In a 4-1 vote that ran counter to the recommendation of its Transportation Commission, Arlington County Board members on Sept. 12 asked the Virginia state government to fund a $25 million upgrade to Arlington Boulevard (U.S. Route 50) between Fillmore Street and Glebe Road.
The vote puts the project into the commonwealth’s “Smart Scale” competitive funding process. Whether the cash will be available for most, or even any, projects being sought by localities across Virginia remains an open question, given the fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state-government budget and revenue streams.
The proposal calls for putting a raised divider section in the middle of Arlington Boulevard to separate eastbound and westbound traffic, along with dedicated left-turn lanes and signalization at Irving Street. There also would be improvements to lighting, bus stops and pedestrian/bicyclist access, while a number of direct driveway connections to Route 50 would be eliminated.
Though not questioning the need to change the status-quo situation, County Board member Takis Karantonis voted against the proposal.
“The cost, to me, is mind-boggling,” said Karantonis, who suggested it could end up being a waste of money if state and regional leaders did not first develop a vision for the future of the Route 50 corridor.
“This thinking has to happen right now,” he said.
Karantonis’s view was along the lines of that of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, which opposed seeking funding now and instead wants a regional dialogue on the future – growth- and transportation-wise – of the Arlington Boulevard corridor from the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge west into Fairfax County.
In a letter to County Board members, Transportation Commission chairman Chris Slatt said the body voted 8-2 against a proposal a majority of members saw as “too costly, will take too long to implement, fails to address significant safety issues in the area such as speeding, widens a significant barrier to north-south connectivity within Arlington, will likely induce additional vehicular travel and entice more drivers away from Interstate 66 during tolling hours, and is inconsistent with the Master Transportation Plan.”
The commission also said the safety study touted by county and VDOT officials was built on a “shaky foundation,” and commission members were critical of not having been involved in decision-making earlier in the process.
In normal times, approximately 65,000 vehicles travel the stretch of roadway on an average day. Crash rates are reported as about 20 percent higher than the statewide average for primary roads, in part due to the lack of dedicated turn lanes and traffic signals.
“We absolutely need to support safety,” said County Board Chairman Libby Garvey, who said concerns brought up by Karantonis, the Transportation Commission and others could be addressed in the likely five- to six-year period before this project is started.
In analyzing the corridor, Virginia Department of Transportation officials considered, but quickly abandoned, the prospect of cutting travel lanes from three to two in each direction, citing concerns about congestion during peak travel times that could cause spillover onto neighborhood streets.
The project, if it wins funding, would retain three travel lanes in each direction.
• • •
Find full editions of the Sun Gazette, and bonus features, at https://sungazette.news.