The Potomac Yard Metro station opening has been pushed back from spring to September next year .

After months of insisting that production was on schedule, WMATA announced today that the Potomac Yard Metro station’s opening will be pushed back five months.

“Metro engineers determined that the original design of the Automatic Train Control (ATC) systems, which was based upon specifications written by WMATA, did not meet all of the important safety requirements to ensure the safe operation of trains,” WMATA said in a statement. “The ATC system prevents trains from getting too close to one another and ensures trains always maintain a safe distance. The need to redesign the ATC system is the result of project management decisions for which WMATA is accountable.”

WMATA said it is working with the contractor to reduce delays in the project schedule, and that construction at the station will continue on the earlier timeline, but that track-related construction work will be delayed by the ATC design issue.

“The station, originally expected to open in April 2022, is now anticipated to open in or around Fall 2022 in order to complete the design and implementation of this safety critical system,” WMATA said. “Metro will work with its contractor to seek ways to prioritize completion of the ATC elements of this project.”

Mayor Justin Wilson called the delay resulting from an error in contract language “inexcusable”.

“Due to a contract language decision related to Automatic Train Control specifications, Metro and its contractor have indicated to the City that a delay in the station opening until the Fall will likely occur,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a press release. “While we appreciate Metro’s acceptance of accountability and recent diligence in addressing this issue, the contract language mistake is inexcusable.”

Wilson continued, “With the large investment of $370 million being made by the City and other governmental and private partners to fund the station construction, internal systems should have caught the error. The City intends to have its own expert construction consultant review the schedule to determine if there is a way to safely open this station earlier than September of 2022.”

The revised timeline does account, in part, for why an earlier announcement of reduced travel lanes on Potomac Avenue until September 2022.

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Morning Notes

Taser, pepper spray used by Arlington police to restrain Alexandria man — “Arlington County Police used a taser and pepper spray against an Alexandria man Wednesday after he resisted arrest at a Pentagon City business, according to the daily crime report. Officers were dispatched around 12:17 p.m., to a business in the 1100 block of S. Hayes Street for the report of a trespassing. The officers learned that the business wanted to ban Dupree Stringfellow, 27, of Alexandria. During their investigation, police determined there was an active warrant for Stringfellow’s arrest.” [Patch]

Alexandria’s The Italian Place rolling out eatery in Merrifield — “The Italian Place had planned to welcome customers to its new spot at 2985 District Avenue (Suite 190) this Saturday (July 24), but the grand opening will be delayed to August because more time is needed to prepare, owner and CEO Adriana Penachio-Sifakis says.” [Tysons Reporter]

Alexandria Police Department entrance exam is on July 26 — “Do you want to join the APD family and serve the City of Alexandria? We just added a new date for the written exam. The next test is this Monday, July 26, at 5:00 p.m.” [Twitter]

Mayor averages 5-6 hours of sleep every night — “I usually do 5-6 hours a night. I try to be in bed by 2 most nights and usually up a little after 7. If I run in the morning, I usually go out around 6, so I try to be in bed a little after midnight. I’m sure this sleep schedule is not remotely healthy for me!” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies (during the day). High 87F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy skies (in the evening). Low 68F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Store manager — “Come work with us at Spencer’s & Spirit Halloween, where you’ll be working with the best and brightest colleagues as you help us deliver the most fun experience and product possible to our guests. We’re fast-paced and take our work seriously, but we always have a good laugh at the end of the day. Walk through our stores or the halls of our corporate office and you’ll see firsthand that we’re laidback and irreverent. We’re firm believers in being true to YOU, so tattoos and piercings are as common as water cooler convos. Whether it’s critiquing our new exclusive costumes or quality testing newly implemented software technology, our teams understand the importance of working collaboratively to challenge status quo and achieve our goals. We keep pushing ourselves to go above and beyond and are looking for top talent to become a part of our team!” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Mayor and family attend Nats game canceled after shooting outside stadium Saturday — “We’re okay and on the Metro home, but baseball games should not be called because of a shooting. This is effed up and we all know it. We just don’t want to do anything about it.” [Twitter]

Intertribal Creatives Collective provides home for native artists — “Step into the new Intertribal Creatives Collective in Old Town Alexandria, and you’ll find yourself in a Western-style trading post with a touch of modern-day cool.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Internet cost assistance available for Alexandria residents — “Need help paying for internet access? The Emergency Broadband Benefit gives discounts up to $50/month for those eligible and discounts on computer/ tablet purchases.” [Twitter]

Today’s weather — “Cloudy skies early, followed by partial clearing. High 89F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds (in the evening). Low 69F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Nose model — “I am looking to hire someone to model her nose while rubbing it, picking it, and making silly faces. Must be 18.” [Indeed]

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The November 2 general election is less than four months away, and nearly all of the candidates running for City Council spent most of their money in last month’s Democratic primary.

Republican candidate Darryl Nirenberg has $48,552 in the bank — more than anyone else running for Council.

That’s according to the latest figures just released by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The Council candidate who gets the most votes is named vice mayor. There are eight candidates running for the six-seat Council, and independent candidate Florence King has the least amount in the bank with $16.

Mayor Justin Wilson raised $3,722 and spent almost $21,000 between May 28 and June 30, leaving him with just $13,343 in the bank. Wilson spent the bulk of his nearly $175,000 campaign finances on the Democratic primary last month in his successful rematch against former Mayor Allison Silberberg.

Republican Annetta Catchings is Wilson’s opponent, and raised $425 between May 28 and June 30, and has a balance of $3,687.

Mayor’s race

Mayor Justin Wilson (D)

  • Raised — $183,438
  • Balance — $13,343

Annetta Catchings (R)

  • Raised — $3,364
  • Balance — $3,687

City Council

Kirk McPike

  • Raised — $87,852
  • Balance — $15,951

Alyia Gaskins

  • Raised — $77,665
  • Balance — $6,372

John Taylor Chapman 

  • Raised — $74,649
  • Balance — Approximately $6,000 (Figures being updated)

Canek Aguirre

  • Raised — $52,335
  • Balance — $30,956

Amy Jackson

  • Raised — $50,616
  • Balance — $5,125

Sarah Bagley (D)

  • Raised — $47,268
  • Balance — $2,039

Darryl Nirenberg (R)

  • Raised — $42,807
  • Balance — $48,552

Florence King. (I)

  • Raised — $6,872
  • Balance — $16
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Alexandria’s police, fire and sheriff’s offices are asking the City Council for a raise.

The city imposed a pay and hiring freeze during the pandemic, and after more than a year of operating under a City Emergency, all city and state employees got a 1% bonus and merit increases were restored with the passage of the fiscal year 2022 budget.

It wasn’t enough.

The Alexandria Police Department and Fire Department are among the lowest paid in the region, with full-time starting salaries at $$49,294 for firefighters and $51,000 for police officers.

The presidents of the Alexandria Sheriff’s Association, the local 5 chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Union of Police Associations want a 1.5% merit pay increase, instead of the 1% that all city employees received in the approved FY22 budget. They said that the city saved $6 million with the hiring freeze, and that hundreds of jobs were left vacant.

“The workload was instead picked up by other dedicated City employees so as to maintain seamless service to Alexandria’s residents and visitors,” the trio wrote in the July 8 letter to Council. “This added work caused burn-out and lowered morale as employees took on additional responsibilities.”

Mayor Justin Wilson has asked City Manager Mark Jinks to provide an update on the city’s regional comparisons to determine necessary adjustments to “remain competitive.”

Salaries are a collective bargaining issue, and earlier this year Council unanimously adopted a collective bargaining ordinance. In other words, the unions are expected to reach a collective bargaining agreement before making asks of Council.

“In a future collective bargaining environment, we will have multi-year collective bargaining agreements that dictate what raises (as well as many other things) will look like,” Wilson said. “But we’re not there yet.”

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Last week Mayor Justin Wilson shared information on building inspection requirements following the disaster in Florida, but now the city is also pushing for state-level reform on building inspections.

The city’s scope of implementing  building code inspection requirements is bound by the Dillon Rule, which states that localities can only exercise powers expressly granted by the state. On July 8, Wilson sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam urging him to start the legislative process toward overhauling the state’s barebones inspection requirements.

“In the hours and days after the tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers high-rise condominium in Surfside, Florida, I received numerous questions from residents in Alexandria about building safety in our community,” Wilson said. “As both a historic community and a growing community, the issue of building safety related to older buildings as well as new construction is one of particular interest.”

Wilson noted that there are 57 high-rise buildings in Alexandria that are at least 40 years old, and 51 high-rise buildings without sprinklers — the most of any locality in Virginia. Wilson also noted that a 2007 survey by the Virginia Housing Commission found that Alexandria had the most older high-rise residential buildings in Virginia.

“The City issued a press release communicating information about the Commonwealth’s Uniform Statewide Building Code, inspection requirements for new construction, required periodic inspection of certain systems, and the process for identifying and correcting unsafe buildings and structures,” Wilson said. “We did note, however, that there is currently no requirement in Virginia to proactively or regularly inspect building structure and that a building that has received a certificate of occupancy is only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations to the building that require inspection.”

Senator Scott Surovell noted on Twitter that Virginia condos are independently inspected every 5 years and repairs are recommended, but those are often ignored by Boards who are given immunity from liability.

Wilson noted that those studies are overseen and implemented by volunteers, not municipal building code officials, and the scope of studies outsourced to third parties is defined by those same Boards.

In the letter to Governor Northam, Wilson suggested slipping language into the American Rescue Plan Act funding to create a workgroup to look at potential changes to the building inspection requirements.

“I am asking that you consider including budget language establishing a work group of stakeholders on the issue of building safety in the Commonwealth in the appropriation bill for the Commonwealth’s tranche of ARPA funds that will be considered at the upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly,” Wilson said. “This workgroup would bring together stakeholders — including localities, building code officials, tenant groups, the development community, staff from the Department of Housing and Community Development and others to review building safety in the Commonwealth and identify legislative and budget proposals for the 2022 session.”

Potential changes Wilson suggested included:

  • New reporting requirements and transparency regarding current structural findings by homeowners and condominium associations
  • New authority for local building code officials to require inspections of buildings and structure in their community
  • A building inspection/recertification process
  • Emergency requirements that existing older buildings have structural assessments done within the next year.

“The tragic collapse of the condo building in Florida is highly unusual,” Wilson said. “There are millions of commercial and residential high-rise buildings in the United States and catastrophic structural failures like the recent disaster are, thankfully, quite rare. However, this is an opportunity for us to consider and revisit the issue of building safety in our communities and identify ways to review and potentially enhance building safety across the Commonwealth.

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Despite a last-minute appeal by the Alexandria School Board to slow down on eliminating the school resource officer program, City Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday in favor of reallocating nearly $800,000 toward mental health resources for school aged children.

Mayor Justin Wilson, who voted in the minority against eliminating SROs in the 4-3 Council vote in May, said that the issue was not handled correctly and that he is “dismayed” by the deteriorated relationship between Council and the Board.

“I don’t think it was the right thing to do,” Wilson said. “I don’t think it was the right way to do it… I’m dismayed by where we’re at with our fellow elected body on the School Board. I don’t think we’re in good spot, and we need to fix that.”

Council’s decision means that police officers stationed inside Alexandria City High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School — will no longer have offices in those schools. Alexandria City High School is the largest high school in Virginia, and last month School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan warned that the decision leaves the school system vulnerable.

School Board Member Cindy Anderson testified on behalf of the Board, and said that their November 2020 decision to keep SROs was “totally disregarded.”

We can do better than this,” Anderson said. “We simply need to take our time and do it right.”

City Councilman Mo Seifeldein proposed the program’s elimination and asked that Anderson focus on the reallocation.

“Our understanding is these are the most needed resources based on waitlists, based on student needs, based on parent needs and these are supplemental positions to what you guys already provide,” Seifeldein said. “So, this is kind of where the discussion is and if you could focus your answer just on that I would really appreciate it.”

The Board has continually asked Council to respect its decision to keep SROS.

“At this moment, the proposed mental health positions feel like a stab in the dark that have made no genuine effort to get buy-in from the impacted staff, or a true representative sample of our students, their families and community stakeholders,” Anderson said.

Councilwoman Amy Jackson was the lone dissenting vote, and Councilwoman Del Pepper was not able to vote because of a technical issue.

“[The School Board’s decision to keep SROs] was a 6-3 vote, they had gone to their community, their constituents, they had done the vetting process for this entire issue,” Jackson said. “They had community engagement, and then City Council turned around and said, ‘Sorry, we don’t like your answer. This is how it’s going to be.’ That’s bullying. I thought we had an anti-bullying measure here.”

Councilman Canek Aguirre said that ACPS has budgeted $1 million toward private security, and that taking away four-to-five SROs in schools around the city should not have an impact. He also said that the school system missed an opportunity to talk about equity during last year’s increased tensions with police.

“Why are we spending a million dollars on security guards?” Aguirre asked. “If they’re not up to par it is up to the School Board to fix that issue. This has been a long-standing issue. It needs to get fixed.”

Acting Police Chief Don Hayes said that the officers have been put back into patrol operations, and that the schools will be incorporated in patrol beats. He also said that a mentorship program between former SROs at Alexandria City High School soccer players will continue.

“We’re still going to be there,” Hayes said. “We were there before SROs were there, we’ll be there after SROs are gone.”

The funding will go toward:

  • $567,000 — One therapist supervisor to the Department of Community and Human Services; two licensed mental health professionals; a human services specialist; and a licensed senior therapist for emergency services
  • $122,000 — One new public health nurse at the Minnie Howard campus
  • $101,000 — One new Alexandria Mentoring Partnership coordinator
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In the wake of the condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson says that Virginia needs to update its building safety regulations.

While calling the June 24 collapse of the 40-year-old building a rarity, Wilson tweeted that it has raised safety concerns since Alexandria has “most of the older high-rise residential buildings in Virginia.”

“There are millions of commercial and residential high-rise buildings in the United States and catastrophic structural failures like the recent catastrophe are, thankfully, quite rare,” Wilson said. “However, this is an opportunity for us to consider and revisit the issue of building safety, and identify ways to review and potentially enhance building safety.”

In Virginia, building owners are not required to have inspections on structural integrity after buildings get a certificate of occupancy when construction is complete. They are only inspected if there is a change in occupancy or alterations that require inspection.

“Currently, there are no requirements to proactively or regularly inspect building structure,” City staff said in a release.

Wilson told ALXnow that he will soon send Governor Ralph Northam a letter asking his office to look into the matter.

For now, residents with concerns about the structural integrity of a building can contact the Department of Code Administration.

“The City is committed to the safety of our residents and I look forward to working with City staff, my City Council colleagues, other localities, members of the General Assembly, members of the Administration and other key stakeholders to identify ways to ensure the safety of buildings and structures in our community and in those across the Commonwealth,” Wilson said.

According to the City:

Virginia’s building code requires multiple layers of inspections, reviews and monitoring, particularly related to building structure and integrity, that initially take place during building construction. The inspections are performed by professionally licensed architects, engineers, municipal inspectors, special inspectors, senior engineers, certified technical experts, certified laboratories and certified testing agencies. Once these inspections have been passed, the building will receive a certificate of occupancy.

Building owners are then required to have periodic inspections of certain systems, such as elevators, fire protection and fire alarm systems. Currently, there are no requirements to proactively or regularly inspect building structure. A building that has received a certificate of occupancy is only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations that require inspection. As part of this inspection process, the statewide building code contains provisions for identifying and correcting unsafe buildings and structures. If a building is identified during an inspection as being structurally unstable or unsafe, there are provisions to handle that situation.

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It was a quick week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

With summer in full swing, three Alexandria athletes have made it on the U.S. Olympic Team — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley.

In other sporting news, Old Town businesses beat Del Ray in a controversial softball game Wednesday, adding fuel to the fire of an intense rivalry.

It’s been super hot out lately, and the City urged caution and reminded residents to take advantage of special cooling centers.

On the COVID front, the city’s DASH bus service announced that one of its drivers passed away from complications from the virus.

Meanwhile, Mayor Justin Wilson believes that the city has met its 80% vaccination threshold, while Virginia Department of Health data says about 65% of residents over the age of 16 are partially vaccinated. The Alexandria Health Department, which just launched a COVID-19 test and vaccine pilot at T.C. Williams High School, says the data does not take into account city residents vaccinated in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

It’s also July 4 weekend, and in this week’s poll we asked whether readers plan on traveling, with 67% of respondents voting to stay home, 27% opting to travel by car and just 6% traveling by air.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Researchers call out shoddy craftsmanship in buried 18th century Alexandria ship
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. Landmark Mall plan approved as Planning Commission demands better environmental considerations
  4. Alexandria leaders acknowledge serious security issues with elimination of school resource officer funding
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria eyes bus rapid transit and bike lanes for Duke Street
  7. Parker-Gray tiny lot home moves forward with some unique challenges
  8. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  9. City talks strategy on making Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood Amazon-proof
  10. UPDATE: Man taken into custody as West End apartment barricade situation ends peacefully
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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On paper, Alexandria has had a hard time closing the gap to the city’s goal of 80% of residents getting vaccinated or even the Virginia target of 70%.

Several explanations for the challenge have been put forward, but in a town hall this week Mayor Justin Wilson put forward another: the city has already hit that goal, but the way the calculations work don’t show it.

“I get a lot of questions about ‘Why [are we] not at 70%?'” Wilson said. “The short answer is my view is we’ve actually made that goal.”

Wilson said the city’s figures are thrown out of wack in part because many Alexandrians didn’t get vaccinated in Virginia.

“Part of the data discrepancy that we have right now is that there are two very big populations excluded form the data we’re using,” Wilson said. “The [Virginia Department of Health] does not include Alexandrians vaccinated outside of the state. In other states that had lower demand and perhaps greater accessibility: we had a lot of Alexandrians who went to other states. They went to Maryland or DC. They’re not showing up in the numbers reported.”

The other factor Wilson said could be holding back Alexandria’s count is federal vaccinations. In 2019, the Alexandria Times noted that 12,831 Alexandrians are federal employees, citing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

“Perhaps bigger than that is federal doses,” Wilson said. “These are folks who would have received doses through their employers, and in some cases dependents. That’s reported at the state level, so we know how many of those folks are Virginians, but we don’t have a good jurisdictional breakdown of those numbers.”

Currently, the city sits at around 60% of the city being partially vaccinated and 56% are fully vaccinated. Wilson said, between federal employees and those vaccinated out of state, the has probably at least hit the lower benchmark.

“I suspect we’re well over 70% for the 18+ folks,” Wilson said. “That being said, still have a lot of work to do.”

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