Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined Governor Ralph Northam, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) and regional railway leadership at Alexandria’s Union Station to mark a $3.7 billion investment in Virginia rail and the signing of the Transforming Rail in Virginia agreement.
The investment and agreement is designed to pave the way towards increased VRE and Amtrak service, greater connectivity to other parts of Virginia, and to lay the groundwork for a high speed rail corridor — something that’s been a talking point for Buttigieg over the last few months.
“Every day at stations like this across America, transportation workers are serving on the frontlines of America’s response to this pandemic,” Buttigieg said. “They have been delivering vaccines, getting people to essential jobs, and getting goods to wherever they need to go. Their service has been extraordinary, but the challenges facing them and our entire transportation system have been daunting… We are proud to say, on behalf of this administration, help is here.”
Buttigieg also highlighted the $43.2 billion in transportation funding included in the American Rescue Plan.
“We know the cuts these agencies were facing disproportionately harm workers,” Buttigieg said. “It’s a matter of equity; doing right by so many heroes of the pandemic.”
— NVTC (@NoVaTransit) March 30, 2021
Northam said the rail investment is part of a gradual push to get more people out from behind the wheel of their cars and into passenger trains.
“America is still a nation of drivers,” Northam said. “We tend to like our cars. but all those cars on the road come at a price.”
Northam said that the state, Northern Virginia in particular, is plagued with congestion to levels where adding more capacity to the highways is no longer a viable option.
“Adding more highway lanes isn’t the answer,” Northam said. “A study of I-95 found adding a new lane in each direction would cost 12.5 billion dollars — and by the time it was done, corridor would be just as congested as when we started. Rail can add additional capacity at a third of the cost.”
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) March 30, 2021
I'm grateful to members of Virginia's congressional delegation from both parties who championed legislation that will allow for the construction of a new Long Bridge and support the long-term investments we need to fund these important projects. pic.twitter.com/FwlKDxJTpI
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) March 30, 2021
Photo via Governor Ralph Northam/Twitter
After years of public outreach, a new planned overhaul of the DASH but network is scheduled to launch this fall.
At a meeting last night, DASH representatives said the phased replacement of the current coverage-focused network — a design with a focus on ensuring all Alexandrians have access to some level of bus service — to a service focused model — one that decreases coverage but increases frequency and reliability of its bus lines.
The first phase of the overhaul is scheduled to launch in September, staff said.
Tristan Cunningham, senior planner with DASH, said the new bus lines will offer “more useful transit where people can use it” and better mobility midday and on evenings and weekends.
During the meeting, DASH highlighted a few of the new routes that will provide better access to the incoming Potomac Yard Metro station and nearby redevelopment.
- Line 36 A/B, replacing AT 9, will run from the Mark Center to Potomac Yard by way of Alexandria High School.
- Line 34 will run from the Lee Center and the Braddock Road Metro station up to Potomac Yard
DASH emphasized that the new routes will dramatically increase access to all-day service for low-income residents, minority residents, and seniors.
The tradeoff is some routes through less densely populated areas could have reduced service or be cut entirely. There has been some back-and-forth over which lines will be axed, with DASH eventually restoring a replacement for the AT2 line through Seminary Hill. Two routes through North Ridge, the 103 and 104, will only operate during peak service hours.
DASH is accepting feedback on the plan through April 16.
Prompted by a question from City Council member Canek Aguirre, the city is reviewing alternative uses of funding that could be freed up if the city moves forward with plans to do away with the school resource officer position.
School resources officers (SROs) are police officers stationed inside T.C. Williams High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School and specialize in handling kids with emotional and education issues, search and seizure on school grounds, and school shooting situations.
The program started in 1997 but has gotten some pushback from students who claim the police officers contribute to an unsafe feeling for minority students at the schools. The issue has resurfaced with nationwide protests against police brutality last year, but there have been issues surrounding SROs in Alexandria schools in the past — namely when one shot his gun inside George Washington Middle School.
The city said the SRO program costs $823,907 — this doesn’t include roughly $27,000 in one-time costs for equipment and uniforms.
According to the report, the program costs:
1. Salary = $482,432
2. Benefits = $307,477
3. Vehicles = $31,798 per year (cost of 6 vehicles depreciation each year)
4. Travel / Training = $1,000
5. Office Supplies = $1,000
6. Membership / Subscriptions / Books = $200
Staff have four options for the funding, the first being to leave the program intact as-is. In our own super-unscientific poll, the majority of ALXnow readers said they were against taking funding away from the SRO program.
Another alternative option is investing that funding in a new behavioral health program. The program would pair two officers with two behavioral health specialists. One of the benefits of this option, staff noted in the report, would be expanded options to help provide not just in school, but by interfacing with other city programs that help address underlying problems like food insecurity, homelessness, and mental health issues.
The third option is investing the SRO funding into programs outlined in the Community Recovery Plan, which includes support for local nonprofits, eviction protection, and targeted financial support for some businesses (page 2.13 of the budget).
The last option would be allocating the funding cut from the SRO program into other city projects sidelined under the proposed budget, including a one-time bonus to city employees, expansion of the DASH bus network, affordable housing or cash capital investments (options are laid out on page 2.11 of the proposed FY 2022 budget).
Staff noted in the report that if the SRO program is eliminated, officers in those positions would be reassigned to other duties.
“If all or less than all of the 6 positions are not funded in the FY22 proposed budget, then any person in a position not funded would be retained and APD would use currently vacant positions or future vacant positions to absorb the personnel (i.e., attrition),” the city said in its report.
Several largely-intact ship hulls found underground in Old Town a few years ago could see new life in a proposed “Waterfront Museum” in the early stages of consideration in the upcoming budget.
The possible museum could house and display the timbers of at least one of the four-total ships found under new developments in 2018.
To be clear: the idea of the museum is still in its nascent stage. A feasibility study to “assess the viability” of the potential museum.
In addition, in FY 2022 $125,000 is requested to conduct a Waterfront Museum Feasibility Study to assess the viability of a history center as recommended in the Waterfront History Plan and the Waterfront Area Plan. If supported, the museum would house items such as the conserved ship timbers of an 18th century merchant ship and associated artifacts excavated as part of the Robinson Terminal South and Hotel Indigo construction projects.
Derelict ships were often used part of the foundation when the city was expanding its waterfront at the end of the 18th century. One of the most intact ships was once a cargo freighter, with holes showing where certain Caribbean worms had eaten away at the wood and dendrochronology indicating that the ship’s timbers were originally from Boston and had been cut down in 1741.
The timbers from the ships were shipped to Texas A&M for further study and preservation — mainly involving the slow extraction of water from the long-buried timbers and careful treatment to ensure the frames don’t lose integrity in the process.
A scale model of the ship is available in the Alexandria Archaeology Museum on the top floor of the Torpedo Factory Art Center, but the museum would be too small to house timbers from the ship, which is around 25 feet wide and 46 feet long.
The feasibility study comes in addition to $102 million also being considered for infrastructure improvements along the waterfront. The budget item notes that prices have increased dramatically since many of the infrastructure improvements were first proposed.
According to the budget memo:
$102 million over the ten-year CIP to support the design and construction of the Plan-recommended infrastructure, including flood mitigation, prioritized through community engagement processes. Projected construction costs have increased due to further scope refinement, further design development, and market drivers. Cost estimates have been escalated to anticipated mid-construction date. The most significant changes were due to more detailed design for stormwater and pumping system, structural bulkhead, and electrical infrastructure. The current CIP budget is funded at approximately 50% of the current cost estimate. Alternative strategies and value engineering studies are currently underway. The design-build process will likely include further alternatives analysis and cost development to facilitate a firm budget. It is anticipated that the CIP budget request will be further refined after the project alternatives and value engineering process is complete.
The waterfront items are part of a larger FY 2022 budget discussion scheduled for the April 8 Planning Commission meeting.
The 128 deaths from COVID-19 in Alexandria are being commemorated in the small yard outside Christ Church (118 North Washington Street), a historic Episcopal in Old Town.
The green lawn is partially covered in white flags, each marking a death from the pandemic that started one year ago.
According to a sign in the yard:
Each flag represents the death of one of our fellow Alexandrians from Covid-19.
In the words of our Episcopal liturgy, these loved ones rest in that place ‘where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.’
All are welcome to come, to pray, to remember
— Michael Pope (@MichaelLeePope) March 25, 2021
The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is trying to find out more about what happened to a dog found dead and wrapped in blankets off N. Armistead Street and Beauregard Street.
The AWLA is hoping to find more information about the owners of the dog to inform them of the dog’s death and to try to learn what happened to it.
The dog was likely an un-neutered brown and white pit bull-type dog, aged anywhere between 1-5 years old. They also released a drawing of what they believe the dog looked like.
“We are not sure what caused this dog’s death, but we are hoping to connect with his owners to ensure they are aware and attempt to ascertain what may have happened,” the AWLA said. “If you think you recognize this dog or may know anything about him, we urge you to contact us by calling 703-746-6000 or emailing [email protected]”
There is a reward offered for information leading to the identification of the owner. Information can also be anonymously submitted online, though contact via phone or email is preferred in case there are follow up questions.
Photo via AlexAnimals/Instagram
Earlier today, the Alexandria Police Foundation announced the passing of one of the city’s retired police dogs.
According to the police foundation, a non-profit that helps care for retired police dogs among other services to Alexandria police, police K-9 Rocco worked with the Alexandria Police Department from 2011 to his retirement along with his handler Officer Wuckovich in 2018.
Rocco was injured in 2018 and was left unable to walk on his own, but through physical therapy was able to recover and regain his ability to run around.
According to the Alexandria Police Department’s Facebook page:
It is with a heavy heart we share the news of the recent passing of retired K9 Rocco. Rocco served the city with distinction from 2011 until he and his partner, Officer Wuckovich, retired in 2018. Rocco and Officer Wuckovich have earned Triple Crowns in K-9 competitions over the last three years of his service. In his retirement, K9 Rocco spent plenty of time playing with his family. Rest easy K9 Rocco, you will be missed. Thank you for your service.
Photo via Alexandria Police Foundation/Facebook
Update on March 30 at 10:45 a.m. — ALXnow has conducted an analysis on this poll, and found that a number of fraudulent votes were cast.
A seemingly safe reelection bid for incumbent Mayor Justin Wilson took a sudden sharp turn this week as two new candidates entered the race, including former Mayor Allison Silberberg coming back for a rematch.
The announcement conjured memories of the tense 2018 race between the two candidates that saw three years of vicious City Council arguments between Wilson and Silberberg boil over into campaigns divided as much by opposing personalities as differing policies.
In 2015, then Vice Mayor Silberberg ran against incumbent Mayor Bill Euille. Silberberg’s coalition of voters included many who were frustrated by new density and development approved under Euille — particularly along the Waterfront. Silberberg also benefitted from former Mayor Kerry Donley joining the race, splitting the more pro-density, institutional support for Euille.
Silberberg not only won the Democratic primary, but easily fended off a write-in campaign from Euille in the general election. The next three years, however, were filled with votes where Silberberg was often the lone voice against new development or legislative changes. In 2018, then Vice Mayor Justin Wilson ousted Silberberg.
Waterfront restaurant Chadwicks (203 Strand Street) could be doubling down on its outdoor seating with a new second floor metal balcony.
A proposal headed to the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday, April 7, would allow the restaurant to add a new metal balcony to the north side of the building, across from Big Wheel Bikes. The new outdoor dining would replace parking spots in the alleyway.
Owner Trae Lamond said opening up more outdoor dining had been in the back of his mind for years, but was really hammered home by COVID-19.
“I wanted to come up to a clever way to add outdoor dining ever since I bought the place in 2015 and struck out one way or another until I saw the simplest answer: put it right there in the alleyway,” Lamond said. “We started the process before COVID, then we went into survival mode for 2020. That was until the city bailed out all of us with the temporary outdoor dining expansion, which really opened my eyes to how important that was. It was such a slam dunk.”
The move follows a similar change from other restaurants to expand outdoor dining options, like nearby Virtue Feed and Grain’s expansion into an adjacent alleyway.
“We’ve had five tables before this, and it’s been that way since the early 2000s,” Lamond said. “But you look down at Charthouse, Virtue or Vola’s, and they’re killing it with the outdoor space.”
The new addition will come alongside other grade improvements to facilitate outdoor dining for the restaurant. Lamond said the expansion will be modest in scope, but still a significant growth over current offerings.
“It’ll be in the 40-50 range for seats,” Lamond said. “Not massive, but it’s going to beat the heck out of five tables.”
Images via City of Alexandria
An Alexandria man has pleaded guilty to two counts of producing child pornography, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Abel Amcrocio, 54, was arrested last year, and after pleading guilty, is scheduled to be sentenced on August 4. Amcrocio faces a minimum penalty of 15 years in prison.
The press release said the child pornography started when Ambrocio, who is a Mexican national, developed an online relationship with a woman in Honduras over an unnamed social media platform.
“From around October 2018 through at least February 2019, Ambrocio instructed the woman to record and send him over 100 images of herself sexually abusing her two children — an approximately three-year-old boy and an approximately ten-year-old girl,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release. “Ambrocio instructed the mother to engage in specific sex acts with her children and record herself doing so on multiple occasions, even when she told Ambrocio that one of the children was in pain and crying from the previous sex act.”
In March 2019, Ambrocio distributed images of the woman abusing her three-year-old on a social media platform.
“The defendant’s conduct, which caused the sexual abuse of two young children by their own mother, is both horrific and heartbreaking,” said Raj Parekh, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The production of child pornography inflicts devastating and lifelong harm to society’s most vulnerable victims. [The Eastern District of Virginia] is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring child sexual predators to justice.”
The press release noted that the case was brought forward as part of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative launched in 2006 to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse.