Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Mayor gets vaccinated — “On Christmas Eve our Health Dept vaccinated 251 healthcare workers. Since that time, 51K+ Alexandrians have received at least a dose. Today, my name was called. I’m excited to receive the J&J vaccine. Thanks to our staff and volunteers!” [Twitter]

Council considers changes to taxi regulations — “Since the arrival of taxi network companies, TNCs, like Uber and Lyft in 2015, the taxi industry has been struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing market. The COVID-19 pandemic did not help the situation for an already challenged industry, and the city’s proposed code amendment aims to provide support for local taxi companies by easing specific regulations.” [Alex Times]

Wilson, Silberberg differ on stream restoration plans — “Wilson advocates moving forward with natural channel restoration; Silberberg wants to go back to the drawing board.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Sportsman’s Club hosting famed sportswriter — “Len Shapiro, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated sportswriter, editor and columnist for more than 40 years for the Washington Post, will be the featured speaker for the April 21st meeting of the Alexandria Sportsman’s Club.” [Gazette]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies during the morning hours will give way to cloudy skies and rain in the afternoon. High 66F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%… Showers in the evening, then cloudy overnight. Low 48F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Sushi helper — “The Handover is hiring sushi assistants willing to work hard and be open to learning new skills. We are a small restaurant looking for candidates with the ability to accurately prep, cut vegetables, prepare maki rolls and follow chef’s direction. Both full- and part-time positions are available. Competitive hourly pay commensurate with experience level.” [Indeed]

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Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined Governor Ralph Northam, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) and regional railway leadership at Alexandria’s Union Station to mark a $3.7 billion investment in Virginia rail and the signing of the Transforming Rail in Virginia agreement.

The investment and agreement is designed to pave the way towards increased VRE and Amtrak service, greater connectivity to other parts of Virginia, and to lay the groundwork for a high speed rail corridor — something that’s been a talking point for Buttigieg over the last few months.

“Every day at stations like this across America, transportation workers are serving on the frontlines of America’s response to this pandemic,” Buttigieg said. “They have been delivering vaccines, getting people to essential jobs, and getting goods to wherever they need to go. Their service has been extraordinary, but the challenges facing them and our entire transportation system have been daunting… We are proud to say, on behalf of this administration, help is here.”

Buttigieg also highlighted the $43.2 billion in transportation funding included in the American Rescue Plan.

“We know the cuts these agencies were facing disproportionately harm workers,” Buttigieg said. “It’s a matter of equity; doing right by so many heroes of the pandemic.”

Northam said the rail investment is part of a gradual push to get more people out from behind the wheel of their cars and into passenger trains.

“America is still a nation of drivers,” Northam said. “We tend to like our cars. but all those cars on the road come at a price.”

Northam said that the state, Northern Virginia in particular, is plagued with congestion to levels where adding more capacity to the highways is no longer a viable option.

“Adding more highway lanes isn’t the answer,” Northam said. “A study of I-95 found adding a new lane in each direction would cost 12.5 billion dollars — and by the time it was done, corridor would be just as congested as when we started. Rail can add additional capacity at a third of the cost.”

Photo via Governor Ralph Northam/Twitter

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One of the most visible congestion points in the city is about to get revamped.

On Tuesday, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved roadway improvements the the intersection of King Street, Russell Road and Callahan Drive, as well as a conversion to one-way for the service road leading up to the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.

I think it’ll be safer for one and all,” Alexandria City Councilwoman Del Pepper said.

Roadway improvements in the area include:

  • Signal timing optimization to reduce vehicle delay by 45 seconds
  • Upgraded crosswalks and pedestrian signals
  • A curb extension for shorter crossing and to slow turning vehicles
  • Bike facilities through the intersection

Improvements at the intersection have been in the works since 2015, when the city received a $1.2 million Federal Transit Administration grant. The next few years were spent collecting and analyzing data, and were met with delays due to “the combination of staff capacity and implementation of the King Street Metro Improvements Project and the 2019 Metro Summer Shutdown,” according to a city staff report.

The George Washington National Masonic Memorial Association wanted the access road shut down to vehicle traffic.

“Part of this project involves the access road around the traffic island, which connects the Memorial’s driveway to Callahan Drive,” the Association wrote in a letter to Council. “While the Memorial Association believes the modifications before Council for approval are a positive step, it is the viewpoint of the Memorial Association that this access road, which is used by motorists as a way to circumvent the traffic light at King and Callahan, should be permanently closed to vehicle traffic.”

Christopher Ziemann, the city’s Transportation Planning Division chief, said that the one-way conversion was a compromise.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the traffic island in the center of the intersection will not be impacted, as it is designated as a national historic landmark.

“I think this is a step forward and certainly enjoys broad-based community support, which is great,” he said. “I appreciate staff’s efforts to build consensus on the changes on this intersection. I know this has been a long time coming.”

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Tech Firm Raises $1.1 Million in Seed Funding — “Clowder has quickly become the leader in modern member communication. Our apps are able to take organizations who’ve long relied on web and email-based engagement strategies and place them in the 21st century with an on-hand tool that provides instant access.”[Clowder.com]

Metro Expands Train Service Hours — “The pandemic has posed challenges never before faced by Metro, and I want to extend my thanks to our customers – especially essential workers – for their understanding as we took unprecedented action to protect our essential frontline workforce and the public health.” [Zebra]

What Will Happen to Halloween in Alexandria This Year? — “In a ‘normal’ year, local children would start running from house to house by 5 p.m. collecting as much candy as possible, but it’s not certain that most homes will be welcoming strangers to their doorsteps, no matter what type of mask the little goblins (and their parents) are wearing.” [Alexandria Living]

Beyer Refutes Trump Tweet to ‘SAVE THE POST OFFICE!’ — “Trump blocked financial support for the US Postal Service all year and last week admitted he was sabotaging USPS to prevent people from voting.” [Twitter]

Police Remember First Alexandria Officer Who Died in Line of Duty — “We remember Constable Elijah Chenault killed in the line-of-duty on August 4, 1823, 197 YEARS ago. Constable Cheault was the earliest known line of duty death in Alexandria. His death was 47 years before the City of Alexandria Police Department was founded. We will never forget.” [Facebook]

Fire Department Rescues Stuck Canine — “This past weekend, E207C responded to a residence to help save a family’s pup. The crew helped free the dog from being stuck between a piece of plywood and a water heater behind the washer and dryer. Glad the pup was OK!” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — Mostly sunny skies during the day with a high temperature of 86. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. There is a 40% chance of partly cloudy skies in the early evening followed by increasing clouds with showers developing later at night. Low 68F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 40%.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Food Community Coordinator — “ALIVE! Job Opportunity for a Food Community Coordinator. This is a full-time temporary position.” [Facebook]

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A series of new improvements to Alexandria’s Union Station — a Virginia Railway Express stop — proposed late last year are moving forward toward city approval.

The plan is to create new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access with a grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access. The expansion will also allow the station to take two trains at any given time, with one at each platform. The change is part of a regional effort to reduce the system’s bottleneck around the D.C. area.

According to the VRE website:

The project will provide an ADA-compliant, grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access between the two platforms at the VRE/Amtrak station in Alexandria and modify and extend the east platform at the station to accommodate eight-car trains and enable the platform to service two trains simultaneously, from a track on each side of the platform. The west platform adjacent to the station building will also be modified to raise its height relative to the top of rail as part of the project. Project funding sources include state SmartScale and Federal funds (through VDOT) to eliminate railroad grade crossings. Currently the project schedule is slightly ahead of the final year of funding allocation, which must be addressed with VRE’s funding partners through either reprogramming of funds or short-term borrowing.

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on September 1. The project was originally scheduled to be presented to the City Council in May, according to the VRE website, but the pandemic limited the scope of council meetings.

Construction on the project is estimated to start in 2022.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

Freedom House to Expand — “An expansion of the Freedom House Museum and renovations to the historic building it is in are in the works. Earlier this year, the Northern Virginia Urban League put the historic townhouse at 1315 Duke St. it owns up for sale for $2.1 million, after going through a difficult period keeping up payments on the property.” [Alexandria Living]

Former NFL Cheerleader Opens Salon — “From a loft-like space off a busy street in Alexandria, Stephanie Prinzbach runs the one-woman-show that is District Chic Hair Co., providing hair styling to over 115 customers spanning from Washington, DC to Richmond.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Treatment Court Shows Results — “In August, the City of Alexandria launched the Alexandria Treatment Court (ATC) as an alternative to jail for people accused of nonviolent felonies with significant substance use disorders… re-arrest rates of treatment court graduates are approximately half or less than that of non-treatment court graduates — which not only saves the judicial system money but also changes lives.” [Zebra]

New Rail Bridge, Expanded VRE Service Announced — “Virginia will build a new rail bridge over the Potomac River connecting Arlington and the District to significantly expand commuter and passenger train service over the next decade, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Thursday.” [Washington Post, ARLnow]

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Alexandria firefighters and police responded to a collision between a train and a vehicle this morning on the 4100 block of Wheeler Avenue, near Port City Brewing.

A VRE train loaded with hundreds of passengers struck a construction vehicle that was too close to the tracks. No injuries were reported and the train did not derail, but the crash drew a large emergency response.

As of 9 a.m., the train and tracks had been inspected and the train was given the all-clear to resume its journey.

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