Arlington County, Virginia, isn’t sugarcoating it. The next phase of its multiyear, multimillion dollar road improvement project along Columbia Pike is expected to cause traffic disruption and delays, not to mention dust, mud, noise and debris.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be pretty disruptive,” said Sheila Borkar, project manager for this phase of the Columbia Pike Multimodal Project.
Impacts will include detours, lane reductions, turn restrictions, sidewalk closures and bus stop relocations.
Working toward a ‘complete street’
The county is expecting to start construction on what it calls “Segment D” this fall, according to Borkar. That covers Columbia Pike between S. Garfield Street and S. Courthouse Road. Improvements will include wider sidewalks, new streetlights and trees, new transit stations and improved bus operations. It’s a big project, not expected to wrap up until late 2025.
According to the project’s website, residents should expect to “see and hear dust, mud, noise, debris, and temporary traffic and parking restrictions.” The work hours will be Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Borkar said a priority is improving bus service.
“Columbia Pike is one of the most heavily-traveled transit corridors in the state of Virginia,” she said. “We’re going to be putting in a consistent, five-lane roadway. For the most part, it’s going to be two lanes in each direction and left turn lanes where possible.”
The county is transforming the main thoroughfare into a “complete street that balances all modes of travel and supports high-quality, high-frequency transit service. In addition to visible improvements to the road, extensive work will occur below the roadway to replace aging and leak-prone water and sewer pipes,” according to the project website.
‘It’s really too bad it has to take so long’
Those goals come with growing pains. Many of the 40,000 residents who live along the Columbia Pike corridor — and the people who travel along the road by either bus or car — have been dealing with road disruptions since the spring of 2018. The first segment completed was from the Arlington County line with Falls Church to Four Mile Run, an area leading into busy Baileys Crossroads.
Much of the work still underway is around George Mason Drive. Robert Russ works at the Columbia Pike Thrift Shop at that intersection. He said he’s noticed the road construction affecting business.
“A lot of people, I think, aren’t coming in because they can’t find a place to park,” Russ said. “Some days, the traffic cones or equipment are out there so you can hardly even get into the street.”
But he’s philosophical about the project, telling WTOP, “You know, road construction is inevitable. It’s got to be done. But it’s really too bad it has to take so long.”
Waiting for a bus at that torn-up intersection, John Andre said the biggest issue for him is that “we used to have a shelter here and they took that completely out.”
Segment D is affecting some heavily-visited businesses, including the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, Bob & Edith’s Diner, the Giant Food grocery store, as well as shops and restaurants at or near Penrose Square.
Gi Lee runs Rappahannock Coffee shop on Columbia Pike near S. Barton Street. He said, even with the minor road work being done now, customers have been complaining. Before the county moves in to start its work, Washington Gas is doing utility work on the Pike between S. Courthouse Road and South Walter Reed Drive.
Michael McMahon owns the popular Celtic House restaurant on Columbia Pike. McMahon said he’s already been notified that he’ll permanently lose 10 parking spots in front of his business for road widening.
“[We get a] nice bit of business coming out of the D.C. and Alexandria areas … People come actually for our food and atmosphere,” McMahon said. “Those people won’t be inclined to come if it’s difficult to get down here.”
Arlington resident David Allman, who takes public transportation, said he’s fine with the project.
“It’s stuff that’s got to be done,” Allman said. “So … just going to have to suck it up, I guess.”
Know before you go
Borkar said she knows a lot of people are “really anxious for this project to be over and we are doing our best to move quickly … but I think it’s going to look really nice when it’s all done after 2025.”
Borkar added, “If you go to our website, ColumbiaPikeForward.com, we will be giving specific information about traffic impacts two weeks in advance.”
Also on that website, people can provide an email address to subscribe to Columbia Pike transportation updates.
At the eastern end of Columbia Pike, toward the Pentagon, the road has been closed and is being rerouted for another huge project — the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. But that’s another story.