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FairfaxGas-pipeline installation halted over community concerns

Gas-pipeline installation halted over community concerns

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The Virginia Department of Transportation on May 24 issued a stop-work order for a Washington Gas pipeline-installation project on Georgetown Pike after receiving complaints from the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA).

Great Falls residents already had been inconvenienced by the project, about which VDOT and Washington Gas had informed neither the public nor the Dranesville District supervisor’s office, thus preventing advance warnings of upcoming traffic congestion, GFCA leaders said.

“Over the past week, the Great Falls community has experienced exceptionally disruptive daytime traffic congestion on Georgetown Pike between Springvale Road and the village,” GFCA leaders wrote in a statement. “This is unacceptable and something GFCA plans to address with VDOT to prevent a reoccurrence.”

Washington Gas had been installing a new, larger-diameter gas line along Georgetown Pike between Ellsworth Avenue to Stephanie Circle, GFCA members said.

The project involves replacing a 2-inch-diameter gas line with a 6-inch-diameter one, said Debbi Jarvis, chief communications officer for Washington Gas.

“As part of our tariff obligation to provide uninterrupted service, we regularly initiate, engineer and execute planning activities as part of system enhancement,” she said. “This work scope also included installing a service lateral.”

Construction hours were from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Thursday and from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday. Only one lane of traffic could pass by the construction area during those periods, which produced long backups on the roadway, GFCA leaders said.

In addition to the traffic delays, GFCA leaders were displeased to learn that the contractor employed by Washington Gas was digging a trench on the roadway’s paved surface instead of trying to install the pipeline in VDOT’s right-of-way.

“The approved plan had work being performed in our right-of-way off of the road,” said VDOT spokesman Ellen Kamilakis. “The work that was performed ended up being in the road bed.”

VDOT at GFCA’s request reviewed the project’s permit and learned that the contractor was working from plans not approved by the transportation agency.

While Washington Gas and its contractor were conducting the upgrade, “field conflicts required altering the original alignment of the new gas main being installed,” Jarvis said. “This resulted in the designed and permitted main alignment being shifted into the roadway, without engaging VDOT for revised approval.”

The excavation work damaged Georgetown Pike’s historic roadbed, which was one of the characteristics that got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places, GFCA’s statement read. The roadway also was Virginia’s first Historic and Scenic Byway, they added.

VDOT officials assented to GFCA’s request, which was backed by Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) for a stop-work order on the project.

GFCA leaders said they viewed the situation as “unacceptable” and said VDOT needs to keep them informed about projects that affect traffic on local roads.

“We also need to ensure that VDOT and its contractors understand that Georgetown Pike is a protected historical asset,” their statement read. “GFCA will be following up . . . to discover how this situation occurred to prevent it from happening again in the future.”

Foust agreed with that assessment and expressed displeasure about the damage done to Georgetown Pike.

“The Great Falls Citizens Association and other area residents have dedicated countless hours to preserving the historic value of Georgetown Pike,” Foust said. “Digging up a portion of any roadbed without permission is unacceptable, but this was especially egregious given the damage that was done to the historical value of the Pike.”

Work crews were scheduled to repave the damaged section of roadway May 26 and restore the road to VDOT standards.

“After that, in order for work to proceed, a new construction plan, including the removal of the previously placed pipeline, will need to be submitted, assessed and approved by VDOT,” with concurrence from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kamilakis said.

GFCA leaders said they would keep the community informed about the pipeline project, including when work likely will resume on Georgetown Pike and when it will be finished.

The group will post the updates on its Website, www.gfca.org.

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