Morning Notes

Baby Boy for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol gave birth to her first child, a baby boy, this past weekend. She plans to call in to Saturday’s County Board meeting and participate in the crucial Amazon incentive package vote. [Twitter]

Building Plans for Temporary Amazon Office — JBG Smith “submitted plans March 7 to make common area improvements throughout the 12-story, 221,000-square-foot [office building at] 1800 S. Bell St., to be leased in full by Amazon.” [Washington Business Journal]

County May Change Building Plan Practices — “Arlington officials are considering ending same-day viewing at the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development after a Washington Business Journal reporter asked to view a permit for a building Amazon.com Inc. is expected to lease, said Ben Aiken, director of constituent services in the county manager’s office.” [Washington Business Journal]

VRE Plans Moving Forward — “Virginia Railway Express is moving forward with plans to build an expanded Crystal City Station, a key step needed to expand and improve service. The VRE Operations Board is due to vote Friday to allow contracting to move forward for engineering work based on the already approved concept design.” [WTOP]

New Leases in Rosslyn — Earlier this week Monday Properties announced the signing of three lease deals at 1100 Wilson Boulevard, one half of its Rosslyn twin towers. The firms leasing new space are The Health Management Academy and Trilogy Federal LLC, while WJLA owner Sinclair Broadcasting is expanding its existing space. [Monday Properties]

Extensive Road Closures Saturday — Expect a number of road closures in Courthouse, Rosslyn and near the Pentagon Saturday morning for the annual Four Courts Four Miler. [Arlington County]

Nearby: Gentrification Fears in Arlandria — “Concern of rising rents and gentrification have always been present in the Arlandria neighborhood, which sits between South Glebe and West Glebe roads and ends at Potomac Yard. Amazon.com Inc.’s plan to move to nearby Arlington has only intensified those worries.” [Washington Business Journal]

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County Plans Incremental Transportation Projects Alongside Major Efforts to Prepare for Amazon

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With Amazon hoping to open a headquarters in Arlington, Crystal City’s transportation network can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight.

Major redevelopment is coming whether or not local resistance turns the e-commerce giant away, but the attention-grabbing headlines and all-at-once infrastructure proposals don’t reveal how mobility investment is a gradual process – or how Crystal City has been steadily improving its transportation infrastructure since long before the HQ2 contest even began.

Crystal City has long been slated for some major transportation investments: Long Bridge reconstruction could enable MARC to bring commuters straight from Maryland to Crystal City and let people bicycle straight to L’Enfant Plaza. A new Metro entrance would make it much easier to connect to bus service. A remodeled VRE commuter rail station would enable larger and more trains, Metroway expansion will strengthen ties with Pentagon City and Alexandria, and a pedestrian bridge to the airport would take advantage of the fact that DCA is three times closer to Crystal City than any other airport in America is to its downtown.

These projects are big: big visibility, big impacts, big cost. They have all been in the pipeline for years, and Amazon is bringing them renewed attention and new dollars.

However, these major investments aren’t the only projects that will update Crystal City’s decades-old transportation infrastructure. Just as important as these headline-making proposals are the more incremental projects that, block by block, are making Crystal City an easier place to get around — and, just like their larger counterparts, these smaller projects have been given some extra weight by HQ2.

Old Visions, New Funding

One document has guided much of Crystal City’s development for the past decade: the Sector Plan. The Crystal City Sector Plan made many suggestions for possible improvements. Not all of them have yet come to fruition, but many have, and the plan continues to drive Arlington’s conversation about Crystal City.

That conversation has recently become a little more ambitious. Amazon’s HQ2 announcement brings not only attention, speculation and more than a little resistance — it will also bring very definite funding. Arlington and Alexandria, combined, “have secured more than $570 million in transportation funding” while the commonwealth of Virginia has committed to $195 million for the same.

This new funding flows mostly toward old designs, all of them focused on alternatives to the car. Arlington’s Incentive Proposal discusses 10 transportation “example projects.”  Five of them fall within Crystal City itself, of which all but one follow ideas that originated in the Sector Plan (the remaining project, VRE station expansion, isn’t new either).

Moving Block by Block

Most of Crystal City’s streets were built in the 1950s and 1960s, and followed the “modernist” school of city planning.

They separated pedestrians from cars as much as possible, often putting pedestrians in bridges or tunnels; located stores in malls rather than on sidewalks; and spaced out intersections widely so that cars could accelerate to highway speeds. The Sector Plan calls to convert these into “Complete Streets” that will “accommodate the transportation needs of all surface transportation users, motorists, transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians.”  

It can be easy to think of transportation investments as one-off projects. The CC2DCA pedestrian bridge to the airport, for example, is an all-or-nothing endeavor. Half of a bridge wouldn’t be very useful for anybody.

Because of its focus on the street level, the Sector Plan calls for gradual change. It endorses street transformation projects that can be completed incrementally — block by block, street by street, improving the area’s transportation network over time. It seeks “to balance any proposed investments in transportation infrastructure with improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing network, so that the maximum benefit can be delivered at the lowest cost.”  

This approach pairs well with Crystal City’s desirability for land developers. Most significant developments in Arlington are governed by the site plan process, through which the county negotiates with developers for community benefits — which might include a street renovation. Robert Mandle, chief operating officer of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, explained that “as a redevelopment plan, many [Sector Plan] improvements were anticipated as occurring in conjunction with opportunities presented from redevelopment.”

For example, the Crystal Houses III residential project includes a 0.7-acre public park paid for by the developer as well as improvements to the surrounding sidewalks that will enhance pedestrian mobility.

Another example of incremental transportation investment is the conversion of Crystal Drive to a two-way street for its entire length. The process began in 2004, funded at first by a private developer, but since 2013 all work has been county-funded. It began its third and final phase of construction on Feb. 22 and is expected to be finished by December. No streets will be closed.

Mandle, of the Business Improvement District, speaks highly of the project: “improving the pedestrian streetscape and the public realm has been a key priority for all of the two-way projects, including new street trees, wider sidewalks, and bicycle infrastructure… [the projects] enabled the creation of a strong retail main street, a key amenity for attracting businesses to the area.”

Mark Schnaufer, capital projects manager for Arlington County’s transportation division, adds that the two-way project “has helped create a grid system where people have multiple options for traveling around Crystal City, providing direct access from any direction.”

Another incremental street project, also under Schnaufer’s lead, is the block-by-block creation of Clark-Bell Street. Clark-Bell will run between Route 1 and Crystal Drive, parallel to them, and help create a more mobility-friendly environment by breaking up large blocks and providing an alternate north-south path.

Because county-led projects are gradual, they’re not likely to get swept up in the excitement of sudden news. Schnaufer emphasizes that the street improvement projects “are progressing as they did before Amazon’s decision.”

However, developer-led projects like Crystal Houses III follow the private sector’s schedule — and Amazon might kick that up a gear.

Route 1: An “Urban Boulevard”?

For many Arlingtonians, the archetypal image of Crystal City is of angular brown office buildings blurring past from a driver’s seat on Route 1.

The road is legally called Jefferson Davis Highway, which Arlington can’t change because it’s under VDOT authority, and it is the central spine that reaches from Pentagon City to Alexandria. At the moment, though, this road does as much to sever as it does to connect — and the most ambitious, most important project in the Sector Plan is an attempt to change that.

Specifically, the Sector Plans calls to “[m]aintain the capacity of the current Jefferson Davis Highway while enhancing its physical environment into an urban boulevard, and direct traffic primarily to arterial streets to minimize adverse impacts of cut through traffic into surrounding neighborhoods.”

So, what does “urban boulevard” mean?  It means wide, comfortable, welcoming sidewalks, bicycle and e-scooter accessibility, tearing down overpasses and designing buildings that form a natural, coherent enclosure to the street. It doesn’t mean slowing down cars — Connecticut Avenue in Northwest D.C., for example, carries similar volumes of traffic in a setting that is much for pleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists.

One major advantage of a more urban Route 1 is in the development that it will enable. By cutting off access ramps and frontage streets, and by potentially narrowing lanes, the reconstruction of this boulevard will actually free up substantial amounts of land along the sides of the street.

The Sector Plan dedicates much of this space to new development. New development brings many potential benefits — a more practical, mixed-use environment, new residential structures (perhaps for Amazon employees), and, by pressing closer to the street, a more coherent, urban atmosphere.

Another advantage will be closer connections to Pentagon City.  Mandle hopes that an improved Route 1 will “better unify the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods into a singular downtown area.”

Two intersections will be centerpieces of any attempt to change Route 1. First, in the north, the elevated crossing of 15th Street S. defines an automobile-oriented connection between Crystal City and Pentagon City. The Sector Plan calls for the overpass to be demolished and for the streets to intersect directly.

According to Schnaufer, this project could soon be taken up by VDOT as part of the agreement between Amazon and the commonwealth of Virginia, although specifics are still unclear.

Second, in the south, Route 1 meets the Airport Access Road. As it stands, the intersection is all but impossible to cross on foot.

The crown jewel of the Sector Plan is a proposal to convert that intersection and its looming overpass into a beautiful, green circle with Route 1 through traffic diverted into an underpass — just like, for example, Dupont Circle in DC. This proposal, dubbed ‘National Circle’, has never left the drawing board, and there does not seem to have been any new planning or design work done since the Sector Plan was published.

Crystal City in the 21st Century

Amazon chose Crystal City for HQ2 in large part because of the transportation that’s already there. Between 2001 and 2014, because of federal employment changes, Crystal City lost about as many jobs as Amazon will bring, leaving the area with empty Metro seats and a surfeit of parking. “As a result,” says the county, “there is tremendous capacity on existing transit services to carry many more people than we do today.”

Furthermore, Amazon itself is prepared to implement ‘transportation demand management‘ strategies, like transit commuter benefits. These strategies, in which Arlington is considered a national leader, help reduce the car commuting that clogs our streets with vehicles and our air with exhaust.

For Schnaufer, of Arlington County Transportation, this is a story about Arlington as a whole just as much as it is about Crystal City.  

“Arlington County is known as a leader, in Virginia and across the country, for how we design transportation infrastructure projects,” he said. “Both the quality of our existing street infrastructure and the County’s plans for future improvements help attract companies like Amazon to Arlington.”

Mandle agrees, saying that “Arlington’s commitment to both incremental and larger infrastructure projects, even prior to the Amazon deal, illustrates an awareness that these infrastructure improvements were critical to enhancing the area’s economic competitiveness and long-term growth.”

Ultimately, the Sector Plan’s goals for National Circle and its other high ambitions for a gradually-improving Crystal City will remain guideposts for the area long after Amazon’s arrival.

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Morning Notes

Memorial Bridge Potholes — Large potholes made for dangerous driving on the under-construction Memorial Bridge over the weekend, but crews started repairing the bridge’s pockmarked surface Tuesday. [Twitter, Twitter]

Poke Restaurant Coming to Ballston — Local restaurant Poke It Up is expanding with a second location. The restaurant, which first opened in the Pentagon City mall food court, is now planning to open this summer at 4401 N. Fairfax Drive in Ballston, next to a new soup shop, Zoup. [Eater]

Shutdown Costing Local Economy Big Bucks — “About $119.2 million per day is removed from the gross regional product each day the shutdown drags on, according to local economist Stephen Fuller, thanks to lost pay of federal workers, contractors and suppliers and the multiplied economic effects of their lost spending. That daily hit… drops to $46.4 million per day once federal workers are ultimately repaid their lost wages.” [Washington Business Journal]

Overturned Vehicle in Crystal City — A driver managed to flip his or her vehicle in a crash last night on 18th Street S., near the Crystal City Metro station. [Twitter]

Board Set to Endorse VRE Funding — “Arlington County Board members on Jan. 26 are expected to endorse a request by Virginia Railway Express (VRE) for state funding to support construction of a new Crystal City station. The transit agency will seek grant funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which if approved could cover up to 70 percent of the cost of construction. VRE will fund the rest.” [InsideNova]

Changes to State Inspection Stickers — “The stickers are smaller, in response to complaints that the new sticker placement on the bottom left of the windshield, which started in 2018, resulted in reduced visibility for drivers.” [Tysons Reporter]

Nearby: Alexandria Warns About Opioids — “The City of Alexandria has responded to four suspected opioid overdoses in the last 72 hours, including two fatalities. While recreational use of opioids is always dangerous and illegal, City officials are urging residents to be aware of the medical safety of the drugs, including heroin, that could be extremely concentrated or mixed with something unusual that is resulting in life-threatening situations.” [City of Alexandria]

Flickr pool photo by Eschweik

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Spurred on by Amazon, VRE Looks Set to Find Funding for New Crystal City Station

Virginia Railway Express leaders think they’ve just about nailed down funding for a new and improved Crystal City station, a key component of the area’s impending transportation transformation with Amazon on the way.

VRE officials have been eyeing improvements to its existing station, located at 1503 S. Crystal Drive, for years now, considering that its platform isn’t quite long enough for the commuter trains. Right now, anyone hoping to get off at the station needs to walk to one of their train’s first four cars, even though many are 10 cars long.

The station is also only set up to serve one train at a time, and sits a bit far away from the neighborhood’s Metro station, a challenge for commuters from Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs who use VRE to reach destinations in D.C. or elsewhere in Arlington. A new, relocated station could solve all of those problems at once.

The challenge, of course, is coming up with money to pay for the roughly $41 million project. But on that front, VRE officials seem to be nearing a solution, according to documents prepared in advance of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s meeting tonight (Thursday).

The VRE is asking the NVTC, a collection of regional leaders that helps oversee the rail service, for permission to make a variety of budgetary moves, including strategies to fund the new Crystal City station. Primarily, the VRE plans to ask for a combined $30 million in state funding for the project: half would come from a grant from the state’s rail agency, half from gas tax revenues set aside for VRE capital projects as part of the dedicated Metro funding deal last year.

Notably, the station overhaul was not included among the promised transportation improvements designed to lure Amazon to the area. But, with the tech giant expected to bring 25,000 jobs to the neighborhood, VRE officials are ready to get moving on the project sooner rather than later.

“VRE’s commuter rail service will also be critical to serving these expected new workers, and the planned relocation and expansion of VRE’s Crystal City Station has taken on additional importance,” staff wrote in a report delivered to the NVTC.

The rail service previously won $4 million in regional transportation dollars to cover design and engineering costs, and is nearing completion on a final design for the station now, VRE staff wrote.

The Arlington County Board and VRE agreed on a new location for the station in fall 2017, selecting a site behind 2011 Crystal Drive. The new station will be accessible via a tunnel to 18th Street S. between the Crystal Place residential buildings and the Crystal City Water Park, in addition to a pedestrian bridge from the second level of 2121 Crystal Drive.

It will also sit across the street from a new second entrance to the area’s Metro station, set to be located at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. Considering that VRE estimates that about 18 percent of passengers headed to the Crystal City station then transfer to the Metro, county officials have long viewed improving the connection between the two rail services as a key way to boost transit ridership.

The station will also include an “island platform” to serve two tracks simultaneously, and work on the project is set to move in conjunction with the state-backed “Atlantic Gateway Initiative” to construct a new rail track between D.C. and Fredericksburg. The old station will eventually be demolished.

There are no firm dates for when the project might be completed, but VRE estimates suggest it wouldn’t be finished until 2023 at the earliest, depending on how quickly officials secure the necessary funding.

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Amazon’s Arrival Brings Plans for Transportation Transformation Around New Headquarters

For pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, Crystal City has never been the easiest neighborhood to navigate — and Amazon’s looming arrival in the neighborhood has stoked fears that things could get worse in the area long before they get better.

But now that the tech giant has officially picked Arlington for its new headquarters, county officials are free to unveil their grand plans for allaying those concerns and fundamentally transforming transportation options along the Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yard corridor.

Virginia’s proposed deal with Amazon calls for the pairing of state dollars with money from both Arlington and Alexandria to make a variety of projects long envisioned for the area a reality — so long as the tech giant holds up its end of the bargain and creates targeted numbers of new jobs, of course.

It adds up to a complex mix of funding sources that defies easy explanation, but would be in service of a massive shift in the transportation network surrounding the newly christened “National Landing.” And, as last week’s nightmarish traffic conditions created by the shutdown of the Crystal City and National Airport Metro stations helped prove, the county is in desperate need of an upgrade in the area.

“All of these plans which been long gestating without a path to realization, they’re all going to come together,” County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow. “All the great things we’ve diagrammed on paper now have a path to reality.”

The main transportation projects included in the pitch to Amazon are:

  • A second, eastern entrance to the Crystal City Metro station
  • A second, southwestern entrance to the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station
  • A new pedestrian bridge connecting Crystal City to Reagan National Airport
  • An expansion of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard bus rapid transit system
  • Improvements to Route 1 through Crystal City and Pentagon City

“Many of these we’ve already included in our prior commitments, whether it was our [10-year Capital Improvement Plan] or other long-range planning documents,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “But we pulled these together as a way of saying, ‘This is our overarching vision for the area.'”

Certainly, the aforementioned projects were all on various county wish lists over the years — the Crystal City Transitway expansion to Pentagon City is perhaps the most developed of any of the proposals, with the county convening a public meeting on the matter just last week.

The difference is that many of the projects have largely lacked the necessary funding to move forward. The county still needs another $15 million to fund the Transitway project, which is now set to come from the state, and the other efforts need substantially more money than that.

The second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station has been a particularly challenging project for the county.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body doling out funding for transportation projects, recently awarded Arlington only a small shred of the funding it was looking for to move the station forward. The county’s gloomy revenue picture previously forced Arlington to push the project off into the long-term future, and it remained a very open question whether the second entrance would score highly enough on state metrics to win outside funding.

Those concerns vanish virtually all at once for the county, and that could be quite good news for both Crystal City residents and Amazon’s future workers. Though the exact details need to be worked out, the new entrance would be located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S., with $82.5 million of the project’s $90 million price tag coming from the state through the Amazon deal.

Cristol hopes the project will “transform the beating heart of Crystal City” and encourage its new residents to rely on Metro. She notes that the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations have seen a combined 29 percent drop in ridership since 2010, as the military and federal agencies moved out of the area, and hopes thoughtful transit strategies around Amazon’s arrival will reverse that trend.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the transit advocacy-focused Coalition for Smarter Growth, added that a second entrance will help the area manage demand as thousands of employees flock to one of Metro’s sleepier stations.

“By having entrances at each end of the platform, you’re reducing the people congestion at escalators and gates, which is huge,” Schwartz said. “And we know that walking distance makes a big difference in how many people use transit. So to the degree we can shorten it, we should do it.”

Schwartz also hopes the new entrance will provide better accessibility to the area’s Virginia Railway Express station (located a few minutes’ walk up Crystal Drive) for anyone looking to reach the more distant sections of D.C., or Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs. The VRE is even weighing an expansion of the station in the coming years, which would put an entrance directly across from the second Metro access point.

County Board member Erik Gutshall points out that the proposed bridge to DCA would land in just about the same spot. A feasibility study backed by the Crystal City Business Improvement District suggested that an office building at 2011 Crystal Drive would make the most sense for the pedestrian connection, which Gutshall notes also matches up with an entrance to the Mt. Vernon Trail.

All of that could someday add up to a promising transit hub in the area, which developer (and future Amazon landlord) JBG Smith has already begun advertising in its marketing materials.

“You can bike, walk, ride VRE and ride Metro, all together,” Gutshall said.

The project will need about $36 million to become a reality, with $9.5 million chipped in from the state and the rest coming from Arlington and the NVTA.

The county will need even more cash for the Route 1 improvements: about $250 million in all, with $138.7 million coming from the state’s Amazon deal. The proposal doesn’t include a funding stream for the rest, but the changes could be quite substantial indeed.

The documents don’t lay out details beyond a goal of improving the “pedestrian improvements” on the road, but officials say a guide could be the changes detailed in the county’s Crystal City sector plan. Those plans involve bringing the highway to the same grade as other local roads, eliminating the soaring overpasses that currently block off large sections of the neighborhood.

“This may, in fact, lead to the total reimagining of Route 1,” Dorsey said.

In all, the county expects to spend about $360 million — about $222 million in already committed funding and $137 million in future grants — to fund transportation improvements in the area. The state’s total could one day go as high as $295 million, depending how many workers Amazon ends up hiring for the area.

The county’s commitment is large enough to give some local budget minders heartburn.

“Where will Arlington get $360+ million in transportation bond capacity — since we are bumping up against our credit limit for the next decade or more, without meeting all school needs?” local activist Suzanne Sundberg wrote in an email. “Raising the tax rate would be my first guess. We can probably expect to see our real estate taxes double over the next 15 years.”

County Manager Mark Schwartz has often warned about the strain on the county’s debt limit precipitated by recent fiscal pressures, and taxes may well go up on residents in the coming years, even with the Amazon revenue windfall.

But Dorsey waived those concerns away, noting that the county has long planned for the spending associated with many of these projects, and will have hefty state dollars to rely on for the rest.

“Our investments are already planned,” Dorsey said. “We’re not bringing anything new to the table.”

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Morning Notes

New Leader of Leadership Center — “Leadership Center for Excellence (LCE) announces the addition of Karen Coltrane as its President & CEO… With 27 years of nonprofit work in her professional career, Coltrane most recently served as the President & CEO of EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, South Carolina.” [Leadership Center for Excellence, The State]

VRE to Review Community Feedback on Station — “Virginia Railway Express officials will spend coming weeks sifting through public comments on plans to upgrade station facilities at Crystal City. July 1 was the deadline for comments on the proposal to relocate and expand VRE facilities in Crystal City, which is the destination of about 18 percent of riders coming in from the west and south.” [InsideNova]

Another Hot Day — Heat index values today are expected to again climb above 100 degrees, though a cold front should cool things off on Friday. There is a slight chance of rain and storms today. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Planners Nearing Final Designs for Complex Long Bridge Overhaul

(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Transportation planners have nearly finalized designs for a long-awaited effort to overhaul Virginia’s only railroad connection to D.C.

Officials from Virginia, D.C. and an alphabet soup’s worth of federal agencies have spent years working on plans to replace the Long Bridge — which runs roughly parallel to the 14th Street Bridge — and improve rail capacity over the Potomac River.

Officials say they are almost ready to commit to more concrete plans to guide the redesign. The project still needs millions of dollars in funding to move ahead, and construction wouldn’t start until 2020 at the earliest, yet planners are pushing to have engineering and environmental analyses drawn up by summer 2019.

State rail officials told the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission at a meeting last night (June 7) that they’ve managed to narrow down a long list of alternatives for replacing the bridge, which stretches from near the Pentagon in Arlington to Southwest D.C., to two final possibilities.

Both plans involve building a new, two-track bridge alongside the existing structure, which was first built back in 1904. One alternative calls for the current bridge to stay in place; the other would involve fully replacing it.

Either way, officials believe the project is critical for initiatives like ramping up Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak service between Virginia and the District.

“It is really a bridge of national significance,” Jennifer Mitchell, the director of the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, told the commission. “It carries a tremendous amount of traffic with commuters that would otherwise be on I-66 or 395.”

Doug Allen, the CEO of VRE, stressed that increasing rail capacity across the Potomac will be particularly critical for his trains. Commercial freight trains from the company CSX, which owns the bridge, often have to compete with commuter trains for space on the tracks, and Mitchell suggested that running a second bridge alongside the Long Bridge would help avoid that sort of conflict.

“For us to be able to add more service to our trains, we need to add more tracks there,” Allen said.

But even with so many people invested in seeing the project finished, Mitchell was sure to note that the whole effort is “very complex.” The bridge stretches just past historic resources like the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, not to mention other, “sensitive areas dealing with security” in D.C. itself, Allen said.

The project will also require extensive conversations about how exactly officials can include bike and pedestrian options alongside the new bridge, a key point of concern for Arlington’s representatives on the commission.

Allen noted that officials are considering two options for bike and pedestrian crossings that would not be attached to the Long Bridge, running closer to the bridge for Metro trains nearby, but still included in the overall project. But he said planners could decide to add bike and pedestrian options on the new bridge itself, though he did note that could prompt some “security concerns.”

Whichever option officials choose, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol urged Allen to keep bicyclists, walkers and runners in mind throughout the planning process, given the unique opportunity this project presents. After all, she noted, the current crossing along the 14th Street Bridge does not offer a connection to the regional trail network on the D.C. side.

“By tying the regional trail network together, this would allows hundreds or even thousands of commuters to get off our roads,” Cristol said. “Trying to come back and do this at a later date… would be incredibly difficult due to the sensitivity of the assets here.”

Mitchell says officials hope to have more public meetings on the project this fall, with cost estimates, preliminary engineering plans and an environmental impact analysis all ready by next summer.

Then, leaders will have to somehow find funding for the project. She says the state rail agency and CSX have committed to chip in a total of $30 million for the effort, and she fully plans to ask state lawmakers for more money by the General Assembly’s 2020 legislative sessions.

“We are trying very, very hard to get this schedule completed on time,” Mitchell said.

Photo via Google Maps. Graphics via the Long Bridge Project.

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County Government, Facilities Closed as Snow Gets Underway

(Updated at 8:05 a.m.) Those waking up expecting a winter wonderland were instead greeted by icy but mostly snowless roads and sidewalks this morning.

Still, local governments, agencies and schools are taking no chances as snow starts to ramp up in the metro area.

Arlington County government offices, courts, community centers and other facilities are closed today and the county is urging residents to “stay off the roads as the snowstorm enters the area.”

Schools are also closed and all parks and rec programs and activities are cancelled. Trash and recycling collection has been bumped back a day.

Trash & Recycling collection for today, March 21, 2018, has been cancelled. Service will resume tomorrow with the collection schedule shifting by 24 hours. Wednesday collection will occur Thursday, Thursday collection will occur Friday, Friday collection will occur Saturday.

The federal government is closed today, the Office of Personnel Management announced. Along with federal agencies, Joint Base Myer Henderson-Hall is also closed. Emergency and telework-ready employees must follow their agency’s procedures, OPM said.

VRE and MARC service is cancelled, most Amtrak service is cancelled, and Metrobus and Metrorail is operating on a modified service schedule. Arlington Transit buses, meanwhile, are also operating on a reduced schedule.

“Expect snow today 8AM-8PM. Metrobus avoiding hills & narrow streets. ART will provide limited service as conditions permit,” ART said via email.

VDOT is urging drivers to “avoid being caught in hazardous conditions such as limited visibility and slick or snow-covered roads, as well as to allow crews plenty of room to work safely.”

For those who must drive, HOV restrictions have been lifted on local highways.

High occupancy vehicle (HOV) restrictions are lifted on I-66 (inside and outside the Beltway) and on I-395 (from Edsall Road to D.C.) for the morning and afternoon rush hours today. Because HOV restrictions are lifted, tolls on the 66 Express Lanes inside the Beltway will also be suspended today. Please also be aware that shoulder lanes on I-66 and I-495 may be closed through the day to allow crews room to treat.

Even before the bulk of the snow arrives, issues are being reported on the roads. As of 7:10 a.m., firefighters were responding to a report of two vehicles that spun out and off the road along the GW Parkway near Roosevelt Bridge.

More weather updates via Twitter:

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BREAKING: Arlington Schools, Federal Gov’t Closed Due to Wind Storm

(Updated at 6:30 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools are closed today (Friday) due to weather concerns.

All schools and offices are closed, APS announced this morning, though custodians are being asked to report at 6 a.m. “regardless of your regular shift.”

Elementary and middle schools were already scheduled to be closed due to parent-teacher conferences, but those conferences have been cancelled, as have “extracurricular activities, interscholastic games, team practices, field trips, adult education classes, and programs in schools and on school grounds.”

Marymount University, meanwhile, is also closed.

Federal government offices in the D.C. area are closed due to the wind storm, the Office of Personnel Management announced early Friday morning.

Due to safety concerns, Virginia Railway Express service has been cancelled for today. Reagan National Airport is encouraging travellers to check the status of their flight before coming to the airport. Power problems have been reported on Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines, causing delays, while the rest of the Metrorail system is running every 12 minutes with reduced speeds above ground.

As of 5:30 a.m., Dominion is reporting more than 9,000 customers without power in Arlington already.

Already, there have been reports of trees, branches and other debris down in Arlington, and the dangerous winds are expected to continue throughout the day. Residents are being encouraged to stay indoors whenever possible and to remain in the lower levels of homes.

More via social media:

https://twitter.com/ArlingtonVaFD/status/969489464883064832

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Morning Notes

IRS Rules on Tax PrepaymentsUpdated at 12:35 p.m. — Taxpayers hoping to get an additional deduction by prepaying their local property taxes may be out of luck. The IRS ruled late Wednesday afternoon that prepayments can only be deducted in limited circumstances that may not apply to many local jurisdictions — but are, reportedly, applicable to others. The ruling comes after local residents have already prepaid millions in taxes. One tipster told ARLnow.com that there was a line of “probably forty people,” some “paying for up to three years,” at the Arlington County treasurer’s office Tuesday morning. [Washington Post]

Disabled Train Delays VRE — Virginia Railway Express trains were delayed during the morning rush hour due to a disabled freight train north of Crystal City. [Twitter]

Ebbin Proposes Multiple Terms for Va. Gov. — State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-31) has proposed legislation that would take the first step towards allowing governors in Virginia to be elected to two consecutive terms, rather than the current one term limit. [InsideNova]

County Crews Treating Roads for Snow — Arlington County crews were out yesterday pre-treating local roadways with brine, in anticipation of a winter weather event. According to forecasters, the only snow in the forecast is an expected dusting on Saturday. [Twitter, Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

AED and SCORE Partnering — “Beginning this January, BizLaunch and SCORE DC will formally partner on a variety of entrepreneurial workshops from advanced social media training to lead generation to how to become an 8(a) contractor and much more.” [Arlington Economic Development]

Flickr pool photo by Fritz Myer

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Morning Notes

Local Reaction to NYC Terror Attack — Local officials are offering words of condolence for the victims of yesterday’s terror attack in New York City. [Twitter, Twitter]

Did Gorka Park on a Rosslyn Sidewalk? — A photo posted on Twitter seems to show the Ford Mustang convertible owned by former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka parked on a sidewalk in front of the Key Bridge Marriott in Rosslyn. It is unclear why Gorka would have parked on the sidewalk and he has thus far not confirmed that it was indeed him. [Twitter, Washingtonian, Washington Examiner]

More on Rosslyn Food Hall — New details about the new food hall planned for Rosslyn: it will be called Common Ground, it will have about 10 different food vendors and it is not expected to open until late 2018. [Washington Business Journal]

VRE Picks ‘Option 2’ for Crystal City — Virginia Railway Express says it will move forward with “Option 2” for its planned Crystal City station upgrade. The plan places the station within easy walking distance of the Crystal City Metro station but it was opposed by condominium residents concerned about noise and pollution. [InsideNova]

Arlington’s Homelessness Effort — “Now nine years into a 10-year push to end homelessness here, Arlington County has virtually wiped out homelessness among veterans, and it’s on track to house the vast majority of single individuals who still need a roof over their heads.” [Arlington Magazine]

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Morning Notes

County Board Stalls on VRE Decision — The Arlington County Board, at a Tuesday meeting that stretched into early Wednesday morning, declined to endorse one of the options for a proposed new Virginia Railway Express station in Crystal City. VRE officials, county staff, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Arlington’s Transportation Commission backed Option 2, which places the station closer to the Crystal City Metro station and transit center. Some local condominium residents and the Planning Commission, citing concerns about noise, wanted Option 3 — which places the station behind an office building — to be considered as well. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Michelle Obama Stops By Arlington for Salon Opening — Former first lady Michelle Obama and her Secret Service entourage were among “a crowd of about 40 VIPs” who came to Arlington Tuesday night for the opening of a new salon. The business, Aesthetics Salon, is owned by stylist Yene Damtew, who was part of Obama’s “glam squad” while she was in the White House. Aesthetics Salon is located at 2412 26th Road S. in the Long Branch Creek neighborhood just south of I-395. [Washington Post]

Clarendon Day Closures — Expect lots of road closures in central Clarendon on Saturday for the annual Clarendon Day festival, which is taking place from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. On Sunday morning Wilson Blvd will be closed from Clarendon to Rosslyn for the Clarendon Day 5K, 10K and Kids Dash races. [Arlington County, Arlington County]

More on Proposed Columbia Pike Bus Revamp — “Recently Metro unveiled the latest proposed changes to the Metrobus network which includes a major restructuring to the 16 series bus lines on Columbia Pike in Arlington. The long-awaited restructuring is aimed at simplifying and improving bus service in the corridor.” [Greater Greater Washington]

County Seeking Pike Bus Feedback — While WMATA continues to collect feedback on the proposed Columbia Pike bus changes via an online survey, a public meeting is scheduled tonight (Thursday) to discuss the changes in person with residents. The meeting is taking place at the Arlington Mill Community Center from 6-8 p.m. [Arlington County]

Local Nonprofit Lender Steps Up Loan Volume — “Arlington-based Capital Impact Partners said Wednesday it provided $75 million in private financing in the second quarter of 2017, the largest quarterly loan volume in its history. The nonprofit community development financial institution backs projects that support increased access to health care, education, affordable housing and healthy food in the United States.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok

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Morning Notes

Crystal City Development Plan Filed — Developer JBG Smith has filed a site plan application for what it’s calling “North District” — a multi-block redevelopment in Crystal City that will include a new movie theater, grocery store and Metro station entrance. The residential-heavy development is bounded by Crystal Drive, Route 1, 15th Street and 18th Street S. [Washington Business Journal]

Chamber Backs Staff’s VRE Recommendation — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce says county staff is right to recommend the placement of a revamped Crystal City VRE station closer to Metro. The staff recommendation “best positions Crystal City and greater Arlington County as a regional multi-modal transit hub,” as compared to a placement option preferred by local condo residents who are concerned about train noise. [InsideNova]

DCA Noise Complaints — A total of 36,653 noise complaints were filed in 2016 regarding arrivals to and departures from Reagan National Airport, according to recently-released stats from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The complaints were filed by 836 individuals in 762 households, including one individual who filed 17,273 noise complaints. [MWAA]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Planning Commission Sides With Neighbors on Two Crystal City VRE Station Options

The Arlington Planning Commission recommended the County Board vote to further study two options for the new Crystal City Virginia Railway Express station, against the wishes of VRE and county staff.

The Commission voted 6-1-1 to support option Nos. 2 and 3 for the proposed new station at its meeting Thursday night. VRE and county staff wanted an endorsement of option No. 2 only.

The County Board will take up the matter at its September 16 or September 19 meetings.

Of the three options, option No. 1 would be closest to the current VRE platform, while option No. 2 would place the platform just south of the Crystal City Water Park and closer to the Crystal City Metro station.

Option No. 3 would be slightly further south than No. 2. The station would then connect to other areas of Crystal City through a combination of walkways and bridges. Residents believe option No. 3 may mitigate noise better than the other options.

Numerous opponents questioned the process, which has been led by VRE in consultation with the county. Sonali Soneji, VRE’s planning program administrator, and Tom Hickey, VRE’s chief development officer, both said choosing one option would have been preferable as it would have allowed for more detailed study.

But opponents said they have felt “railroaded” by staffers set on choosing option No. 2.

“The really sad part about this is that it became clear to us over the many months that this has been going on that the county staff had already made up their minds,” Carol Fuller of the Crystal City Civic Association told ARLnow before the hearing. “They knew which way they wanted to go.”

The desire for further study of two options was a key reason Commissioners voted for Nos. 2 and 3. James Lantelme voted against as he said he wanted the body to make a firm decision.

“I just don’t know yet. I need more analysis,” said Nancy Iacomini, explaining her reluctance to vote for one option alone.

VRE and county staff recommended option No. 2 as they said it connected best to the nearby Metro station and other transportation options like buses and bikes at the Crystal City Multimodal Center.

“It sounds to me, from what I can see, that the decision for option 2 is coming down exclusively to Metro and proximity to Metro,” said Natasha Atkins, president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, one of around 10 opponents to testify against the plan before the Planning Commission.

A number of stakeholders supported the plan in letters sent before the meeting, especially on the basis that it will help connect the VRE and Metro stations in Crystal City. Taylor Lawch of developer JBG Smith, which owns numerous nearby properties, testified that option No. 2 is “the only option that positions Crystal City and Arlington County to become a multi-modal transportation destination in the future.”

The Commission also voted unanimously to recommend that the County Board instruct County Manager Mark Schwartz to engage with rail freight company CSX and ask that engineers not sound their horns so close to residential buildings in Crystal City.

VRE trains also sound their horns for safety reasons to alert those nearby to a train, and residents said horns are often too loud and frequent from both entities. They also were critical of VRE’s noise assessment, which found no noticeable differences between options No. 2 and 3 in terms of loudness.

Supporters of option No. 3 also mentioned its provision of an access road for emergency vehicles. Hickey said that advancing an option for further design and refinement would solve those questions and many more, but he underscored the relative uncertainty within the process as it stands, something that gave opponents cause for concern.

“These will all be addressed in design, but we don’t have a design yet,” he said. “As soon as we start with design, we’ll look at these hazards and how they will be mitigated.”

The plan will go before the county’s Transit Advisory Committee on Tuesday, September 12 and before the Transportation Commission on Wednesday, September 13 for further discussion. The County Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the plan on either Saturday, September 16 or Tuesday, September 19.

VRE’s Operations Board is expected to adopt an option on October 20, with a concept design due late this year ahead of further environmental study and preliminary engineering.

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Morning Notes

Vihstadt Wants Ads Atop Aquatics Center — County government could raise some extra money by placing corporate logos atop the future Long Bridge Park aquatics center, which could be seen by those flying in and out of Reagan National Airport, says County Board member John Vihstadt. He is also pushing the idea of ads on ART buses, transit stops and Capital Bikeshare stations. [InsideNova]

Pupatella Named Best Pizza in Va. — The expanding Pupatella Pizza has been named the best pizza in Virginia again, this time by USA Today. The Bluemont pizzeria will celebrate its seventh anniversary on Saturday. [USA Today]

Plaudits for The Bartlett — The Bartlett, an amenity-filled, 699-unit apartment tower in Pentagon City, has been named the year’s best residential project by the Washington Business Journal. The building, the design of which was “inspired by buildings in New York City,” leased up so quickly that plans for a “pop-up hotel” utilizing vacant units had to be pulled back. [Washington Business Journal]

Pebley Recognized for Civic Leadership — Jim Pebley was honored with a resolution of thanks from the Arlington County Republican Committee this past Wednesday. Pebley, who never ran for office but has a long resume of civic service in Arlington, is retiring to North Carolina this summer. “It is safe to say Jim Pebley is one of the most active citizens in Arlington, and has been for decades,” said one well-wisher. “[He is] extremely well-respected across the political spectrum.” [InsideNova]

Condo Resident Opposes VRE Expansion — In a WaPo op-ed, a condo resident who lives next to the VRE station in Crystal City says he opposes the planned expansion of the station because it will “will mar our precious green space” and “derail the lives of Crystal City residents through more noise and possible destruction of property during station construction.” [Washington Post]

Nearby: Threats to Falls Church Abortion Clinic — A building housing an abortion clinic in Falls Church was evacuated twice yesterday due to perceived threats. In the first instance, someone set off fireworks in the building’s elevator; in the second, someone stamped the word “bomb” on pieces of paper found near the rear entrance. An Arlington County Police K-9 unit assisted with the investigation “because F.C. police’s own K-9 unit is still in training.” [Falls Church News-Press, DCist]

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