Back-and-forth arguments over the Duke Street Transitway had shades of Seminary Road at discussions during a Transportation Commission meeting last week.
The proposed transitway is part of the Duke Street In Motion project which aims to revamp Duke Street to prioritize public transit and walkability alongside car traffic. The transitway will potentially mix dedicated bus lanes and mixed-traffic lanes for a new system that should make transit more efficient along Duke Street.
At the meeting, criticism came from voices ranging from civic association leadership to a former DASH general manager.
“I love DASH, anything the city can do to encourage ridership… can serve to make the city a better place to live,” said Sandy Modell, an Alexandria Living Legend and former DASH General Manager. “[But] we’re not studying what’s happened since covid and before covid when Metrorail, DASH and Metro bus were all experiencing ridership loss.”
Modell said the city is dedicating a lot of money to a project without a full understanding of how transit ridership will evolve.
Although the city received an $87 million grant from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for planning, design, and construction of a transitway along the Duke Street Corridor from Landmark Mall to King Street Metro Station, some in the audience raised concerns this may not accurately represent the full cost of the project.
“We have an upwards of $100 million project if not more being considered tonight that will significantly impact travel on the corridor both during and after construction, but what we don’t have is a full evaluation and study of the changes that have taken place on that system since we’ve gone fare-free and since we put in a new DASH network,” Modell said.
Carter Flemming, Chair of the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations, likewise said the project seems rooted in outdated assumptions about work and travel patterns.
Bill Rossello, President of the Seminary Hill Association, said there are unanswered questions about the cost of the project and the design.
“So it seems that the city is preparing to commit a huge amount of grant money and inevitably a lot of direct city taxpayer money to a confusing project that most residents don’t want, didn’t ask for, and don’t understand, and one that doesn’t promise to relieve traffic congestion and may not improve travel times for anyone,” Rossello said.
The project also had some support. Ken Notis, Chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said there is more cost to further study than gain.
“There have been calls for delay and delay and study and more study,” Notis said. “I have done benefit-cost analysis professionally, I have done transportation analysis professionally: that further analysis isn’t free, it costs money, there will always be something else that someone wants studied. You can’t delay doing something forever because things change. The need for more transit has only grown.”
After years of struggling with terrible traffic and frequent crashes, recent changes to West Taylor Run Parkway have had a substantial impact on the trouble street’s residents.
Alexandria city staff are recommending that a Duke Street Traffic Mitigation pilot — which redirects traffic flow onto Duke Street and off of “cut-through” streets winding through nearby neighborhoods — be made permanent.
The pilot program changed traffic signal timing to prioritize green lights on Quaker Lane and Duke Street while shortening the lights on the cut-through roads, the goal being to disincentivize using the side streets to get around traffic on Duke Street.
At a meeting of the Traffic and Parking Board on Monday, West Taylor Run Parkway resident Leslie Catherwood said the change has had a dramatic impact on residents of the street.
“I’d like to start off by thanking the city for proposing this project and to thank the board for considering permanently closing Telegraph Road from West Taylor Run,” Catherwood said. “As a homeowner on West Taylor Run, this project has vastly improved our quality of life.”
Catherwood said prior to the change, it was nearly impossible for some residents to access their driveways given how backed up traffic was on the street.
“Prior to the change, I could not get into or out of my driveway at all for seven days a week at all hours of the day,” Catherwood said. “The traffic would back up on my street from Duke Street all the way to Janney’s Lane. West Taylor Run became a parking lot.”
Other residents previously told ALXnow the street was prone to frequent crashes. But while it’s not perfect — northbound traffic remains an issue on the street — Catherwood said some of that has changed with the new pilot program.
“Today, we don’t have a problem of this magnitude anymore with southbound traffic,” Catherwood said. “Since the project started, we’ve seen changes in traffic patterns. We no longer have a parking lot on West Taylor Run. The southbound traffic no longer backs up for the entire street.”
The Traffic and Parking Board voted unanimously to recommend the change be made permanent.
Electrification may be the future for Alexandria’s DASH bus network, but officials say diesel buses are still the present.
In a meeting with Alexandria’s Transportation Commission, DASH General Manager Josh Baker said maintaining good repair comes ahead of all other goals and cited Metro as a warning of what happens when transportation systems work the other way around.
“We’ve seen what happens on Metro when the Metro was built and not maintained,” Baker said. “For us, the top priority is good repair, followed by electrification then expansion.”
Baker said eventually the goal is to make electrification a part of DASH’s normal operations, but the funding isn’t there yet.
“I think we can get to a place where electrification is part of good repair, but at the moment, that cost differential is not funded,” Baker said.
City leadership has previously discussed the challenge of both the ambitious electric conversion of the fleet and the funding sapped away when DASH went fully fare-free. Deputy Director of Transportation Hillary Orr previously told the Transportation Commission that the city has ten buses that are reaching the end of their lifespan and, despite pledging to go electric by 2037, it was likely the replacement buses would still be gas-powered rather than electric.
“[DASH] ordered 10 diesel buses,” Baker said. “Is that a bad move? I don’t think it’s a bad move at all, we have to maintain the fleet. We want to continue to be electric, but if we don’t have the money to do it we’re not going to stop buying buses and get to the point where our service decays.”
Baker said around 14% of DASH’s buses are curently electric.
At the meeting, DASH officials said an electric bus costs $1.2 million while a diesel bus costs $600,000. Officials said the life cycle of an electric bus is less than a diesel bus, but they don’t know yet what that looks like at mid-life and end-of-life for electric buses.
After more than a year of delays, the Potomac Yard Metro Station will open on Friday, May 19, Mayor Justin Wilson announced today.
Wilson made the announcement alongside Randy Clarke, general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority. He said that the city has been pushing to make the station a reality for more than a generation.
“On Friday, May 19, this station is going to open up to serve the public,” Wilson said. “That is an incredible accomplishment and one that is only possible because of this incredible team of city staff, of WMATA staff, of the contractor, all of our state partners, our federal partners who have made this happen.”
The $370 million project has seen its share of delays. It was initially scheduled to open in April 2022, but Clarke didn’t want to discuss the delay.
“I came to announce that today we’re opening on May 19,” Clarke said.
Clarke said that the station was first envisioned in 1983, when the Huntington station first opened.
“We’re happy to be partners with the city to accelerate economic development, bring more housing, bring more opportunity to deal with sustainability and equity, all the things that the city of Metro share as goals for both the city and the region,” Clarke said.
Wilson said that the project hits a number of policy areas for the city.
“This is our biggest economic development initiative,” Wilson said. “This is our biggest transportation initiative. This is our biggest Climate Initiative. This is our biggest infrastructure initiative. This is a huge initiative for the city and it hits so many different policy areas for us as a community, and that’s why we’re really excited.”
The station is located next door to Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, which is slated to open the first of three academic buildings in 2024. The Potomac Yard Shopping Center is also under massive development.
City Manager Jim Parajon said that the station is a critical factor for Alexandria’s continued economic growth.
“I think this work is signature to our economic development growth,” he said. “You already see it with Virginia Tech’s Innovation campus and some of the office development occurring right around the station… Economic growth helps pay for the services that our community needs and wants. It’s an amazing station and I’m looking forward to May 19.”
City Council Member Sarah Bagley said that the station is a dream realized for many residents.
“I think it means that we can do things we put our minds to, and that long expensive things are worth it,” Bagley said. “From an inclusivity perspective it’s wonderful. We’re going to have all these exciting buildings here. There’s healthcare here, there’s education here, and people will be able to access that.”
Council Member Alyia Gaskins said that the station will bring a lot of commerce to the City.
“When i think about this station I think about everything that’s going on around it, from Virginia Tech to the National Societies for the Blind to the Potomac Yard community,” Gaskins said. “This is an opportunity for us to bring people here, to have them experience our city and to stop and linger in some of these great developments that are happening.”
Council Member Canek Aguirre said that the art at the station will also bring visitors. Much of the art for the station has not yet been chosen and WMATA has to go through a request for proposal process.
“I’m super excited,” Aguirre said. “This is gonna be a destination site, and people are going to come just to be able to take pictures of the station and especially the artwork.”
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said that the station is an exciting development.
“Tourism and retail in general will see lots of business,” she said. “Folks will come down and be able to get off here and go to the restaurants, see our Virginia Tech campus and more. It’s very exciting.”
City Council says developers should be financially on the hook for the traffic impacts of their projects — but they disagree over how long payments should last.
Alexandria currently relies on developers to pay for the impact their projects have on local roads and transportation networks. When it comes to follow-through, however, the city has no meaningful mechanisms to hold accountable developers who don’t make good on the promises they made during the application process.
Faced with this problem, the city has drafted new zoning ordinances that would overhaul how developers offset these impacts. Like the Planning Commission before it, City Council welcomed the changes in principal but said not enough details have been sorted through.
The new policy would take the disparate Transportation Management Plans (TMP) around the city — transit-supporting programs that go along with new developments to offset their transportation impact — and bring them all under one umbrella.
The core issue is that the city says TMPs have been too easy for developers to ignore. Staff said at the City Council meeting last weekend that the fines for not following through on a TMP are fairly inconsequential. Developments from before 2014 — which account for 63 of the 106 total TMPs in Alexandria — only receive a $50 fine for not following their TMP.
Instead, the new zoning would change the system so funding supposed to go to TMPs instead goes directly to the City of Alexandria. That funding is then redistributed by the city to projects across the city.
The balance of city-wide transportation projects vs local projects around where the new development occurs had been 70/30, but at the City Council meeting, staff said that had been adjusted to a 50/50 split.
While the City Council was unanimous in agreeing that the change was better overall than the current system, there were some divisions over whether the TMP funding from developers should end after 30 years, taper off over time, or continue in perpetuity.
For City Council member John Chapman, the concern was that TMP funding could become a core part of funding for transit improvements that would be left high and dry.
“I don’t want to close the door on resources after three decades,” Chapman said. “I’m very nervous about that. If we have a stream of resources that have been paid into and are continuing to be paid, I’d support that.”
Chapman said a scenario where development slows down could have an impact on some of the city’s more ambitious transit projects — some of which are already struggling to find funding.
“We’re getting more creative about transportation projects we do and we’re seeing costs go up,” Chapman said. “We can’t figure out what development is going to look like… so closing the door on those resources is not necessarily what we should do.”
But Mayor Justin Wilson said it would be continue charging developments for transportation funding after they’ve been around for decades while other developments that predate them, and might have a larger impact on local roads, pay nothing.
“In the past, we’ve wanted those to go forever because we assumed the impact would go forever,” Wilson said. “I think there’s a point where we can say ‘this development has been established for three or four decades, it’s part of the community, the impacts are not unlike anyone else.”
Cameron Station became a hypothetical flashpoint on the council for the zoning change. While Wilson cited it as an example of a development that maybe should not be required to continue paying into the TMP forever, Chapman noted that the city has expressed interest in a new bridge over nearby rail lines that the TMP funding could be a useful tool in funding.
“I don’t know if a cut off is right, or a stair step down, but I do recognize that at some point… [Cameron Station] becomes so integrated in the fabric of our community that, should they be paying a seperate fee on top of what you pay or I pay because their development happened in the last 40 years?” Wilson said.
“One day, CSX and the railroads will allow us to do a multimodal bridge there,” Chapman said. “It will have a huge cost. If we’re looking at that project, I believe with this policy we are now starting to cut off resources that could go to that project that would help the residents in that section a lot more than it would help me or you.”
City Council member Alyia Gaskins also noted that there are still concerns that, even with the split between citywide and local funding being split 50/50, communities closest to developments lose out in the new system.
“In the old model, the projects were more localized,” Gaskins said. “There is some fear about: even if it’s a 50/50 split, is that really the balance that is needed? And how does that play out with making sure some of the neighborhoods in the closest proximity to some of these developments are really getting the benefit.”
For some on the City Council, there were opportunities for a middle ground.
“Did we evaluate in a 30 year period something like a phase out or a step down?” City Council member Sarah Bagley said. “I’m in the middle of our colleagues here. I understand the need at some point to phase these things out, but maybe not have it be cut and dry.”
The City Council voted to defer the zoning change to allow for further review and discussion.
The big announcement this week was the return of the Yellow Line.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced this week that the Yellow Line will open again on Sunday, May 7.
The line had been out of service since September as WMATA worked on repairs to the Potomac River tunnel and bridge. The reopening of the Yellow Line will provide another connection to D.C. after months of riders forced to take the Blue Line.
The reopening is another step forward for Metro in Alexandria, coming after the city was completely cut off from the Metro network for two months last year.
There’s still one major advance on the horizon, though: WMATA confirmed to ALXnow this week that the Potomac Yard station is still on track to open sometime in May.
After eight months, Alexandrians will finally be able to take the Yellow Line again.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced today that the Yellow Line will open again on Sunday, May 7, at the start of rail service.
The line has been out of service since September to allow work on the Potomac River tunnel and bridge.
According to the release:
Metro is welcoming customers back to the Yellow Line on Sunday, May 7, 2023, beginning with the start of rail service at 7 a.m. The reopening will mark the completion of extensive rehabilitation work on the Yellow Line tunnel and bridge between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations.
Following eight months of construction for safety critical repairs, customers will once again have a reliable and convenient connection across the Potomac River between Virginia and DC, instead of only using the Blue Line. This will reduce travel times by as much as 15 minutes and give customers back valuable time. Initially, trains will run every 8 minutes weekdays and every 12 minutes after 9:30 p.m. and on weekends between Huntington and Mt Vernon Square.
“I want to thank our customers for their patience while we completed this critical work to ensure safe, reliable service for decades to come,” said General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Randy Clarke. “I’m also very proud and thankful to the dedicated women and men who worked to deliver this complex project on schedule and on budget.
Construction crews have worked around the clock since September to mitigate water intrusion in the decades-old, steel-lined tunnel and replace aging bridge bearings and expansion joints. The work included replacing over 1,000 individual steel plates held together by more than 12,000 bolts in the tunnel and replacing 88 bearings on the bridge. The project also upgraded the fire suppression system on the 3,000-foot bridge and removed and replaced miles of critical communications cables used by multiple regional partners.
It’s been a long 8 months for Alexandria commuters, but the Yellow Line is coming back!
On May 7th @wmata brings back the Yellow Line.
Just in time for something even more exciting to happen along that line…https://t.co/VOtTINKzCA
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) April 4, 2023
Alexandria transportation officials say that a pilot program to ease evening congestion on and around Duke Street is working and they want to make the changes permanent.
City staff announced last night (Wednesday) that the first and second phases of the Duke Street Traffic Mitigation pilot have improved evening peak traffic and reduced cut-through traffic near the busy roadway. The project launched last summer with extended green traffic lights on Quaker Lane and Duke Street from 4 to 6 p.m., while green lights were shortened on West Taylor Run Parkway, Cambridge Road, Yale Drive and Fort Williams Parkway.
“We did have very positive results on cut-through traffic for most roads,” said Dan Scalese, a senior transportation manager with the city. “This has been a benefit. We’ve seen reductions in cut-through [traffic] and that Duke Street is moving.”
Traffic volumes decreased on Cambridge Road by 48%; on West Taylor Run Parkway by 54%; on Yale Drive by 76% and on Fort Williams Parkway by 47%. Cut-through traffic did increase, however, on Quaker Lane by 39%.
“We obviously saw more Quaker Lane backup,” Scalese said. “Our next step is to essentially going to a maintenance-type mode, (where) this is now considered a permanent infrastructure feature. We will be monitoring the networks, not just one area, and tweaking as necessary.”
City staff will discuss the mitigation phases in a meeting at Bishop Ireton High School on Monday, April 17. The proposal then goes to the Traffic and Parking Board at 7 p.m. at City Hall on Monday, April 24.
In the meantime, city planners are also working on ways to improve bus transit — as well as bicycle and pedestrian facilities — along Duke Street from Landmark Mall to the King Street Metro Station.
Dubbed Duke Street in Motion, the project proposes a series of congestion-relieving changes such as dedicated bus lanes along the center of the road or the curb and bus-rapid transit stations every half-mile.
City Council is expected to approve a preferred alternative for the project in July.
(Updated 12:35 p.m.) Virginia Railway Express (VRE) trains were stopped last night after a vehicle struck the bridge over King Street — again.
The delay is the latest in a string of incidents that have led authorities to recommend full replacement of the bridge.
Train service was closed for roughly two hours, from 4:50-7 p.m. with train traffic backed up and delayed as a result.
According to an alert from VRE:
Train traffic was stopped in both directions this evening at Alexandria due to a vehicle striking the railroad bridge over King Street. The bridge needed to be checked by a CSX bridge inspector before traffic was released. This created a lengthy delay for passengers on both VRE lines. Northbound train 338 which turns at Union Station to be the final southbound Manassas Line train was unable to go past Alexandria, so we turned it at Alexandria to head back to Broad Run. The railroad was reopened just before 7 pm with 6 VRE trains and 3 Amtrak trains stacked between Crystal City and Union Station.
We apologize to everyone inconvenienced by this delay.
As a result of both its age and repeated battery by stuck vehicles, the bridge has shown troubling signs of decay in recent years, prompting emergency road closures to make repairs.
Authorities have said the 120-year-old bridge does not meet current height requirements and a full replacement is the only permanent solution. Once a design is chosen, construction is scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2024 and continue until midway through 2026.
VRE Trains 309, 331, 311, & 333 may be delayed due to a vehicle striking bridge near Alexandria. Updates to follow.
Note: Updates are not typically available for delays under 10 minutes as time is often made up en route.
Questions? Contac https://t.co/zxuHsvhPCv
— Virginia Railway Express (@VaRailExpress) March 29, 2023
A proposed extension of the King Street Trolley has reappeared in a new DASH transit plan.
The bus network’s FY 2023-2028 Transit Development Plan includes a look behind the curtain at what’s ahead for the bus network, including a plan to take the King Street Trolley down to the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station.
It’s not the first time the idea has come up. The idea was first raised back in 2020 as a longer-term goal, with hopes of implementation by 2030. Now, the Transit Development Plan says the hope is to get that extension going by FY 2026.
According to the plan:
For FY 2026, DASH proposes to extend the King Street Trolley from the King Street Metro to the Eisenhower Metro. This route extension will require up to three additional Trolley vehicles, which will be 100% electric as part of the larger effort to transition the Trolley fleet to electric buses. DASH will also seek to expand morning service hours for the Trolley and to find ways to integrate it more fully with the Old Town Circulator service. These trolley changes and any further changes to Trolley service will require additional funding, further coordination with city leadership, and approval by City Council.
The plan also includes the proposed replacement of the current hybrid trolleys with five fully electric ones, part of broader fleet electrification the bus network is struggling to find funding for.
The plan also notes that the King Street Trolley remains the most used route in the system.
Despite its post-pandemic ridership decreases, the King Street Trolley remains the most productive route with more than 20 boardings per revenue hour on weekdays and Sundays and more than 30 boardings per revenue hour on Saturdays.