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The newly constructed I-66 Express Lanes from Gainesville to Centreville will open ahead of schedule (courtesy FAM Construction)

If you’re driving along the highways in Northern Virginia, do you usually hop into an express lane or do you prefer to tough it out in the normal lanes with the rest of the proletariat?

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced last week that the new I-66 Express Lanes running from the Beltway down to Centreville are set to fully open today (Tuesday).

“[VDOT and partners] announced today that the westbound direction of the new 66 Express Lanes from I-495 (Capital Beltway) to Route 28 in Centreville remains on schedule to open on or about this Saturday, Nov. 19,” VDOT said in a release. “The eastbound direction of this same 13-mile section of express lanes is expected to open by the end of November and could open as early as next Tuesday, Nov. 22, depending on weather and other factors.”

Along with the expansion, this month marks the 10-year anniversary of the express lanes opened on I-495. Since Express Lanes started being added to the highways around Northern Virginia, they’ve become largely ubiquitous along I-495, I-95 and I-395.

Intended to allow faster travel, the lanes charge vehicles based on demand, which can lead to eye-popping tolls. In two weeks, drivers will need to have at least two passengers to use the I-66 lanes for free, an increase from the current HOV-2 requirement.

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation advertises the coming opening of Metro’s Silver Line extension at the Mosaic District Fall Festival (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 9:40 a.m. on 9/30/2022) Metro’s extension of the Silver Line through Herndon into Loudoun County is finally starting to look like a reality, instead of a hypothetical, albeit expensive, project.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority unveiled new maps for its rail system last Friday (Sept. 23) that featured the six new stations, among other changes. A day earlier, its general manager got the go-ahead to set an opening date, though one has yet to be announced.

Coming six years after its initial projected opening of 2016, Silver Line Phase 2 will bring the D.C. region’s subway system into Loudoun for the first time, with stops at Dulles International Airport and Ashburn. Along the way, trains will pass through Reston Town Center, Herndon, and Innovation Center in the Dulles area.

Despite frustrations with the project’s many delays, Fairfax County officials remain hopeful that the rail line’s arrival will be a boon for residents and businesses in Reston and Herndon, fueling growth akin to what Tysons has seen since the Silver Line’s first phase opened there in 2014.

Are you excited to enter the shiny new Silver Line stations, potentially as soon as next month? Or have Metro’s ongoing safety and reliability issues turned you off of the transit system for now?

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A person prepares for work with laptop and coffee (via Clay Banks/Unsplash)

There has been no shortage of thinkpieces about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed workplaces, from the waning demand for office space to widespread staffing deficits as workers reevaluated their goals and working conditions.

One trend that may be here to stay is the growing acceptance of remote work, with many people who can telework saying they would do it all or most of the time, if given the option.

While available, detailed data on remote work is limited, about a third of workdays are now being done from home, a decline from the height of office shutdowns in 2020 but well above pre-pandemic levels, The Washington Post reported in August.

According to the Post, remote work has been most prevalent in white-collar sectors, like finance and technology. Northern Virginia, including Fairfax County, is among the places with the highest remote-work rates.

Though many offices have reopened, commuting remains down in the D.C. region. In Virginia, 35.9% of businesses increased telework during the pandemic, and 64.7% of them intend to stick with it after the pandemic, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission says based on federal labor statistics.

Has the pandemic changed where or how you work? If you have the option to work remotely, are you taking advantage of it, or do you prefer going to a physical workplace?

Photo via Clay Banks/Unsplash

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Emptied trash and recycling bins by the street (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Trash collection has become a hot mess in Fairfax County of late.

After FFXnow reported earlier this week on local officials’ efforts to address an avalanche of complaints, many community members added their tales of woe to the ongoing saga of late or entirely neglected pickups, ineffectual communication, and reductions in service without accompanying decreases in fees.

One commenter hasn’t gotten pickups in four weeks, while another said that American Disposal Services — the private hauler that has emerged as the primary troublemaker — misses over half their scheduled collection days. Accumulating garbage and recycling has spawned a rat infestation at the Hollybrooke Condominiums in Seven Corners, according to a tipster.

In addition, multiple community members confirmed that they’d been notified of an impending 10% rate increase by American Disposal, which reduced pickups from twice to once a week this spring, citing staffing challenges.

While it’s difficult to gauge just how widespread the issue is, local government officials told FFXnow that comments they’ve gotten or seen on social media — and their own experiences — suggest residents across the county have been affected.

Have you seen a noticeable deterioration in your trash service lately? Feel free to vent or perhaps brag (within the bounds of our comments policy) about your waste collection experiences below.

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A giant inflatable duck looking cool in a pool (via john labelette/Unsplash)

It’s August, and we have fully arrived at the hell’s front porch portion of the D.C. area’s seasonal cycle.

Over the past week or so, thermometers have been clocking in the upper 80s and 90s, but with the humidity adding an extra 10 degrees to every day, the summer heat offers an almost tangible reminder that, despite all the concrete, asphalt and landscaped lawns, Fairfax County is still a wetland at heart.

Like other kinds of extreme weather, heat can be dangerous, contributing to hundreds of deaths per year in the U.S., and climate change will likely push that toll higher.

To take your mind off the prospect of hot, muggy days becoming even more of a norm in the future, what’s your go-to method of handling this summer weather? Do you try to escape with a vacation, or are you more apt to seek relief at the nearest swimming pool or ice cream shop?

If you have other tips and secrets for cooling off, feel free to share them below.

Photo via john labelette/Unsplash

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Cars head south on Richmond Highway in Penn Daw near the Groveton border (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Driving on Richmond Highway in Fairfax County could get a little slower, potentially by the beginning of next year.

Virginia Department of Transportation staff said last week that the speed limit should be reduced from 45 to 35 mph along a 7.31-mile stretch of the roadway from the Capital Beltway at the Alexandria border to Jeff Todd Way in Mount Vernon.

The recommendation came from a year-long speed study prompted by concerns about the safety of the corridor, which saw two fatal pedestrian crashes in the span of a week earlier this July. The study found one 1.5-mile stretch that had a 75% higher crash rate than Virginia’s average.

According to the National Safety Council, speeding contributed to 29% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2020. Research suggests 10 mph can make a significant difference in the risk of severe injury or death that pedestrians face when hit by a vehicle.

Several states, including Virginia, have moved in recent years to lower speed limits on local streets, but about 60% of pedestrian deaths occur on major, non-interstate roads. In Fairfax County, speed limits in corridors like Richmond Highway and the also-treacherous Route 7 range from 35 to 45 mph even in increasingly urban, populous areas.

Though VDOT staff said reducing Route 1’s speed limit is expected to have a “minimal” impact on traffic, some community members at last week’s virtual meeting worried it might exacerbate congestion and cut-through traffic. Notably, the study recommended maintaining the 45 mph on the road through the Fort Belvoir area.

Others questioned the effectiveness of lowering the speed limit without robust police enforcement and other safety measures, such as added crosswalks and protected sidewalks. A recent report from the nonprofit Smart Growth America argued that driver behavior is more influenced by how roads are designed than posted speed limits.

How do you feel about lowering the speed limit on Richmond Highway and other major roads in Fairfax County? Is it a necessary safety improvement, or do you think other approaches should be considered instead?

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The scene of a crash that injured six people in Oakton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is considering the addition of photo speed cameras in school crossing and highway work zones.

The Fairfax County Police Department has been working on the initiative, and a plan will be finalized before it is presented to the Board of Supervisors in a report, Deputy County Executive for Safety and Security Tom Arnold previously told FFXnow.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik hopes to get Oakton High School into a pilot for the speed cameras, she told FFXnow. Two Oakton High students recently died after a driver struck them and another student walking on the sidewalk of Blake Lane, a corridor where the community has had growing safety concerns.

Police say the 18-year-old driver of the car was speeding on Blake Lane before crashing into an SUV and then striking the three students.

Nearby cities and counties have added the safety devices in the last few years since a state law passed in 2020 enabling jurisdictions to install speed cameras in school and construction zones. Arlington County passed its own law allowing the devices in January, and the City of Fairfax added cameras around schools last year.

The state law dictates that local governments can impose a civil penalty if a vehicle is traveling 10 mph or more above the posted speed limit. The penalty can’t exceed $100, state law outlines.

County and state officials will hold a community meeting tonight (Thursday) on possible safety improvements in the Blake Lane corridor. The meeting will take place on Zoom with Palchik livestreaming it on her Facebook page.

The county and state have discussed improvements in the past, such as the recent implementation of an additional $200 fine for speed limit violations on Blake Lane between Jermantown Road and Sutton Road.

How do you feel about adding speed cameras in school and construction zones in the county?

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A photo of a previous block party at the PARC at Tysons (via Celebrate Fairfax)

The Celebrate Fairfax! Festival is returning in a new form this year — smaller events throughout the county.

The annual festival was a summer highlight featuring bands, carnival rides, and more at the Fairfax County Government Center, but this year, the nonprofit Celebrate Fairfax Inc. is bringing parts of the festival to each of the county’s districts, organizers announced in April.

The karaoke competition that traditionally was at the festival will take place at block parties at the PARC at Tysons, starting this Friday (June 17).

“We are bringing a Celebrate Fairfax! Festival favorite to the PARC – the Fairfax County Karaoke Competition! During the first Block Party we will have our wildcard competition, so get ready to sing at the top of your lungs!” the event website reads. The karaoke semifinals will be held Friday, July 15, and the finals on Friday, Aug. 19.

The Block Party will also feature outdoor games, a food truck and Beltway Brewing.

The announcement of the event’s new form drew ire from some on social media who referred to the festival as a tradition. In the past, the annual three-day festival has drawn some 70,000 attendees and featured nationally known bands, including All-American Rejects, Everclear, and Third Eye Blind, but it was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the past year, Celebrate Fairfax, Inc. (CFI) had the opportunity to re-envision how we, as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, fulfill our mission to celebrate Fairfax County and its communities,” the organization said. “CFI has been a staple in the Fairfax County community for nearly 40 years.”

Celebrate Fairfax lists an event planned for Wednesday, July 13, in Springfield — Springfield Nights: Celebrate Fairfax Kids, which includes a balloon artist and magic shows. The nonprofit also hosted its first Braddock Bark dog festival this past weekend.

So, with the old festival taking new shape, will you miss the big event?

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A Gulf gas station in Herndon listed its unleaded gas price as nearly $4.80 per gallon on June 1, 2022 (staff photo by David Taube)

Northern Virginia has continued with record-setting gas prices, reaching $4.61 per gallon as of Wednesday (June 1), per AAA.

That record held true even for gas prices across the country, with California leading the way at over $6 per gallon.

Not even Texas was immune, reaching its highest average price per gallon ever Wednesday at nearly $4.30.

While the nation’s average price saw some relief in March and April, a new peak comes amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and a European Union ban on Russian oil exports, AAA notes. That price is $1.58 more than a year ago, the auto services company says.

With spring and summer weather heating up, airline prices spiking for domestic flights and mask restrictions loosened, FFXnow is asking readers what these fuel prices mean for traveling.

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The Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

One of the most prominent court trials in recent Fairfax County history is drawing to a close.

Drawing celebrities, media, and an eclectic assortment of fans, actor Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against fellow actor and ex-wife Amber Heard has unfolded in sobering, sometimes bizarre detail at the Fairfax County Courthouse since April 11.

The trial culminates more than three years of legal proceedings after Depp filed a complaint in March 2019 seeking $50 million from Heard over a Washington Post op-ed where she discussed her experience with sexual violence.

Depp’s lawyers filed the lawsuit in Fairfax County, because the Post’s computer servers are located here, and Virginia’s anti-SLAPP laws — which seek to prevent people from using the courts to intimidate or silence critics — are weaker than those in California, according to Inside NoVA.

Televised live by Court TV, the case has become a filter for issues related to celebrity and fan culture, while also raising fears that domestic violence victims will be further discouraged from speaking up or seeking help, given the mockery directed at Heard in particular everywhere from TikTok to Saturday Night Live.

With closing arguments expected tomorrow (Friday), have you been following developments in the trial closely, or are you eager for an end to the hubbub?

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