customers. [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]

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(Updated at 9:50 a.m.) All lanes of N. Glebe Road were closed at 24th Road N., between Langston Blvd and Marymount University, due to a reported crash this morning.

Arlington Alert reported the crash and closure shortly after 7 a.m. Since then, the northbound lanes have reopened while the southbound lanes remain closed.

It appears that the crash took out a utility pole. Repair crews are on the scene.

“Avoid the area,” said the Arlington Alert. “Seek alternate route.”

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The lonely utility pole at Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

A lonely utility pole protruding into the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street is expected to come down by the end of the year, a county official tells ARLnow.

Last fall, a permanent traffic signal was installed at the intersection of S. Frederick Street and Columbia Pike near Arlington Mill. The work was part of the Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements project to make the thoroughfare more friendly to all users.

It was also in response to a long-time request from residents and advocates to improve the safety of the intersection, which had become notorious for crashes and accidents, some involving pedestrians.

Along with the new traffic signals, the driveway to Arbor Heights — an affordable housing complex with an entrance right off Columbia Pike — was rebuilt to align with S. Frederick Street, Department of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet said. The previous horseshoe driveway had a cement island with a strip of sidewalk and the utility pole. The island was removed, leaving the errant utility pole, which now sits several feet from the sidewalk in the road.

The pole is surrounded by bollards and Balliet said the county has not received any complaints about it being dangerous or blocking traffic. ARLnow did receive a tip about it from a concerned motorist, however.

That pole is coming down soon as utilities move underground, he says. A new underground duct bank was built as part of the street improvement project and the utility companies will use it to bury their lines.

Most of the lines could be taken underground by the end of the month, according to the project’s most recent update on the website.

Comcast, Dominion Energy and Verizon all have overhead wires on the utility pole at S. Frederick Street and Columbia Pike, a county official confirms.

Comcast has started this process and began removing wires last week, while Dominion also began the switchover last week and is removing its overhead wires this week. Verizon is currently applying for permits, according to the county, and work will begin once those permits are issued.

Once all the companies take down their wires, the pole will be removed.

The entire switchover from overhead to underground wiring and the removal of all utility poles along the Pike from S. Jefferson Street to the Four Mile Run Bridge is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

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An already pricey plan to place overhead utility lines underground along Columbia Pike is getting more expensive.

The Arlington County Board voted unanimously at its Tuesday meeting to approve boosting an existing $17.5 million contract for the work to $23 million — a $5.5 million increase — due to some unforeseen circumstances.

In a report to the Board, county staff said that its contractor, Fort Myer Construction Corporation (FMCC), encountered a mysteriously out-of-place underground duct bank — the conduit through which utility lines are placed — on a segment of the undergrounding work from S. Greenbrier Street to the Four Mile Run Bridge.

(FMCC’s contract is for one segment, from the county line to Four Mile Run, of the overall project.)

The rogue duct bank was adjacent to Columbia Pike, where a new duct bank containing the currently above-ground utility lines was to go. The county says it’s investigating why the existing duct bank, which is owned by Verizon, was not under the roadway as records indicated.

Given that the lines can no longer be placed next to the roadway, they will have to go under Columbia Pike, county staff said. That will require more extensive lane and intersection closures and occasional weekend detours — thus the extra expense.

At last night’s meeting Board members pushed for much of the disruptive work to be done at night, to prevent a traffic nightmare along the Pike during peak times.

“This is going to be a mess,” said Board member Libby Garvey.

More from the county staff report:

A third segment, Four Mile Run Bridge to South Jefferson Street (Segment H&I), started construction in early 2018. During construction of this segment, a previously unknown existing underground communications duct bank was encountered which required redesign to relocate the new underground combined electric-communications duct bank, and results in this request to increase to the construction contract.

FMCC completed the first part of the new duct bank between South Jefferson Street and South Greenbrier Street without issues. The initial excavation for the segment between South Greenbrier Street and Four Mile Run Bridge uncovered an existing underground communications duct bank in the location planned for the new duct bank (Figure 1). This conflict resulted in a revised design that places the duct bank in the roadway, making the work more complex as construction must contend with heavy traffic conditions. The overall duct length has increased because the new duct bank must be routed around many existing utilities. Additionally, the project was delayed due to the time necessary to complete the redesign. A contract change was negotiated with FMCC for the additional cost to install the redesigned underground duct bank and return the project back to the original substantial completion timeframe. The result of negotiations was an increase of $5,500,000.

Construction that is part of this contract change will require additional lane closures beyond those currently in effect today. These will vary depending on the phase of construction and will be communicated to the public in advance. Some left-turn restrictions will be implemented in phases at intersections and driveways and some intersections will require closures and detours where the work will occur on weekends. Access to driveways will be maintained throughout the project area and bus stops will be temporarily relocated and consolidated when impacted by construction.

During the engineering phase of the project, records showed the existing communications duct bank was inside the roadway with sufficient clearance for the planned new duct bank. An investigation is ongoing into the reason why the existing duct bank was found to be in a location that interfered with the new duct bank and will continue concurrently with construction of the revised design.

Map via Arlington County. Kalina Newman contributed to this report.

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(Updated at 1:50 p.m.) Three out of four lanes of Wilson Blvd in Ballston were blocked by utility work Monday morning.

The work, at the intersection of Wilson and N. Randolph Street, near the mall, was to replace a blown electrical transformer in a utility vault that’s in the middle of the westbound lanes of Wilson. Crews from Dominion Energy were on scene, along with a large, mobile crane.

We’re told the transformer went out Sunday, knocking out power to an adjacent apartment building.

All westbound lanes of Wilson Blvd were blocked approaching Ballston Quarter mall, while only one eastbound lane was closed. The lane closures caused minor backups during this morning’s rush hour.

Residents in the area have been complaining for years about excessive noise caused by vehicles — particularly trucks — driving over the utility vaults.

“The plates have been there for years, but starting in October 2018, they began making absurdly loud noises whenever cars/buses/trucks drive over them,” one tipster said in July. “Dozens of complaints have been filed on the county’s ‘reporting tool’ website… The result of the noise is that local residents at Ava Ballston Square, Origin Ballston, and other apartments are disturbed through the day and awakened at night.”

Today’s work is not expected to alleviate the noise issue. A Dominion spokeswoman noted that the vault itself is maintained by the owner of the nearby building, not the utility company.

“The grates are not ours and the work has nothing to do with replacing them,” a Dominion spokeswoman told ARLnow. “The grates top our underground vaults containing our transformers that serve the buildings along the street… Normally, you will see our transformers sitting at ground level or up high on a utility pole. The developer wanted them underground.”

As of 1:30 p.m., all lanes had reportedly reopened.

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Utility work on the under-construction Mosaic Park will close a road in Ballston for the next three weeks.

County crews are closing 5th Road N. between N. Quincy and Pollard streets on weekdays from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. The closures kicked off yesterday (Monday) “to accommodate utility work” for the park and are set to wrap up on Friday, Aug. 16, according to an Arlington Alert.

The road is just south of the Gold’s Gym in Ballston, on the southern edge of Mosaic Park.

The utility work is the start of a long-planned effort to overhaul Mosaic Park, with a new playground, athletic court and water feature, among other upgrades. The park, once largely a grass field with some playground equipment, is currently fenced off and mostly mounds of dirt and construction equipment.

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Have you seen Arlington utility workers feeding what looks like a giant flat worm into your neighborhood manhole?

The process is part of a project to repair sewers countywide. This week, you’ll spot workers on the 6000 block of 2nd Street N., and between W. Glebe Road and S. Fern Street on S. Glebe Road, according to Peter Golkin, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Services.

Above is a video that takes you down the sewer to see the process for yourself. The February video shows work on the four-mile “relief” sewer line along S. Glebe Road, which failed an inspection in 2015 because the pipe’s eroded interior. Digging up and replacing even 75 percent of the pipe could take up to a year and cost millions of dollars, workers said, which is why the county reuses pipes like this one by fixing the inside.

Workers feed a giant, flat polyester and fiber glass bag into sections of the pipe via the manholes. Then they heat up the so-called “cured in place pipe” with steam or hot water to cook resin in the bag. As the beat is “cured” for several hours it begins inflate around the interior of the pipe and harden.

The whole process takes about a day from start to finish and the newly outfitted pipes have an estimated lifespan of 50 years, per the county’s website. Relined pipes also have a better “flow capacity,” meaning they can move more sewage. But best of all, they prevent utility workers from having to rip up the streets.

“As you’d imagine, the savings in terms of money and time are substantial with relining,” Golkin told ARLnow. “At least half the cost, not to mention fewer months and traffic disruptions.”

Arlington hires contractors every year as part of a $16-million-dollar Capital Improvement Program to reline about seven miles of the county’s sewers.

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Demolition has begun in preparation for the Nauck Town Center project, and the neighbors might not be the only ones buzzing with interest.

The building torn down last week is none other than the former home of about 70,000 honey bees, which the county relocated in July 2017 after realizing they had not only purchased a former office building but an apiary abode as well.

The aging building had only been vacant for about four months, according to the county, but about 100 pounds of honey were already generated by the time that local beekeepers swooped in to relocate move the hive.

The demolition is one of the final steps in the project’s first pre-construction phase. Utility undergrounding and site perimeter streetscaping will start fall 2018 and end spring 2019.

The second phase of Nauck Town Square project construction is scheduled to begin in the spring or summer of 2019 and wrap up by the winter of 2020. Pre-construction for phase two will begin spring 2018 and last through winter 2019.

The Nauck Town Center project, which has been years in the making, includes an open plaza, outdoor stage, public art, tables and seating and sidewalk improvements, along with displays about the history of the community, which was settled by free African-Americans in 1844. The design includes a large sculpture of the word “FREED.”

Photo courtesy Daniel Wanke

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A majority of construction-caused natural gas line ruptures in Arlington occur despite excavators calling Miss Utility to locate underground utility systems prior to digging, according to the latest figures.

For fiscal year 2015, Washington Gas, the local gas utility that serves Arlington, reported 48 incidents of damage to its gas distribution system in the county. Of these incidents, 73% were caused by excavators, and, of those, 63% occurred despite the contractors calling Virginia 811, the state’s Miss Utility call center, prior to excavation, the utility said.

As recently as late July, a gas leak was reported on S. Fillmore Street in an Arlington neighborhood with a mixture of single family homes, duplexes and apartment complexes. Four blocks were shut down after the gas began to leak out. Reports suggested a construction crew working on the sidewalks ruptured a 3/4-inch gas line.

Digging damage to other underground utility systems like water mains and fiber optic cables also are common, though statistics on those incidents were not immediately available. Because of the combustibility of natural gas, utilities are required by the state of Virginia to keep records on gas line ruptures.

(ARLnow.com has reported on dozens of excavation-related water main breaks and gas leaks over the past 6.5 years.)

Employees with Arlington County’s water and utilities division ruptured a water main on Aug. 30 as they were doing excavation work on a residential street to connect a new water pipe to a house undergoing major renovations, causing an eight-hour water outage in the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls neighborhood.

The rupture occurred even though surveyors had come to the 22nd Street N. site prior to the excavation work to spray paint yellow, blue and other colors marking where underground utility systems were located.

The markings showing the location of the underground water main that serves a portion of the neighborhood were not accurate, according to county workers at the scene. The colors indicating the existence of an underground water line appeared to be at least three feet from where the water main was actually located.

Frustrated by the water main rupture, the workers complained that the mapping of underground utility systems is routinely inaccurate. Arlington County uses a contractor, Double H. Locates LLC, for locating and marking of the county’s water mains, sanitary sewers, storm sewers and county fiber optic lines prior to excatvation. For natural gas lines, Washington Gas contracts with UtiliQuest. Double H. Locates did not return calls for comment about the water main rupture.

“Most of the time our markings are accurate, but occasionally there are errors,” Arlington County Chief Support Engineer Dave Hundelt said about the water main damage. “We need more time to investigate this particular instance, but if we hit a utility that was marked, mismarked or unmarked we report it to that utility company and work with them to coordinate repairs to our respective utilities to get customers back in service as soon as possible.”

The science of locating underground utility systems using remote-sensing instruments and maps provided by utilities remains very challenging, even for the best firms, according to Michael Maguire, president of Accurate Infrastructure Data Inc., a Baltimore-based company that provides underground utility investigation, subsurface utility engineering, surveying and mapping services.

These locator companies recognize their work is not foolproof.

“The underground is a complex environment,” Maguire said. “The congestion of underground utilities or the weakness of the conductor that represents the underground utility line can lead to less-than-fully accurate locations. Even under the best of circumstances, with the most diligent practitioners in the field, you can get misled. You can get fooled and end up with a location that’s not a correct depiction of where the utility actually exists. There are those practitioners who are perhaps less careful.”

Excavators are reminded constantly to call Miss Utility before digging. The call center will notify utility companies when excavation work is proposed in the vicinity of their utility system and then each utility has the responsibility to send out surveyors to locate and mark the utilities on the ground.

Arlington County is a member of Virginia 811, a not-for-profit organization created by Virginia’s utilities. Virginia 811 has more than 600 utility members, as large as Verizon and Dominion Virginia Power and as small as water utility systems with only 20 or 30 customers.

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