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Fairfax Connector buses in Reston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax Connector is getting a few changes (page 228) starting early next year, including a new route along I-66’s express lanes with more Vienna connections on the horizon.

At a meeting on Sept. 13, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved several changes that could expand the reach and efficiency of transit around the Tysons area.

“Staff proposes service changes for implementation on January 14, 2023, to improve the customer experience and increase ridership through improved connectivity, on-time performance, service reliability, and effectiveness,” staff said in a report.

There are four changes planned for January. The big one for Tysonians is a new route that would use the I-66 express lanes for a better Tysons-Centreville route.

“County staff worked with the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) to develop Route 660 that will operate along I-66 using the new express lanes,” the report said. “The route will improve connectivity between Centreville and Tysons, which is a major employment center, and will provide additional connections for passengers at the Government Center and Vienna Metrorail Station.”

According to the report:

  • Route 660 will provide weekday commuter service with 10-minute frequency during peak periods.
  • Reduces travel time from Centreville to Tysons by approximately 30 percent.
  • The estimated total annual revenue hours are 17,300.
  • The estimated total annual operating cost is $2.3 million, which will be funded through a DRPT grant using I-66 Outside the Beltway (OTB) toll revenue.
  • The vehicles needed to operate this route have already been purchased by the County using funds from DRPT

One of the other changes is the elimination of Route 644 to avoid duplication with the new Route 660.

“The connection from the Stone Road Park-and-Ride Lot to the Vienna Metrorail Station will be served by Route 660 with improved frequency,” the report said. “The entire service that Route 644 currently provides will be covered by Route 660.”

Other planned changes include shifting Route 937 (serving Innovation Center and Herndon Metro) and Route 951 (serving Innovation Center, Herndon, Reston Town Center) slightly south.

In a separate action item, the Board of Supervisors also approved funding from the I-66 Outside the Beltway tolls into two additional bus routes:

  • Route 670 – Chantilly to Franconia-Springfield Metrorail Station with connections at the Monument Drive multimodal facility and Vienna Metrorail Station
  • Route 698 – Stringfellow Park-and-Ride Lot to the Vienna Metrorail Station with through connections to the Pentagon during peak periods
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Accotink Creek bridge along Alban Road in Springfield ( via Google Maps)

The seven-decade-old Accotink Creek Bridge along Alban Road in Springfield will be closed to traffic starting Saturday (Aug. 13) to undergo “urgent” repairs. The shutdown is expected to last about five weeks, until late September.

With the bridge crossing shuttered, traffic will be detoured to go around to bridge. That means vehicles will be directed to take Alban Road to Rolling Road to Fullerton Road (Route 4502) to Boudinot Drive and back to Alban Road.

Alban Road detour starting Aug. 13 (via Virginia Department of Transportation)

The work will affect 13 Fairfax Connector bus stops. Service will be consolidated into four temporary, alternative stops along the route.

The 77-foot bridge in Springfield near I-95 was first built in 1950 and last underwent repairs more than 30 years ago. An average of about 10,700 vehicles drove over it a day, per the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

The concrete supporting the bridge is deteriorating and in need of “urgent” repairs, with “severe cracking” and “exposed/corroding reinforced steel” being major issues, according to a VDOT presentation.

Repairs will include removing and replacing old concrete with reinforcing steel as well as new concrete.

The bridge and that section of Alban Road are expected to reopen to traffic in late September. The rest of the project, which won’t require road closures, will be completed later in the fall.

VDOT hasn’t yet provided an estimated cost for the project, which is being financed by the state.

Photo via Google Maps

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Traffic fills the Richmond Highway (via Fairfax County)

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has awarded nearly $341 million to seven major transportation projects in Fairfax County.

Approved on Thursday (July 14), the NVTA gave out about $630 million to 20 projects across the region with its latest six-year program. More than half the money went to projects in Fairfax County.

“The NVTA takes a multimodal approach to providing transportation solutions and options that keep Northern Virginia and beyond moving, recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling traffic congestion in the Washington, D.C. region,” NVTA chair and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said in a statement. “The 20 projects the NVTA has just adopted are no exception.”

NVTA committed to funding six county projects and one project from the Town of Herndon:

“We regularly talk about our goal in Fairfax County to ‘move people’ no matter how they choose or need to travel. I could not be more pleased with this investment in our community,” Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay wrote in a statement. “Fairfax County is the economic engine of the Commonwealth, and our infrastructure is at the core of this tremendous progress.”

The Fairfax County Parkway funding will widen 2.5 miles of the road between Nomes Court and Route 123 (Ox Road) in Fairfax Station as part of a larger project. No timeline is being given yet for when construction might start or be completed, according to the project page.

Fairfax Connector will acquire eight electric buses to initially serve four routes between Tysons and Franconia, potentially starting by the end of this year.

The combined $140 million for the two Richmond Highway projects will widen a three-mile stretch of the corridor from four to six lanes, among other improvements, and support The One, a dedicated bus service.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, construction on the widening could begin “as early as 2025” and take three to four years to complete.

The bus rapid transit service expected to serve up to 15,000 passengers a day with nine stations by the time it’s completed in 2030. All in all, both projects are expected to cost a billion dollars in total. Read More

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Morning Notes

A fawn in the woods (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

FCPS Students Rally in Support of Reproductive Health — “Students are calling on Fairfax County Public Schools to reform its sex education program — adding more information about contraception and increasing student access to contraceptives — in response to the fall of Roe v. Wade.” [The Washington Post]

Local Company Helped Built Groundbreaking Telescope — Earlier this week, NASA released the first images from its James Webb Space Telescope, built with a team of private companies led by West Falls Church-based Northrop Grumman. Offering “never-before-seen glimpses into the origins of our universe,” Webb is the “largest, most complex and powerful space telescope ever built.” [FCEDA]

Dozens Vaccinated Against Covid at Reston Clinic — “After months of planning and preparation, the clinic was held at Reston Community Center, located next to Hunters Woods Fellowship House, on June 15. While an initial survey conducted by the Hunters Woods program coordinator found only 50 people were interested in attending, thanks to community outreach, 72 adults and 14 children ended up getting vaccinated.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Scotts Run Fire Station Gets New Engine — “A big day this Saturday at Station 44, Scotts Run! Engine 444 will be placed in service joining Rescue Squad and Ambulance 444 at the station. Crews working hard this week labelling fire hose to place on the engine. #FCFRD’s newest station opened on August 14, 2021.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Vienna Considers Starting Budget Process Earlier — “Starting with its next fiscal-year budget cycle, Vienna government staff will give the Vienna Town Council information earlier in the process so they can set priorities to guide the rest of the discussions. The Council expressed support July 11 after Finance Director Marion Serfass outlined the revamped budget schedule.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Bus Drivers Train for Silver Line Phase II — “Fairfax Connector is gearing up for new bus routes coming with the Silver Line Phase II launch. Here’s a look at the most recent test of the bus bridge. As you can see Connector is joined by Metrobus @wmata and Loudoun County Transit” [Fairfax Connector/Twitter]

Northern Virginia Pounces on Cat Cafes — “Northern Virginia is no stranger to cat cafes, as there are 3 currently-open cafes that are all about 30 minutes away from interested Falls Church locals. Patriot Pawsabilities, Mount Purrnon Cat Cafe and Wine Bar and Meows Corner Cat Cafe and Lounge offer feline enthusiasts and/or the average animal lover a cuddly experience.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Former Fort Belvoir Leader Inspires in Alexandria — “Retired U.S. Army Colonel Gregory Gadson says that success happens by staying present, and letting go of the invisible anchors that hold you back. Gadson knows what he’s talking about. The war hero, actor, photographer, philanthropist and business owner is also the first-ever double amputee to command a major military installation — Fort Belvoir.” [ALXnow]

Young Lifeguards Train With FCPD — “Fairfax County police officers in the underwater search and recovery unit were at Lake Barcroft yesterday — but no one drowned. The Lake Barcroft Association had asked the unit to conduct a training class for junior lifeguards.” [Annandale Today]

Hawaiian Music Group Comes to Tysons — “Join us at our Tysons-Pimmit branch Saturday morning to participate in & enjoy the music performed by Ukulele Hui! This performance includes interactive elements. Ukulele Hui is part of the Hawai’i State Society of Washington, D.C.” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]

It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 84 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:57 am and sunset at 8:35 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

While it won’t be quiet around Fairfax County on Monday with Fourth of July celebrations, many government offices and facilities will be closed.

Government offices, and some businesses, are closed for the Independence Day holiday. Public transportation schedules may be lighter and public services, like trash collection, may be changed. See our listing below to get details on what will be open and closed.

Government

Fairfax County government offices will be closed Monday (July 4) in recognition of the Fourth of July holiday, but some facilities are open and schedules vary.

The library system’s branches will be closed on Monday. Animal Control is closed, as it normally is, on Mondays.

The Circuit and District courts will be closed Monday.

The Town of Herndon offices will be closed Monday.

Park Authority

All Park Authority rec centers and golf centers and will be open Monday. Historic sites, nature centers and Green Spring Gardens will be closed. Frying Pan Farm Park Farm and indoor arena will be open while its visitor center will be closed. The River Bend Park Visitor Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All Neighborhood and Community Service facilities will be closed Saturday (July 2) through Monday. Reston Community Center Hunter Woods will be open Monday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Lake Anne will be closed on Monday.

The McLean Community Center will be closed.

Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. But Herndon Centennial Golf Course will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting.

Transportation

Fairfax Connector will operate on a Saturday service schedule on Monday. Human Services Transportation (FASTRAN) will not operate on Monday.

On Monday, Metrorail will open at 7 a.m. and close at midnight but last train times vary by station. The Orange Line trains will operate between Vienna and Stadium-Armory only, according to Metro, but free express and local shuttle buses will be provided.

Trash

The county advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for service schedule changes due to the holiday.

The I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be closed Monday.

Town of Herndon recycling will be collected Tuesday (July 5) since it is normally collected Monday.

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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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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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Morning Notes

Plants grow over Vienna Metro station sign and fence (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Police Arrest Suspect in Car Part Thefts — “A 33-year-old Alexandria man is being held without bond after allegedly stealing thousands of dollars worth of vehicle parts in residential parking garages in Fairfax County and Fairfax City…The first theft was reported on April 19 in the 5800 block of Trinity Parkway in Centreville.” [ALXnow]

Fairfax Man Charged for Loudoun County Bomb Threat — “An 18-year-old man from Fairfax was arrested on Tuesday and charged in connection with a bomb threat that was emailed to Dominion High School on May 19.” [Patch]

Fairfax County to Study Free Bus Service — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff to analyze the pros and cons of making Fairfax Connector buses fare free for all riders, building off of a recently approved program providing 50% discounts to low-income riders. The results will be presented to the board at its transportation committee meeting on Sept. 30. [Patch]

Affordable Housing Units Open for Rent — The Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development was recently notified of potential vacancies in apartments targeted toward lower-income residents. There are currently available units in Oakton’s Dwell Vienna Metro Apartments, the Passport Apartments in Herndon, and The Kingston and Hanover in Tysons. [HCD]

Construction Firm Makes Reston Office Its HQ — “General contracting firm Winmar Construction Inc., one of the largest private companies in Greater Washington, is moving its headquarters from Georgetown to Reston. Rockville commercial real estate firm Edge said Tuesday it represented Winmar in a lease for 7,000 square feet at 2100 Reston Parkway.” [Washington Business Journal]

Vienna Proposes Change to Historic Register Criteria — “At the request of Historic Vienna Inc., the Vienna Town Council on July 11 will hold a public hearing to change the definition of ‘historic’ as ‘at least 100 years old.'” The town currently limits its register of historic sites and places to properties that existed before 1900. [Sun Gazette]

Repaved Wakefield Courts to Reopen — “After months of repairs and conversion of existing courts to pickleball courts, it’s time to officially open the renewed and renovated Wakefield Park tennis and pickleball court complex…Please join us on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at 9 a.m. for a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by a demonstration of [pickleball] and light refreshments.” [FCPA]

It’s Thursday — Possible light rain in the morning. High of 75 and low of 66. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:35 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax Connector buses in Reston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A new program will make bus fares half off for certain Fairfax Connector riders, including individuals with disabilities, low-income residents and aging adults.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a three-year agreement on Tuesday (May 24) for the plan, which would offer the discount to people making as much as twice the federal poverty level.

Those eligible for the benefit include “eligible older adults, individuals with limited income or individuals with disabilities residing in Fairfax County, the City of Fairfax or the City of Falls Church,” county staff said in the board agenda.

When discussing the program in December, the county planned to provide the discount to those with incomes of 225% of the federal poverty level, which would benefit individuals making up to $30,577 and families of four making up to $62,437.

“It is expected that this reduced fare program will aid families recovering from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and help restore Fairfax Connector ridership,” county staff said for the board item.

It’s unclear exactly when the reduced fares will be available. The agreement had a start date listed as May 1, but the county said it’s working with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to get special SmarTrip cards.

The agreement said those SmarTrip cards would be produced no later than June 1, and the county’s Neighborhood and Community Services will help administer the program.

“We know that this is a necessary mode of transportation for many of our vulnerable community members,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said at the board meeting.

The $9.7 million assistance will rely on nearly $5.5 million from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and supports the program through April 30, 2025.

The state funds come from DRPT’s Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP), which awards grants for projects to improve connectivity and reduce barriers to transit.

According to the county, low-income households represent approximately 58% of Fairfax Connector riders.

The county will also expand a free bus pass program for students later this year, Palchik said. More details are expected at a board transportation committee meeting on June 14.

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Morning Notes

Jean R. Packard Center at Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

FCPS Condemns Recent Mass Shootings — “Fairfax County Public Schools remains steadfast in our commitment to speak up and speak out against such acts of hatred and domestic terrorism. This past weekend, the Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Woods, California communities experienced unthinkable acts of violence. We grieve with the families who lost loved ones and are suffering.” [FCPS]

Metro Veers Into Another Safety Issue — “Metrorail repeatedly powered the electric third rail while workers were still on the roadway in recent weeks, bypassing safety procedures and putting people at risk of injury and death, according to a new report issued by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.” [DCist]

County Bus Workers Win Statewide Competition — “Fairfax Connector Operators and Maintenance Professionals excelled at the Virginia State Bus Roadeo last month…The Fairfax Connector/ Transdev Maintenance Team placed first in the maintenance team category and will represent the Commonwealth of Virginia in the International Bus Roadeo next year.” [Fairfax Connector]

Local Vietnamese Community Recognized — A Virginia Historical Marker recognizing the significance of Vietnamese immigrants in Northern Virginia will be dedicated at Eden Center in Falls Church on next Tuesday (May 24). The community was nominated by Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School students last year as part of a statewide Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month contest. [City of Falls Church]

Descano Left Out of Virginia Violent Crime Task Force — “Commonwealth’s attorneys Buta Biberaj, of Loudoun County; Amy Ashworth, of Prince William County; and Steve Descano, of Fairfax County, told WTOP they were unaware a task force was being assembled until Youngkin’s news release Monday. All three prosecutors are progressive Democrats.” [WTOP]

Food Trucks Pop Up at Courthouse — “NEW! Starting TOMORROW, 5/18 food trucks will be visiting the Courthouse Grounds THIS week, from 11:30am-2:30pm to offer lunch options.” [Fairfax County Circuit Court/Twitter]

Lake Anne Parking Lot to Close Next Week — “The Lake Anne Park parking lot will be closed off next week due to required warranty work, starting on May 23 through the 25th (weather dependent). A contractor will be seal coating and restriping the entire lot. Any vehicles left overnight will be towed.” [Reston Association/Twitter]

Sale of Tysons Broadcasting Company Approved — Tegna stockholders voted yesterday to approve a sale of the Tysons-headquartered company to investment firm Standard General. Expected to close in the second half of this year, the $5.4 billion deal will turn the broadcaster, which owns 64 TV stations in 51 markets across the country, into a private company. [Deadline]

“Wheel of Fortune” Coming to Tysons — “‘Wheel of Fortune Live!,’ a new live stage show, is kicking off a tour in September that includes a stop at Capital One Hall…Guests can audition to go on stage and will have the chance to spin a replica of the iconic wheel and solve puzzles to win prizes, including $10,000 and trips to Paris and Hawaii. Audience members will also have the chance to be randomly selected to win cash and prizes.” [Inside NoVA]

It’s Wednesday — Rain overnight. High of 72 and low of 52. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:19 pm. [Weather.gov]

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