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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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Engineers from Jacobs Engineering on a site visit for a stormwater capacity project in Del Ray (courtesy City of Alexandria)

If you saw workers in bright vests around Del Ray last month, they were engineers contracted with the city, and their presence marked the start of design work for a major stormwater capacity project.

The project has the unwieldy name “Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road and Ashby Street and East Glebe Road” after several smaller projects were smushed together.

The goal is to boost the size of the stormwater sewer pipes in Del Ray, meaning that the pipes can hold more water and it will take longer for them to flood.

According to the city’s website:

In the Four Mile Run watershed, the two top priority projects Commonwealth Avenue & E. Glebe Road project and E. Glebe Road and Ashby project are being combined under one large capacity project because they are located next to one another. This project is expected to increase the capacity, or size, of the stormwater sewer pipes; create opportunities for stormwater to be stored and released slowly over time; and incorporate ‘green infrastructure’ practices, such as permeable pavement, that allow the stormwater to soak into the ground, reducing runoff.

A contract was awarded for the project design in October. A city newsletter called Flood Action Alexandria said the project made headway last month as engineers conducted a site visit as part of the initial design work.

“The site visit will be followed by other preliminary work, including land surveys, geotechnical boring investigations and detailed sewer shed modeling,” the newsletter said. “This supports the development of construction plans for the proposed solution.”

When completed, the project should improve stormwater conveyance and reduce some of the flooding that has plagued Del Ray in recent years.

“The combined projects are the City’s top two large capacity projects and will increase the capacity of the storm sewer system to improve stormwater conveyance,” the newsletter said. “The project will also incorporate green infrastructure elements, which will capture runoff carrying surface pollutants, providing a water quality benefit to the watershed.”

The estimated cost for the design and construction of the project is $50 million, paid for in part by a grant from the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund.

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Gibbon Street in Old Town, where the city is scheduled to do sidewalk maintenance (image via Google Maps)

Alexandria’s streets have been getting the spotlight for the last few months of repaving efforts, but through August: it’s the sidewalks’ turn.

Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services released the street repaving and maintenance schedule for August, showing prioritization of seven sidewalks city-wide.

Over the course of this month, the following sidewalks are scheduled to get repairs:

  • Gibbon Street (from South Payne Street to South Union Street)
  • West Braddock Road (from King Street to Russell Road)
  • John Carlyle Street (from Eisenhower Avenue to Duke Street)
  • Hancock Avenue (from West Braddock to End)
  • Queen Street (from North West to North Union Street)
  • Rutland Place
  • East Windsor Avenue

Maintenance this month is also scheduled to work on the West Reed alleyway (between Evans Lane and Wilson Avenue) in the Lynhaven neighborhood and Westview Terrace (between Janneys Lane and Hilltop Terrace) in Taylor Run.

The city is also making guardrail repairs this month on the eastbound side of Duke Street and on Van Dorn Street.

Image via Google Maps

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Alexandria leaders will be on-hand on Thursday, July 14, for the unveiling and dedication of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project.

The $454.4 million project will replace Old Town’s 19th century combined sewer system with a tunnel system, sewer infrastructure and improvements to AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant — all to prevent 130 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing from four outfalls into the Potomac River every year.

The dedication will be held on July 14 from 9 to 11:00 a.m. at the Alexandria Renew Education Center and Meeting Space (1800 Limerick Street).

The Virginia General Assembly mandated in 2017 that the project be completed by July 1, 2025. The groundbreaking for the project was held last fall.

The tunnel project is partially funded through a $321 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Late last month, a RiverRenew tunnel boring machine was delivered to the project site.

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A construction crew installs a check valve on East Mason Street in November (via City of Alexandria)

City staff laid out what’s ahead for some of the city’s stormwater infrastructure projects in a presentation prepared for the City Council’s meeting tonight (Tuesday).

Three large projects to increase sewer capacity are planned in Del Ray, according to the Flood Action Alexandria presentation. Two of the projects — a $34 million undertaking at East Glebe Road and Commonwealth Avenue and a $16 million project at Ashby Street and East Glebe Road — were merged together for planning purposes. The two projects are next to each other in the Four Mile Run watershed.

“This project is expected to increase the capacity, or size, of the stormwater sewer pipes; create opportunities for stormwater to be stored and released slowly over time; and incorporate ‘green infrastructure’ practices, such as permeable pavement, that allow the stormwater to soak into the ground, reducing runoff,” the city website states.

The contract for work in the Four Mile Run watershed is estimated to be awarded sometime this spring, with the project targeted for completion in 2025.

Another, called the Hooff’s Run Culvert/Timber Branch Bypass, is at the southern end of Del Ray. The $60 million project will construct a new stormwater pipe system to transport stormwater away from the Hooff’s Run Culvert, helping manage flows from the Timber Branch watershed, the city website states. The city plans to put out a request for qualifications for that project this spring.

Between fiscal years 2023 and 2032, the city proposes to fund $156 million in large capacity projects, $55 million in maintenance, $44 million in spot improvements and $18 million in water quality projects, according to the presentation.

The presentation lists two spot improvement projects in the design phase and another two in construction phase. Spot improvements are small capital projects meant to address localized flooding and draining issues relating to the city’s storm sewer system.

Cul-de-sac inlets and drainage are being designed for the Mount Vernon Avenue cul-de-sac near Blue Park. At Oakland Terrace in Rosemont, the city is in the design phase to stabilize degrading and eroding banks and protect sanitary sewer line.

The city is also increasing inlet capacity at Hume Avenue in the Potomac Yard area, and not far away at Clifford Avenue, and Fulton and Manning streets. The latter work started at the end of February.

Vernon Miles contributed to this article. Photo via City of Alexandria.

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Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) took a quick break from work in Washington today (March 18) for a tour of Alexandria Renew Enterprises’ RiverRenew Tunnel Project.

The $454.4 million project will replace Old Town’s combined sewer system to prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River every year. The project is partially funded through a $321 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The Virginia General Assembly mandated that the project be completed by 2025. Alexandria, Lynchburg and Richmond all have CSO projects in development — the latter of which Kaine worked on when he was a member of the Richmond City Council in the 1990s.

“The project had started before I got onto the council, and it’s still going on,” Kaine said after the tour. “It’s such an expensive and massive thing to do… It’s really interesting to see how you solve your challenge here.”

After the tour, Kaine discussed infrastructure and job training at Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge campus.

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After a few years of somewhat jubilant legislative sessions, the City Council is moving into preparation for a legislative package with a more grim outlook.

The legislative package is an annual list of asks and recommendations from the city to the state government. These sorts of legislative packages are particularly important in Virginia where, as a Dillon Rule state, the authority of the city is limited to only those areas explicitly granted by the state. With Republicans winning control of much of the state government in last week’s election, the all-Democrat City Council’s days of “playing with house money” could be coming to an end.

The biggest project involving state funding in Alexandria is the combined sewer overhaul, a $400 million project mandated by the state that comes with $45 in state funding. The top item on the 2022 legislative priorities list is maintaining funding for that project and offering more flexibility in how the city finances its infrastructure projects.

“The City supports a technical amendment to the budget to ensure funds already appropriated for the [combined sewer] project from the State’s American Rescue Plan Act funds are directed to AlexRenew/The Alexandria Sanitation Authority,” the legislative package draft said. “In addition, the City supports the General Assembly’s commitment to appropriating an additional $40 million in bonds in the next biennial budget to support Alexandria’s legislatively mandated combined sewer overflow project.”

Similarly, the legislative package also expresses support for:

  • Legislation to authorize a comprehensive, statewide workgroup and/or master planning process to consider issues related to inland flooding and recommend actionable short-term and long-term strategies and funding opportunities to prepare for and adapt to inland flooding, including policy changes, priority resiliency projects, funding and financing strategies, and a plan for coordination among state, federal, and local governments.
  • Budget language to direct [Department of Environmental Quality] to convene a work group to review and recommend modifications to current law regarding the limitations on local authority to regulate additions/modifications to single family detached residential structures where land disturbance is less than 2,500 square feet in order to review the land disturbing activity for potential stormwater impacts. (T&ES)

Following up on an area where Mayor Justin Wilson said the city shares some commonalities with Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, the city is also pushing for more transparency from Dominion Power.

“The City supports legislation to require electric utilities in Virginia, including Dominion Power, to report and publish, on an annual basis, industry-standard electric reliability metrics to the State
Corporation Commission for its system and for individual localities, including Alexandria,” the package said.

Other items included in the legislative package include:

  • Increased funding for childcare support programs, along with adequate support for legal representation in child welfare cases
  • Support for universal and affordable broadband access
  • Stricter high-rise building safety regulations — a topic that became particularly relevant after the condominium collapse in Florida
  • The ability to locally regulate gas-powered leaf blowers
  • Expanded authority to implement automated traffic enforcement solutions, like red-light cameras
  • Reinstated authority for local law enforcement to regulate noise from vehicle exhaust
  • Support for low-to-no fare public transit programs, such as the one Alexandria recently implemented
  • Continued support for and funding to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Fund

The legislative package also includes a series of requests, submitted by the Office of housing. for more protections against eviction at a state level, including:

  • Legislation requiring evictions be for cause;
  • Legislation allowing localities to establish a landlord registry;
  • Legislation limiting the percentage of annual rent increases for existing tenants;
  • Legislation requiring landlord notices and communications in languages other than English;
  • Legislation allowing a ten-day appeal period for all evictions even if the tenant is not present;
  • Legislation to allow tenants to file a tenant’s assertion to schedule a hearing on landlord violations of the lease without having to pay rent into court escrow;
  • Legislation eliminating the appeal bond or allowing indigent waivers for low income tenants;
  • Legislation establishing a tenant right to counsel.

The legislative package is scheduled for initial review at the upcoming Saturday, Nov. 13, City Council meeting.

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After recent infrastructure work, Alexandria City Public Schools confirmed that it’s satisfied with the conditions at Alexandria’s middle schools — for the time being.

In what one school official described as a pleasantly “boring” meeting between the City Council and School Board after recent City Council-School Board turmoil, school staff said some recently completed work at George Washington Middle School and Francis C. Hammond Middle School should be the last big investments in those schools for the foreseeable future.

From mold to faulty fire alarms, parents and students at GW Middle School have raised concerns about school infrastructure for years.

Mayor Justin Wilson confirmed at the meeting with school staff that the near-term plans for both middle schools are system replacements to keep the building in a state of good repair, but no widespread expensive infrastructure projects are currently planned for either school.

“We’re not staring down a $30-40 million investment in these buildings in the near term?” Wilson asked, which ACPS confirmed.

John Finnigan, director of educational facilities, said that ACPS recently replaced the roofs and have been working on water intrusion issues at both schools.

“We’ll see what [the assessments] show, but we’re not looking at huge investments,” Finnigan said, “especially on the two schools you mentioned.”

At GW Middle School, Finnigan said the roof replacement started in 2016 and ran for two-and-a-half years. ACPS also completed work on the building exterior, along with additional caulking and masonry. At Hammond, infrastructure work was completed last year and included lighting upgrades for the school.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., cautioned that the schools will still need to review the impending division-wide facility assessments, but that currently there are no plans for more multi-million dollar projects at either school.

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The city is starting work on a new municipal fiber optic network, but while the project should boost internet speeds at city facilities and schools, the big news for most local residents is higher internet speeds could be a few years and a few contract negotiations away.

Two coils of plastic tubing were wrapped up at the dig site this morning (Monday), where city officials stuck shovels into the ground. One will carry the new municipal network, but the other — added at minimal expense — will be empty for now but built to house a future network put into place by a private provider.

A fiber optic network has been a longtime goal of the city, and City Manager Mark Jinks said the construction of the network is estimated to run over four years.

“It’s a small city, but we’re wiring a hundred facilities,” Jinks said. “One of the cables will be empty, and it costs very little to add that once we’re digging in the ground.”

Jinks said the city is currently working on a process to get a private internet provider onboard.

“The city would issue an announcement for offering a franchise and would give rights of access to that provider,” Jinks said. “Our goal is to start that process before the end of the calendar year.”

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RiverRenew Tunnel Project Map, courtesy AlexRenew

Massive infrastructure project RiverRenew has laid out a rough timeline for the ambitious three-pronged work throughout Old Town later this year.

The project is part of compliance with a 2017 Virginia law that requires Alexandria to overhaul the city’s combined sewer system, which has been dumping 130 million gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River every year. The city is required to complete the overhaul by July 1, 2025.

In an email to ALXnow, RiverRenew Outreach Program Manager Sheeva Noshirvan outlined the schedule of the project moving forward.

Work at the AlexRenew site started the earliest, in May this year, and will be the last part of the project to finish — in July 2025.

The first community work for the RiverRenew project will be in October, when work starts on Royal Street for Outfall 2.

The full schedule is:

  • Royal Street (Outfall 2) — starting October 2021, ending June 2024
  • Pendleton Street (Outfall 1) — starting November 2021, ending October 2024
  • Hooffs Run Interceptor (Outfalls 3 and 4) — starting December 2021, ending May 2023
  • AlexRenew — started May 2021, ending July 2025.

RiverRenew is planning to host a series of virtual community listening sessions, where project staff meet with locals to discuss issues surrounding construction. The next meeting will be held Thursday, July 15, at 6 p.m., to discuss construction of a facility on Pendleton Street near Oronoco Bay Park.  A meeting the next Thursday, July 22, will discuss a similar facility on Royal Street near Jones Point Park.

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