Whenever Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) gets widened, the new lanes from International Drive in Tysons down to the West Falls Church Metro station area will be reserved exclusively for a future bus rapid transit (BRT) system.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive plan amendment last Tuesday (July 25) incorporating the BRT into the county’s vision for Route 7 and International Drive, a move that enables county staff to pursue funding.
“I do think this is an important movement forward in this project,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said after a public hearing.
The Tysons portion of the Route 7 BRT — which is intended to provide faster, more direct service than a traditional local bus route — is part of a regional system that the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission has been planning for a decade now. The finished route will extend into Falls Church City and Seven Corners, ending at the Mark Center in Alexandria.
For the initial Tysons phase, though, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation has settled on the West Falls Church Metro as the southern endpoint and the Spring Hill Metro station as the northern terminus.
Adhering to an alignment approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2021, the BRT will have nine stops:
- The West Falls Church Metro station
- Westbound Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) at Chestnut Street
- Patterson Road, near the Tysons Station and Idylwood Plaza shopping centers
- George C. Marshall Drive
- Fashion Blvd, serving Tysons Corner Center
- International Drive and Fletcher Street
- International and Greensboro Drive, next to Tysons Galleria
- International and Lincoln Circle, near the Rotunda Condominiums
- Spring Hill Metro station
Along with establishing the potential stations, the newly approved amendment designates two additional lanes planned for Route 7 from Haycock Road to International Drive as dedicated BRT lanes.
The comprehensive plan recommends expanding Leesburg Pike from four to six lanes between Haycock and the Capital Beltway (I-495) and from six to eight lanes between the Beltway and Route 123. Funds have already been secured to design the Beltway to Route 123 segment.
The amendment also repurposes two existing lanes on International Drive up to Lincoln Circle for the BRT’s exclusive use. For the rest of the route, the buses will travel in mixed traffic or use Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes, which are open to cars making a turn.
In response to concerns raised by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, which recommended approval of the amendment on June 21, the document was slightly modified prior to the board hearing to emphasize the importance of making Route 7 accessible for pedestrians and bicyclist as well as transit.
“The inclusion of BRT on Route 7 into the comprehensive plan strengthens the county’s position as it continues to refine the design and pursue funding options,” Palchik said. “The recommendations will set up Route 7 to equitably accommodate anticipated future growth within this part of Fairfax County…all the way to Alexandria in future phases, and to better serve all users and modes.”
Though FCDOT staff previously said they would consider having pull-off areas to accommodate express buses, none have been included in the conceptual design for the future BRT-only lanes, which will be in the road median with staggered station platforms to reduce right-of-way needs.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity lamented the decision not to plan for an express option as a repeat of the county’s “mistake” on the forthcoming Richmond Highway (Route 1) BRT.
“The number one reason people take transit is if it gets them there quicker,” he said. “If you’re going to have to sit at every stop, it’s going to take longer than if you rode a bike, if you got into a car and drove.”
While he didn’t know offhand how long it’ll take buses to get from one end of the route to the other, FCDOT senior planner Sean Schweitzer said the BRT is intended to be faster than a local bus with fewer stops, dedicated lanes and quicker boarding.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted that pull-off spots would likely “require dramatic additional land acquisition,” potentially displacing residents and businesses. Even without the space for pull-offs, the Route 1 widening will affect almost 200 properties.
“This idea that these systems, because there’s not an express [bus] — meaning you can bypass a station — are not time-saving is just not true,” McKay said. “…We wouldn’t be approving a BRT if the idea wasn’t to get transit users through the corridor faster than any means they can get through today.”
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