Staff take the heat as Langston Blvd. the planning process continues

As the Arlington County government’s efforts to “reimagine” the future of Langston Boulevard (née Lee Highway) along its 5 mile run from Rosslyn to East Falls Church continue, public suspicion as to the motivations for this effort is growing. continue.

At the February 12 county council meeting, local resident Jane Zimmerman said attendees at a recent forum came away feeling “frustrated, angry and belittled” by county staff.

The warning: the staff advance with their own ideas and ignore those of the residents.

“You don’t get the direct story from the planning staff — it’s a pattern, Zimmerman said, urging county council members to watch a recording of the Dec. 13 meeting to see for themselves.

Several said they would.

“We will do that and we will follow up,” County Council Chairwoman Katie Cristol said.

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

Efforts to craft a cohesive strategy for development along the Langston Boulevard Corridor have been underway since the publication of a “vision report” in 2016. The effort has moved at a snail’s pace at times, which led some owners to move forward on their own. . A final plan to guide the development of the corridor should be presented to the county council by the end of the year.

Relatively low-rise commercial and retail properties face much of the length of the causeway, with residential communities behind. The challenge for county officials will be to find a way to ensure more intense commercial development without drawing fire from residents of adjacent communities.

The section of Langston Boulevard through Arlington includes access to Interstate 66; a number of arterial connections (Glebe Road, Old Dominion Drive, George Mason Drive, and Washington Boulevard among them); and an extensive network of perpendicular feeder streets leading to residential neighborhoods. It is the northernmost of the three east-west thoroughfares that run through Arlington – the others being the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor and Columbia Pike – and the only one of the three that had not already gone through an extensive planning process. of the county government.

In fact, the corridor looked like a red-haired stepson, pushed to the back 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 of the corridor — which includes 14 civic associations from east to west — had had enough, perhaps spurred on by a proposal by County Executive Mark Schwartz to withdraw funding for the planning initiative. Most, but not all, were restored by county council members after community outcry, and the question of the corridor’s future became a flashpoint in the 2018 county council race between by Ferranti and John Vihstadt.

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

County officials were cold to the proposal; Cristol, then vice-chairman of the county council, called it an “intriguing idea” but not quite ready for prime time. At the time, county officials noted that Arlington was spending an average of about $28,000 per mile of lane to maintain its roads, but only received about $18,000 per mile of lane in government reimbursement. State.

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

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

Nationally, US Route 29 runs approximately 1,040 miles between Ellicott City, Maryland, and Pensacola, Florida. It crosses seven states and the District of Columbia.

Louisa R. Loomis