The New York Times this May compiled a list of ‘50s-era American highways being re-thought in an age when environmental concerns and past racial injustices in land use are at the national forefront. Arlington’s section of Route 1, that elevated structure that pierces Crystal City, made the cut.
On June 16, The Virginia Transportation Department released its feasibility study proposing “multimodal improvements” at National Landing to improve safety, accessibility and the pedestrian experience crossing Route 1” (for too long known as Jefferson Davis Highway, but now Richmond Highway). The plan for wider crosswalks, narrower lanes, bicycle-friendly intersections, plantings on medians, restrictions on left turns and new lighting and signage left several parties unhappy. The bone of contention: VDOT’s favoring of a $180 million option of dismantling the elevated highway between South 12th and 23rd sts. to make it grade-level.
Crystal City is in flux. The long-standing freeway-side Americana Hotel will soon be demolished. The county in 2018 approved a JBG redevelopment of Crystal Square for street-level retail and entertainment. Amazon continues its ground-breaking for the double helix design of its headquarters, construction of Metropolitan Park, its latest plan for 1,900 hires, and its donations for affordable housing. (Last week it announced $25,000 for the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization’s cultural projects.)
But Amazon is not driving the fate of Route 1, even though VDOT acknowledges a goal of meeting “transportation needs with the coming of Amazon and other related development.”
The National Landing Business Improvement District (which pre-Amazon bore the name of Crystal City) has been boosting the conversion of the utilitarian pass-through to an “urban boulevard.” The BID seeks “a downtown community that prioritizes people over cars,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, president and executive director. “We believe an elevated highway is incompatible with that vision and support VDOT’s recommended at-grade alternative for Route 1.” But it recommends further safety adjustments, such as a 25-mph speed limit.
Jay Corbalis, vice president of public affairs for JBG Smith, also favors the grade-level option, adding, “National Landing is poised to become the most transit-oriented neighborhood in the country.” But a coalition of three neighborhood civic associations, joined under the name Livability22202, blasted the study favoring the grade-level option as incomplete.
The presentation “raises further questions, fails to address a number of community concerns, and recommends a traffic pattern that, by VDOT’s own recognition, reduces safety,” their statement read. “If Arlington County and the state proceed without addressing these concerns, our community will be further divided by a dangerous, wide road that puts cars before pedestrians and bikes.”
No safety analysis was done, the group charged, and the study treated Route 1 as a street rather than a wider corridor and “thus disregards significant stretches of Route 1, Glebe Rd., and the proposal for the airport access road in the Crystal City Sector Plan. And “besides future real estate tax revenue, this project does not deliver any sort of improvement to the community,” they said. Carol Fuller, president of the Crystal City Civic Association, told me she’s been working for 10 months with VDOT but the plan still “favors commercial interest over residents.” She knows “it’s a David and Goliath battle, and we know who’s going to win.” Fuller has been busy making the VDOT deadline for comments and writing to the county board and state legislators.
70-plus history enthusiasts assembled July 4 at the Hume School on Arlington Ridge Road to celebrate the reopening of the Arlington Historical Museum. County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti (with colleagues Katie Cristol and Takis Karontonis) spoke of current debates over Arlington’s past. State Del. Patrick Hope presented the museum with a framed copy of the General Assembly’s March 2020 proclamation honoring the 100th anniversary of Arlington’s renaming.
Society president Cathy Hix announced a $l.7 million-$2 million fund-raising effort to preserve and enhance the museum’s 130-year-old building. It was the society’s first event attended by this columnist as a newly recruited board member.