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Metro to electrify Fairfax County bus facility with federal grant

Metro plans to convert all of its buses to zero emissions by 2042 (courtesy Metro)

Metro’s bus facility in Franconia is a step closer to going electric, thanks to a big infusion of funding from the federal government.

The Federal Transit Administration has awarded Metro a $104 million grant to convert its Cinder Bed Road Bus Division garage at 7901 Cinder Bed Road into a fully electric facility, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced Monday (June 26).

In addition to supporting new charging infrastructure, the funds will enable Metro to buy about 100 battery-powered buses and develop a training program for drivers, mechanics and first responders, according to Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who lauded the grant in a joint statement.

“We appreciate the Federal Transit Administration’s leadership in the transition to zero-emission bus technology that will help reduce air pollution and improve quality of life across the region,” WMATA Board Chair Paul Smedberg said, thanking the senators and other federal, state and local elected officials for helping secure the money.

Metro’s board of directors adopted a plan in 2021 directing the transit agency to purchase only buses that don’t produce carbon emissions by 2030 and fully transition to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2045.

Metro’s first electric bus arrived this month as part of an initial 12-vehicle batch that will operate out of the Shepherd Parkway garage in D.C., according to WMATA. The vehicles were expected earlier, but the delivery got delayed after a fire in Connecticut last summer forced the manufacturer New Flyer to recall hundreds of buses.

Located northeast of the I-95 and Fairfax County Parkway interchange, the Cinder Bed Road garage houses 121 40-foot buses that serve 11 routes, as of December 2021. It has parking for 160 vehicles and 13 maintenance bays.

According to Metro’s transition plan, the facility could host 112 battery-powered electric buses. It has “safe and efficient site circulation,” but a stacked bus parking layout and existing underground infrastructure for utilities and stormwater pose hurdles.

To fully cover the cost of converting the Cinder Bed garage, the federal grant will be matched by “a combination of local funding,” a Metro spokesperson said.

Fairfax County plans to use the facility for its future Richmond Highway bus rapid transit service. Branded as The One, the system will operate all-electric buses from Fort Belvoir to the Huntington Metro station, potentially beginning in 2030.

“Thanks to our partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and federal support, we will soon deliver a fully converted battery-electric bus facility in Fairfax County,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “This project aligns with the county’s important goal of carbon neutral government operations by 2040 and is an investment in the region’s transit system and clean energy that will bring significant environmental and community benefits.”

The conversion design process is slated to begin later this year, with a projected opening coming in 2027-2028, according to WMATA’s transition plan.

Metro is also electrifying its Northern and Bladensburg bus garages, breaking ground on both facilities earlier this year. The agency says it will transition nearly 1,600 buses and all nine of its garages, including a planned Western garage, to zero-emission by 2042.

“We are in the process of a five-year bus procurement including a mix of hybrid and battery-electric buses,” Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said. “Our initial plan expects approximately half of all Metrobuses to be zero-emission by 2033.”

The Cinder Bed Road electrification project is one of five in Virginia to receive allocations from the FTA’s bus and low or no-emissions grant programs, which were created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed on Nov. 15, 2021.

Other grant recipients include the DASH bus system in Alexandria, which is adding more electric vehicles to its fleet. Overall, the law included an estimated $1.2 billion over five years for public transportation in Virginia and continued federal funding for WMATA through fiscal year 2030.

“This funding will help deliver state-of-the-art buses and bus facilities that are better for our environment and make Virginia’s transit systems more reliable and comfortable for riders,” Kaine and Warner said. “We’re proud to know that this funding will support American jobs while making our communities more accessible.”

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