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It moves at a snail’s pace, but Alexandria’s tunnel boring machine is ready to drill through 100-foot-deep soil to prevent millions of gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River, Hooffs Run, and Hunting Creek.

On Thursday, Alexandria’s leaders were on-hand for the unveiling and dedication of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The $454.4 million project is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history, and will result in a 12-foot-wide, two-mile-long waterfront tunnel, which will divert approximately 120 million gallons of sewage every year.

At the dedication, Mayor Justin Wilson lamented the loss of former Mayor Kerry Donley, an AlexRenew Board Member, who died on Wednesday.

“Our hearts are certainly heavy this morning as we gather without Kerry,” Wilson said. “I think if there was ever a more fitting, audacious undertaking as a tribute to Kerry, it’s what we’re doing right here. Kerry always believed that this was a city that could do big things that were audacious, and their impact in their planning and scale. And this certainly is a mind-blowing exercise for this community.”

The tunnel boring machine was built in Schwanau, Germany, and was given the name Hazel, after environmental activist Hazel Johnson.

“Today we honor Hazel Johnson’s dedication to a cleaner, safer environment for future generations through the dedication of this tunnel boring machine, which will build a brighter future for all Alexandria,” said Karen Pallansch, CEO of AlexRenew Enterprises. “This 380-ton custom-built tunnel boring machine will soon begin to dig. How fast does she move? She moves about as fast as a snail creeping along a stick by Hunting Creek, and yet, and yet she’s gonna leave behind a lasting legacy.”

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.

“It’s a good day for all of us,” said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45). “We were able to get $40 million additional dollars in this year’s state budget for this project, which will help us see it to completion.”

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.

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With fireworks, cupcakes and music, Alexandria celebrated its 273rd birthday on Sunday, July 10.

Thousands were in attendance for the free party, which also celebrates America’s birthday and was supposed to be held on Saturday (July 9), but was held off due to rain. What resulted was a less crowded event than years past — with performances by Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker, Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO).

During the fireworks show over the Potomac River, the symphony played the “Superman theme” by John Williams instead of the traditional “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. ASO Conductor Jim Ross said that it would not be fitting to play music by a Russian composer commemorating Alexandria’s and the country’s birthdays.

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The cherry blossoms are an annual regional highlight, and Visit Alexandria has announced a suite of new and returning events around the city to experience the season.

Guidance on exploring during cherry blossom season was a little more tepid last year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, but such concerns were notably absent from the this year’s announcement and downward-trending case counts.

Visit Alexandria recommends biking or boating for seeing the cherry blossoms.

Unlimited Biking at 421 King Street has cherry blossom packages running from March 20 to April 12, with options for $15 rentals or to join a $44 guided tour.

“Pedal from Unlimited Biking: Old Town Alexandria along the Potomac River to the famous cherry blossoms of Washington DC with Unlimited Biking’s bike rental package that provides you with all that you need for your journey — maps, helmets, bike bags and locks. Hybrid bikes, road bikes, eBikes, kids bikes and kids attachments are available,” Visit Alexandria said.

The guided tours start and end at 998 Maine Avenue SW. Visit Alexandria said the tours are two hours long and run multiple times during the day.

Alternatively, Pedego Electric Bikes (210 North Lee Street) has tours from Old Town up into D.C.

The tour season runs from March 19-April 17, with tours leaving at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on weekends and tours only availably by appointment on weekdays. Tickets are $69 per bike.

“Join a three-hour guided tour from Old Town Alexandria to the cherry blossoms, including a ride through the blossoms around East Potomac Park,” Visit Alexandria said. The views of the blossoms from a Pedego are fantastic, and you don’t have to fight traffic or find a place to park downtown. Tours will run as long as there are blooms on the cherry blossom trees.”

The release said tours can be booked by calling 571-312-5168 or emailing [email protected]

By boat, Visit Alexandria said the best options are the Water Taxi or a monuments cruise.

The Water Taxi runs from the Wharf to Old Town — with other stops at National Harbor and Georgetown — with departures starting at noon and running about 25 minutes. Trips are $23 one-way or $39 round-trip. Trips depart from the Alexandria Marina at 1 Cameron Street.

“From the dock at The Wharf, it is a 10-minute walk to the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin,” the release said. “The water taxi docks at the Transit Pier, 950 Wharf Street SW, near the Tidal Basin, the National Mall, Hains Point and a Capital Bikeshare station.”

There is also the Washington Monuments Cruise to the Cherry Blossoms, which starts March 19. It also departs from the Alexandria Marina, with $26 one-way tickets and $42 round-trip tickets. The cruise is 45 minutes and ends in Georgetown.

The release also included information on some local food and drink offerings themed around cherry blossoms:

  • Common Plate Hospitality’s Cherry Blossom Cocktails and Murals at Augie’s Beer Garden (1106 King Street) and Mason Social (728 N. Henry Street) — Both restaurants have custom cherry blossom-themed items on the menu: a black cherry Bellini with gold glitter and a cherry pie old fashioned. Items are available through March 31.
  • Special cherry blossom blend at Turkish Coffee Lady (1001 King Street) — local coffee shop Turkish Coffee Lady has a special cherry blossom-themed coffee presentation available through April 30.
  • Winter in Tokyo menu at Captain Gregory’s (804 N. Henry Street) — The speakeasy will have Japanese gin, whiskey and vodka along with sake cocktails and menu items featuring Japanese-inspired dishes. The Winter in Tokyo menu is available through March 31.
  • “The Blossom” cocktail at Lena’s Wood-fired Pizza & Tap (401 E. Braddock Road) — The pizza restaurant will have a new cherry blossom themed cocktail that’s a mix of Rhum Barbancourt, plum-rose syrup, Luxardo, lemon juice and a floating edible blossom. The cocktail will be available from March 1 through April 17.
  • Cherry blossom cider from Lost Boy Cider (317 Hooffs Run Drive) — Starting March 2, Lost Boy Cider will be producing a cherry blossom cider available in-house or from a few local grocery chains like Whole Foods.
  • Cherry blossom sangria from Alexandria Restaurant Partners — From March 15-April 15, various Alexandria Restaurant Partners’ locations will have a seasonal sangria with brut rosé, Blanc Vermouth, cherry juice and orange flower water.
  • Cherry blossom gelato at Dolci Gelati (107 N. Fairfax Street) — Dolci Gelati is bringing back a cherry blossom gelato in limited supply from March 20-April 20. The gelato is available in-person, for pickup and delivery.

A full list of local cherry blossom experiences is available at the Visit Alexandria website.

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After sailing through perilous economic waters, the Tall Ship Providence just shored up weekly tours until next spring.

The nonprofit is still tabulating the numbers, but expects that since launching in June 2020, thousands of visitors have been welcomed aboard the Tall Ship for tours and cruises. The Providence is a replica of the first naval warship commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1775, and visitors are welcomed aboard by an actor portraying Captain John Paul Jones.

“We were delighted to be able to have as many guests and customers aboard the ship as possible this summer and fall,” Claire Sassin, president and CEO of the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, told ALXnow. “It was a great joy, but there was also sadness because we just want to keep sailing.”

In August, the ship passed inspection with the U.S. Coast Guard and can now coast without a motor along the Potomac River with its sails unfurled. While still open for weekend and private cruises through next spring, the ship recently closed during the week.

“Being able to put the sails up is a completely different experience, and you do get to see what sailing was like back during the American Revolution,” Sassin said.

The pandemic forced the Foundation to alter its business plan to focus on small events, like private tours, wine tastings and beer cruises.

“We had not thought really about doing private tours until the pandemic came about,” Sassin said. “We’ve also added a whole layer of sanitizing in between every single tour, both at our Visitor Center and on the ship.”

In the days ahead, Sassin hopes to see the Tall Ship move to Waterfront Park by 2023, as massive plans are in the works to construct a barge, a new pier and cottages to house the ship and the Senator John Warner Maritime Heritage Center.

Future travelers in the cold months ahead can rest assured, as the ship has heating in the lower deck. In the short term, on December 11, 12, 18 and 19, Captain Jones will tell visitors the Christmas tale of the Schooner Rouse Simmons, which made perilous runs to deliver late-season Christmas trees, until it sank in a storm.

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Staff from Alexandria Toyota desperately piled sandbags in front of Chadwicks (203 Strand Street) as floodwaters started to swell and shut down several blocks of Old Town.

The National Weather Service has issued an areal flood warning for Alexandria, in addition to a coastal flood warning in place until Saturday.

Around 2:15 p.m., Strand Street and parts of Union Street were closed due to high floodwaters, with police and city staff warning drivers to turn back. Waters are expected to continue rising until high tide around 3:30 p.m.

Potomac River water levels (photo via NOAA)

Around the waterfront, locals helped pile sandbags in front of businesses and watched as water levels crept higher.

Several businesses and institutions closer to the waterfront, like the Torpedo Factory, were closed.

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

Our top story this week was on a plan to completely close off the 100 block of King Street as a pedestrian-only zone. The plan has been in the works since 2019, and was put into action last year. ALXnow’s poll on the subject had very one-sided results, showing 91% (791 votes) in favor of a permanent change.

There was a momentous groundbreaking this week, as city leaders converged for the $454.4 million RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The project is a major overhaul to replace Old Town’s combined sewer system and prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River.

School violence has become a major issue in Alexandria, as videos of fights at schools are surfacing on the internet, there have been arrests at Alexandria City Public Schools, and protests in front of City Hall on Monday and Tuesday this week.

As for the Alexandria juvenile who was shot in the upper body at the McDonald’s in the Bradlee Shopping Center last week, police say that there have been no arrests yet.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. City looks to permanently ‘pedestrianize’ a block of King Street
  2. UPDATE: Alexandria man charged with homicide after stabbing at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Landmark area
  3. Total Wine is taking shape in Potomac Yard
  4. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  5. Man buys luxury car with fake driver’s license at Lindsay Lexus of Alexandria
  6. Protestors rally to return police to Alexandria schools, but officials say behind-the-scenes talks have stalled
  7. Man arrested for posting lewd photos of Alexandria stepsister on Twitter
  8. Firecracker shuts down Alexandria City High School football game
  9. Adoptable Chihuahua Dory only weighs 3.5 pounds
  10. Mayor Wilson: Potomac Yard construction delay ‘could have nothing to do with Metro station’
  11. Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School

Have a safe weekend!

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The groundbreaking for AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project was about as Alexandria as events get. The event was a who’s-who of current and former officials, complete with bagpipes, a poem about local sewage presented by the Town Crier, and even a cartoon mascot representing the boring machine getting ready to drill the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history.

The smiles and enthusiasm from city and state officials and organizations like the Potomac Riverkeeper Network were a marked departure from the occasionally contentious process that led to the $454.4 million RiverRenew project. Plans include replacing Old Town’s combined sewer system with a new sewer structure that will prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River.

“The Tunnel Project will include a two-mile-long underground tunnel, an open-cut pipeline, and other infrastructure to capture, store, and transport millions of gallons of combined sewage to AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant,” AlexRenew said in a press release. “There, these flows will be treated and cleaned prior to being returned to the Potomac River, reducing harmful overflow events from 70 to fewer than four each year.”

The city didn’t willingly enter into the project: the clean-up was mandated with a July 25, 2025 deadline by the state, over the objection of some local leadership. The project is currently scheduled to be finished on time.

“I’m proud of our role in bringing this great infrastructure investment today to life,” said Nancy Stoner, president of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network. “(T)his is critical infrastructure for protecting public health.”

Stoner said the eventual goal is to make the Potomac River swimmable again. Though later generations may not value the Herculean effort it took to get Old Town’s sewer system modernized, Mayor Justin Wilson said if it helps get the river into a cleaner state it will have been worth it.

“This investment prevents things from happening and provides an investment most people won’t really appreciate,” Wilson said. “People swimming in the Potomac years from now won’t really appreciate the investment. They’ll never see the investment, never understand it, but we will know, and we’ll know it was this generation that made the investment.”

Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water for the Environmental Protection Agency, tied Alexandria’s experience in with nationwide efforts to improve water quality.

“This was one of the first loans I got to approve as part of the Biden-Harris administration,” Fox said. “One of the best bets we can make as a nation is to make these investments in our water infrastructure. It leads to environmental health, community vitality, that’s what this project is about. That’s a big, huge step Alexandria is taking today.”

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Morning Notes

Murphy’s reserves table for Marines lost in Afghanistan — “Last night, Friday, August 27, Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub on King Street reserved a table and set 13 places in honor of the 13 soldiers lost in Afghanistan earlier this week.” [Zebra]

4.1 million meals given to ACPS students during pandemic — “In March 2020, Alexandria City Public Schools called on Volunteer Alexandria to help distribute meals to students who were suddenly learning from home due to the pandemic… By the middle of August, Volunteer Alexandria and ACPS had delivered 4,106,889 grab-and-go meals and snacks to Alexandria students and their families.” [Alexandria Living]

Everyone can ride for free on DASH buses starting soon — “Starting Sept. 5, Alexandria City High School (ACHS) students will no longer need to use an app or ID card to board DASH buses for free. All passengers, including adults, will be able to board for free at all times.” [Zebra]

Firefighters to collect ‘fill the boot’ donations starting Tuesday — “The campaign will be managed by the Alexandria Fire Fighters Local 2141 firefighters union.” [Patch]

Today’s weather — “Some clouds and possibly an isolated thunderstorm in the afternoon. High 92F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%… Partly cloudy early with increasing clouds overnight. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. Low 73F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Traffic control flagger — “AWP is North America’s leading traffic control specialist. Our Protectors work outside every day to make sure customer crews, drivers and our own teams get home safely.” [Indeed]

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Today on WAMU’s The Politics Hour, Mayor Justin Wilson laid out plans for flood infrastructure work, predicted a decision this fall over whether recreation centers will require proof of vaccination, and tacitly endorsed the Arlington-Georgetown gondola.

The discussion of the mayor took up the back half of the hour-long program hosted by Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood. As fitting the program’s name, the show started with a question of politics and whether Mayor Justin Wilson is planning to debate Republican candidate Annetta Catchings.

“No debates have been scheduled so far but I’d welcome the opportunity to have those debates if organizations want to schedule them,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he was also “disappointed” at the turmoil in the state-level redistricting committee.

“Step in the right direction, not it’s perfect,” Wilson said. “We’re seeing many of the challenges people feared. I hope the two parties will come together and craft a process on fair lines. I think voters were really clear about this.”

The major topic of conversation, as it has been throughout Alexandria this week, was flooding. Wilson reiterated an earlier commitment to accelerating the timetable for stormwater infrastructure projects but admitted that those will still take time.

“Where we have real problems are when we have intensity beyond what stormwater system can support,” Wilson said. “I haven’t heard any significant reports this time, but obviously Saturday/Sunday was devastating for residents. We had five inches of rain in an hour in some parts of the city. We had far too many residents who dealt with devastating damage, and for many of them this is the fourth time in two years. This adds to the urgency to address these major infrastructure challenges in many neighborhoods in our community.”

Wilson said the city is planning to spend $200 million on stormwater capacity projects over the next ten years.

“We’re doing everything we can to accelerate those projects,” Wilson said. “We allocated $6 million of rescue plan money to accelerate some of that work. Unfortunately, as we see these more intense, more frequent storm events, not going to be soon enough for a lot of our residents.”

The challenge with using more of the American Rescue Plan funding, Wilson said, is that the funds come with a timeline of when that money must be spent — for costs incurred by the end of 2024. Some of the larger projects are outside of that timeline.

Wilson said the city is looking at building resiliency on individual properties while working on longer-term infrastructure projects.

“This month launching grant program to provide up to $5,000 to people impacted by events or making resiliency improvements,” Wilson said. We’re encouraging residents and businesses to apply.”

During the interview, Wilson also endorsed last night’s School Board decision to require either vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing for staff. Wilson said it’s likely the city will have a discussion in the fall over whether to require vaccination to use city recreation centers. Sherwood pressed on whether the city has that authority or not.

“In city facilities we’ve required masks,” Wilson said, “and in city facilities we have the authority to require vaccination.”

Though it’s outside of Wilson’s scope, Sherwood did ask Wilson on his opinions regarding progress reported by Alex Koma at the Washington Business Journal on a potential gondola between Arlington and Georgetown, a topic that’s become something of a joke to locals.

“Gondola, yes or no?” Sherwood asked.

“Anything that provides new transportation options is a good thing,” Wilson said. “We’ve experimented more with ferries. The river is typically the challenge.”

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What a hot week in Alexandria. Here is the rundown.

Our top story this week was on the five men arrested after shots were fired in Old Town last month. There were quite a few crime incidents to report on, in fact, including a man who was arrested in the Landmark area after shooting his cat and a man arrested for selling marijuana and illegally possessing a gun.

Weather-wise, temperatures were in the high 90s this week, as the city once again offered cooling centers for residents needing shelter from the elements.

On Friday, HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge visited The Spire affordable housing complex in the West End. Fudge briefly met Mayor Justin Wilson and Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) for a tour of the facility, as she later touted the Biden Administration’s Built Back Better agenda.

Have you been getting mite bites? You’re not alone. According to our weekly poll, a vast majority of the 600+ respondents reported getting bitten.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Five arrested after shots fired in Old Town North
  2. Alexandria updates COVID-19 guidance as cases increase
  3. Alexandria Police say drug debt was behind West End murder
  4. Child neglect suspect arrested after evading Alexandria police for six months
  5. Alexandria opens up on details for new guaranteed basic income program
  6. Amy DuVall quit her career as an environmental lawyer in D.C. to bake Italian cookies in Alexandria
  7. Former ACPS administrator Tammy Ignacio says experience matters in School Board bid
  8. Poll: Have you gotten the infamous mite bite in Alexandria?
  9. Development on West End lot could signal the start of Mark Center overhaul
  10. Parker-Gray development asks for more density and less parking
  11. ACPS is not requiring staff to get vaccinated before school starts systemwide August 24

Have a safe weekend!

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