Countywide

New Tysons-Bethesda route among possible changes to Metrobus system

The proposed future Metrobus network includes a new bus route between Tysons and Bethesda (via WMATA)

Local transportation officials are dreaming of a better future for Metrobus, including a 24-hour route connecting Tysons and Bethesda.

That route and others are part of Metro’s draft “Visionary Network,” an aspirational redesign of the 50-year-old bus network that will not be implemented — at least in full.

“It’s kind of setting the table large and saying what the opportunities are, and then constraining it,” said Allison Davis, vice president of planning at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting Tuesday (May 16).

Other highlights for Fairfax County in the visionary plan include an extension of the 38B bus route to Seven Corners. Currently, the bus runs from Ballston to Farragut Square. There could also be added connections to George Mason University, a new hub for Inova Alexandria Hospital, and busing at Dulles International Airport when train service isn’t running.

At the meeting, both Davis and Peter Cafiero, managing director of intermodal planning at WMATA, highlighted interest in the Tysons-Bethesda route, which could be enabled by the Capital Beltway widening that’s now under construction.

“We’ve had a ton of comments about that Bethesda-to-Tysons connection that I think a lot of people are really keen to see,” Davis said.

After collecting feedback on the visionary network through this spring, WMATA will put together two network designs this fall. One will be a short-term network that’s immediately usable, while the other will be a revised version of the visionary network.

Changes could begin in 2024 if Metro’s board of directors approves the recommended short-term network in December.

WMATA is collaborating on the project with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, which manages the Fairfax Connector bus system.

“We have been working with our partners at WMATA since the beginning of the process,” said Michael Felschow, planning section chief in the transit services division of FCDOT. “Our focus is to make sure our plans coordinate well with their plans.”

That coordination will involve making sure there are no gaps or duplications in service and helping to define service levels for prioritized routes, including on corridors such as Route 50, Braddock Road, Columbia Pike and Little River Turnpike.

“Our system doesn’t really provide a lot of service in these corridors, but we want to make sure we’re linking to these corridors at key terminals,” Felschow said.

Even as county staff works with WMATA, the county’s Transit Strategic Plan should remain “the driver” for FCDOT’s decision-making, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. Cost efficiency should also be a “huge driver” in determining who operates different bus routes.

“I do think the vision of where these routes are and how we can make sure there’s no gaps in service and other things is absolutely an essential thing to do,” McKay said.

As currently outlined, the visionary network would require a 35% increase in funding for Metrobus. WMATA’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 allocates $742.9 million to Metrobus, a slight decrease from the $743.9 million budgeted in FY 2023.

The public comment period for the draft visionary network runs until June 5. Community members can weigh in on the network redesign ideas online and at pop-up events. The visionary network is part of the broader Better Bus initiative.

Map via WMATA