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Morning Notes

Tracking the Hunter Moon from Rosslyn (Flickr pool photo by Joanna Hiatt Kim)

Taller Crystal City Buildings? — “With all of the new projects proposed for the area, developers have been increasingly urging Arlington County to consider bumping up maximum building heights to allow for striking new designs to remake the Crystal City skyline. Led by the area’s dominant property owner, Amazon landlord JBG Smith Properties, this effort has the county on the precipice of allowing more structures there to reach 250 or even 300 feet tall along Richmond Highway.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Scooters on Local Roads — “Bird is rolling out its Bird Three, the world’s most eco-friendly shared scooter, in Arlington. Arlington will be one of the first cities in the DMV to have an exclusive fleet of Bird Three e-scooters. When Arlington residents choose to ride a Bird Three down to dinner at the Crossing Clarendon or to start their holiday shopping early on Rosslyn, they’ll have the safest and smartest riding experience possible.” [Press Release]

Public Comment Policy Pilloried — “Are Arlington County Board rules for community comment at its meeting violating the constitutional rights of the public? That was part of the message of one speaker at the Oct. 14 County Board meeting, criticizing the board’s policy of hearing only one speaker per topic during its ‘public comment’ free-for-all that starts off the monthly meetings. ‘You are venturing very, very close to serious violations, violating people’s political speech,’ local resident Juliet Hiznay said.” [Sun Gazette]

Road Closures in Shirlington Tomorrow — “The 2021 Shirlington Shucktoberfest will take place on Saturday, October 23, 2021 from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Set-up for the event will begin at approximately 6:00 a.m. and clean-up should be completed by 7:00 p.m. The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closures during that time in order to accommodate the event.” [Arlington County]

Washington Gas Woes Persist — “Complaints about Washington Gas have come up again and again in the NBC4 Responds call center. Customers report having no one pick up calls, an inability to get service and waiting on hold for hours. A Maryland man reported being put on hold for about four hours… In an exclusive interview, a Washington Gas executive promised better customer service and said the company is grappling with a staffing shortage. ” [NBC 4]

It’s FridayUpdated at 8:15 a.m. — 🌤 Partly sunny today, with a high near 70. Northwest wind 5 to 7 mph. Sunrise at 7:25 a.m. and sunset at 6:19 p.m. Saturday will be partly sunny, with a high near 68, and Sunday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 70.

Flickr pool photo by Joanna Hiatt Kim

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Washington Gas’s customer service, or reported lack thereof, has prompted a flood of calls to Virginia’s utilities regulator.

The State Corporation Commission tells ARLnow that its utilities regulation division is receiving upwards of 30 calls a day from Virginians who say they can’t reach the Washington Gas customer service call center or are experiencing long wait times.

“This is unusual,” said Ken Schrad, the director of the SCC’s Division of Information Resources. “Typically, the division averages only about 40 a month, two-three per day, involving Washington Gas… And, that would include all matters brought to the division’s attention, including bill disputes, not just the current problem regarding the inability to get through to the company.”

Virginia’s largest natural gas local distribution company, in terms of customers served, has been the subject of a flood of complaints on social media, in internet forums, tips to ARLnow, and a letter sent to PoPville. Those affected include people moving, who who need services started or stopped and and worry about having the ability to cook and take hot showers in their new homes or getting charged for gas at their old residence.

The delays appear to be tied to staffing shortages in Washington Gas’s call center. In response to ARLnow’s request for comment, Washington Gas, which also serves D.C. and Maryland, said it is addressing these shortages while rolling out new ways to connect with customer service workers.

“Washington Gas apologizes to our customers who continue to have difficulty reaching our call center over the last few months. We know that we have not met our customers’ expectations or our own high standards of service,” Washington Gas spokesman Bernie Tylor said.

These shortages made moving more stressful for Jesse Croft, who relocated from Ballston to the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood while pregnant and caring for two young children. She said she called Washington Gas about a dozen times trying to set up service, and at one point, she spent three hours on hold, having to hang up because she had to take a work call.

“It is truly shocking that they operating like this,” she said. “Not to mention, it appears to have been going on since at least last December. How have they not hired more customer service reps or an outside company to help?”

Another ARLnow tipster expressed similar frustrations with the two- to five-hour call center wait times required to set up gas.

“People are resorting to tweeting them or sending them messages on Facebook,” the individual said. “If this was a random business, that is one thing, but this is the area’s only provider of gas service! They really need some press shined on this!”

Hundreds of customers are able to use the website to start and stop service, Tylor said. But, certain circumstances require additional review of an address and customer service intervention.

“In these instances, customers have experienced excessive hold times,” he said, adding that the volume of requests via Facebook and Twitter has “strained our resources as well.”

That happened to one person whose address wasn’t being recognized in the company’s new system. In a thread on the online forum D.C. Urban Moms and Dads, the poster described trying Twitter and Facebook, and being ready to show up at the gas company’s D.C. office: “I’m desperate… I’m ready to throw my phone out of the window.”

Another poster said that during a call with Washington Gas, the company “blamed [the delays] on COVID and said lots of people were out sick, or no longer working for them, or something dumb like that.”

The SCC said a contributing factor could be a recent change to a third-party customer service provider.

“Staff is aware that the company recently changed its third-party provider to perform both the non-emergency and emergency call center functions and the transition may be contributing to the delays customers are experiencing,” he said.

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Arlington County firefighters are on scene of a large, outdoor gas leak near Ballston.

A 2-inch gas line was ruptured on the 500 block of N. Pollard Street, ACFD says. Washington Gas is working to shut off the leaking gas line.

At least one local resident says he can smell a “strong” odor of gas in the Ballston and Virginia Square areas.

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A large fire department response at Bishop O’Connell High School this afternoon has been pared back after a gas odor investigation found no active leak.

Firefighters — including a hazmat team — were called to the school at 6600 Little Falls Road around lunchtime for a report of a natural gas smell in a deep pipe chase. They remained on scene well into the afternoon, investigating the odor with crews from Washington Gas.

Thus far, nothing hazardous has been found. The school was not evacuated.

A portion of N. Trinidad Street was closed during the incident due to the extensive emergency response.

More from the Bishop O’Connell website:

A construction worker at Bishop O’Connell detected what he thought might have been the smell of gas in a utility tunnel this afternoon. The Arlington County Fire Department along with representatives from the gas company have been on site all afternoon. They have detected no sign of a gas leak and they have not recommended any evacuation at this time.

Please know that there continues to be a strong fire department presence at the school. In an abundance of caution, they are monitoring the situation, which remains unchanged at this time.

Afternoon pick-up notes: The front carpool lanes may be closed off this afternoon. Students will be dismissed through the gym and Underwood Street lobbies. Please obey all law enforcement officers, and exercise abundant care as you pick up your students.

We appreciate your patience during these unusual circumstances!

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(Updated at 11:45 a.m) An outside gas leak has prompted county police to close a section of S. Highland Street as it meets Columbia Pike.

First responders were first called about the leak around 11 a.m. today (Tuesday), per scanner traffic. The leak will also result in the closure of 12th Street S. as it meets S. Highland.

Police are currently waiting on Washington Gas to evaluate the situation. The area is home to a Days Inn and a Shell gas station.

Photo via Google Maps

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George Mason Drive was closed and nearly a dozen condominium residents evacuated after workers struck a gas line near Barcroft Park this morning.

The gas line was struck shortly after 11 a.m. on S. George Mason Drive between Four Mile Run Drive and S. Columbus Street. The stretch of road was closed by police as a Washington Gas crew worked to clamp the gas line and as firefighters stood by with hoses ready should the gas ignite.

Just before noon the leak was reported to be stopped. Police were reopening three out of the four lanes of George Mason while the gas company started working to fix the line. Firefighters were checking nearby buildings — including the adjacent George Mason Village condos — to ensure that the gas had dissipated.

The line appears to have been struck by a private traffic signal contractor, which had a truck parked nearby.

No injuries were reported.

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Work is progressing on the multiphase Columbia Pike utility undergrounding and streetscape improvement project.

The gas main relocation on Columbia Pike — between Four Mile Run and the Arlington/Fairfax line — is expected to be completed later this month, ending the pre-construction phase of the utility undergrounding that began in 2017. Northern Pipeline, Washington Gas’ contractor for the project, will coordinate with customers to change service over to the new gas mainline.

Drivers should expect traffic disruptions, lane closures, and possible left turn restrictions on Arlington’s western end of the Pike for the duration of the construction. This phase of the undergrounding project is expected to take three years to construct.

Three segments of the entire multimodal street project have already been completed. Another three construction segments have yet to begin, and the entire project is estimated to continue through 2021, according to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. Those three segments run from S. Wakefield Street to S. Oakland Street, from S. Garfield Street to S. Quinn Street, and from S. Orme Street to S. Joyce Street.

A DES press release stated that the work was intended to “make Columbia Pike a safer, more accessible route for all users.”

The $14.6 million construction contract, approved November 2017 by the County Board, also includes street improvements between Four Mile Run Bridge and S. Jefferson Street. Planned enhancements include wider sidewalks, upgraded traffic signals and street lights. Old water and sewer pipes will be replaced and overhead utilities will be buried.

An outdoor sculpture by Chicago-born Donald Lipski will be installed by Arlington’s Western Gateway, near Columbia Pike and South Jefferson Street, marking the entrance to Arlington from Fairfax County. Residents interested in email updates regarding the projects can sign up on the county’s project and planning website.

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Expect additional traffic headaches through the fall on Columbia Pike, now that a project to relocate an underground gas main is underway there.

Crews with Washington Gas started the construction Monday between the Fairfax County line and Four Mile Run, ahead of several streetscape improvements the county has planned for the future.

At least one lane of Columbia Pike in each direction will remain open at all times during construction, and work could be possible on nights and weekends.

Washington Gas crews will store equipment and other materials at four locations along the Pike during construction. Although nearby properties still can be accessed, adjacent bus stops could be temporarily moved or closed.

This is the latest phase of a project approved in 2014 by the County Board that included new bike boulevards on 9th and 12th Streets S., as an alternative route to Columbia Pike, which runs parallel. Once the gas main work is complete, county workers will install wider sidewalks, new street lights, upgraded traffic signals, trees and bus shelters. A piece of public art will also be added at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Jefferson Street.

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Morning Notes

Wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery 2016 (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

Hunt Loses Mansion Legal Battle — Rodney P. Hunt, once one of the D.C. area’s wealthiest businessmen, has lost a legal battle to keep his $24 million Chain Bridge Road mansion. Hunt, who represented himself in court, asserted that the entity that bought the mansion at a foreclosure auction this summer was not its real owner. While Hunt was living there, the 20,000 square foot property hosted large “#RHPMansion” parties, one of which led to a drive-by shooting in McLean. [Washington Post]

‘Loss of Historic Architecture’ — The historic George Washington Carver Cooperative Apartments in the Arlington View neighborhood were torn down in February. The apartments’ 70-year history as a centerpiece of the working-class African American community there was, however, preserved via oral histories and historic markets. The property is now the Carver Place townhomes, which start at $689,000. So far, 38 of 73 have sold. [Falls Church News-Press]

Road Closure in Lyon Park — Washington Gas pipeline work is prompting a road closure in Lyon Park today and tomorrow. Cyclists who use the Arlington Blvd trail may also be affected. [BikeArlington Forum]

First Day of Winter — Today is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It is also known as the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight. [Capital Weather Gang]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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