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Current view of Route 1 (via National Landing BID)

The state’s idea to lower elevated segments of Route 1 through Crystal City could cause more injuries to pedestrians and chronic congestion, according to a new report.

This summer, the Virginia Department of Transportation officially decided to turn Route 1, which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th Streets S., into an at-grade urban boulevard. It would feature wide buffered sidewalks on both sides, six to seven narrowed travel lanes, a 30-mph speed limit, wide crosswalks, landscaping and medians with pedestrian refuges.

The changes, which could cost $180 million, are aimed at making the corridor more pedestrian-friendly, but that may not actually be the case, according to the VDOT-commissioned report. Using Arlington County rush hour traffic forecasts, the report predicts pedestrian-involved crashes could increase.

Meanwhile, travel times could lengthen by up to 6 minutes for vehicles heading into Crystal City in the morning and heading out in the afternoon, due largely to delays for drivers turning left on Route 1 and several commuter bus stops getting rerouted.

Arlington County staff questioned how these negatives could square with VDOT’s preference for the concept, per a staff report. They suggested that the authors make the negative results of the traffic analysis clearer.

“An at-grade Route 1 has many operational challenges,” county staff said. “The short block lengths between parallel streets result in the need to coordinate signals and thus, the pedestrian delays will be increased on the minor parallel routes. The results point to negative impacts on the ability of transit to effectively serve the National Landing area. The at-grade scenario shown in the preferred alternative offers a more limited network connectivity while simultaneously introducing conflicts and sacrificing transit mobility.”

The report, prepared by engineering consulting firm Kimley-Horn, specifically recommends one at-grade option that allows all turns at 15th Street S., eliminates left turns at 18th Street S., and possibly includes a pedestrian underpass or overpass at 18th Street.

The state initially agreed to the study and changes to Route 1 as part of its 2018 agreement with Amazon to invest in transportation in the region.

Rendering of potential changes to Route 1 (via National Landing BID)

Pedestrian safety 

As progress ramped up on the study, locals and organizations following the Route 1 project have kept pedestrian safety front and center.

When VDOT initially considered a nine-lane highway, advocates said that would be unsafe for pedestrians and the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) created its own renderings for a tree-lined and pedestrian-friendly Route 1.

After VDOT revised its proposal and announced its intention to bring Route 1 at-grade, Livability 22202 — a coalition of three area civic associations — rejected the study for several reasons, chief among them that even the new six- to seven-lane highway would not, in their view, improve pedestrian safety.

Data in the report appears to bear that conclusion out. Over two decades, pedestrian traffic during peak afternoon hours could increase 2x to 5x current levels, and with that could come more crashes involving pedestrians.

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Reckless drivers are regularly backing up on I-395 to get to the Express Lanes, despite bollards placed to prevent it.

Video has captured a number of drivers getting onto northbound I-395 from the Route 110 ramp, near the Pentagon, then driving in reverse to get around bollards that block access to the high-occupancy toll lanes. In return for driving the wrong way on a major highway, the drivers get to save a couple of minutes by avoiding minor traffic backups in the main lanes of the 14th Street Bridge.

Footage of the wrong-way drivers has been published by public safety watchdog Dave Statter over the past two years. The most recent jaw-dropping video — showing multiple drivers drive in reverse in traffic lanes — was posted last week.

It appears the scofflaws have upped their antics in response to the addition of the bollards near where the main lanes and the Express Lanes split, before the bridges.

“Last year, in close coordination with [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and external engineering firms, we worked together to determine that adding bollards at that location was and continues to be the best solution,” said Pam Davila of the Australian company Transurban, which operates the 495/95/395 HOT lanes. “We’re confident that the bollards continue to serve their purpose and cannot stress enough that drivers should be mindful to practice safe driving at all times, on and off the Express Lanes.”

She said Transurban and VDOT discussed “other mitigation options” and talked extensively about issues such as the optimum length for the bollards.

After they went up, Statter observed an improvement, but 15 months later, people are out-maneuvering them.

Virginia State Police is “very aware of” this problem, spokeswoman Corinne Geller says, and is working with VDOT and Transurban to tackle it from both enforcement and engineering perspectives.

“As a preventative measure, state police has stepped up its enforcement and presence in that particular area,” she said. “But our troopers simply cannot be everywhere all the time, nor would permanently stationing a trooper at that one location be efficient or fair use of our limited resources across the Northern Virginia region. Our troopers are committed to doing everything we can to prevent such reckless behavior from occurring.”

Statter’s videos show what people did pre-bollards. Originally, defiant drivers crossed the highway at a nearly perpendicular angle to make the lane.

Orange barrels and cones didn’t deter some drivers. With surprising courtesy, one driver used the turn signal to cross three traffic lanes — blocking oncoming cars — and squeeze through an opening.

More barrels went up in shorter intervals, which did not stop this intrepid driver from creating an opening.

https://twitter.com/VaDOTNOVA/status/1283172582213197825

Instead of making these dangerous moves, the Transurban spokeswoman says drivers can access the Express Lanes at a different juncture.

“There is an option for drivers coming from the Pentagon City to safely get on the Express Lanes by taking the Pentagon/Eads Street ramp, and we encourage drivers to use that route, especially during rush hour when there is heavy traffic on the general-purpose lanes,” she said.

While enforcement plays a role in stopping the antics, Geller reminded drivers it is their job to follow the basic rules of the road.

“There is still a responsibility on the driver to make safe, legal and logical decisions when behind the wheel,” she said. “Backing up and/or driving the wrong way on an interstate ramp and/or in a travel lane put that driver and countless other motorists at risk of a crash and serious injury. The safety of our highways is a collaborative responsibility and one we hope the motoring public will help us improve, especially at this particular location.”

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A minor typo along Route 50 in the Rosslyn area has been fixed, to the relief of local pedants.

A directional sign along westbound Route 50 (Arlington Blvd), as one travels through the Rosslyn and Courthouse areas, has long read “14Th Street.” Just days after the error was pointed out to VDOT on social media, the erroneous capital-T was finally replaced late last week.

https://twitter.com/VaDOTNOVA/status/1435271461669908489

“The letter was replaced on the sign on Friday, September 10!” confirmed VDOT spokeswoman Ellen Kamilakis, who runs the celebrated VDOT Northern Virginia Twitter account. She said tips from the public help the agency correct minor problems across its expansive transportation network.

“Our Transportation Field Operations (TFO) group handles the maintenance of all signs, signals, and pavement markings in our District,” said Kamilakis. “We have more than 250,000 signs and 1,400 signalized intersections, so [while] crews always keep a look out for items that need to be fixed, we always encourage residents to reach out to us if they see an issue somewhere. People can let our Customer Service Center know via https://my.vdot.virginia.gov/ or 800-FOR-ROAD.”

Social media — Twitter, specifically — is a popular means of reporting issues, but unlike the VDOT website and hotline it’s more of an informal channel.

“We try to be as helpful as possible on social media,” said Kamilakis, who regularly provides safety tips and general, lighthearted life advice in the form of a “Morning MeeMaw Nag.”

“We answer all of the questions that can be reasonably answered on social media,” Kamilakis added. “Our Twitter community mainly reports downed signs, potholes, signals on flash, debris in the road, drainage issues, etc. As these aren’t formal customer service requests through the system, I simply reach out to those in charge of said areas and they are always happy to help.”

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Morning Notes

Delayed Reopening for N. Glebe Road — From VDOT: “Update: Due to last week’s inclement weather, the new reopening date for Glebe Road is Monday, Aug. 30 at 5 a.m.” [Twitter]

Arlington Paralympian Competing in Tokyo — “Sydney Barta of Arlington is competing in four track and field events this week and next at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Barta, a 17-year-old student at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., will be competing in the 100-meter, 200-meter, discus throw, and shot put throw.” [Patch]

Pedestrians Peeved About Pushing Buttons — “Last Wednesday, Arlington County officials announced plans to roll back 78 automatic pedestrian phase activations, also known as ‘beg buttons,’ throughout the county… The chair of Arlington’s volunteer transportation commission, Chris Slatt, had choice words… ‘To use the start of school to justify this change and to claim it is to ‘improve walkway safety’ is, frankly, gross and unacceptable.'” [GGWash]

Police Investigate Saturday Robbery — “At approximately 11:42 p.m. on August 21, police were dispatched to the late report of a robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined that approximately 40 minutes prior, the male victim met with the suspect for the prearranged sale of sneakers. The suspect brought the victim down a residential hallway where the second suspect was waiting. The suspects then grabbed the victim, assaulted him and stole an undisclosed amount of cash from his person before fleeing into the building.” [ACPD]

Local Rookie Cop Saves Nine Lives — “From a rookie to a pro, a Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) patrol officer, Taylor Brandt, is being hailed a hero amongst fellow colleagues and community members after saving 9 lives within one year of working on the streets. Brandt joined DC police in December 2019 as a resident from Arlington, Virginia.” [WJLA]

Historical Society Planning 9/11 Event — “The Arlington Historical Society annual banquet commemorates the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.  We will hear about the events of the day and learn about how the Arlington community responded to the crisis. Eyewitnesses and first responders will recount their experiences as we honor the resilience of our community.” [Arlington Historical Society]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Update at 5 p.m. on Aug. 23 — Glebe Road is now expected to reopen on Monday, Aug. 30.

Earlier: The planned nine-day closure of N. Glebe Road near Chain Bridge is getting longer.

Glebe is currently blocked in both directions between Military Road and Chain Bridge Road for the culmination of a $10 million bridge rehabilitation project. Crews have been working since Friday, Aug. 13 to replace steel beams and the deck of the bridge over Pimmit Run.

But the work zone was damaged today by significant flooding of Pimmit Run and the toppling of two trees and some utility lines. The damage is expected to cause significant delays for the project and the road’s reopening.

From VDOT:

There is a work stoppage on the Glebe Road over Pimmit Run bridge rehabilitation project. Two trees have fallen into the work zone, along with power and cable lines, as well as flooding. This will significantly delay the planned reopening of Glebe Road, originally scheduled for Monday. Once the work zone can be rendered safe and crews can assess the damage, an updated reopening date will be provided.

The department posted video of the flooding on social media, showing raging brown water flowing under the bridge and into the Potomac nearby.

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Update at 3:25 p.m. — The closure has been extended due to flooding at the construction site.

All lanes of N. Glebe Road between Military Road and Chain Bridge Road, in the northern tip of Arlington, will be closed for construction starting Friday.

The nine-day closure is the culmination of the $10 million rehabilitation project for the nearly 50-year-old bridge over Pimmit Run, just before Chain Bridge. Between Friday, Aug. 13 and Monday, Aug. 23, crews will work to replace the entire bridge deck and its underlying beams.

A winding detour around the closure, through parts of Arlington and McLean, will be put in place. Pedestrians and cyclists hoping to cross Pimmit Run will have an on-demand shuttle available to them during the closure, according to the Virginia Dept. of Transportation.

More from a VDOT press release:

North Glebe Road (Route 120) between Military Road and Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) will be closed to traffic for about nine days beginning Friday night, Aug. 13 to efficiently replace the entire bridge deck and beams over Pimmit Run, just west of Route 123, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

North Glebe Road will close at 10 p.m. Aug. 13 and is scheduled to reopen to traffic by 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 23.

Vehicle traffic will be detoured via Route 123, Kirby Road (Route 695) and Chesterbrook Road (Route 689) back to North Glebe Road.

To help pedestrians get around the closure, a free shuttle for up to 12 passengers will be available Saturday, Aug. 14 through Sunday, Aug. 22 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. Signs and posters with a phone number (240-300-3264) and shuttle information will be posted at both ends of the bridge over Pimmit Run, with the shuttle provided within ten minutes of a call (if needed, a free accessible shuttle will be provided within 30 minutes of a call). Each shuttle ride will last approximately five minutes.

The portion of the Potomac Heritage Trail under the Pimmit Run bridge will remain open, with trail access controlled by flaggers when needed.

Construction began in April on the overall project to rehabilitate North Glebe Road over Pimmit Run, which was originally built in 1973 and currently carries about 13,000 vehicles a day. The work includes improvements that will extend the overall life of the bridge and improve safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. They include:

  • Replacing bridge beams, deck and barriers
  • Repairing, waterproofing and providing corrosion protection to abutments and piers
  • Replacing barriers and railings along bicycle and pedestrian connection to trails
  • Upgrading guardrails and drainage

The $9.9 million project is financed with federal and state funds, including State of Good Repair funding used for bridges. The project is scheduled for completion this fall.

Learn more about the project at www.virginiadot.org/glebeoverpimmit.

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A serious two-car crash Friday evening on Route 50 has claimed the life of an Arlington woman.

Police say the crash happened shortly after 5 p.m. at the intersection of Route 50 (Arlington Blvd) and N. Manchester Street. Two cars, each with two occupants, collided at the intersection, pinning a 63-year-old woman who was a passenger in one of the vehicles.

“Upon arrival, medics extricated a passenger from one of the involved vehicles and transported her to an area hospital in critical condition,” Arlington County police said in a press release Saturday afternoon. “She later succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced deceased. The driver of that vehicle was transported with non-life-threatening injuries and the passenger of the other vehicle was transported in critical but stable condition.”

“The deceased has been identified as Marilou Jocson, 63, of Arlington,” the press release said.

A nearby resident said people tried to help the woman before medics arrived.

“The person who died was a passenger in the vehicle with the passenger side door destroyed,” the resident said. “Neighbors rushed to her side immediately after the accident but she was unresponsive.”

He added that a local civic association has been pushing for safety improvements at Manchester and Route 50.

“We have struggled for years to get VDOT to do something about this treacherous intersection,” the resident said. “Thus far VDOT has no plans to improve the safety of this intersection.”

“People speed, run red lights, turn into traffic on a ‘flashing yellow,’ and generally do unsafe things at this intersection every day,” he continued. “Unless VDOT takes action (not Arlington County jurisdiction we were told) these tragedies will continue.”

ARLnow has previously reported on several notable crashes at the intersection, which received some safety improvements in 2018.

In 2011, an SUV ran off the road and crashed through an iron fence. In 2019 an 83-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed and, later that year, at least two people were hurt in a crash nearby.

The Arlington County Police Department is asking for anyone with information about Friday’s fatal crash to contact investigators.

“This crash remains under investigation. Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact Detective S. Lafley at [email protected] or 703-228-4052,” ACPD said. “Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

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Morning Notes

YHS Lax, Other Teams Cap off Stellar Seasons — “The spring sports season was a busy and successful time, maybe the most accomplished ever, for high-school varsity teams and individuals in Arlington County, with many winning various championships. That spring campaign ended this weekend with some Virginia High School League Class 6 state championship games. One contest included the undefeated Yorktown Patriots in the boys lacrosse title match, which they won.” [Sun Gazette, Washington Post]

Neighborhood Leaders Don’t Like Route 1 Plan — “A coalition of civic associations representing surrounding neighborhoods suggests that a pending Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) report on improvements in the Route 1 corridor could turn out to be an ‘epic fail’ that does not address key issues. As a result, leaders of the organizations are urging the Arlington County Board to ask VDOT to go back to the drawing board and consider their concerns.” [Sun Gazette]

 A Bro Ode to Whitlow’s — “It’s the final few nights for Whitlow’s on Wilson, the venerable Clarendon bar where, for 26 years, 20-somethings have come to drink cheap beer and try to get lucky. This is concentrated Clarendon. Pure, unadulterated, un-adult Clarendon, a teeming room of recent grads absolutely wilding out after a year of epidemiological confinement.” [Washington Post, YouTube]

Long-Time Whitlow’s Patrons Bid Farewell — “As the days dwindled to hours before the closure of Whitlow’s on Wilson, some of those who had been patrons and boosters of the iconic Clarendon restaurant and watering hole gathered June 25 for one last hurrah.” [Sun Gazette]

ACFD Now Publishing Response Stats — “Check in each Monday to see our #Weekly Incident Summary, highlighting the total emergency incidents #ACFD responded to overall as well as by category. Last week our members handled over 600 calls for service!” [Twitter]

Amazon Funds Synetic Theater Initiative — “This spring, Isaac’s school gave students art kits through an Amazon.com Inc.-funded program called smARTies Art-in-a-Box, designed to jump the digital access gap. The box included a flat piece of cardboard student artists could fold to make a stage and blank puppet characters for decoration. The idea came from Synetic Theater, an arts and theater organization based in Crystal City.” [Washington Business Journal]

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If you’re heading to or from Chain Bridge on N. Glebe Road today or tomorrow, expect delays.

VDOT’s ongoing rehabilitation work on the Pimmit Run bridge — west of Chain Bridge and Chain Bridge Road — is prompting lane closures from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Flaggers will alternate the traffic flow between Military Road and Chain Bridge Road during that time, likely causing delays.

Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians will all be “under flagging direction,” the state transportation agency noted.

The bridge work is expected to wrap up this fall.

More from a VDOT press release:

North Glebe Road (Route 120) between Military Road and Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) will have single-lane closures, weather permitting, Wednesday, June 23 and Thursday, June 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day to place temporary support beams on the bridge over Pimmit Run as part of the North Glebe Road over Pimmit Run bridge rehabilitation project, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

North Glebe Road will have one lane of alternating traffic via flagging along the bridge over Pimmit Run. The traffic signal at North Glebe Road and Route 123 will be turned off during the work and traffic will be controlled via flagging through the intersection. Also under flagging direction will be pedestrians and bicyclists using the path along the bridge over Pimmit Run, and pedestrians using the Potomac Heritage Trail under the bridge.

Drivers should expect delays and are advised to use alternate routes.

The work is part of the North Glebe Road over Pimmit Run bridge rehabilitation project that includes:

  • Replacing bridge beams, deck and barriers
  • Repairing, waterproofing and providing corrosion protection to abutments and piers
  • Replacing barriers and railings along bicycle and pedestrian connection to trails
  • Upgrading guardrails and drainage

The project is scheduled for completion this fall.

Photo (3) via Google Maps

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It’s official: The Virginia Department of Transportation recommends turning Route 1, which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th streets, into an at-grade urban boulevard.

“An at-grade configuration for Route 1 provides most desirable characteristics that meet the multimodal and community vision for National Landing,” according to presentation materials from a virtual VDOT meeting Wednesday.

The news caps off one year of study, but is not much of a surprise, as the at-grade solution seemed to emerge as the likely recommendation over the last few months despite some concerns about it being more dangerous for pedestrians. But the newest version appears to take into account concerns among some over the number of lanes, pedestrian safety, and the possibility of traffic overflow onto local streets.

The surface-level Route 1 that VDOT envisions would have wide buffered sidewalks on both sides, six to seven narrowed travel lanes, a 30-mph speed limit, wide crosswalks for pedestrians and bicycles, landscaping and medians with pedestrian refuges.

That is a few lanes fewer than the nine-lane option for the intersection with 15th Street S. that VDOT floated earlier this year. Last night’s presentation said eight- and nine-lane options are “not conducive for pedestrians or the vision for Crystal City.”

According to the presentation, however, even these improvements will not significant reduce crashes and increase pedestrian safety, increase transit effectiveness, or reduce vehicle traffic along an at-grade Route 1.

VDOT indicated two things will be needed to make an at-grade Route 1 safer. First is a travel demand management (TDM) strategy to bring down traffic levels. Second, and in response to public comments, the department said it will consider a separated pedestrian crossing over or under Route 1 at 18th Street S.

A “comprehensive and effective TDM strategy that reduces traffic volumes 20% to 30% below existing volumes” will “reduce future congestion and future diversion of traffic to local and regional roads,” according to the presentation materials.

The pedestrian crossing study would look at cost, aesthetics, use, construction feasibility, maintenance and accessibility, the presentation said. Possibilities for grade-separated crossings include a pedestrian underpass, a tunnel connection to the Crystal City underground, or a pedestrian bridge over Route 1.

Both the TDM and pedestrian crossing proposals will be explored in a second phase of the study. The next phase will likely further examine the department’s third recommendation — based on a concept requested by Arlington County staff — to allow all turns at 15th Street S. but no left turns at 18th Street S., near the Crystal City Metro station.

Realizing the urban boulevard vision could cost $180 million, which is less than the $260 million VDOT projects would be needed to create a split-level highway for through-traffic and local traffic, as envisioned in the ten-year-old Crystal City Sector Plan.

The National Landing Business Improvement District has been a champion of turning Route 1 into an urban boulevard. It recently released renderings of a road transformed by protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges and prominent sidewalks, as part of a new campaign, “People Before Cars,” which has featured outdoor signs and public advocacy.

The state transportation department is accepting public comments on these recommendations through July 12. A draft report will come out in August and a final report in September.

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(Updated at 12:20 p.m.) New renderings from the National Landing Business Improvement District explore what Route 1 would look like if it were surface-level.

These images of protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges and prominent crosswalks are part of a campaign the BID launched this week touting the benefits of transforming the highway — which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th streets — into an at-grade urban boulevard.

People Before Cars” aims to advocate “for the implementation of best practices in urban street design and highway-to-boulevard conversions,” according to the BID.

The new campaign builds on “Reimagining Route 1,” a report it released last year envisioning the highway as a leafy, vibrant urban boulevard. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Transportation is wrapping up a study of how to improve the thoroughfare, which will likely involve making it surface-level.

“The improvement of Route 1 has been a huge priority for the collective community and was even featured in the historic negotiations that brought Amazon’s HQ2 to the area — further cementing its importance in the overall repositioning of National Landing,” said Jay Corbalis, Vice President of Public Affairs for JBG Smith, the largest property owner in the area.

More than half of Arlington residents surveyed by VDOT said Route 1 is not safe, easy or effective to use. About 45% of respondents said cyclists face dangers in the area and 64% want more protected bike lanes.

By 2040, conditions could be worse for drivers, who could experience heavy traffic at snail-like speeds during the morning rush hour, as the National Landing area and the region continues to grow, VDOT projects. Area employment by then is expected to double while the population is expected to grow nearly 50%.

The competing priorities of keeping traffic moving while making the corridor more attractive and safe is a tough balancing act for VDOT, and the BID is pushing a less car-centric approach.

The BID recommends shortening pedestrian crossings, narrowing vehicle travel lanes, dedicating spaces for all modes of transportation and automating traffic enforcement. It also suggests adding lush landscaping, public art and wider sidewalks. Growth does not necessarily equate to more traffic, the BID argues.

“As our area experiences an influx of new residents and workers in the coming years — a population that is anticipated to favor walking and biking as means of transit over cars — we must do all we can to ensure that Route 1 can safely and effectively serve the needs of our growing community,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, President and Executive Director of the National Landing BID.

According to the campaign, traffic fell by 18% between 2000 and 2018, despite 67% population growth during that time. One-quarter of households in National Landing do not have cars, and the number of cars passing through National Landing dropped from 61,000 in 2005 to 47,000 in 2019, the BID says.

Still, JBG Smith and the BID have raised concerns that VDOT still views Route 1 as a highway where drivers are prioritized, the Washington Business Journal reported, after the department previewed a vision of Route 1 that included nine at-grade vehicle lanes at the intersection with 15th Street S.

That worry is shared by some others, who also question whether crossing the road at-grade is safer than the current underpasses.

A group of civic associations, known as Livability 22202, has recommended taking Route 1 below ground instead.

VDOT is slated to issue a new report on possible improvements this summer. A virtual public meeting will be held Wednesday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m.

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