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Pedestrian Bridge at Ben Brenman Park (image via Google Maps)

A pedestrian bridge at Ben Brenman Park will be closed over the next month for repairs.

The closure means anyone going to the Ben Brenman Dog Park or Ben Brenman Park Volleyball Courts will have to take a small detour to another bridge further west.

The city said the bridge repairs are needed after a bridge inspection last year showed deteriorated under-bridge beams.

According to the city website:

It was observed during the last bridge inspections completed in November 2023, that some of the under-bridge beams have deteriorated and have to be replaced. The bridge conditions are rated as “poor” due to structural deficiencies in the beams. These conditions affect the bridges crossing over Holmes Run Stream to the Holmes Run Trail, and the southeastern bridge crossing over Backlick Run to the Brenman picnic and volleyball area.

Work on the bridge is scheduled to start on Monday, Feb. 26, and is expected to take a month to complete.

Image via Google Maps

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Flood warning signs in Del Ray (image via City of Alexandria)

The Commonwealth, Ashby, and Glebe Flood Mitigation Project — one of the largest flood mitigation projects in the city other than the huge RiverRenew project — is set to hit a planning milestone sometime this spring.

In a February Flood Action newsletter, city staff said the project is set to hit the “60% of the project design” milestone sometime this spring.

According to the newsletter:

Designs provided at the 60 percent benchmark will include additional project details, such as utility relocation design, structural details for culvert and storm sewer system, easements or right-of-way acquisitions to support project construction, and a more detailed review of constructability and construction methodology.

The project is an amalgamation of two large-capacity projects providing flood relief for the northern end of Del Ray and Lynhaven.

“The proposed design includes new parallel relief sewers along Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road, which will increase the capacity of the storm sewer system,” the city’s website said. “Additionally, a new outfall will be installed to discharge flows to Four Mile Run. Finally, green infrastructure practices will be implemented to provide a water quality benefit to the watershed.”

The project is estimated to cost $50 million.

Construction is expected to start in Summer 2026 and be completed by Summer 2029.

Map of Commonwealth, Ashby, Glebe Flood Mitigation Project (image via City of Alexandria)
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Empty municipal fiber cables to be laid in the ground (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

An Agenda Alexandria panel later this month will dive into how the city’s digital landscape isevolving and what it means for local residents.

In 2021, the city broke ground on a new municipal fiber optic network to boost internet speeds at city facilities and schools and earlier this year Internet provider Ting started to break Comcast’s hold over Alexandria’s internet.

Beyond just the technological angle, the panel will also take a look at legal considerations of the city moving from a third-party provider to establishing its own network.

According to the website:

Join us at Agenda Alexandria’s upcoming program as we delve into the dynamic landscape of broadband expansion within the City of Alexandria. As technology continues to evolve, the expansion of broadband providers holds the potential to reshape the very fabric of our city, influencing how we work, live, and conduct business.

Panelists include:

  • Sara Crifasi, Of Counsel at Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby, LLP
  • Dr. Elizabeth Hoover, Chief Technology Officer at Alexandria City Public Schools
  • Fernando Torrez, President of NanoTech Computer Consulting, LLC
  • Dr. Alan Shark, Executive Director of Public Technology Institute (PTI)

The panel is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Lyceum (201 S Washington Street). Tickets are $10.

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Civil engineers work on new stormwater mitigation projects in Parkfairfax (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

A discussion of one of the city’s larger stormwater infrastructure projects spurred a question from city leaders: can the city do more to make these projects happen faster?

Adriana Castañeda said at a City Council meeting last night that the city is a little over halfway through the design process for the Commonwealth, Ashby, Glebe Flood Mitigation Project, one of the largest stormwater infrastructure projects in the city — outside of the immense AlexRenew project.

According to the city’s website, the plan is to add parallel relief sewers to Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road, increasing storm sewer capacity and leading to a new outfall to discharge flows into Four Mile Run.

Castañeda said design for the project began in 2022. The 60% design concept stage is scheduled for February 2024, with the design completed in July 2025. Construction is scheduled to start sometime in April 2026 with the project completed in January 2028.

The total estimated cost for the project is around $50 million. The project design costs $8.1 million, taken from the FY 2022 budget, with construction funded in the FY 2023 and FY 2024 budgets at $26.4 million and $12.6 million, respectively.

Alexandria has recently had problems with projects taking too long between the planning and construction phases. City leaders promised in 2020 to try and speed up stormwater management improvements as the city is continually battered with severe flooding.

“Four years of design, two years of construction,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “It seems, obviously, this is not the only project we have this going on with: do we have options to accelerate design on these projects? Are there other construction methodologies we should be using to speed up design? It seems like we spend so long going through design processes on these major infrastructure projects.”

City staff said the Commonwealth, Ashby, Glebe Flood Mitigation Project was already somewhat accelerated, with the planning process compressed into the design phase. Staff said things like surveying, understanding constraints on a site, and more are usually done before the design phase.

Wilson said his concern is some of that work is taking longer than it needs to.

“I feel like there’s got to be a way on some of these projects to compress this design, because it seems like we’re spending a heck of a lot of time and a lot of money in this phase,” Wilson said. “I understand you don’t want to short circuit any of that work, it’s important work and it dictates success and failure later on in the project, but it seems like if there are some better ways to do that quicker. I’d love to have that conversation.”

City Council member John Chapman said there have been regular conversations with staff about how to accelerate some of those processes.

“It’s not something that hasn’t come up,” Chapman said. “It’s something staff continually looks at and how to quicken the pace on certain projects.”

Wilson said the other consideration, in terms of saving money on these designs, is whether it would be worth creating an in-house team to handle it.

“Given that we have now made a long-term commitment to a pipeline of projects and investments in this area, are these the types of resources we look at bringing in-house and does that become more efficient?” Wilson asked.

Staff said during the meeting that it’s recommended to continue using outside design firms, which can have teams larger than city staff departments, and that it’s not feasible to keep that level of expertise as in-house staff.

Beyond the cost, Chapman said the time delays have real impacts for city residents.

“One of the concerns my colleagues are bringing up is something we’ve heard from the beginning in terms of timeline,” Chapman said. “We understand there are going to be incidents and rain and flooding in between, and that’s why we consistently talk about moving up the schedule and seeing what opportunities can be done.”

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A VRE train crosses a bridge over King Street (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Like one of the many oversized trucks stuck there over the years, a regional partnership will impact the long-troubled Virginia Railway Express (VRE) bridge over King Street and other nearby infrastructure projects.

At an open house next week, the City of Alexandria, the VRE and Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) are planning to discuss the broad range of projects around the area where the rail lines cross over King Street and Commonwealth Avenue.

The VRE bridge has been the scene of a few collisions as vehicles hit the structure while trying to pass under it, but a new project proposed last year could involve full replacement of the bridge. According to the city’s website:

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA), in collaboration with CSX, will design and construct replacement rail bridges over King Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Alexandria. The intent is to improve safety and reduce maintenance for these structures. Construction is expected to begin in Spring 2024 and finish in mid-2026.

That project is currently in the design phase.

King and Commonwealth infrastructure investments (image via City of Alexandria)

It isn’t the only infrastructure overhaul planned for the area, though. The VPRA is working on an Alexandria Fourth Track project to add six miles of railroad track between Arlington and Alexandria and add capacity to the regional railway bottleneck.

According to the website:

The Alexandria Fourth Track project will design and construct 6.0 miles of a fourth railroad track and related infrastructure between Arlington, VA, and Alexandria, VA. The project will connect to the southern end of the Long Bridge Project and will construct one additional track within existing railroad right-of-way to accommodate more railroad capacity between Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. Construction is expected to begin in Spring 2024 and finish in early 2027.

The open house event is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the Platform of Alexandria VRE Union Station (110 Callahan Drive).

 

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Ting Internet team on-site in Alexandria, Virginia (image courtesy Ting Internet)

Ting Internet started providing some long-awaited competition to Comcast in parts of Alexandria earlier this year, now the company says it’s expanding to central Alexandria soon.

Catharine Rice, community engagement and public affairs manager, told ALXnow in an email that the company has finished microtrenching in work zone 1, the first area Ting Internet was implemented in Alexandria. Rice said Ting Internet is starting work in neighborhoods west of Braddock Road soon, but without any exact dates announced.

“We have now completed all microtrenching in our work zone 1, which includes all of Del Ray, and will head into work zone 2 shortly (west of Braddock Road),” Rice said.

Rice said the existing infrastructure made Del Ray and surrounding communities the ideal starting place.

“We originally began construction in northern Alexandria as our first work zone because there was already critical backbone infrastructure in place in the area,” Rice said. “It also creates a seamless starting point for construction as we build to the west and south. Most households in Del Ray, Beverly Hills, North Ridge, and Lynhaven can now sign up for service and we anticipate being able to begin construction on our work zone two in the near future.”

Rice also said “hundreds of residents” have signed up for Ting, but would not give ALXnow any exact numbers or any timetable for future expansion plans.

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Jamieson Avenue closure in the Carlyle neighborhood (image via RiverRenew)

Some upgrades to Alexandria’s stormwater management will mean a months-long closure of a road between the Carlyle neighborhood and Old Town.

The RiverRenew Project will require the closure of Jamieson Avenue between Holland Lane and S West Street, just north of the Alexandria National Cemetery.

At a City Council meeting earlier this week, Mayor Justin Wilson said intermittent closures started late last month but will escalate starting in October.

“From the first week of October through January 2024 [we’ll have] full closure of Jamieson in that section, 24/7,” Wilson said. “We have signs up, social media, mailings; we’re working to get the word out. There’s certainly a change coming and detours will be required.”

The RiverRenew project website said the closure is to allow work crews to access Hooffs Run.

“To prevent combined sewage from polluting and harming local waterways, RiverRenew crews must upgrade the Hooffs Run Interceptor at our construction sites north of Jamieson Avenue and within African American Heritage Park,” the website said. “RiverRenew crews must fully close Jamieson Avenue to through pedestrian and vehicular traffic while they work to connect these two areas.”

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Civil engineers work on new stormwater mitigation projects in Parkfairfax (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

A new report filed by the Ad Hoc Stormwater Utility and Flood Mitigation Advisory Group said the city has been making progress on its mitigation, but said large-scale benefits are still years away.

The committee, which has been in operation for two years on an ad hoc basis, filed an 11-page report on the state of the stormwater infrastructure projects — along with a note that the committee should be made permanent.

The city has put a $264 million price tag on its 10-year Capital Improvement Program for stormwater mitigation projects. The committee said that figure accurately reflects that flooding prevention should be a priority for the city, but said there are scant details so far to provide a truly accurate cost estimation.

“None of these projects have completed sufficient design to allow accurate cost estimation,” the report warned. “City Council should be prepared for potential cost changes as the detailed designs of the major stormwater projects are completed over the next few years.”

The report said the city is mostly targeting its stormwater mitigation projects in the right areas but misses the intersection of Braddock Road and West Street, the area immediately adjacent to the Braddock Road Metro station.

The 10-year Capital Improvement Plan for stormwater and the wet weather mitigation projects planned for the combined sewer area of Old Town contain twelve large capacity-building projects and forty-nine smaller spot projects. The current inventory of projects is properly focused on the most urgent areas of stormwater flooding – with one exception. The intersection of Braddock Road and West Street is an area of chronic flooding during severe rain events. None of the currently planned large capacity-building projects appear to address this flooding problem directly.

The city’s approach to reducing stormwater flooding is broken into three parts: quick-turnaround spot projects, ongoing maintenance, and large capacity-building projects. Over the last year, the city completed six spot projects and ten are on deck for the next year. All of these require less than a year from design to construction.

Overall, the report acknowledged that Alexandria has made progress, but the real test will still be the delivery of the larger-scale projects that are still in the early design phases:

Alexandria has made more progress in the fight against stormwater flooding in the past few years than ever before. The rapid completion of spot improvements, the launch of major capacity-building projects and an effective outreach program are examples of this progress. While the Committee wholeheartedly applauds the progress to date, it recognizes that creating a more flood-resilient Alexandria will require at least a decade of sustained investment and effort. The true measure of progress will be when the City has proven its ability to build the large infrastructure projects that fundamentally increase Alexandria’s capacity to move stormwater.

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Like many local households, the City of Alexandria has plans to tidy up for the spring.

The City announced in a release today that a number of beautification efforts will be going on around town, along with a few continue improvements like pothole repair and repaving.

The City of Alexandria said some of its “gateways” are going to be getting some much-needed attention to improve the entrances to Alexandria.

According to the release:

Spring gateway cleaning is scheduled to begin Saturday, April 8, and will continue each Saturday until all gateway areas are complete. The primary focus of the clean-up is to “spruce up” the entry points to the City. The gateways included in the spring cleaning program are Telegraph Road, Duke Street/I-395, Van Dorn Street/Eisenhower Avenue, and King Street/I-395. Several areas throughout Alexandria will receive enhanced litter collection as part of the beautification effort.

Alexandria is also offering a limited supply of wood mulch from previously collected Christmas trees, followed by leaf mulch.

“Deliveries will begin on Monday, April 3 and will run through Friday, June 30,” the release said. “Delivery dates and times are limited and appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a $65 delivery charge for each half-load and $130 for a full load.”

Free mulch is also available at 4215 Eisenhower Avenue, Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

The City has also started a street-sweeping project that started last Monday and is estimated to take 12 weeks.

“Crews keep neighborhoods and commercial corridors clean and protect waterways from debris runoff by regularly sweeping 560 lane miles,” the release said. “The street sweeping program includes three major groups: commercial, no parking, and residential.”

The release asked residents to be aware of “No Parking” restrictions on blocks where sweeping is ongoing.

Beyond beautification, there are some tangible infrastructure benefits coming this spring as well. The city’s repaving program is scheduled to start on Monday, April 17. Spring also marks the start of pothole repair season.

“The City’s pothole patrol begins Monday, April 3,” the release said. “Alexandria is divided into 11 zones and crews will work diligently on multiple zones at a time to ensure each zone gets one pass. This is a moving operation and residents should expect periodic lane closures throughout the City. The spring pothole patrol only covers major street networks and does not include public alleys and parking spaces.”

After the spring pothole patrol, which is estimated to be finished around April 28, residents can report potholes online or by calling 703 746 4311.

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As rainfall travels down the hills of the Parkfairfax neighborhood, the momentum sweeps it past the slim gutters meant to catch the water, propelling it further downhill to devastating effect. But fortunately, with a surge of political and financial interest being poured into flood mitigation over the last few years, stormwater isn’t the only thing gaining momentum.

Among the larger flooding infrastructure projects going around the city are a handful of smaller “spot improvements” that could play a big role when the next major storm hits.

In the Parkfairfax neighborhood, the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services has been installing 13 inlets that the city hopes will help catch some of the stormwater the current storm drains aren’t getting.

Last week, civil engineers Brian Rahal and Ehsanullah Hayat were overseeing the inlet project, the largest of the stormwater spot improvements in the city to date.

“The biggest problem with this area is it’s steep,” said Rahal. “The inlets were put in decades ago and are small, so the gutters get filled with runoff quickly.”

Every flooding issue needs its own diagnosis and in Parkfairfax — unlike Old Town’s massive stormwater infrastructure project — Rahal said the issue isn’t one of capacity.

“There’s capacity here, but we need to get [the water] in,” Rahal said.

The city is installing 13 inlets: nine are redone inlets designed to make the current storm drains significantly larger and four are completely new inlets. The larger inlets are designed to divert more of the stormwater that momentum currently carries past the antiquated ones built decades ago in Parkfairfax. Last year, the city worked on around seven inlet projects across the city.

“That should capture most of it,” Rahal said. “That should drastically reduce the impact.”

Stormwater also tends to have a snowballing effect, where water can flow down to the same locations from different locations and the problems can quickly escalate. The intersection of Holmes Lane and Martha Custis Drive, where a few of the new inlets are being installed, is one such confluence of watersheds.

Rahal has worked in stormwater management in Alexandria for 12 years and said the increase in flooding problems has been gradual but increasingly noticeable.

“It increase really started in rainfall around 2010, but we started noticing it in 2015,'” Rahal said. “It was spotty, then we had record rainfall in 2018 and in 2019 we had the big storms.”

There was torrential flooding across the region in 2019, but Alexandria’s seen continued heavy rainfall every year since. New rainfall records were set in Alexandria last July.

The battering of the city from back-to-back flooding caused intense public scrutiny of the city’s stormwater mitigation, drawing backlash from sources ranging from the former sheriff to a locally popular Twitter account. The city worked to fast-track flood mitigation projects, but the speed of progress was limited by the design process.

Rahal said the stormwater utility fee helped give the city the resources it needed to move more quickly on some of these projects.

“That really changed the narrative,” Rahal said. “In 2014 we were concerned about the water quality mandate and focused more on water quality, then the narrative shifted to a higher priority for flood mitigation.”

Now, Rahal said the city is juggling larger and longer-term infrastructure projects with shorter-term spot improvements.

“We’ve taken a two-pronged approach,” Rahal said. “There are big projects that take time and we’re busy designing them, but at the same time we’re making spot improvements as much as we can in the time we have to affect change.”

Looking at the slim inlets they’re replacing, Rahal says he thinks back to their initial installation and has to remember how much the rainfall levels have changed since they were installed.

‘They had no way of knowing the stormwater issues we’d face,” Rahal said, “so it’s up to us to mitigate them.”

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