Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


My East Falls Church neighbors and I are at nerves’ end about a seemingly perpetual construction project we drive or walk past daily.

The county’s stormwater drainage system expansion has been underway for a year at N. 24th and Rockingham streets. It has necessitated countless automobile and pedestrian detours around the Kobelco, Ingersoll Rand and Hitachi steam rollers, shovels and earth movers.

They’re parked between rusty steel frames used to prevent newly dug trenches from collapsing.

The wet, sticky rough-draft asphalt blocked by orange plastic fencing has forced more than a few of us to march through the front-yard grass of surrounding homes (the very ones that will gain the most flood protection once the project is done.)

The good news is, that will happen (on time) in October, I’m told by friendly crewmen directing traffic in their hard hats – and by a county engineering team.

The latter, led by Ramzi Awwad, Arlington’s Engineering Bureau Chief, consented to an interview to shed light on why my neighbors have the impression the crews keep digging up the same pavement over and over again.

The flood control project in our neck of Arlington in what the engineers call “Crossman’s Run” is a bid to bend nature’s will by re-routing the flow from a creek bed on a watershed cultivated by 19th-century farmer George Crossman. (His house still stands on Underwood St.) That bed runs through many yards (mine included) and absorbs regular gully washers.

In 2006, the county had noticed severe flooding on Rockingham and 24th (it was most noticeable to the homeowners whose basements became ponds). So the engineers solicited sealed bids, and Ardent was the lowest qualified bidder for the $2.7 million award.

The work involves burying not a small “feeder” but a “trunk line,” or nearly 1,000 feet of concrete pipeline that is five-feet tall. It’s laid down 10-15 feet underground to boost the county infrastructure’s capacity to disperse and drain the water whenever rains get heavy.

“We’re taking the opportunity to replace water lines and minimize future disruption,” Awwad told me. “It’s time-consuming, challenging and pretty complex” compared with other county projects. “There is limited space to work, and there are existing utility lines to work around – gas, sewer, and water. We didn’t want to take the existing systems off line, so we leave a parallel system that adds capacity.”

In 2014, Virginia updated its stormwater management plan, so the county increased its requirements too, said engineering staffers Aileen Winquist and Liz Thurber.

Do the work crews wastefully redo past work? Awwad was skeptical. But “sometimes they find an unknown existing underground condition” that requires them to close up a hole, “go back to the drawing board and come back to resolve a problem later,” he said.

Asked whether flooding has risen due to climate change or tree removal, the engineers declined to speak on topics outside their bailiwick.

Construction improves our shared living space and boosts the economy. But it’s tough on neighbors. (I personally am encountering its inconveniences not just at home, but at my downtown office and at my gym, Sport and Health in Ballston Common.)

“We do want to make sure conditions are safe for the traveling public,” Awwad said. “I know it can be frustrating for the residents, so we’re thankful and appreciative of their patience.”


The “Monster House” on Sycamore and N. 27th streets is no longer such a monster.

The exterior of the once-controversial blue structure that towers over neighboring bungalows (its three main interior rooms larger than many Arlington homes) has been tastefully redone in brown.

The facade once challenged by Arlington’s Board of Zoning Appeals (its members begged amateur builder Paul Kingery to hire an architect) has now been redone by the current owner, a Falls Church-based artist and architect. He installed shutters and trim to go with the handsome yard stones and shrubbery. Still big, but the monster’s tamed.