Lee Highway redevelopment

Arlington County officials hope to spur redevelopment along the Lee Highway corridor, which runs from East Falls Church to Rosslyn. (County government photo)

As the community process to re-imagine the future of the Lee Highway corridor through Arlington begins to take shape, civic and political leaders will have any number of questions to address.

Among them? Should the county government do what it did with Columbia Pike: Seek permission to take control of Lee Highway from the Virginia Department of Transportation?

“It’s an intriguing idea,” said County Board Vice Chairman Katie Cristol, but is one that, said Cristol and others interviewed, is not quite ready for a public vetting.

A planning effort to chart the future of the key east-west corridor through North Arlington is slated to kick off later in the year and run through 2018. The future of the road itself will be a part of those discussions, said Sandra Chesrown, president of the Lee Highway Alliance, a group of civic-association leaders working with county and state officials on planning efforts.

“Our long-term mission is to transform the corridor into a walkable, vibrant, complete street,” Chesrown said. “Having county control of decisions that impact Lee Highway’s physical design might improve the corridor’s ability to preserve existing resources and attract positive economic development in the future.”

That’s the same viewpoint that carried the day along Columbia Pike in South Arlington; in 2010, the Arlington County government convinced state transportation officials to cede control of the roadway to the local government.

The results there have led County Board Chairman Jay Fisette to be supportive of doing it in other corridors.

“It is much better for Arlington to have control of arterials where we expect to be doing lot of improvements,” he said. “The savings of staff costs and time are substantial and far outweigh the relatively modest cost borne by Arlington to maintain the roadway.”

At the time of the Columbia Pike ownership switch, Arlington officials were planning to run a streetcar through the heart of the Columbia Pike corridor, but that proposal fell apart in 2014.

County Board member John Vihstadt, whose election triggered collapse of the streetcar effort, is among those in the wait-and-see brigade when it comes to Lee Highway’s future.

“I’d like a rigorous cost-benefit analysis before the county considers assuming control over another major corridor,” he said. “Even with county control over the Pike, recent history shows the continued challenges of securing effective coordination on everything from streetlights to transit with various federal and state government entities, neighboring jurisdictions, Dominion-Virginia Power and other stakeholders.”

Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) in Arlington stretches from East Falls Church to Rosslyn. For most of its length, the frontage features low-scale commercial buildings, mostly with two travel lanes in each direction.

The stretch through Arlington includes access to Interstate 66; a number of connections to arterial roadways (Glebe Road, Old Dominion Drive, George Mason Drive and Washington Boulevard among them); and a vast network of perpendicular feeder streets leading to residential neighborhoods.

The upcoming Lee Highway planning process is separate from, but is expected to build on, a “visioning” study completed in 2016. That study was the result of efforts begun at the grass-roots level about four years before. A 2015 transportation study also focused on the corridor, concluding that many, but not all, weaknesses of the streetscape could be improved without needing to purchase additional right-of-way.

The Lee Highway study will comprise an area the length of road through Arlington and roughly one-quarter mile north and south of the roadbed. The study is likely to consider, as the visioning process did, the potential positives and negatives of zoning changes that would allow higher density in the corridor.

Peter Harnik, a longtime civic activist with a special interest in transportation, believes a change in ownership of the highway would herald a positive new era.

“As long as the state controls the policies governing Lee Highway, the overriding priority will be to move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible,” he said. “It will result in eight-lane-wide intersections like the ones at Veitch Street and at Kirkwood Street . . . these intersections are deadly for pedestrians. They are also deadly for the kind of street life that is found in Clarendon and even along Columbia Pike and in Westover.”

If the Arlington government controlled the highway, “we could consider things like street parking in all the areas that are three lanes wide,” Harnik said. “Signage could be better regulated and made more appropriate. Speed limits could be reduced. Bicyclists could be better accommodated and protected.”

In virtually all Virginia counties, the Virginia Department of Transportation owns and maintains most roadways. Arlington is different: The county owns most of its secondary roads and some primary roads, handling maintenance in exchange for an annual payment from the state government.

Occasionally, the county government asks the Commonwealth Transportation Board and VDOT to cede ownership of stretches of roadways; Columbia Pike is one example, and this month, the government is asking to be given sovereignty over a stretch of Route 237 (10th Street North and North Fairfax Drive).

Fisette said he’d like to get the Route 237 matter behind the county before moving forward on any proposed ownership change of Lee Highway.

Having ownership of Lee Highway would give the county government more control and flexibility, but would come at a price. Arlington spends, on average, about $28,000 per lane-mile to maintain its roads, but receives only about $18,000 per lane-mile in reimbursement from the state government.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st), who earlier served on the County Board, said she supports localities like Arlington pursuing options that create a specific sense of place.

“In Arlington’s case, this means establishing multi-modal transportation options and a more pedestrian-friendly environment,” she said.

But in the same breath, Favola added that Arlington’s wishes would have to be weighed against the overall regional and state transportation network.

“Lee Highway crosses so many jurisdictions – all the way to Charlottesville,” she said. (U.S. Route 29 then continues south to Danville, a total of 248 miles in Virginia from the Key Bridge to the North Carolina line.)

Favola is among those believing that time will provide clearer insights on how to move forward. “At this point, the idea needs more evaluation and study,” she said.

That seems to be the overall consensus.

“Good groundwork is being laid,” said Cristol, who is likely to serve as County Board chairman in 2018. “We’ll end up with recommendations; we’ll see what we want to do.”

(29) comments

Charles

In fact ALL strip shopping centers will be replaced with mixed-use infill across Arlington County, whether on Lee Highway, Route 10 in Virginia Square, Washington Blvd. in Ballston, Four Mile Run Drive, everywhere. ALL essential small businesses (like vehicle repair) will be forced out of Arlington and replaced by trendy bars, restaurants, and upscale national chain stores, so all of Arlington will look like Clarendon. Scott McCaffrey is a former Arlington Chamber of Commerce VIP who is all for 'Clarendon everywhere' in Arlington.

jna

Barbara Favola served on the Arlington Board of Supervisors for many years before being elected to the Virginia Senate. She lives not far from Lee Hwy. Lee Hwy is yet another example of how private and public infrastructure was and is deliberately allowed to become run down so it can be replaced by expensive and trendy public and private infrastructure while essential products and services are a 20-40 mile drive away.

bmw325

Barbara Favola has served continuously first on the Arlington County Board and now the Virginia Senate for 20 years. She lives in the Lee Highway neighborhood. So who's to blame for the deterioration? Oh, Scott McCaffrey was an Arlington Chamber of Commerce VIP for years. BTW, City of Alexandria is fixing up stores in strip plazas, not letting everything deteriorate for decades and then bulldozing everything to create more Clarendons everywhere. Check out the Food Star ethnic supermarket in Arlandria relocated from Columbia Pike in Arlington.

Allen Muchnick

Here we go again: "Charles" and "jna" are the same person. When this person posts additional comments here under other aliases, such as bwm325, Penny, adele, Abbey, and JM, he will merely confirm my point.

Charles

[thumbdown][ban] My names is Charles and I'm an Arlington Independent who votes for and supports Independent candidates, like tens of thousands of other Arlington voters did last year, the year before, and the year before that. You can see who Allen Muchnick is by doing a Web search on "Allen Muchnick Prince William County Democrat".

Abbey

Allen Muchnick is a Prince William Democrat Activist whose pet special interest - bicycles - receives tens of million in taxpayer dollars in Arlington alone, where he extensively lobbies for Democratic candidates and Bicyclists.

Allen Muchnick

"Abbey", "Charles", "bmw325" and "jna" are all aliases for Jim Hurysz, who has a demented need to post choruses of silly comments on InsideNoVa using multiple aliases and to launch libelous personal attacks when anyone points out his unethical behavior.

JM

[censored]My name is Julie. I'm another fed-up independent who's sick and tired of an increasingly-sleazy one-party regime running Arlington to benefit itself and its cronies with huge amounts of tax revenue, and party hacks trashing anyone who doesn't 'go along with the program'.

Allen Muchnick

[offtopic]

bmw325

Whether it's Scott McCaffrey calling Independents who oppose Smart Growth "Loopy Lefties" or PW Democratic Activist Allen Muchnick trashing Independents who oppose 1-party government in Arlington, Democrats like Barbara Favola who have allowed the public and private infrastructure in their own neighborhoods to deteriorate for decades are never held responsible. It's Independents who oppose every neighborhood in the County becoming a clone of Clarendon who are to blame. [thumbdown]

Penny

My name is still Penny. I'm another Arlington Independent. Last I saw on Inside Nova there are hotly contested races in 2-party Prince William County for Board of Supervisors, House of Delegates, etc. Why waste time beating-up and beating-down Arlington Independents who don't go along with the program but are mostly powerless to change the program?

Abbey

So taking so-called "Smart Growth" in Arlington forward another 10 years, where will we have to drive to have our cars repaired if they are not vehicles with dealerships in Arlington (Hondas, Toyotas, Mercedes, or Audis)? To PW County? Same for - where will all the plumbers, a/c contractors, home improvement contractors, etc. all be located?

Abbey

Forgot to ask when will Bill's Hardware and Cherrydale Hardware get bulldozed out of Lee Highway? Also, the welding and metal repair shop?

bmw325

About the same time Dominion Electric is bulldozed out.[sad]

Penny

Scott McCaffrey no longer resorts to name-calling. He just ignores non-Democrats and publishes any and all Arlington Democratic Party press releases as "news".

adele

People --- Take a cue from Smart Growth VIP Boosters who are moving out of Arlington.

Allen Muchnick

EVERY one of the comments above, except those with my name, were posted by ONE individual, Jim Hurysz. It's long past time for InsideNoVa to end this idiotic sock puppetry.

adele

Trashing of anyone and everyone who doesn't go along with New Urbanism / Smart Growth has been going on for 20 years, since Favola, Zimmerman, Fisette, and the other Smart Growth Urban Village Idiots were first elected to the County Board. Then there are the Urban Village idiots who moved out of the Urban Village but continue to drive to Arlington alone in their SUVs to lobby for more bicycles in Arlington. Duh.

JM

Allen Muchnick is a sock puppet for Arlington Democrats in return for their squandering tens of millions on every want of bicycle fanatics like Muchnick. Never mind that a hundred miles or more of sidewalks had to be replaced 5 years ago in Arllngton. A hundred million in tax revenue is being wasted on unnecessary patronage in this County while more kids are having to learn in more trailer classrooms. Check out the last County Board meeting. Sports fanatics get a Taj Mahal Sports and Rec Center, APS kids get more trailers.

jna

[ban]Earth to Inside Nova - Please knock off allowing Democrat Activists who don't live in Arlington to trash Arlington Independents who want an end to one party rule in Arlington and speak out for alternatives to Democrat Party-endorsed Smart Growth in Arlington.

Allen Muchnick

Nonsense, Jim. Exposing your unethical posting behavior (i.e., routinely posting a "chorus" of comments here under MULTIPLE aliases) isn't "trashing" anyone. If you just had the personal integrity to stick to a single alias, I wouldn't say anything.

Charles

My name is Charles. Time for Prince William County Democrat Party Activist Allen Muchnick to stop meddling in Arlington County's local issues.

Allen Muchnick

More nonsense, Jim. Exposing your unethical posting behavior here is not "meddling in Arlington County's local issues".

adele

[thumbdown]to any more so-called "car free diet" activists (many are Arlington County employees) driving in from PW County, one per SUV, telling us we have to ride bicycles 24/7/365.

Penny

Arlington County, the Democratic Party, and the Local Media are becoming so addicted to massive in-fill redevelopment of older neighborhoods it's scary. There is a HUGE bureaucracy that promotes more Smart Growth in Arlington. There is NO effort to help small businesses renovate and modernize - huge amounts of tax dollars are being spent to bribe large and wealthy national corporations to re-locate and stay in Crystal City. The media no longer directly trash residents who want to keep Arlington suburban, the local media, which are realizing windfall ad revenue from Smart Growth (e.g., Inside Nova and ArlNow), employ attack surrogates to trash anyone who doesn't go along with the program. Individual Democrats are rewarded for promoting Smart Growth in various ways - like millions for new bicycle infrastructure to bicycle fanatics. Meanwhile, Alexandria has stopped using Smart Growth as its sole redevelopment paradigm. The last thing you will see in the local media is an editorial or editorials calling for a debate about Smart Growth. Oh, the Arlington County Board is recognizing various "Community Leaders" who vigorously facilitated Smart Growth and are moving out of Arlington.[rolleyes]

jna

[thumbdown][thumbdown][thumbdown]to Barbara Favola. More than anyone she;s responsible for the deterioration of Lee Highway, her own neighborhood, over the past 20 years.

JM

My name is still Julie. Sock Puppet? The only Sock Puppets I see in Arlington are the Yellow Dog Democrats who shill for the Politricksters, the Developers, and the Smart Growth Promoters, in return for expensive handouts like millions for bicycles while Arlington's sidewalks crumble.

What's the difference between a suburb of Bejing run by a half-baked socialist and pirate capitalist one-party regime and Arlington County? About 9,000 miles.[tongue]

CJE

My name is Cindy. I am also an Independent and also sick and tired of one political party running everything in Arlington for the past 35 years. Over the past 20 years this County has become like Hong Kong has become over the past 20 years. All the news media care about is more advertising from promoting the status quo.. I am also sick and tired of the Bicycle Bullies running me off the sidewalk, which is a broken brick mess. Why don't they ride on the bicycle lanes on the street? Where is Inside Nova when it comes to bicycle safety? Also, it's more than obvious that Clarendon is going to be imposed on every neighborhood, whether neighborhood residents want that or not. And my neighborhood doesn't and has stated that repeatedly. It will get worse, because one of the County Board candidates (Erik Gutshall) wants to convert McMansions into apartment buildings. Oh, the people on the County's staff who push all this on us don't and won't live in Arlington. This is only what we deserve by electing Democrats, year after year. One party government sucks, whether it's running China or Cuba or Arlington.

Allen Muchnick

EVERY comment above, except those associated with my name, was posted by ONE person, jim Hurysz. When you see these same aliases associated with comments under other InsideNoVa articles, it's just Jim Hurysz attempting to deceive others that his idiosyncratic comments are more widely shared.

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