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ArlingtonStaff takes heat as Langston Blvd. planning process rolls on

Staff takes heat as Langston Blvd. planning process rolls on

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As the Arlington County government’s efforts to “reimagine” the future of Langston Boulevard (née Lee Highway) along its 5-mile length from Rosslyn to East Falls Church roll ahead, suspicions in the public about the motivations behind the effort continue.

At the Feb. 12 County Board meeting, local resident Jane Zimmerman said participants at a recent forum came away feeling “frustrated, angry and demeaned” by county staff.

The intimation: Staff are moving forward with their own ideas and ignoring those of residents.

“You are not getting the straight story from the planning staff – this is a pattern,” said Zimmerman, urging County Board members to watch a recording of the Dec. 13 meeting to see for themselves.

Several said they would.

“We will do so and we fill follow up,” County Board Chairman Katie Cristol said.

“I want to follow up further,” Matt de Ferranti added.

Efforts to develop a cohesive strategy for development along the Langston Boulevard corridor have been in the works since publication of a “visioning report” in 2016. The effort moved at times at a snail’s pace, leading some property owners to move ahead of their own accord. A final plan to guide development of the corridor is slated to come before the County Board by the end of the year.

Relatively low-level commercial and retail properties face much of the roadway’s length, with residential communities behind it. The challenge for county officials will be finding a way to provide for more intense commercial development without drawing fire from residents of the adjacent communities.

The stretch of Langston Boulevard through Arlington includes access to Interstate 66; a number of connections to arterial roadways (Glebe Road, Old Dominion Drive, George Mason Drive and Washington Boulevard among them); and a vast network of perpendicular feeder streets leading to residential neighborhoods. It is the northernmost of three east-west arteries running through Arlington – the others being the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Columbia Pike – and the only one of the three that hadn’t already been through an extensive county-government planning process.

In fact, the corridor was something of a red-headed stepchild, pushed to the rear of the line as other areas (most recently the Four Mile Run corridor) received the attention of government planners and elected officials.

By 2018, residents and leaders in the corridor – which encompasses 14 civic associations from east to west – had had enough, spurred perhaps by a proposal from County Manager Mark Schwartz to strip funding out of the planning initiative. Most, but not all, was restored by County Board members after community outcry, and the issue of the corridor’s future became a flashpoint in the 2018 County Board race between de Ferranti and John Vihstadt.

A year earlier, some residents had floated the idea of having the county government take over operational control of the roadway from the Virginia Department of Transportation, much as had been done with Columbia Pike, to give the local government more flexibility in planning for future growth.

County officials were cool to the proposal; Cristol, then vice chair of the County Board, called it “an intriguing idea” but one not quite ready for prime time. At the time, county officials noted that Arlington spends, on average, about $28,000 per lane-mile to maintain its roads, but receives only about $18,000 per lane-mile in reimbursement from the state government.

Known for generations as Lee Highway, the road was renamed by the County Board last year to honor John M. Langston, a 19th-century Virginian who after the Civil War served a brief stint in Congress as a Republican.
Though Langston had no direct connection to Arlington, his legacy is memorialized in the names of a community center and civic association, as well as the road.

Known to transportation planners as U.S. Route 29, the roadway continues south to Danville, a total of 248 miles in Virginia from the Key Bridge to the North Carolina line.

Nationally, U.S. Route 29 runs for approximately 1,040 miles between Ellicott City, Md., and Pensacola, Fla. It runs through seven states and the District of Columbia.

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