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Alexandria City Hall was lit up for the weekend of Juneteenth 2021 (via Carol Jean Stalun Photography for Visit Alexandria)

Alexandria has kicked off the new year with a glimpse at some of this year’s biggest priorities.

A memo from Director of Planning Karl Moritz, published ahead of Planning Commission meeting this Thursday, lays out some of the work priorities for the city over the upcoming year.

Planning and Zoning

There are some major items on the plate for Planning and Zoning, most of which involve updating some of the city’s older outdated plans for locations around the city.

  • Alexandria West Plan: With some major developments reshaping the West End over the coming year, the city launched last fall an 18-month planning process for a large swath of the neighborhood. The process includes updates to the 1992 Alexandria West Small Area Plan and the 2008 Beauregard Plan, combining them into a sort of super-plan for the West End. According to the memo, priorities for that plan include “addressing topics such as equity, housing, mobility, land use, parks, infrastructure and safety.”
  • Zoning for Housing/Housing for All: Another major project that started late last year and will continue through 2023 is the city’s Comprehensive Zoning for Housing and Housing for All Package” — a whole-cloth review of the city’s housing policy to try to work affordability into regulations from the ground-up. In a previous memo, Moritz said the goal is to remove policies and regulations that were intended to support exclusion and segregation, as well as creating new more equitable policies and boost the supply of both committed and market rate affordable housing. The goal is to complete the plan by the end of 2023.
  • Vision Plan: This planning process will look at documenting and updating policies established in the various Small Area Plans dating back to 1992. This process is set to start this summer if staffing and resources are available.
  • Duke Street Plan Update: This land use update is set to follow some of the ongoing plans around transforming transportation along Duke Street.

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Train going through Potomac Yard Metro station (via WMATA/Twitter)

WMATA says the new goal is to open the Potomac Yard Metro station in May 2023, more than a full year after the station was originally scheduled to open.

The announcement comes after a delay this fall set the station’s opening for a nebulous “2023” date. While the station has been plagued by delays, there are promising signs of belated progress — including trains traveling through the station.

“While delayed longer than expected, it is exciting to start the countdown to opening Potomac Yard Station for our customers,” said Metro Board Chairman (and former Alexandria City Council member) Paul Smedberg in a release from WMATA. “By adding this infill station to the Blue and Yellow lines, we are anchoring Potomac Yard as a hub for employment, education, housing, and recreation.”

The release said tie-in work connecting the station to the rest of the Metro system was concluded early in November.

“Metro continues working collaboratively with the City of Alexandria and the contractor to complete station construction,” the release said. “In addition, Metro and its safety partners will complete critical safety reviews and provide staff training prior to opening for passenger service.”

The station is the centerpiece of a new cluster of development at Potomac Yard, including the new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

“We are excited to have an opening in sight for Potomac Yard Station,” Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said in the release. “Our team, the City of Alexandria, and contractors are working hard to complete the station and we look forward to providing new transit service to this rapidly developing area.”

Image via WMATA/Twitter

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Train going through Potomac Yard Metro station (image via WMATA/Twitter)

After a series of delays, there’s finally a positive milestone for the Potomac Yard Metro station.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) tweeted this morning that the first test train has gone through the station.

“Major milestone in our efforts to complete the work for the new station,” WMATA said in the tweet. “Testing is on schedule [and] we appreciate everyone’s patience as our teams work to get the station completed.”

The opening, originally scheduled for this past spring and then to this fall, was pushed back last month to sometime in 2023 with no more specific date.

The delay also prolonged the period of time when Alexandria will be cut off from the rest of the Metro system to early next month.

Image via WMATA/Twitter

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Metro work vehicle struck on Oronoco Street at N Henry Street (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s been a rough week for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and to top things off: someone hit a Metro work vehicle in the Braddock neighborhood this afternoon.

The crash occurred around 2:30 p.m. on Oronoco Street near the intersection with N Henry Street.

There were no injuries in the crash and Oronoco Street was not closed, though the lane closure did cause a significant backup — though at least this time WMATA isn’t to blame for the delay.

James Cullum contributed to this story

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Last Friday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced that the Potomac Yard Metro station would not be opening this fall, as they’d been insisting it would for months.

The new opening date is set as sometime in 2023. The announcement also came with an update that the shutdown cutting Alexandria off from the rest of the Metro station would be extended into November.

The delay is the latest in a long series of screw-ups connected to the Potomac Yard project, from a delay earlier this year to Metro and city officials concealing information about the station losing a southern entrance back in 2018.

Beyond Potomac Yard, the announcement came on the heels of a new report casting serious doubts about the safety on the rail line after the Metro system reportedly failed to fully address the issues that caused a train derailment last year.

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Construction work at Potomac Yard Metro station, photo via City of Alexandria

(Updated 2:15 p.m.) The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced that the Potomac Yard Metro station’s opening will be delayed yet again.

WMATA said in a statement that the Metro shutdown impacting all of Alexandria will be extended into November and the station, set to open this fall, will not open until sometime in 2023.

Just as WMATA had been vague about when in the fall the station would open, there’s no timeline for when in 2023 the station will open. Given that the station was originally set to open in April 2022, it’s possible the station’s opening could be delayed a full year past the original opening date.

“Regretfully, Metro announces that the new Potomac Yard Station will not open this calendar year,” WMATA said in a release. “The delay in completing construction of the station is due to the contractor’s failure to meet the project delivery schedule. Metro will continue to work with the contractor to produce an achievable schedule and will provide an update by the end of this year.”

WMATA said as site work got underway at Potomac Yard, crews discovered issues with underlying soil that affected the structural stability of the ground beneath the tracks. A remediation plan was developed and implemented, but WMATA said that reinforcing the ground below the tracks “required removing any work already completed, excavating additional soil beneath 1400 feet of track, and installing new subgrade materials to provide the required stability.”

According to Executive Vice President of Capital Delivery Andy Off:

We are frustrated with these developments on the Potomac Yard Station project. The team has been working around the clock to push the project delivery team to perform in accordance with the schedule. Recently, it has become clear that the published schedule will not be met, unfortunately delaying the opening of this important station. On behalf of our customers and the City of Alexandria, we apologize for this inconvenience. We will continue to work as quickly as possible to deliver a high-quality station, and we are doing everything within our power to move the project forward in a safe and responsible way.

Currently, Alexandria is cut-off from the rest of the Metro system. That was supposed to end on Saturday, Oct. 22, but WMATA said that ending has been pushed back to Nov. 5. WMATA officials previously said that once work had started on the station, it would be virtually impossible to reconnect Alexandria to the rest of the Metro system until the station was ready to open.

“Metro is extending the closure of six stations south of Reagan National Airport due to unexpected site conditions and remediation efforts for the future Potomac Yard Station,” WMATA said in a release. “The announcement today comes three weeks before stations were scheduled to reopen to give our customers time to plan their trips accordingly.”

WMATA said free shuttle bus service will continue to be available through the extended shutdown.

“As always, Metro will continue to work collaboratively with the City of Alexandria and the contractor to resolve these scheduling issues and continue our commitment of transparency to the local community,” the release said.

Mayor Justin Wilson called the delays “unacceptable” and said the project needs more direct oversight by WMATA:

The numerous delays to the Potomac Yard construction project are unacceptable. This critically important project requires more intentional oversight by WMATA. Our residents and businesses deserve better from our partners.

This latest setback must be met with urgency and significant actions by WMATA and its contractor to recover from the time and money lost. The City of Alexandria has provided specific operational actions to WMATA that we believe will more effectively manage the contractor’s efforts to complete this project in an expedited and efficient manner.

The City is also demanding that the financial impacts of the numerous delays be assessed and adjusted by WMATA to the benefit of our community. We will continue working with our partners to ensure transit riders have accessible alternatives during this continued shutdown.

We cannot continue to repeat these failures.

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We’re just a nebulous amount of time away from the opening of the Potomac Yard Metro station, but the station is already showing up on new Metro maps.

The ongoing shutdown for Alexandria to bring the Potomac Yard Metro station into the system is scheduled to finish on Oct. 22. Metro officials said trains will be passing through but not stopping at the station.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has said the station will open this fall, and Fred Robertson, project manager for the Potomac Yard Metro station, said there’s no more definite date available even as the year slides into fall.

The station was supposed to open in the spring but was pushed back to fall because of a contracting error.

The new map shows the Potomac Yard station as just a white dot lacking the black circle of its completed peers — indicating that the Potomac Yard Metro station is a “future station”. If WMATA keeps to its “fall” timeline, the new map should only be up to date for two months at most.

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National Landing-Potomac Yard Metroway (image via Google Maps)

One of the many frustrations facing Alexandria commuters during the Metro shutdown has been buses stuck in traffic next to dedicated bus lanes, but WMATA says adding shuttles would overload the existing transitway.

Among the many frustrations, which included long lines for shuttles, commuters were left wondering why their buses traveling up Route 1 were stuck in mixed traffic next to the mostly empty bus lanes.

While Metro and the City of Alexandria worked together on Metro replacement plans, Sherri Ly, media relations manager for WMATA, said that adding shuttles to the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway’s dedicated bus lanes would have overloaded and broken that system.

“Metro worked with the City of Alexandria to come up with a traffic management strategy that would not impede on Metroway and other transit services that use the transitway,” Ly said. “The signal timing on the transitway is designed to balance the existing bus routes and traffic on Route 1. Adding shuttle buses to the transitway would quadruple the number of vehicles on the roadway, well beyond the capacity.”

Ly said the additional buses would have added congestion to the transitway, which is also being pushed as an (albeit more local) Metro alternative.

“Adjusting the signal timing to accommodate four times the number of buses would create extensive back-ups on Route 1 and the additional buses would add congestion to the transitway, impacting routes like Metroway which are an important travel alternative for customers during the shutdown,” Ly said. “Additionally, the transitway does not extend the length of the shuttle bus routes which operate to/from Crystal City.”

The Yellow Line shutdown as the Potomac Yard Metro station is brought into the system is expected to last until Oct. 22, though it’s unclear when the station itself will open. A longer shutdown, which will close the connection between the Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations for repairs, is expected to continue until spring 2023.

The City of Alexandria worked with transit organizations to put together alternatives to the Metro for commuters, from buses to boats. Some of those have hit snags, however. The city’s bus network, DASH, lacks the manpower to take over additional bus routes to make up for the loss of Metro service.

The Virginia Railway Express offered a fare-free September for commuters around the region, but the entire system could be paralyzed by a potential freight rail strike. As of Thursday afternoon, however, it seems the strike has likely been averted.

Photo via Google Maps

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Alexandria Metro riders will be cut off from the rest of the system starting next Saturday (Sept. 10), the start of a series of Metro closures planned through early next year.

The worst of it for Alexandrians will be the stretch from Sept. 10 through Oct. 22 as WMATA works to bring the new Potomac Yard Metro station in line with the rest of the system. After that, the Yellow Line Tunnel connecting the Pentagon station to L’Enfant Plaza will be closed for repairs until spring 2023.

While city staff have said Metro ridership is still only around 30% of what it was pre-pandemic, those who do make use of the Metro will have to find other ways of getting around.

The most obvious replacement is the bus. WMATA has said that multiple shuttle buses will be running along the Yellow and Blue Line routes through Alexandria, with additional shuttles connecting into D.C.

The next closest replacement is the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a train system that stops at King Street adjacent to the Metro station and continues up to Union Station in D.C. The VRE will be offering free rides all along the route in September and free passage between the Alexandria and D.C. locations in October.

But the city has also been looking at other alternatives to boost to help get commuters to and from Alexandria.

Capital Bikeshare will be offering free rides to anyone going to or from Alexandria, or riding inside of Alexandria, with use of a special code at checkout.

City staff also said in a recent meeting that they are working with the Potomac Water Taxi to get earlier service in Alexandria, shifting the boat’s role from tourism to a commuter focus.

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Construction work at Potomac Yard Metro station, photo via City of Alexandria

(Updated 6:50 p.m.) As the Potomac Yard Metro Station nears the finish line, WMATA representatives told Alexandria leaders at a meeting this week they’re trying to learn from previous mistakes and avoid fumbling the ball this close to the endzone.

Alexandria will be cut off from the rest of the Metro system from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22 while WMATA works to bring the Potomac Metro station in line. At a meeting of the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group on Monday — where city staff also discussed additional commuter options — WMATA explained what will be going on inside the station during the shutdown.

The opening of the station was delayed by approximately half a year.

Fred Robertson, project manager for the Potomac Yard Metro station, said that starting on Sept. 10, WMATA will begin cutting the old track and working to install new track through the station.

Like Hernán Cortés burning his ships, WMATA said an early part of that work will involve cutting the existing rails connecting Alexandria to the rest of the Metro system, after which there’s no going back until the station opens.

“Let’s say you complete two weeks of work and testing doesn’t go well: at that point is the only option to go back to the other section of track?” Mayor Justin Wilson asked.

“There is no other section of track once we cut it,” Robertson said. “It’s gone.”

The cutover work is expected to last from Sept. 10-Sept. 28. From Sept. 28 to Oct. 22. Robertson said WMATA will be running tests on the systems, safe braking and more.

Trains will start moving through the station — but not stopping there — on Oct. 23.

Roberson also acknowledged that construction and testing will likely be disruptive to neighbors, with trains moving at all hours between National Airport and the Braddock Metro station. That will involve train horns and braking sounds extending even after hours.

“Let your HOA know: there’s nothing we can do about that,” Robertson said.

There’s no fixed date for when the station will fully open. WMATA would not commit to a specific date beyond the existing fall 2022 time. Construction will also likely continue through January even after the station opens, Robertson said.

One of the members of the group told Robertson that if anything changes and there is a delay, that information needs to be made public as quickly as possible.

“We talk about that often so as not to happen again,” Robertson said. “I bring it up all the time with the south entrance. I wasn’t a part of it, so I can say that.”

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