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A train at the McLean Metro station platform (file photo)

Local and state officials in Virginia say the path to dig Metro out of its looming $750 million deficit is uncertain — but action is necessary to avoid the significant service cuts, systemwide fare hikes, layoffs and station closures laid out in the transit agency’s newly proposed budget.

Leaders in Fairfax County — which already faces lean economic times — say they don’t plan to offer up additional funds unless jurisdictional and federal partners can throw some more skin into the game.

“What we have said is there’s absolutely no way that local governments can bear the responsibility of that entire bill,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told FFXnow in an interview before the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority released its official budget proposal.

WMATA has been sounding the alarm on its projected budget shortfall since June.

“What I think you’re going to see happen is there’s going to be some matching and some partnerships,” McKay said.

In a first glimpse of the proposed budget, which was released last Tuesday (Dec. 12), Metro General Manager Randy Clarke laid out what would happen if Metro can’t secure local, state and federal funds to address a problem that has been coalescing for years.

“Metro is facing an unprecedented, existential crisis that requires our region to rally together if we want to avoid the catastrophic impacts this budget would have on our region,” he said.

The system would close at 10 p.m. every day and shutter 10 low-ridership stations. Silver Line trains would turn back at Stadium-Armory, with trains running between Ashburn and that station. Similar reduced turn-backs would take place on the Red Line.

Trains would run every 15 minutes for most stations — a 17 to 67% increase in wait-times across the board on weekdays — and every 20 minutes on weekends for most stations — a 40 to 70% increase. Fares would also jump by 20%.

Among other cuts and more than 2,000 layoffs, Metro would use $193 million from its capital funds to cover operating maintenance expenses — essentially borrowing against the future.

“Such a large transfer of capital funds to operating expenses puts the system’s state of good repair, including safety and reliability, at risk, and threatens to delay, defer, decrease, or cancel several long-term projects to modernize the system,” WMATA cautioned in a press release.

But it’s unclear when and if local and state bodies will offer up enough funding. The subsidized system relies on annual subsidies from Maryland, Virginia and D.C., as well as fare revenue and federal dollars. The fiscal year 2025 budget begins July 1, 2024.

Metro needs subsidy increases of $180 million from Virginia, which has already allocated $348 million. Similar increases are sought from other jurisdictions. The upcoming General Assembly session will determine how much the state is willing to put down to assuage the bleeding after federal COVID-19 funding ends for the system. Read More

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Eastbound Little River Turnpike is closed at Hummer Road after a Metrobus driver reportedly hit a pedestrian (via Google Maps)

A woman suffered serious injuries earlier this evening (Monday) when she was apparently hit by a Metrobus on Little River Turnpike.

“Officers are investigating a bus crash involving a pedestrian that occurred on Little River [Turnpike] and Hummer [Road] in Annandale,” the Fairfax County Police Department said. “The pedestrian, an adult female, was transported in life-threatening condition.”

Eastbound Little River Turnpike was shut down at Hummer.

First responders were dispatched to that intersection for the crash just before 10 p.m., according to scanner traffic on Open MHz. When police and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department units arrived, the woman was found trapped under the front wheels of the bus.

“It does look like we’ve got one patient with severe head wounds. She is alert and conscious right now,” an FCFRD responder said at 10:04 p.m.

The fire department responder in command reported at 10:10 p.m. that the trapped woman was a pedestrian and the vehicle was a Metrobus.

Metro didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The woman was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital with serious injuries. No passengers were on the bus, per the scanner.

Map via Google Maps

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The Silver Line Phase 2 Metro stations opened on Nov. 15, 2022 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at noon) Trains are taking off at the Dulles Airport Metro station one year after the opening of Phase Two of the Silver Line — but ridership at the other five stations of the $3 million project has a long way to catch up.

In the backdrop of post-pandemic recovery, ridership for stations beyond the airport is modest, according to Metro data.

More than 3.5 million trips later, daily average ridership on the rail extension hovers at 3,600 trips. Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) planners had hoped for 20,000 riders a day when the rail line was being planned in the early 2000s.

But that was well before the pandemic upended how people work and travel, among other societal trends.

Jordan Pascale, a spokesperson for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), emphasized that “many factors have changed since then,” especially the massive shift to telework that has contributed to reduced revenue and a $750 million budget shortfall.

As more companies usher — and, in some cases, threaten — their employees to return to long-empty offices, Pascale notes that the Metro system has recovered more than half of the riders it lost at the onset of the pandemic.

“Our ridership has continually increased, but recovered unevenly with strong ridership on weekends, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays,” Pascale said.

While Dulles Airport boasts more than 1.2 million cumulative entries, the stations in Herndon and Reston hover in the mid-to-high 400,000s.

Herndon has had more than 482,000 entries since service began last November, compared to 431,000 at Innovation Center and 450,356 at Reston Town Center. Ashburn has the second highest ridership figures (774,000), while Loudoun Gateway — which is on the west end of the rail — stood at 156,000, as of Nov. 12.

“The biggest wins are probably the new connectivity with Dulles Airport and across the Dulles Corridor,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who represents Reston. “The rail line provides convenient options for airport passengers and workers, and for many who live and work in the Dulles Corridor. It has also reduced the number of vehicles driving to and parking in the commuter garage at the Wiehle Reston-East station.” Read More

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A Metro train at the Vienna station (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

As Metro considers ways to address a looming $750 million shortfall and stave off changes to its operations, officials are requesting jurisdictions, including Virginia, review their options to help address the funding deficit that threatens thousands of jobs and various services.

Metro hopes policymakers in the commonwealth will consider adjusting the state law that sets a 3% cap on the growth of Virginia’s annual payment to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Dedicating more funding to Metro and overlooking the demands of other transportation projects, however, concerns some lawmakers and transportation leaders.

The shortfall

[Earlier this month], Metro officials made their case to Virginia leaders at the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s work session and joint House and Senate Transportation meeting in Arlington.

“We are obviously trying to avoid the cuts, but to do that, we need the cap [readjusted] and the certainty around funding,” said Randy Clarke, general manager and CEO of Metro, speaking at the Oct. 17 CTB work session.

As the agency faces a loss of COVID-19 relief funding at the end of the fiscal year, Metro officials said the reasons for the expected shortfall include revenue decreases since the COVID-19 pandemic, contractual commitments such as bargaining agreements and increased inflation costs.

In the meantime, Metro is focused on belt-tightening to avoid potential layoffs of about 5,000 employees, hiring freezes, and service cuts; the agency is also considering fare increases. Clarke said Metro is closely managing its operating expenses to help with carryover to the next fiscal year, and it could have a recurring fund of $50 million every year going forward for the next 10 years as part of an earlier initiative to create a savings plan.

“We’ve significantly reduced the …deficit for this year, but some of these are one-year solutions, but I think everyone again is just trying to figure out a more holistic path forward,” Clarke said.

On Oct. 19, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shep Miller told the Mercury at the Governor’s Transportation Conference that region and state transportation leaders are considering Metro’s proposed shortfall. However, after speaking with committee members, it’s unclear which body will take up Metro’s request.

At the Oct. 17 work session, Miller said Metro is an important system and has been on “good footing” compared to previous years marked by management issues. Still, the agreement between the jurisdictions, and the millions of dollars each is being asked to contribute to Metro, is a difficult matter.

“Whether the number is 750 or whether it’s 500, or whether it’s 350, on an annual basis, [it] is going to be a choker for the folks that got to come up with the money,” Miller said.

3% cap

Clarke said Metro needs some clarity on what funding adjustments Virginia can make to address the expected deficit, ideally by December. To help address the $750 million shortfall, Metro officials are proposing Maryland and Virginia adjust their 3% cap on the growth of their annual payments to WMATA, which would require a one-time adjustment for fiscal year 2025.

However, in Virginia, any changes to the state law could be a lengthy process.

“Virginia, Maryland and the District all have different calendars and the timing and some of the things that the general manager and his team will have to enact or put in place [makes for] a very complicated situation that we’ll have to work through,” said Paul Smedberg, chair of the Metro Board of Directors. Read More

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The planned Tier 2 Concourse East project coming to Dulles International Airport (courtesy MWAA)

United Airlines is in line for a major expansion of its facilities at Dulles International Airport.

Construction on a new concourse for the airport’s largest carrier could break ground within the next month, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority President and CEO Jack Potter told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a Tuesday (Oct. 17) transportation committee meeting.

Dubbed Tier-2 Concourse East, the $580 million project will add 400,000 square feet on top of the existing C and D concourse, replacing Concourse A gates built in the 1990s that require passengers to use outdoor, covered walkways to get to their planes.

Expected to become operational in 2026, the new concourse will have 14 gates, seven of them capable of accommodating larger planes for international flights. It will also directly connect to the airport’s underground Aerotrain system, which is currently only accessible from the C/D concourse by a pedestrian walkway that “people find that very inconvenient,” Potter said.

“I think it’s going to significantly improve the customer experience,” Potter said, noting that the C/D concourse has undersized rooms and lacks sufficient space for concessions. “That’s the two things we’re trying to drive on: we want capacity, but we also want to really make sure that we improve the customer experience.”

Work on the concourse project is kicking into gear as Dulles Airport and Reagan National Airport fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, combining for 4.6 million passengers in August to surpass 2019 levels, according to Potter’s presentation to the transportation committee.

While that demand was initially driven by National Airport in Arlington, a resurgence of international travel has now pushed Dulles ahead of its more constrained counterpart in terms of growth, Potter said.

Dulles is serving more passengers from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe than it was before the pandemic, and domestic travel has returned to 97% of 2019 levels, according to MWAA. The only region significantly lagging is Asia, which Potter attributed to “the geopolitical situation” in China.

Metro’s extension of the Silver Line through Dulles Airport has been a “win-win” for MWAA and Fairfax County, Potter said, as the accompanying influx of development and businesses along the Dulles corridor feeds traffic at both of the D.C. area’s major airports.

In addition to giving fliers a new travel option, the station has expanded MWAA’s reach when it comes to recruiting employees, who get incentives for using transit, Potter told the committee. The Dulles station hit 1 million passengers on Oct. 4 — accounting for a third of the over 3 million people who have used the six new Silver Line stations since they opened last Nov. 15.

“We are selling very, very strongly to international destinations and travelers that they can come into Dulles Airport and take transit to downtown [D.C.] and any other destination served by the Metro,” Potter said. “It is a very, very good selling point.”

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Vehicles pass Wiehle-Reston East Metro station on the Dulles Toll Road (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Reston Association’s Board of Directors has formally come out in opposition to the possibility of a casino near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.

In a statement released yesterday (Monday), RA CEO Mac Cummins lamented what he said was lack of communication with RA’s leadership, board and members regarding potential state legislation that would add Fairfax County to the list of Virginia localities authorized to have a casino.

“We strongly believe that a casino in our community, surrounded by natural areas including lakes, tree canopy and natural trails valued by our residents, would be detrimental to the property values of our homes and inconsistent with our values as a community,” Cummins wrote in a statement.

Reston-based developer Comstock has shown interest in building a casino near the Metro Station, Reston Patch reported last week.

First, the General Assembly must approve state-enabling legislation. Then, county voters would participate in a referendum on whether a casino should be allowed.

The necessary bills were first introduced — and quickly withdrawn — by state Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37) and Del. Wren Williams (R-9) this past January, as the Washington Business Journal reported. It specified that the casino should be located within one quarter-mile of a Silver Line Metro station, part of a mixed-used development, outside the Dulles airport flight path and outside the I-495 Beltway.

In a letter to Marsden, who plans to re-introduce the bill next year if he’s reelected, RA board president John Farrell expressed disappointment and shock.

“Reston has just finished a 4-year citizen-led effort to update our Master Plan. The Fairfax Board of Supervisors adopted that Comprehensive Plan Amendment on September 12, 2023,” he wrote. “Nowhere in that plan is a casino contemplated for Reston.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn has also publicly stated that he opposes the establishment of a casino in Reston.

Virginia currently only allows casino gambling in five cities. The proposed amendment from Marsden and Williams would’ve expanded that to any locality with over 1 million residents and a county executive form of government — criteria matched only by Fairfax County.

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The faregates at the Vienna Metro station are sporting a new look.

Workers installed taller doors on the gates on Aug. 9 as part of a systemwide retrofit project intended to combat fare evasion, which costs Metro an estimated $40 million per year in lost revenue, according to the transit agency.

“The bottom line is fare evasion is not okay, and we will continue our efforts to ensure everyone is respecting the community’s system and each other,” Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority CEO and General Manager Randy Clarke said in a news release announcing the rollout of the project last month.

The Vienna station is the only one in Fairfax County to be featured in the project’s first phase, which also includes stations in Arlington, D.C. and Maryland.

The first phase is expected to be completed by early fall. A Metro spokesperson says there are no updates yet beyond that initial timeline, but all 103 rail stations are slated to get the retrofit over the next year.

At 55 inches tall, the new doors are stronger and more resilient than the original faregates, which were updated just last year, WMATA said.

The new design includes an L-shape door panel that extends over the faregate to minimize gaps between the openings. The increase in barrier height from the original 28 to 48-inch prototype to 55 inches will also make it more difficult to jump over faregates. The new height is taller than a hockey net or nearly half the height of a standard basketball hoop.

The swing doors are made of a polycarbonate which is 200 times stronger than glass, lighter weight, and more durable. The final design also includes more robust hinges and a more powerful motor to strengthen the door. As stations are retrofitted with the new barriers, Metro is also raising the height of fencing and emergency gates.

Metro will install a single door panel for all regular faregates, and double door panels at the wider gates for accessibility and wheelchairs.

Prior to the rollout of the new doors, Metro launched a reduced fare program that lets SNAP recipients who live in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. ride its trains and buses at a 50% discount.

“To-date, more than 1600 customers have enrolled, taking nearly 17,000 combined trips,” WMATA said on July 24.

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The National Weather Service’s radar shows a line of storms approaching the D.C. area from the west (via NWS)

Updated at 5:35 p.m. — The storm has been deemed “destructive” for Clifton, Burke and Annandale, with the National Weather Service warning of “considerable damage to trees and power lines” and that “your life is at significant risk if outdoors.”

Earlier: A storm bringing intense winds and potentially even hail or a tornado is bearing down on the D.C. area.

In anticipation of the weather, the Fairfax County Park Authority closed several outdoor facilities at 4 p.m., including the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, the Martin Luther King Jr. Pool in Gum Springs and Our Special Harbor Spray Park in Groveton.

All golf courses and driving ranges, marinas and park amusements, like carousels, have also been shut down. Outdoor classes and activities have either been canceled or moved indoors.

With the line of storms moving eastward, the northwestern part of the county is expected to get hit first. The National Weather Service has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning until 5:15 p.m. for that area, including Reston, Herndon and possibly Tysons.

The alert warns of 60 mph wind gusts and quarter-sized hail.

“Damaging winds will cause some trees and large branches to fall,” the NWS said. “This could injure those outdoors, as well as damage homes and vehicles. Roadways may become blocked by downed trees. Localized power outages are possible. Unsecured light objects may become projectiles.”

The storm is expected to arrive during the afternoon rush-hour around 5-7 p.m., prompting local federal government offices and other many workplaces to send employees home early.

Metro is “deploying additional resources to respond to weather-related issues” that may affect its service, activating its Emergency Operations Center.

“Severe delays, disruptions, and detours in Metro bus, rail, and paratransit service are possible due to extremely high winds, road conditions and other hazards,” Metro said in a news release.

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The McLean Metro station’s existing south entrance (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 5 p.m.) By the end of this year, Capital One Center might have a more convenient entrance to the McLean Metro station.

Construction on a north entrance for the station is underway and on track for completion by the end of the year, according to a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokesperson.

To ensure the project can be finished, the WMATA Board of Directors approved an access agreement at its meeting on Thursday (July 27) that will enable the transit agency’s contractors to “cross and occupy” Capital One’s property.

“The contractor will immediately establish a storage area, continue site work and begin using the Capital One property to access the construction site,” Metro staff said in a summary of the agreement. “Because of the urgency of continuing contracted work, the resolution requests that this approval take immediate effect.”

The new entrance will be located north of Route 123 (Dolley Madison Blvd) near the Scotts Crossing Road intersection. Riders can currently only access the station at 1824 Dolley Madison Blvd from the south side near Scotts Run, where there is also a small kiss-and-ride lot.

According to WMATA, the project includes the “addition of double doors in the north curtainwall, exterior sidewalks, lighting and other necessary improvements.”

The project’s $1.3 million budget is primarily being funded by Fairfax County through I-66 toll revenues awarded by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission in 2021.

Capital One also agreed to contribute $300,000 and will pay for any additional work that’s needed, such as “steps, additional lighting and relocation of a waterline,” Metro staff said.

Under the approved access agreement, WMATA and its contractors are required to restore any portion of Capital One’s property affected by construction to its existing condition. The transit agency could also be on the hook for up to $10 million if there are any costs related to injuries or property damages.

While the new entrance is expected to be finished this year, it won’t officially open to the public until Capital One completes construction on the adjacent Capital One East lot, according to the Metro spokesperson.

Replacing a parking lot, Capital One Center opened a temporary baseball park on the lot earlier this year. A permanent urban park with recreational amenities, landscaping, a plaza and food truck parking is also planned for the site.

Back in March, the developer said construction on the urban park could start later this year and wrap up in late 2024. Capital One Center didn’t immediately return a new request for comment.

Correction: The headline initially suggested that the new Metro station entrance will open this year. WMATA says that, while construction will be finished, an opening won’t come until Capital One finishes its work.

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Free shuttles are available from the Vienna Metro station until it reopens on July 17 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Train service will be back at the Vienna and Dunn Loring Metro stations, starting Monday (July 17).

The two stations at the western end of the Orange Line have out of commission since June 3 so Metro crews could replace a 40-year-old rail and install fiber-optics cables. The project also affected the West and East Falls Church stations, which reopened on June 26.

“Replacing this section of rail was critical to ensuring the Orange Line is safe and reliable for years to come,” Metro Chief of Infrastructure Andy Off said, announcing the project’s completion. “We appreciate our customers’ patience while we completed this important work to improve our system.”

The rail between the Vienna and Ballston stations was some of the oldest in the Metro system and needed to be replaced “to improve safety and reliability,” according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

During the second phase of the project, workers replaced nearly 25 miles of rail and removed over 97,000 linear feet of vegetation around the Vienna and Dunn Loring stations. Another 15.5 miles of rail and 42,000 linear feet of vegetation was addressed during the first phase focused on the Falls Church stations.

“Overgrown plants and brush…could cause an obstruction during a storm,” Metro said in its press release.

After the Orange Line stations reopen, the transit agency will shift its construction efforts east to the Green Line between Fort Totten in D.C. and Greenbelt, Maryland:

Summer construction will now move to the Green Line beginning July 22, when Metro will install fiber-optic cable, replace platform edge lighting, and replace power cables and switch machines. Upgrading the switch machines and installation of the new cables will ensure reliable service for years to come.

Green Line stations between Fort Totten and Greenbelt will be closed from Saturday, July 22, to Monday, September 4. Green Line service at Fort Totten will be unavailable July 22 and July 23. Red Line service will remain available at Ft. Totten. Frequent free shuttle buses will replace trains between the affected stations. Customers are advised to allow extra time for their travel. In addition to prominent signage and announcements in the stations and on trains, additional Metro staff will be available to assist customers at the affected stations.

Metro’s train service runs from 5 a.m. to midnight on Monday through Thursday, 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, and 7 a.m. to midnight on Sunday.

This weekend, free local shuttles between the Vienna, Dunn Loring and West Falls Church stations will continue to be available during those hours, along with express service between Vienna and West Falls Church.

Dunn Loring riders won’t be entirely free of construction next week. Work to replace two escalators at the station has been underway since mid-March and is expected to continue until the end of October.

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