•  Carrier

Improving Electrical Service at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall

A new substation and transmission lines project in Northern Virginia had to navigate through civil and military infrastructure as well as more than a dozen local, state and federal agencies on its way to completion.

By Matt Thomas, P.E., M.SAME

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (JBM-HH) in Arlington, Va., traces its history to the American Civil War, when it was established as a military post tasked with protecting the Union capital in Washington, D.C. The base’s rich history includes tenure as a showplace for the U.S. Army’s cavalry beginning in the 1880s, and serving as the setting for the first military test flight of an aircraft by Orville Wright in 1908.

JBM-HH has many buildings that were constructed between 1895 and 1908. Quarters One, built in 1899, is the home of the Army Chief of Staff. Over the years, residents have included Generals George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Many of the older buildings on the base have been designated as historic landmarks by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The dense urban community of Arlington surrounds much of the base, with Arlington National Cemetery adjoining the property to the east.  These neighborhoods, as well as the base and other government facilities, are all served by the local utility, Dominion Virginia Power. 

Dominion Virginia Power’s new 3.7-mi transmission line and substation are now serving Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Northern Virginia. Photos courtesy Dewberry

Ambitious Project

In 2008, Dominion Virginia Power proposed to improve service through the construction of an electrical substation at JBM-HH that would serve as a junction for two new 230-kV underground transmission lines. These transmission lines and new substation would improve the transmission network currently serving the base and nearby communities, support future growth, and ensure that Dominion would continue to comply with North American Electric Reliability Corporation standards for reliability. The ambitious project, known as the Radnor Heights 230-kV Underground Transmission Lines and Substation, included construction of a one-of-a-kind substation designed to complement the architectural vernacular of JBM-HH’s historic buildings. The work also involved trenching, pipe installation, and site restoration on federal and state property and along public roadways.  

“This project provides a much-needed 230 kV network in the Arlington area and directly improves electric service reliability in this critical region,” according to Chris Behrens, Electrical Transmission Project Manager for Dominion Virginia Power. “It also provides for future growth in the Clarendon and Rosslyn areas of Arlington County.”

A Team Effort

The planning process for the new substation included numerous meetings and extensive coordination for permitting with a host of agencies. Beginning in late 2008, Dominion staff and a consulting engineering team from Dewberry began meeting with representatives from eight regional, state and federal entities:

  • Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
  • Arlington County
  • Virginia Department of Transportation
  • National Park Service
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • National Capital Planning Commission
  • U.S. Commission of Fine Arts
  • Pentagon Reservation

All of these groups were integral to the decision-making and permitting process for the proposed substation and transmission lines project. Several additional agencies also were given the opportunity to comment on Dominion’s application, submitted to the Virginia State Corporation Commission. These included the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies, the Arlington County Manager, and the chairman of the Arlington Board of Supervisors.

The substation met rigorous standards for noise control, visual screening, and architectural compatibility on the historic base.

The sensitive integration of the substation into the historic setting of JBM-HH was a key objective of the project (addressing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act). The work involved an additional tier of agencies and organizations, among them the Arlington Historical Society and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. More agencies weighed in with documentation needed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act, including the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority also were involved. In all, more than 30 organizations took part in the process to ensure the success of the Radnor Heights transmission line and substation project. This cross-cutting collection of agencies, interests and priorities required an incredible amount of communication and management to ensure the project moved ahead.

Public Outreach

Recognizing that community participation and approval were vital to the success of the project, Dominion also embarked upon a comprehensive community engagement and outreach program to inform the general public and ask for feedback. The utility developed a public website, placed advertisements describing the project, and held three open house events, which were well-publicized through local civic association newsletters and newspaper ads. Dominion also established a designated telephone line and email address for public inquiries.

Through clear communications and the use of digital 3D imagery, Dominion and Dewberry’s architectural and engineering team thoroughly addressed community questions and concerns about the duration of construction, traffic impact, noise, right-of-way issues, environmental impact, and the overall purpose and benefits of the Radnor Heights project. 3D imagery depicted details such as the installation of the underground utilities and substation design, facilitating Dominion’s ability to address questions about construction of the network loop within the highly populated area.

Meeting Challenges

The site for the substation was in a small “bowl” landform with steep inclines on three sides. Trees lining nearby State Route 50 screen much of the public view from the roadway. The building’s brick façade matches the nearby historic buildings. Architectural details include a precast cornice resembling limestone and gray faux slate roofing elements. Façade details also include rusticated pilasters and “window” portals that provide visual texture.  Additionally, the substation is located on a former waste site, with organic soil that required extensive excavation and amendment. Several caissons were set approximately 40-ft below the final floor elevation to create a stable foundation.

Completed last year, the Radnor Heights substation and transmission lines project is now helping to provide more reliable, uninterrupted service to JBM-HH and surrounding communities. Thanks to the engagement and input of many people and organizations over the past four years, this complicated project is a major accomplishment and a benefit for the entire area.



Matt Thomas, P.E., M.SAME, is Project Engineer, Dewberry; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..