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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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Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts’ Filene Center will start its summer 2022 season on May 28 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax Connector will continue providing express bus service to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts for at least the next five years, but the point of origin will be different from years past.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized Director of Transportation Tom Biesiadny on Tuesday (May 10) to extend the county’s license agreement for the Wolf Trap Express shuttle with the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, the nonprofit that organizes the park’s programming.

Set to launch on May 28, the shuttle will transport passengers between the McLean Metro station in Tysons and Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, which will kick off its summer 2022 season that day with a lineup of go-go bands headlined by Big Tony and Trouble Funk.

The shuttle will only operate during Filene Center performances, leaving the McLean Metro at approximately 20-minute intervals starting two hours before each show until showtime.

Return trips will leave Wolf Trap 20 minutes after each show, but they will be available no later than 10:45 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday or 11:20 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Fairfax Connector previously ran the Wolf Trap Express service from the West Falls Church Metro station. It shifted to the McLean station, because it’s easier to access and shortens the travel time for buses, making it more convenient, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation says.

FCDOT spokesperson Robin Geiger notes that the new location will also save travelers from Reston and the western part of the county from having to transfer between Metro’s Silver and Orange lines.

Rail service on the Orange Line will be disrupted this summer, with five stations closing in D.C. for platform renovations. In addition, the county anticipates more passengers using the Silver Line in the future, assuming its second phase ever opens.

This will be the Filene Center’s first full summer season of the pandemic, after the 2020 season got canceled and last year’s was mostly limited by capacity restrictions and other health protocols.

“I’m excited for Wolf Trap to be back in full force this year,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.

According to county staff notes, Fairfax Connector has provided shuttle service for Filene Center performances since 2009. Originally signed on April 20, 2009, the agreement has been extended twice before, in 2010 and 2015.

The latest extension will keep the agreement in place until May 31, 2027.

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

Fairfax Connector has not formally rescinded its requirement that all passengers wear face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

However, a court ruling that struck down federal mandates last week means that the public bus service can no longer enforce its policy, which relied on a now-halted directive from the Transportation Security Administration.

Fairfax Connector is still encouraging passengers to keep wearing masks, according to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

“As we await clear guidance from the federal government, Fairfax Connector encourages our passengers to follow the CDC recommendations and wear masks while riding Fairfax Connector,” Robin Geiger, head of communications for FCDOT, told FFXnow.

After Florida U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled on April 18 that the federal government had overstepped in requiring masks on mass transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it will stop enforcing a mandate that had been in effect since January 2021.

The CDC still recommends that people wear masks while in indoor public transportation settings, and it announced last Wednesday (April 20) that it has asked the Department of Justice to appeal Mizelle’s ruling. The Justice Department filed an appeal that same day.

Geiger confirmed that the future of Fairfax Connector’s mask policy will depend on the outcome of the court appeal.

Masks are currently optional on Metro, Fairfax CUE buses, and Virginia Railway Express trains.

Greeted by both cheers and trepidation, a range of reactions shared by FFXnow readers, the end of the federal mask mandate for transportation came as COVID-19 cases have once again started to climb locally and nationally.

As of yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax Health District, which includes the county and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, was averaging 279 daily cases for the past seven days. According to the Fairfax County Health Department, the district has seen a 62% increase in cases over the last two weeks, and there have been 15 new outbreaks in the past week, 12 of them in schools and daycares.

“Although not as high as the peak in cases seen in January, this change is concerning,” the FCHD said, urging community members to consider risk levels in their day-to-day activities and continue taking precautions — including wearing a mask when indoors or around crowds.

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A Fairfax County bus driver waits for the next segment of his route (staff photo by David Taube)

Fairfax County plans to reduce service on some bus routes due to budget constraints, even as a program allowing free transfers to and from Metrorail could become permanent.

On the Newington Circulator (Route 334), Fairfax Connector has proposed reducing weekday service from every 30 minutes to rush hours and a single mid-day trip.

Similar limitations are also being considered for Route 495 between Burke Centre and Tysons. In addition, the north end of the route will be shortened between Tysons West*Park Transit Center and the Tysons Corner Center area, though service will still be provided there by other routes.

Fairfax Connector has also proposed some service enhancements to the Springfield Business Connector (Routes 350 and 351), which travels between the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, Springfield Town Center, and Northern Virginia Community College’s medical campus.

To improve efficiency, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation says Route 350 will be split into two new routes:

  • Route 352: will provide non rush-hour and midday service between the Franconia Metro station and Springfield Town Center
  • Route 353: will serve Metro Park

Route 351, which serves the NOVA medical campus and the Transportation Security Administration during rush-hour periods, will get expanded service outside of rush hour.

The county is also looking to reduce fares for the Pentagon and Crystal City Express from Reston (Route 599) from $7.50 to $4.25, starting this fall, thanks to a $154,500 grant from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

Aside from express services, which have a $2 fare discount, Fairfax Connector rides have been free for all transferring Metro train passengers since Sept. 5. FCDOT has proposed adopting those changes permanently.

The Route 599 and Metro transfer fare reductions are separate from the county’s plan to cut all fares in half for low-income riders. As of December, county staff said that Transit Ridership Incentive Program could begin this summer.

The proposed Fairfax Connector changes will be discussed in an online meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday).

Comment can be provided through May 6 by mail or phone. An online survey in English and Spanish will open tomorrow, coinciding with the virtual meeting.

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Morning Notes

Flowers and plants line tables on the side of Franconia Road in front of Edison High School for the athletic boosters’ spring flower sale, which runs through at least Memorial Day (staff photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Starbucks Workers Vote Down Union — “A streak of unionizing at Starbucks has been broken, with workers at a store in Springfield, Virginia, voting against the union.” [NPR, Twitter]

Last Day for Donations — The donation drive to help Ukrainians that the Northern Virginia Regional Commission organized is coming to an end today. Donations can be dropped off in locations in Fairfax County, Alexandria, Arlington and other locations. [Twitter]

Homes are Hot in Dunn Loring — “The Dunn Loring area was the hottest in the Sun Gazette’s Fairfax County coverage area in terms of home-buyer interest over the past month, according to new data.” [Sun Gazette]

Clean Up a Tysons Roadway — “The Great Falls Group @SierraClub will pick up litter & debris on 1.32 miles of Jones Branch Dr, Tysons Corner. Come out to meet & mingle with other Club members, & help clean up a roadway! Litter bags will be provided.” Pickup is on Saturday, 4/23, 9 a.m.-11 a.m.  [Twitter]

County Wants Input on Connector Changes — “Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will hold a virtual community input meeting, Wednesday, April 20, 2022 at 7 p.m on Fairfax Connector proposed service changes for October 2022. The public is encouraged to give feedback on the proposed changes via an online survey (survey begins Wednesday, April 20, 2022), email, mail and by phone through May 6, 2022.” [Fairfax County Government]

First County Poet Laureate Tenure Ends — “#FairfaxCounty, it’s been an honor to be your first poet laureate. I wrote this poem to mark the end of my tenure and delivered it at tonight’s Board meeting. Thanks for trusting me to serve, @artsfairfax !” [Twitter]

It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 67 and low of 47. Sunrise at 6:33 a.m. and sunset at 7:47 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Neighborhood Watch sign by Lake Audubon townhouses in Reston (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Masks Still Required on County Buses — “The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), upon the recommendation from the CDC, is extending the security directive for mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for one month, through April 18, 2022.” [Fairfax Connector]

Traffic Disruption Scheduled in Herndon — “Crews will be working at the intersection of Elden Street and Monroe Street to replace the current traffic signal pole and mast arm. On Friday, March 11th, a brief traffic disruption of approximately 15 minutes will be required as the mast arm is installed. We recommend using Herndon Parkway and the routes shown as an alternative to using Elden Street.” [Town of Herndon]

Inova Hospital Starts Expanded Hours Today — “Effective March 11, we will have expanded hours for visitors. Visitors must be 16 years or older. Everyone must wear a surgical/medical-grade face mask at all times. Mask will be provided if needed.” [Inova/Twitter]

Work on Broad & Washington Project Could Begin Soon — “The Insight Group is getting its massive project at that corner of downtown Falls Church’s central intersection underway at last, with the anchor of the project to be a mega-Whole Foods supermarket, a new home for the Creative Cauldron theater and 339 rental apartments.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Vienna Looks to Cut Real Estate Taxes — “Town Manager Mercury Payton presented the budget proposal Monday. The budget proposes reducing the real estate tax rate by 1 cent from $0.2225 to $0.2125 per $100 of assessed value. Town of Vienna property owners pay this real estate tax on top of Fairfax County’s real estate tax.” [Patch]

Grand Opening Coming for New Reston Fire Station — The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will hold a grand opening for its new Fire Station 25 at 1820 Wiehle Avenue in Reston at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday). [Hunter Mill District News]

“Saturday School” Planned in Lincolnia — “Glasgow Middle School Principal Victor Powell is tapping some of his school’s share of federal pandemic relief funding to host an estimated 260 students and their parents in sessions designed to boost reading, math and social-emotional skills, as well as get students and parents alike inspired to think about college and goal-setting for the future.” [FCPS]

McLean Chocolate Festival Returns — “The 10th Annual McLean Chocolate Festival, sponsored by the Rotary Club of McLean, will be held April 24 at the McLean Community Center…Due to the pandemic, the club did not hold a festival last year. However, in 2020, almost 3,000 people attended, and organizers expect a similar number at this year’s event.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Daylight Saving Time Starts This Weekend — Get ready to move your clocks ahead one hour. Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday (March 13), running through Nov. 6. We’ll lose an hour of sleep but hopefully be spending more time in the sun. If you hate these changes, you’re with most Americans, and a congressional panel this week looked at why we might want to end this annual custom. [The Washington Post]

It’s Friday — Rain overnight. High of 58 and low of 37. Sunrise at 6:27 am and sunset at 6:13 pm. [Weather.gov]

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

As phase two of the Silver Line nears completion, Fairfax County is adapting other transportation options to accommodate the new service.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposal yesterday (Tuesday) to update Fairfax Connector bus routes in Reston and Herndon. The changes will maximize efficiency and the number of riders, according to board chair Jeff McKay.

County staff combed through more than 1,700 comments about the bus plan, which was developed in three rounds before and during the pandemic. Michael Felschow, who runs the planning division of the county’s transit services division, told the board that staff read through all comments and attempted to make changes as necessary.

“This is a pretty significant redo of many of the routes in the Reston and Herndon area,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, noting that the county discovered the service was being used to get around Reston and Herndon, not just to and from Metro.

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

Here are the new routes:

  • 615 Fair Oaks Hospital – Greenbriar – Fair Oaks Mall: Serving as a connection between Fair Oaks Hospital and Fair Oaks Mall, the route offers Restonians more connections to Fair Oaks.
  • 901 Herndon Metrorail Station – Centreville: The route is intended to improve connectivity between Herndon, Centreville and Chantilly.
  • 921 Herndon Circulator: This route serves as a loop through the town, connecting downtown Herndon and historical areas to the Herndon Metrorail Station. It also serves Parcher Avenue, Spring Street and Van Buren Street, which are not currently served by public transit.
  • 954 Sterling Plaza – Herndon Metrorail Station: All-day service is provided between Sterling Plaza and the Herndon Metrorail Station. More connections are also offered along Herndon Parkway and Crestview Drive.

The county’s website offers a full breakdown, including the justification for the changes.

The changes will go into effect when the new Silver Line stations open. A firm opening date for the long-delayed Silver Line expansion has not yet been set. Officials estimate that trains could begin rolling in late spring.

The eliminated and modified routes are listed after the jump.

Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools won’t hold classes for a third consecutive day this week, citing inclement weather in an announcement released just before 5 p.m.

The region could see freezing rain between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), according to the National Weather Service, following Monday’s snowstorm that pummeled the region with over half a foot of snow in areas.

The NWS has issued a “Potential Winter Commuting Hazard” for Fairfax County, warning that there is a 30-50% chance of light freezing rain after 4 a.m. “that could turn into a glaze of ice on area roads.”

“Plan ahead by staying off the roads if possible,” the county said in a blog post. “If you do need to travel, allow for additional time and be extra cautious and alert while driving.”

FCPS said in a Facebook post that meal distribution will return at regular locations on Thursday (Jan. 6), and school offices will open later in the day tomorrow (Wednesday).

The school system tentatively expects to open its COVID-19 testing sites to staff and students who are experiencing symptoms, though a final decision won’t be made until tomorrow morning. Pre-registration is required, and only PCR tests will be available.

Testing is not required for students to be able to return to schools, whenever they reopen.

FCPS’ announcement comes after Monday’s snowstorm caused tens of thousands of Fairfax County homes to lose power and hundreds of crashes. As of this evening (Tuesday), Dominion’s power outage map showed over 7,000 customers in the county with electric issues.

The storm disrupted travel, but Fairfax Connector buses were slated to resume tomorrow (Wednesday). County officials asked commuters to use its BusTracker system in case any detours were still in effect.

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2022 written in fireworks (via Moritz Knöringer/Unsplash)

With New Year’s Day arriving this Saturday, many Fairfax County government facilities and services will be taking tomorrow (Friday) off.

Here is a breakdown of the county’s schedule for the New Year’s holiday:

County Government Offices

  • Most offices will be closed throughout the day on New Year’s Eve.

Fairfax County Public Schools

  • Schools remain closed for the winter break. Classes are scheduled to resume on Monday (Jan. 3).
  • The Gatehouse Administrative Center is hosting a drive-through diagnostic testing site from noon to 4 p.m. today (Thursday) and tomorrow. Students should be registered online in advance.

Fairfax County Public Library

  • All branches will be closed on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Courts

County Parks and Recreation Centers

Community and Senior Centers

  • All Neighborhood and Community Services facilities will be closed from Friday through Sunday (Jan. 2).
  • The Cathy Hudgins Community Center at Southgate has modified hours today, closing at 5 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.
  • The Pimmit Hills Senior Center is already closed until Jan. 3, and as of Tuesday (Dec. 28), the South County senior and teen centers have been closed until further notice “due to COVID-19 conditions,” according to the website.
  • The McLean and Reston community centers are both closed for New Year’s Eve and Day.

Trash and Recycling

Transportation

  • Fairfax Connector will follow a Saturday service schedule tomorrow and Saturday. See the website for details about what routes will be available.
  • FASTRAN shuttles will not operate on New Year’s Eve or Day.
  • For New Year’s Eve, Metrorail will start service two hours later than a standard weekday, operating from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. On New Year’s Day, trains will run from 7 a.m. to midnight.
  • Metrobus will use a Sunday schedule for New Year’s Eve before following its typical Saturday schedule on New Year’s Day.

Photo via Moritz Knöringer/Unsplash

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