Arlington, VA

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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Morning Notes

Feds Looking for Facility for Migrants — The federal government “has kicked off a search for a site in Northern Virginia to host one of several planned shelters for unaccompanied minors, part of the Trump administration’s answer to the ongoing immigration challenge playing out along the nation’s southern border.” While Arlington is among the jurisdictions included in the search, it’s unclear if the county has any site that would suit the requirements, which include 2 acres of recreation space. [Washington Business Journal]

Verizon Launches 5G in Crystal City — Last week Verizon launched 5G “Ultra Wideband” wireless service in parts of D.C. and Arlington, including Crystal City and Reagan National Airport. [Verizon]

Arlington Among Best Places for Young Pros — The website SmartAsset just ranked Arlington the No. 15 “city” for young professionals, ahead of D.C. (#21) but well behind Sioux Falls, S.D. (#1). [Thrillist, SmartAsset]

Water Main Break Near Crystal City — S. Eads Street was closed between 31st Street S. and S. Glebe Road last night for a water main break. The break affected a 12-inch main near the bus depot. [Twitter, Twitter]]

ACPD to Mix and Mingle in Clarendon — “Arlington County Police Department’s Restaurant Liaison Unit invites members of the public to join us for Conversation with a Cop in Clarendon on August 29, 2019 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Overturned Vehicle Near Gunston — A vehicle overturned in a reported four-vehicle crash in the Long Branch Creek neighborhood yesterday afternoon. The crash happened on the 1500 block of 28th Street S., near Gunston Middle School. Two occupants of the overturned vehicle were able to get out safely prior to rescuers arriving on scene, according to initial reports. [Twitter]

Dog Rescued by ACFD — Firefighters rescued a dog named Bling from yesterday’s house fire in Lyon Park. “Medics provided oxygen to Bling with a special pet mask,” the fire department said. “Although Bling did suffer some smoke inhalation, his outlook is good!” [Twitter, Twitter]

WUSA 9 Back on Fios — After several days of being blacked out for Verizon Fios customers as a result of a fee dispute between Verizon and Tysons-based broadcaster Tegna, local CBS affiliate WUSA 9 has returned to the Fios lineup. In an email to an upset resident during the blackout, forwarded to ARLnow.com, Arlington’s cable administrator said there was nothing the county could do to help resolve the dispute. [Washington Business Journal]

Salt Dome Goes Bye Bye — “Up since 1928 when it originally held water, the old salt tank on Old Dominion is coming down this week with an interim replacement directly behind… Tanks for your service.” [Twitter]

Chamber: Amazon Will Help Arlington Grow — In a letter to its members, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce argues that Amazon’s arrival in the county will be a benefit for the local business community. “The Amazon headquarters helps us to grow back the jobs lost in the past decade,” the Chamber’s Scott Pedowitz wrote. “This development will happen across the next 12 years, which means that it will be gradual; our labor and real estate markets will not change overnight.” Amazon is only expected to bring 400-500 jobs to Arlington this year, though it plans to add 25,000 jobs in the county through 2030, the letter said. [Chamber of Commerce]

News About the News — Alexandria local news site AlexandriaNews.org has shut down after 10 years in business. Meanwhile, Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey is celebrating 25 years in that position. [Sun Gazette, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

New Elementary School at Reed Site Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a new elementary school for up to 732 students at the Reed site, 1644 N. McKinley Road, in the Westover neighborhood. The Board voted unanimously to approve a use permit amendment for Arlington Public Schools to renovate and expand the existing Reed School/Westover Library to create a neighborhood elementary school.” [Arlington County]

Here’s Where Amazon is Coming, Exactly — Amazon will be leasing office space at three JBG Smith buildings in Crystal City: 241 18th Street S., 1800 S. Bell Street and 1770 Crystal Drive. Amazon also agreed to buy two JBG-owned land parcels in Pentagon City that are approved for development: PenPlace and the remaining portion of Metropolitan Park. [Washington Business Journal]

County Board Discusses Legislative Priorities — “A highlight of the County’s package is a call for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution that was proposed by Congress in 1972. Both the Arlington League of Women Voters, and the Arlington Civic Federation have called on the General Assembly to ratify the ERA.” [Arlington County]

Arlington Projects Win at NAIOP Awards — Nine of the 29 real estate development projects lauded at the Best of NAIOP Northern Virginia Awards on Nov. 15 were Arlington projects. [NAIOP]

Neighborhood Conservation Projects Funded — “The Arlington County Board today approved $2.9 million in Neighborhood Conservation bond funds for projects in Cherrydale and Arlington Forest… The $1.84 million Cherrydale project will improve N. Monroe Street, between 17th Street North and 19th Street North… The $1.08 million Arlington Forest project will make improvements to Edison Park.” [Arlington County]

How DIRT Chose Ballston — “DIRT co-founders @jlatulip and @jamcdaniel visited many parts of D.C. and the greater DMV area before deciding to open in Ballston. ‘We noticed very quickly that this was a special community, one that we could call home and grow with. We love the energy of the neighborhood — Ballston is a young, active community, which fits DIRT perfectly.'” [Instagram]

Verizon FiOS Outage — Verizon’s FiOS service suffered a major outage in the D.C. area yesterday. [Twitter, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Arlington is gearing up to embrace the arrival of the next generation of cell network technology, though some observers worry county officials aren’t acting fast enough to expand access to 5G in the area.

Telecom companies are slowly, but surely moving to deploy equipment for 5G, the fifth generation of network tech, in communities around the country, in order to realize the new network’s promise to drastically increase mobile internet speeds and enable all manner of new innovations, from driverless cars to virtual reality video games.

Workers typically have to attach antennas and other equipment to street poles or traffic signals as part of that process, meaning that local governments (and, often, concerned neighbors) can have a say in how companies handle the installation.

While some utility companies are working directly with network providers to allow 5G tech on street lights, many localities are increasingly moving to craft zoning regulations to allow telcos access to government-owned street poles. Arlington hasn’t gone quite that far, but the county is at least dipping its toe in the water with 5G tech.

After state legislators passed a new law last April, the county began allowing companies to attach “small cell facilities” on privately owned structures in the public right-of-way. Even more recently, Arlington’s begun accepting applications for companies looking to attach the equipment to “cobra-style street lights” — smaller poles named for their snake-shaped heads — in public areas, according to Department of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin.

Golkin expects the change “will allow for deployment of 5G infrastructure in dense areas throughout the county,” and Arlington leaders see the move as an incremental step for the county to take to meet the demands of the telecom industry.

“We’re trying not to be a hindrance to this, while still balancing community concerns,” said County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “Before, this sort of thing required a County Board review and a long process. Now, within a couple of months, it can get approved administratively. Whenever a carrier company is looking to deploy small towers anywhere, this is a predictable and affordable way to get it done.”

Even still, the change doesn’t seem drastic enough to Jonathan Kinney, an attorney at the Arlington firm Bean, Kinney and Korman, who works with developers and business owners on land use and zoning matters.

He laments that the county still won’t allow 5G tech on larger, 30-foot-high poles in urban neighborhoods along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which he sees as a key step for the county to achieve full 5G coverage in its most populous areas.

“My point has always been that 5G is going to come here, but it really doesn’t do us any good as a community to act otherwise,” Kinney said. “With all the defense contractors and cybersecurity companies here, we shouldn’t be one of the last communities to do this. We should be one of the first.”

Kinney believes the county’s failure to act more aggressively on 5G tech will hamstring its chances to lure all manner of big companies to the area, most notably Amazon. He points out that the company singled out access to advanced network tech in its list of requirements for picking a second headquarters, and he feels the county just hasn’t lived up to the pace set by other HQ2 contenders like those in Texas or California.

“It just seems like this is low hanging fruit, this is something we could do pretty easily,” Kinney said. “But there’s not any strong advocate on the County Board pushing it forward… it just needs a little bit of leadership.”

Dorsey, however, argues that the Board has indeed tried to provide that leadership, and claims that 5G is “not something where we think we’re behind at all.” He says the county “just hasn’t had much unsolicited interest [from the private sector] that’s evolved beyond exploration and discussion at this point,” but that the county has been responsive when called upon.

For instance, Golkin notes that the county has “approved several permits over the last year for vendors to attach small wireless facilities to private structures.” That includes Verizon, who worked with some county apartment owners to install some 5G equipment on several large buildings to test out the tech in a residential setting.

Verizon spokesman John O’Malley says the test “was part of a series of trials” the company did in 11 large localities over the course of 2017. The company’s since removed that equipment, and moved on to testing 5G broadband service in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Dorsey says the county “would be open to exploring” additional partnerships with telecom companies moving forward. He suggested that, as the technology evolves, Arlington could agree to buy a new round of street lights that already have 5G equipment installed on them, instead of retrofitting it to existing poles.

“I would argue that we’re an ideal community for that kind of partnership, because we’re so small and so dense,” Dorsey said. “We are well aware that, if the potential of all the lab tests are realized, we’re talking about an incredible expansion of productivity, which will be incredible for our businesses.”

Yet Kinney cautions that Arlington’s ability to experiment with 5G could soon be constrained by new regulations the Federal Communications Commission is mulling, which would require states and localities to quickly approve 5G deployments, eliminating some discretion in setting personalized standards.

Those changes may be a ways off yet from going into effect, but Kinney notes that Arlington’s lengthy public engagement process for any policy change means the county can’t afford to wait much longer.

“It could take a year to get through the whole process,” Kinney said. “But they could make the legal changes pretty quickly and then come up with the specific policy, and just move it along… We just need to start now.”

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Morning Notes

It’s Summer — Today is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year in terms of daylight. [Fortune]

Verizon 911 Outage Updated at 11:40 a.m. — From Arlington Alert: “Due to a regional Verizon outage, Verizon mobile phones may not be able to reach 9-1-1 or non-emergency numbers in the area at this time. Please use Text-to-9-1-1 or another phone carrier if the voice call does not go through.” Callers in Alexandria, Fairfax and Prince William are also affected by the outage. Service was restored around 11 a.m. [Twitter, WJLA]

Crash Leads to All-Time Terrible Commute — Yesterday’s evening commute was “atrocious” and the “worst I’ve ever seen” in Northern Virginia, per transportation reporter Adam Tuss. Traffic was especially slow on northbound I-395 and the northbound GW Parkway approaching D.C., after a deadly and fiery truck crash shut down a portion of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Capital Beltway. [WTOP, Twitter, Twitter]

New Details in Police Shooting — There are new details in the police shooting of a man near Columbia Pike last month. According to court records, Steven Best and his passenger “were involved in a drug transaction with a man outside a hotel.” Police then boxed in his van to make an arrest, but Best allegedly tried to flee, driving “forwards and backwards, striking multiple police cars,” leading to the shooting. Best’s family, which has questioned the police account of what happened, says they have a video of the shooting. [WJLA]

Housing Costs Still Rising — The average per-square-foot cost of an existing home in Arlington is now $475, an increase of 1.3 percent compared to last year and the highest such figure among Northern Virginia localities. [InsideNova]

New ACPD Officers — Ten new Arlington police officers took the oath of honor to protect and serve the residents of Arlington County earlier this week after graduating from the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy. [Twitter]

Bishop Burbidge on World Refugee Day — Catholic Diocese of Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge released a statement in honor of World Refugee Day yesterday, saying in part: “may we… stand with refugees and commemorate their courage, resilience and perseverance. May we always remember to ‘treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and … love him as yourself, for [we] were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus19:34).” [Arlington Catholic Herald, Twitter]

Food Truck Inspections — The Arlington County Fire Department has been performing inspections this week of food trucks that operate in Arlington. Officials have been specifically looking at fire suppression systems and the storage of cooking fuels. [Twitter]

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Some Arlington Forest residents are speaking out after spending the last four days without cable or internet service.

Frustrated Verizon Fios customers in the neighborhood are taking to social media and emails to ARLnow to lament the lack of response from the company since their service went down early Saturday morning.

Ken Schellenberg, who lives on 1st Street N., says that Verizon has sent a half dozen estimates for when the problem might be resolved — and has repeatedly missed its targets.

“Promised text messages about updates on the issue never arrive,” Schellenberg wrote. “They claim it’s a widespread outage but neighbors close never lost service at all. It seems more random.”

Some of Schellenberg’s neighbors have reported similar issues on Twitter, where Verizon support staff have been able to offer only limited answers.

Verizon spokeswoman Laura Merritt told ARLnow.com that the company’s engineers are currently looking into the issue. She’s hoping to be able to offer more details soon.

File photo

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The planned Verizon store in Clarendon is expected to open in mid-December, according to the company’s website.

Signs are up for the store at 2930 Clarendon Blvd, and Verizon said the store should be open on Monday, December 11. Originally, it had been planned to open late last month, but that has been pushed back.

It replaces the former Pinkberry froyo shop, next to Cava Mezze. Verizon stores offer wireless plans, smartphones, cases and other products and services. The only other Verizon-operated store in Arlington is in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall.

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Verizon Store Coming to Clarendon

A froyo shop is becoming a Verizon store.

The former Pinkberry along the 2900 block of Clarendon Blvd is becoming a Verizon store. Interior construction is currently underway and the store is expected to open on Monday, Oct. 23, according to the Verizon website.

Verizon stores offer wireless plans, smartphones, cases and other products and services. The only other Verizon-operated store in Arlington is in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall.

It was previously rumored that Verizon was looking at a portion of the former American Tap Room space in Clarendon for a retail store.

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The owner of a small technology business wrote to the Arlington County Board this week to argue that the existing choices for high-speed internet service in Arlington are inadequate and new options should be considered.

Josh Blanchard, a Ballston resident, shared his letter with ARLnow.com.

Dear County Board of Arlington,

Imagine that new residents in Arlington routinely went for days or weeks without power, or water service in their new homes. Imagine that the power company routinely shut off service to new and old residents for arbitrary reasons, and that restoring service required dozens of hours spent on the phone battling a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

This is the situation we have in Arlington county right now with internet service, and it is untenable. I’m writing to ask what plan the county has to improve competition in Arlington for reliable, high speed Internet service.

My wife and I have been Arlington residents for 10 years, and recently moved to a new home in Avon Park just west of Ballston. Our experience with Verizon FIOS has been so aggravating that I find myself regretting our decision to remain in Arlington. The prior resident at our new home had Verizon FIOS working, we are FIOS subscribers. The switch should have been flawless, as it was for our other utilities. It was not. Our service worked for 24 hours before Verizon arbitrarily shut us down, and now insists that it will be a week before they restore service. We have been on and off the phone with Verizon for days, in a series of increasingly more futile conversations. Our only other option for high speed Internet is Comcast, who offers incredibly unreliable Internet and also has terrible customer service. In our old house (also in Avon Park), we repeatedly suffered similar outages and aggravations at the hands of both Comcast and Verizon. Our experience is far from unique – terrible treatment and unreliable service from Verizon and Comcast is par for the course in Arlington County.

I’m a software engineer and business owner who works from home. Internet is not a luxury for me, it is an essential utility. Our home is replete with IoT devices that require Internet to function. The temperate in our home got to 85 degrees in the middle of the night last night because our thermostat does not function properly without Internet connectivity. Our home security will not work without internet. Not to mention, every minute we are without service costs my business money.

We live just 3 blocks away from the Ballston Business Improvement District, and as you know the county is actively courting startups and technology companies to the area. If a fellow business owner were to ask me about locating a new tech startup here, I would caution them against it, as Internet service is too essential to be left to the dreadful oligopoly we have with Comcast and Verizon. Our options for residential internet service are appalling for an urban area, making Arlington an undesirable location for most tech companies who will rely heavily on telecommuting. Commercial service options in the area are no better. If Arlington wishes to grow a tech friendly community, we must address this problem.

To that end, I have a few questions to ask you:

1) What is the county doing to court competitors to Comcast and Verizon, such as Google Fiber?

2) What steps has the county board in Arlington taken to lower the regulatory burden for laying fiber infrastructure, and court new ISP startups, like Brooklyn Fiber, Chattanooga Fiber, or Rocket Fiber in Detroit?

3) Has Arlington county explored establishing a county run municipal broadband service?

4) What other steps does the county plan to improve competition for high speed Internet service to Arlington residents?

Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing your response.

Sincerely,

Josh Blanchard

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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A section of Columbia Pike closed in both directions for downed utility lines lying in the roadway.

The Pike closed to all traffic between S. Randolph Street and S. George Mason Drive, with police diverting cars onto side streets. A reader said the lines came down around 2:30 p.m. Thursday (July 15) at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive.

Crews from both Verizon and Comcast were on scene to fix the downed lines. According to scanner traffic, some lanes began to reopen just after 4:15 p.m.

Drivers in the area should expect continued delays as lanes reopen.

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