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A Fairfax Connector bus leaves the Dunn Loring Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax Connector is set to start its electric bus pilot program by the end of the year.

The county-run bus service plans to introduce eight electric buses by December, according to a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee last week.

Phase one of the pilot program will run out of the West Ox bus division, which serves routes in the western and central portion of the county. Initially, electric buses will be tested on four routes. Phase two is expected to begin in 2023 and will include four additional buses on routes in the southern portion of the county.

No exact timetable was given for how long the pilot program is anticipated to last, but it will likely follow other neighboring localities and run about two years.

Planned routes for the Fairfax Connector electric bus pilot (via Fairfax County)

The hope is to transition the entire Fairfax Connector fleet to 100% zero emission buses by 2035. This deadline is based on the county’s established goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

Staff identified several challenges that they will closely monitor, including ensuring there’s no reduction in service as a result of the transition. Several supervisors noted during the meeting that slower service, a reduction of routes, or constant maintenance taking buses offline could lead to fewer riders.

There are also technology limits to consider and whether the electrical grid will meet the energy requirements needed for large bus fleets.

According to the county’s Chief of Transit Dwayne Pelfrey, two thirds of current Fairfax Connector routes exceed the battery capability of electric buses. Coupled with potential issues with cold weather and hills, like Alexandria experienced late last year, electric buses may not completely meet the needs of the Fairfax Connector just yet.

That, in turn, could push potential riders back to single-occupancy vehicles, negating the emission reductions that many hope electric buses will provide.

Pelfrey also noted that obtaining buses has been increasingly difficult between supply chain issues and manufacturers not being ready to “pivot” to producing electric vehicles.

The used bus market is difficult to navigate as well, though the county did purchase 10 used buses out of North Carolina that will be transitioning to electric and 12 hybrid buses from WMATA.

A rendering of what a Fairfax Connector electric bus might look like (via Fairfax County)

Considering the county’s goals and the current price of gasoline, though, staff and board members believe the issues are worth navigating. While capital and infrastructure costs may be higher for electric buses, fuel and maintenance costs would be significantly lower over a 12-year period, according to a graph presented by staff.

The county is also exploring using hydrogen as fuel, but that technology remains expensive and more costly than electricity.

The county has already started creating infrastructure in preparation for the pilot to begin in about six months. Electric chargers arrived in April and are currently being installed, a process expected to be completed within the month.

“We are just doing simply plug-in chargers,” Pelfrey said. “When we transition full garages…we will have to do something much, much more complicated from a construction and power standpoint.”

The county’s electric buses are expected to start being manufactured late next month, received by October, and put on the road by December.

Fairfax Connector is the largest bus system in Virginia with a fleet of more than 300 buses providing nearly 18,000 rides a day.

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Morning Notes

Relaxing in Penny Lane Park at the Mosaic District (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Police and Fire Training Exercise Today — “#FCFRD is conducting a joint training exercise with Fairfax County Police Department at Fairfax County Government Government Center on Wednesday, June 22, between 9 a.m. -3 p.m. There will be a large fire and police presence in the area during this time. #FCPD Helicopter Fairfax 1 will land/take off during the exercise.” [FCFRD/Facebook]

Rep. Beyer Wins Democratic Primary — Rep. Don Beyer’s bid for reelection remains alive after he won the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District yesterday (Tuesday). Per the Office of Elections, Fairfax County’s turnout reached an estimated 2.5%, as of 3:30 p.m., not including early and absentee voters. [WTOP, Twitter]

Health Aide Under Investigation for Stealing Student Meds — Fairfax County police are investigating a health aide who allegedly took student medications and replaced them with allergy medicine while employed at Greenbriar East Elementary School. The Fairfax County Health Department worker has been placed on administrative leave and could be terminated. [FOX5]

New FCPS Cell Phone Policy Approved — “The policy taking effect in the 2022-2023 school year says students in kindergarten through eighth grade must silence cell phones and put them away for the entire school day. Students in grades nine to 12 must only silence and put away cell phones during classes.” [Patch]

Reduced Charges Possible for Former Freedom Hill ES Workers — “A former teacher and teacher’s aide in Fairfax County, Virginia, accused of abusing non-verbal disabled children entered plea agreements on [June 13] that would result in reduced charges and no jail time.” [NBC4]

Alexandria Man Charged in Springfield Shooting — A 24-year-old Alexandria man got into an argument with the acquaintance in the 2600 block of Redcoat Drive on Sunday (June 19) night around 11 p.m. inside an apartment before police say he shot the person in the upper body and fled. Fairfax County police told FFXnow the victim was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Officers located the suspect, who they identified of Antwan Pratt, and arrested him nearby, charging him with aggravated malicious wounding and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Kingstowne House Fire Started by Rags — Two people were displaced on Friday (June 17) by a house fire in the 7800 block of Kincardine Court that caused approximately $90,000 in damages. Investigators determined the blaze started in a first-floor laundry/utility room due to “the improper disposal of rags used for staining wood.” [FCFRD]

Retired Police Dog Dies — “We’re saddened to announce the passing of retired K9 Comak on Saturday. Comak served the Fairfax County community as a patrol dog from 2010 until he retired in 2019. Upon completion of his service, Comak was a beloved member of his handler’s family.” [FCPD/Facebook]

Shared-Use Path Proposed in Centreville — “The Virginia Department of Transportation will hold a virtual design public hearing Monday, June 27 on plans to build a shared-use path along Compton Road (Route 658) to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety, accessibility and connectivity to the Cub Run Trail system…The project also includes widening the Compton Road bridge over Cub Run to accommodate the new shared-use path.” [VDOT]

McLean HS Runner Wins State Title — “By finishing first in the girls 1,600-meter race in 4:54.92, McLean High School distance runner Thais Rolly was the lone local winner from schools in the Sun Gazette’s coverage area at the recent Virginia High School League’s Class 6 girls and boys outdoor state championship meets.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

It’s Wednesday — Rain in the evening and overnight. High of 85 and low of 70. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County nurse holds a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Roughly 18 months after COVID-19 vaccines first rolled out to Fairfax County, toddlers and infants can finally get in on the action.

As of noon today (Tuesday), vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer are available for kids under 5 at the Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway) and South County Hyland Center (8350 Richmond Highway), no appointment necessary, the Fairfax County Health Department announced.

The long-awaited vaccines were authorized by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday (June 17) and got the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s support a day later.

The recommendation expanded eligibility for vaccination to about 68,984 kids in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, the county health department told FFXnow last week.

“This is an important milestone in the pandemic as it is the first time that everyone in our community, ages 6 months and older, is eligible to be protected with life-saving vaccines,” Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said in a statement. “Vaccinating babies, toddlers and young children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of COVID-19.”

The new pediatric vaccines are administered in smaller doses than those given to adults.

Targeted at kids under 5, the Pfizer vaccine is about a tenth of an adult dose and requires three shots, with the second coming three to eight weeks after the first one and a two-month gap before the third shot. The Moderna vaccine is for kids under 6, about a quarter the size of an adult dose, and only needs two shots delivered four to eight weeks apart.

In addition to the county health department sites, the vaccines may be available from private pediatricians and medical providers as well as retail pharmacies, though state law prohibits the latter from administering shots to people younger than 3.

Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases over the past 26 weeks, as of June 21, 2022 (via VDH)

Vaccine Finder doesn’t list any sites in Northern Virginia with the new vaccines, but Walgreens announced on Saturday (June 18) that it will have vaccines for kids 3 and older at select locations around the country. The company encourages parents and guardians to make appointments in advance.

CVS says the Pfizer vaccine is available for kids 18 months and older at all of its more than 1,100 Minute Clinic locations in the U.S. Read More

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Preliminary plans call for a park at the site of the Lorton landfill (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission has given the green light to preliminary plans to convert the closed Lorton Landfill into a public park.

Dubbed Overlook Ridge Park, the park would house the highest point in Fairfax County, hiking trails, picnic areas, an amphitheater, bathrooms and bird sanctuaries.

But concerns about the safety of the site — particularly issues related to methane gas — dominated the discussion at a meeting on June 15. Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina led a line of questioning concerning whether the landfill was determined safe for park use and what parameters were used to come to that conclusion.

County officials and representatives from the Fairfax County Park Authority repeatedly stated that the site was deemed safe for use as a park, according to an analysis by a third-party consultant hired by applicant and property owner Waste Management.

David Kaasa, district manager of the Lorton Landfill, said the applicant would ensure that safety is a top priority.

“If it’s not safe for me to go up there, then we’re not sending anyone up there,” he said.

The applicant is working on a shared agreement to sort out unidentified issues related to the site. A similar plan was discussed in 2007 but stalled due to a number of issues.

County officials encouraged the applicant to determine if there’s a way to avoid potable water at one of the bathrooms at the park. Commissioners also wondered if access to drinking water could be provided at the top of the park — including installation of a water line or a well.

Waste Management’s plan includes two main access roads, a cultural garden and overlook, an amphitheater with benched seating, and 120 parking spaces.

If the planning process moves forward, the park would open to the public as early as 2025. The application has to clear several more steps before official approval, including a site plan. The landfill officially closed in 2021 after operations ceased in 2018.

Despite the possibility of hiccups, Kaasa said the applicant intends to move forward with the proposal.

“Waste Management is committed to this project and its obligations at the landfill both locally and at the state level,” he said.

Mount Vernon District Commissioner Walter Clarke said he is eager for the park to open to the public.

“It’s really amazing up there so once it’s built and if it does come to fruition, we should all please make an effort to enjoy that park,” Clarke said.

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A map depicts the location of a proposed floodwall in Belle Haven (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A floodwall in the Belle Haven community could help address Northern Virginia’s flood risk.

A recent study looked at the west bank of the Potomac River from Arlington to Prince William County for solutions to improve resiliency and reduce risks to human health and safety, economic damages, and disruption of critical infrastructure, according to a presentation.

While there were multiple options, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found a 5,600-foot-long floodwall in Belle Haven and a 2,500-foot-long floodwall along the Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant on S. Glebe Road were the most feasible.

The total cost of both would be $52.6 million, which includes a 45% contingency on costs, and is estimated to reduce about $66 million in potential damage.

The proposed Belle Haven floodwall would begin around Golf Course Square and extend down Boulevard View before turning west. Then, an earthen levee would be constructed and end near Westview Dog Park, according to the Feasibility Report and Environmental Assessment by Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

A map shows the potential flooding of Belle Haven by 2030 (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A map of Belle Haven shows that by 2030, the flood risk could extend to the Belle View Shopping Center, Belle Haven Country Club and other parts of the community.

The Belle Haven floodwall would have permanent aesthetic and recreation impacts, as well as stream impacts, according to the presentation. The floodwall would be about 6 feet tall on average.

During construction, there would also be temporary stream impacts. Mitigation would be required for permanent stream impacts.

A rendering shows what a 6.5 foot floodwall could look like in Belle Haven (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The public can comment on the study through Thursday, June 30, by emailing the project team at DC-Metro-CSRM-Study@usace.army.mil. The Corps of Engineers will respond to comments and revise the report between July and September, determing if this is the preferred option by November.

After further study, design — which hasn’t been funded yet — wouldn’t begin on the project until at least 2024.

The study was conducted as Northern Virginia has seen damaging storms over the years, to include the Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane of 1933, Hurricane Agnes (1972), Hurricane Fran (1996), Nor’easter (1998), Hurricane Floyd (1999), Hurricane Isabel (2003), Hurricane Irene (2011) and Hurricane Sandy (2012).

Hurricane Isabel resulted in extreme water levels and caused millions of dollars of damage to residences, businesses and critical infrastructure, according to the study.

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The existing Georgetown Pike Bridge over I-495 (via Google Maps)

Construction on the I-495 Express Lanes expansion in McLean is about to get a little more intense.

Work to demolish the existing Georgetown Pike Bridge over I-495 — also known as the Capital Beltway — will begin this week, potentially even today (Tuesday), the Virginia Department of Transportation announced Friday (June 17).

Contracted for the 495 NEXT project to extend the Beltway’s toll lanes from Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway, workers will start by demolishing the median in the center of the Georgetown Pike bridge and installing a temporary traffic barrier on the westbound shoulder, according to the news release.

“Temporary traffic signals will be installed to enable the removal of the existing signals,” VDOT said. “East- and westbound traffic on Georgetown Pike will then be shifted south on the existing bridge.”

The changes are necessary for crews to take down the northern part of the bridge, a process expected to start in mid-July and take approximately three weeks to complete, depending on the weather and other factors.

The Georgetown Pike bridge’s center median will be demolished, prompting changes to the lane configuration (via VDOT)

Here is more from VDOT on what to expect:

Specialized equipment will be used to demolish the bridge, including excavators fitted with hammers, saws and hydraulic jaws. While every effort will be made to control noise, some demolition is unavoidably noisy and must be performed during nighttime hours when Beltway traffic below the bridge is lightest and necessary lane closures can occur.

Overnight triple- and double-lane closures on the Beltway and periodic stoppages of all lanes for brief intervals will be necessary to ensure the work is performed safely. Virginia State Police will implement periodic shutdowns of all lanes for up to 30 minutes. Traffic will be cleared before subsequent shutdowns take place.

Periodic lane closures will occur throughout construction during midday and overnight hours.

“Travelers approaching the Georgetown Pike Bridge should use caution, pay attention to roadway signs approaching and in the work zone, and anticipate delays and plan their trips accordingly,” VDOT said.

The bridge will be replaced by a longer, six-lane-wide span to accommodate the Beltway, which is getting two new lanes in each direction. The revamped bridge will also have a six-foot-wide sidewalk and a trail link to Scotts Run Nature Preserve, according to updated plans shared earlier this month.

VDOT has spent months slowly ramping up work on 495 NEXT, starting preliminary activities late last year before breaking ground in March. Construction in the corridor began in earnest at the beginning of June with the permanent closure of the interstate’s northbound left-shoulder lane between Old Dominion Drive and the GW Parkway.

While VDOT says the project will provide much-needed congestion relief, it has faced resistance from some residents and elected officials, most recently over plans to task Maryland with some construction work tying the new toll lanes into the new American Legion Bridge that it’s supposed to build.

Maryland transportation officials released a final environmental study for proposed express lanes on their side of the Beltway on Friday, reporting that changes to the design will reduce the project’s anticipated impact on land, streams, and trees.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Gum Springs celebrates Juneteenth with a Community Day on June 18 (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County Holds Primary Today — It’s primary day for voters in the 8th Congressional District, which now includes McLean, Bailey’s Crossroads, Annandale, and the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County. With the Republican nominee already set, there is only a Democratic contest between incumbent Rep. Don Beyer and challenger Victoria Virasingh. [Fairfax County Office of Elections]

Man Dies in Oakton Crash — An 18-year-old driver died on Sunday (June 19) after losing control of his car while driving south on Fox Mill Road and hitting a tree near Bronzedale Drive. A juvenile passenger was taken to the hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening. Detectives believe speed was a factor in the crash, which resulted in the fifth non-pedestrian fatality of the year. [FCPD]

Drowned Man Remains Hospitalized — A 29-year-old man who drowned while swimming in Difficult Run Stream in McLean on Sunday is still in life-threatening condition. According to police, the man became submerged and was pulled out of the water by friends when he didn’t resurface. Fire and Rescue personnel found him about a quarter mile away from Georgetown Pike on a nearby trail. [FCPD]

Report Finds Discrimination by Housing Providers — “A fair housing test conducted by The Fairfax County Office of Human Rights, in partnership with The Equal Rights Center, showed ‘discernable differences’ between housing providers’ treatment of white and minority testers. The results also showed that ‘certain housing providers lack the training to provide the same level of treatment to Deaf individuals as they do to hearing individuals.'” [Inside NoVA]

Tysons West Vehicle Pursuit Leads to Arrest — A male juvenile allegedly “verbally threatened the victim” in the 1500 block of Cornerside Blvd on Jun 12. The juvenile attempted to drive away, striking two vehicles, before an officer stopped him using the controversial precision immobilization technique. The juvenile was arrested, and two people were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. [FCPD]

Springfield Trader Joe’s Looking to Move — Trader Joe’s is in talks to take over the roughly 24,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market at Old Keene Mill Shopping Center, suggesting that the new Whole Foods under construction at Springfield Plaza will be a relocation. The space would be larger than Trader Joe’s current 10,673-square-foot store next to the new Giant in Springfield Plaza. [Washington Business Journal]

Bank Plans Relocation From Herndon to Tysons — Part of a larger branding overhaul, Forbright Bank is moving its Herndon branch at 150 Elden Street to 1600 Tysons Blvd., a 13-story office building adjacent to Tysons Galleria. The Herndon location is the company’s only Virginia location among five branches in the region. [Washington Business Journal]

Fairfax County Police Helicopter Appears at Smithsonian Event — “Saturday, our helicopter was on display at the National Air & Space Museum’s Annual Innovations in Flight Event. 50+ aircraft fly in from around the region for this special day. Pilots Mountjoy & Edgerton greeted community members as they got a glimpse into Fairfax 1.” [FCPD/Twitter]

County Partners on Older Adult Activities — “Arlington County, Fairfax County, Prince William County, the Town of Vienna, and ServiceSource Inc. host live virtual programming on Zoom five days a week. The events range from fitness classes to special presentations to interactive games. This resource is free and all older adults and adults with disabilities who live in Northern Virginia are welcome to use it.” [Neighborhood and Community Services]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 68. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

The sun pokes through the leaves as it readies to set in Fairfax County (staff photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Man Fatally Shot in Hybla Valley — “Officers were called at 8:12 p.m. to the 8000 block of Seaton Street for a man who had been shot while sitting inside a vehicle. Officers found Darren Davis, 19, of Alexandria, inside a white Dodge Challenger suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Davis was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.” [FCPD]

Bomb Threats Made Against Schools — “Police are investigating multiple bomb threats against Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) over a span of six days.On Saturday, June 11, the Fairfax County Police department was notified by an FCPS IT employee that they had found multiple email threats sent to schools throughout Fairfax County. According to FCPD, even some faculty members were named in the email threats.” [WUSA9]

Unit Dedicated to Encouraging Fathers — “Using curriculum from the National Fatherhood Initiative and with help form Engagement Specialist Mercedes Alonso and Parent Support Specialist Michael Schut, Herron works with the unit to redirect fathers towards a healthy and engaged relationship with their children.” [Fairfax County Times]

Leaders Pledge to Curb Carbon Emissions — “Leaders from around the D.C. area voted Wednesday to adopt aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals for the transportation sector, pledging to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. Reaching that goal would require building more housing in walkable, transit-friendly areas, disincentivizing driving in favor of walking, biking and public transportation, and the rapid adoption of electric vehicles.” [DCist]

School Board Bans Guns in Non-Instructional Facilities — “Last night, the Fairfax County School Board unanimously approved a new policy affirming that all FCPS school zones are gun-free and deeming as gun-free any non-school zone building or property that the School Board owns or leases, which includes facilities like the Gatehouse Administration Center.” [Fairfax County School Board member Karl Frisch]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 75 and low of 57. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

FFXnow Observes Juneteenth Today— FFXnow will not be publishing today except for breaking news.

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Springfield Plaza’s former Giant is being dismantled, making way for a new grocer that appears to be Whole Foods (staff photo by Brandi Bottalico)

The weekend is almost here. Before you take your roller skates out for a spin or head to bed for some much-needed sleep, let’s revisit the past week of news in Fairfax County.

Here are the 10 most-read stories on FFXnow this week:

  1. Police: Nunchucks used in Reston assault
  2. NEW: Whole Foods Market to open in Springfield Plaza
  3. Proposed Reston Town Center arts facility could cost up to $81 million, report says
  4. Bear spotted around Belle Haven, crossing GW Parkway
  5. Vienna Police: Construction noise issues go to court and a slap heard around Dunkin’ Donuts
  6. Metro to announce ‘operational readiness’ of Silver Line Phase 2 soon
  7. Bar and lounge to open soon at Reston’s Faraday Park
  8. After deadly Oakton crash, officials take new look at Blake Lane safety concerns
  9. Morning Poll: Will you miss the annual Celebrate Fairfax festival?
  10. Juneteenth 2022: What’s open and closed in Fairfax County for the holiday

Ideas for potential stories can be sent to news@ffxnow.com or submitted as an anonymous tip. Photos of scenes from around the county are welcome too, with credit always given to the photographer.

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans, or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below. Have a great weekend, Fairfax County!

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A Metrobus at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County is expanding its student Metrobus pass program to four new schools in the fall, letting more students ride the bus for free.

Starting in September, students at Annandale High School, Falls Church High School, Marshall High School, and Davis Center will be able to get a pass that allows them to ride Fairfax Connector, the City of Fairfax CUE, and the Metrobus for free.

The bus pass can only be used on certain routes in Northern Virginia and in between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The county launched a program in 2015 letting all Fairfax County Public School students ride Fairfax Connector at no cost. A year later, the City of Fairfax CUE was added to that program. In 2018, a pilot program was approved allowing students at Justice High School to also ride certain Metrobus routes for free.

The program is intended to give students more independence as they go to and from school, participate in after-school activities, and work jobs.

The Metrobus pilot is now ramping up with a memorandum of understanding going before the Board of Supervisors later this month. The county is also working to hire a new coordinator to oversee the program and order new cards to distribute to students.

A launch event will be held at Marshall High School in September.

Since the program began more than seven years ago, students have taken over 2 million trips on local buses, according to data presented by staff at the board’s transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (June 14).

Since April of this year, students have made up nearly 8% of all Fairfax Connector ridership.

“Students are proving to be some of our most loyal customer base,” Kala Quintana, Fairfax Connector’s head of marketing, said.

For the Metrobus pilot program, the county noted that about half of Justice students had and were actively using the specially-designed Smartrip card.

The county hopes that, by the end of the 2022-2023 school year, 8,500 students from 30 high schools, 23 middle schools, and nine centers for students with different needs and abilities will be using the bus pass.

When the program launches at the four new schools later this year, a form will be available on the FCPS website that students’ parents can sign and turn into the school so their kid can get a bus pass.

While members were okay with the process for the foreseeable future, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said he would eventually like to see students’ identification, bus pass, library card, and other services all consolidated on one card.

The board also discussed doing more outreach to students who don’t attend FCPS, like those who are homeschooled and attend private institutions.

“The fact that we had this Covid break and kids weren’t even going to school and we have these kinds of ridership numbers…and demand is a proven testament to the vision we had for this at the very beginning,” McKay said. “It’s a program that all of our kids in FCPS, middle and high schoolers, can take advantage of.”

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