Arlington road project spurs commuter and resident confusion, apology

Road construction is part of life, and is sometimes necessary to improve commuter routes — but when drivers aren’t warned, it can cause problems.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has apologized that residents, business owners, and commuters weren’t informed how their lives would be temporarily affected by a road construction project on Columbia Pike, near the Fairfax County border.

In a half-mile stretch, between South Jefferson Street and the Four Mile Run Bridge, traffic on Columbia Pike — also known as Virginia State Route 244 — is limited to one lane in each direction daily, including weekends.

An additional eastbound lane — heading toward D.C. — is open during morning rush hours, from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

However, the project also includes “no left turn” signs, which Schwartz said drew anger from people who live, work, and pass through the area.

“Starting without fully communicating the plans is a mistake that has understandably confused and infuriated many residents, visitors and business owners,” Schwartz said in a county statement. “For this I apologize.”

Orange and white traffic barrels and road striping took place in the last weeks of December, but Schwartz acknowledges the county board had “emphasized the need for thorough and targeted communications to those who would be impacted in advance of the start of work.”

But that didn’t happen.

Unknowing drivers faced the challenge of making U-turns, and discovering detours to get into parking lots and housing complexes.

On the county’s project page, officials are now urging commuters to avoid traveling through the area if possible, and offering alternative routes, including already-busy Route 50 and Route 7.

As part of the overall project to make Columbia Pike a safer, more accessible route for users, the current focus is upgrading underground utilities.

The project will replace aging leak-prone water and sewer pipes and bury existing overhead utilities underground.

Streetscape improvements will include wider sidewalks, upgraded traffic signals, new street lights and additional trees along Columbia Pike.

Schwartz said he and the county are exploring more ways to mitigate the inconvenience, and are committed to improving communication during the project.

“We will do better and again I offer my apologies,” he wrote.

The Columbia Pike project is expected to last until early 2021.

Arlington County has provided a map of alternative routes.

columbia pike alternate routes
Arlington County is suggesting alternate routes around a construction zone on Columbia Pike, also known as Virginia State Route 244.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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