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Fairfax County will consider express option for Route 7 rapid bus service

A conceptual route for the Envision Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit system (via NVTC)

Fairfax County officials have not ruled out the possibility of incorporating pull-off areas on Route 7 for the bus rapid transit (BRT) system planned along the corridor from Tysons to Alexandria.

Areas for buses to pull off or pass each other would let the road accommodate an express service for riders who want to get from one end of the route to the other without having to make every stop in between, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity proposed at the county Board of Supervisors’ meeting yesterday (Tuesday).

“I’m hoping that as we move this project forward — if we move this project forward — we take into account the ability to get people there more quickly and have the option to do express routes, so that we can actually get people on these buses and using them,” Herrity said.

As evidence that transit’s success depends on providing shorter trip times than driving, he cited the collapse of Fairfax and Arlington counties’ plans for a streetcar on Columbia Pike a decade ago. A suggested bus rapid transit alternative never materialized either.

County and regional transportation staff can look at including pull-off areas once they start designing the bus service, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny told the board, but that phase of the project is still months away.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to authorize an agreement with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission that commits the county to providing $25,000 for a “project roadmap,” which will guide the BRT’s implementation, including a timeline and possible funding sources.

Under the agreement, NVTC will contribute $50,000 and hire a contractor to develop the roadmap. The regional organization is leading the Envision Route 7 BRT project, since it involves the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria as well as Fairfax County.

NVTC is currently working on the fourth phase of a mobility study evaluating the benefits and impacts of the proposed service. Initiated in October, this phase focuses on the route from Tysons to Seven Corners and could take 12 to 18 months, the project page says.

A follow-up study will look at the rest of the route from Seven Corners to Mark Center in Alexandria.

Fairfax County’s board approved the Tysons portion of the route in July. FCDOT is now working on an amendment to add BRT to the county’s comprehensive plan, which is expected to come before the board this spring, and preparing preliminary conceptual engineering designs, according to county staff.

While having express service as part of a “rapid” bus system seems like a “no-brainer,” in Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s words, Biesiadny said pull-off or passing areas would require more land and right-of-way for the project.

The cost, environmental impact, and potential displacement of residents and businesses along Richmond Highway led the county to eschew an express service for its upcoming Route 1 BRT, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, who disputed Herrity’s characterization of the decision as a missed opportunity.

The Richmond Highway BRT, which has been branded The One, will have a total of nine stops, still providing a shorter ride than the existing Fairfax Connector and Metrobus service in the corridor, Biesiadny noted.

“We didn’t expect that there would be a significant amount of congestion in the bus lanes, nor significant delay for those buses as they travel from Fort Belvoir up to the Huntington station,” he said. “But we will look at that again as part of the Route 7 project, and we’ll be able to have a discussion with the board in terms of the pros and cons of doing something different in the Route 7 corridor.”

He confirmed that FCDOT is looking at providing transit-exclusive lanes for the county’s Route 7 BRT segments, as proposed by an NVTC conceptual engineering study.

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