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A Fairfax Connector bus stopped at the Tysons Metro station (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A bus route carrying passengers between western Fairfax County and Tysons on the new I-66 Express Lanes will take effect early next month.

Fairfax Connector will start operating its new Route 660 on Monday, Feb. 6, providing weekday, rush-hour service from the Stone Road Park & Ride in Centreville to the Tysons Metro station, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation announced Friday (Jan. 20).

The route will include stops at the Fairfax County Government Center, the Vienna Metro station and the intersection of Tysons Blvd and Westbranch Drive.

With the addition, the transit agency will eliminate Route 644, which currently connects Centreville and the Sully Government Center to the Vienna Metro on weekdays.

A couple of tweaks to service in the Reston and Herndon area will also go into effect on Saturday, Feb. 4:

  • Route 937: Coppermine-Elden-Herndon Metrorail Station — Southbound service on Route 937 will be realigned to serve Coppermine Rd, with a left turn to Frying Pan Rd. Northbound Route 937 remains unchanged.
  • Route 951: Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station to Innovation Center Metrorail Station — Eastbound service realigned to serve Coppermine Rd, with left turn to Frying Pan Rd. Westbound remains unchanged.

The service changes were approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in September. They’re being implemented slightly later than previously anticipated.

In a report, county staff said the changes are intended “to improve the customer experience and increase ridership through improved connectivity, on-time performance, service reliability, and effectiveness.”

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A new dashboard looking at transit around the region illustrates Fairfax Connector’s slow climb back to pre-pandemic ridership levels.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission recently released an interactive website that lets users break down ridership at various local transit services and compare and contrast those figures.

For Fairfax Connector, data from the last year of ridership shows a stark upswing that started in June and has gradually brought the system back up to pre-pandemic levels.

The bus system had a promising start to 2020 with 669,501 riders that January — higher than numbers for that month in previous years. Those numbers dove over the next two months as the Covid pandemic kicked into gear, dropping to a low of 248,866 riders in April.

Ridership only marginally recovered through the rest of 2020 and 2021, but the pace of recovery picked up in 2022 and shot up from June to July, reaching a post-pandemic high of 738,968 riders in August 2022. In September, Fairfax Connector surpassed pre-pandemic ridership for the same month for the first time since February 2020.

The Connector isn’t alone in this recovery. DASH in Alexandria and the CUE bus in the City of Fairfax saw similar recoveries in the second half of 2022.

In Alexandria, DASH’s dramatic uptick in ridership seemed fueled in part by switching to a fare-free system. Fairfax County was considering a similar move for the Connector, but that was tabled by the Board of Supervisors earlier this month in favor of a discounted rate for low-income passengers.

Overall transit ridership in the area, though, remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels — in large part due to Metro accounting for more than 78.6% of the region’s ridership.

Metro didn’t have quite the same dramatic return to pre-pandemic ridership in Virginia that Fairfax Connector experienced.

While Metro’s combined ridership for rail and bus was higher every month in 2022 than it was in 2021, it’s still half what it was in 2018 and 2019. In Virginia, Metro’s ridership for September was roughly 4.1 million — less than half of the 9.2 million riders in 2019.

Fairfax County doesn’t have the same high percentage of access to transit — around 61.3% of the total population — compared to neighbors like Arlington and Alexandria, but that’s to be expected given that it’s significantly larger with less urbanized areas.

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

Fairfax County is poised to halve Fairfax Connector fares for low-income riders, beginning in February, through a pilot program.

The Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) is a state grant initiative that aims to increase transit ridership. Reduced fares would only apply to individuals whose annual income is at or below 225% of the federal poverty level by household size. That would put the eligibility cap around $29,000 for an individual or $59,625 for a family of four.

The state awarded the county roughly $5.5 million for a three-year pilot program, which includes a county share of $4.2 million.

But at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee meeting last week, staff and board members concurred that permanently cutting fares for the bus system was not a financially prudent decision and could impact quality of service.

Instead, staff recommended continuing the county’s existing free fare programs, including free student bus passes and reduced fares for seniors and passengers with disabilities. Other programs include free transfers to and from WMATA bus and rail service and free rides for children under 4.

Staff also recommended expanding free fare to children between ages 5 and 11 with a paying adult.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay said that he supported the recommendation.

“I do think if we were to go full fare free, I am worried out about our capacity issues to be able to accommodate and degradation of service that may come as a result of that,” he said.

However, he said he was concerned that only up to two children could be eligible for free fares when traveling with a parent or guardian, asking the county to examine removing that cap.

Fairfax County Director of Transportation Tom Biesadny said his department would gladly look into the issue — which has remain untouched since the service began.

Bus fare reductions and eliminations have gained momentum in the D.C. region, as local leaders look to encourage the use of transit after ridership tumbled due to the pandemic. D.C. will waive Metrobus fares starting July 1, and Alexandria’s DASH system has been fare-free since fall 2021, though the operating costs may not be sustainable long-term.

John Zarbo of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation noted that while free fares would provide equitable access, increase ridership and cut fare collection cost, the possible repercussions were more severe.

Consequences include the loss of roughly $9 million in yearly ridership revenue, an increase in non-destination riders that could lead to security issues, and possible Title VI civil rights concerns on the impact of free fares to non-economically disadvantaged riders.

Staff also noted that the county would lose data specific to riders or fare categories because of the lack of a fare box, and the program could result in an inequitable benefit to county riders with only Metrobus options.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said she hopes the county will continue to find ways to invest in the program.

“We’re building lifelong riders,” she said.

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

Fairfax County officials are preparing for the launch of new bus services in the Reston and Herndon area through the Fairfax Connector.

The changes — which were approved by the Board of Supervisors in February — will connect commuters to the Herndon, Reston Town Center and Innovation Center Metro stations, which are set to open on Nov. 15.

“With the realigned service, buses will operate more frequently to link customers to new Metrorail Silver Line Stations, including new connections to employment, education, hospitals and key activity centers,” the county wrote in a news release.

Four new routes will be offered. One route will connect the Reston Town Center Transit Station to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, Fairfax County Government Center, Fair Oaks Mall, Fair Lakes and Greenbriar Center.

The Reston Town Center station will also have new Capital Bikeshare stations.

A second route will connect the Herndon Metro Station, Centerville Road, and the park and rides at Sully Station, Centerville and Centreville-UMC.

The third route — known as the Herndon Circulator — will provide connections between the Herndon Metro Station, Spring Street, downtown Herndon, Elden Street, Archer Avenue and Worldgate Drive.

The final route provides connections between Sterling Plaza, Crest View Drive, Herndon Parkway and the Herndon station.

A dozen other routes were also tweaked to provide replacement services. A breakdown of all bus service changes is available online.

Local transportation officials are set to discuss the Connector changes at a meeting tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Interested participants can join the meeting online through Microsoft Teams or by phone, calling 571-429-5982 with the passcode 795 911 947#.

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

A new circulator through the Town of Herndon is set to open when service for phase two of the Silver Line officially begins.

The Herndon Circulator — run through the Fairfax Connector — will include weekday and weekend service through the Herndon Metro station, Spring Street, Downtown Herndon, Elden Street, Parcher Avenue and Worldgate Drive.

“The route was developed in response to community input and to increase connectivity between downtown and the north side Herndon bus bays,” Robin Geiger, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said.

Service is expected to begin when trains start running for phase two, according to the county. It’s unclear that will begin.

Most recently, Metro’s general manager stated that Metro may be operationally prepared to seek safety certification from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission and Federal Transit Administration sometime this month.

An opening date has not yet been set, although a fall date is anticipated.

The route is one of several approved recently for Fairfax Connector. Other service changes include a new route between Tysons and Centreville that will take effect next year.

The route comes after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved several new routes and changes to the Fairfax Connector in February.

Under the plan, the county added four new routes, altered 19 existing bus routes, and eliminated 12 bus routes.

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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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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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