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Route 28 by the Frying Pan Road interchange (via Google Maps)

Trips on the Dulles Toll Road could get costlier next year.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority‘s Board of Directors is considering a plan to raise tolls by an average of nearly 25% on the main toll plaza and other ramps. Overall, a trip would cost $1.25 more than this year.

Rates could rise by 75 cents at the toll plaza and 50 cents on off ramps as part of an effort to partially fund the still-incomplete extension of the Silver Line, along with the operation, maintenance and improvement of the toll road.

Rate hikes could also become more periodic, with the same increase proposed every five years beginning next year. The only except is when a flat 75 cent increase is planned at all toll plazas in 2033. That means toll users could pay up to $7.75 at the main toll plaza and $4.75 at the ramp tolls by 2048.

Users currently pay $3.25 for the mainline toll plaza and $1.50 for ramp tolls.

If approved, the increase would be the first rate jump since 2019.

Public hearings are planned on July 18 and 21 before a final vote on the plan on Nov. 16. Rates would go into effect in 2023.

MWAA is also considering a plan to eliminate coin-drop baskets and bill customers without an EZ-Pass. Those users would be billed based on license plate identification, with additional fees tacked on to cover administrative costs.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Reston Town Center Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

No one raised even the semblance of a timeframe for opening the long-delayed extension of the Silver Line into Loudoun County during a Metro board discussion on the issue yesterday morning (Thursday).

Officials provided no specific date for when the 11.4-mile extension could begin operations. A late summer opening was anticipated after a series of previous delays, but even that appears tentative at best.

Instead, officials say they’re focusing on reaching a long-anticipated milestone: operational readiness. A major condition of this step is testing conducted by Metro.

Andrew Off, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s executive vice president of capital delivery. told WMATA’s Safety and Operations Committee that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has not made significant progress on safety certifications for the Dulles International Airport rail yard, noting that the process seems to be “taking more time than usual.”

MWAA has also not determined the root cause of a problem related to heat tape, which prevents ice build-up on the rail when it rains or snow.

“We’re trying to figure out what the real problem is,” Off said.

Before operational readiness is declared, MWAA must resolve critical operational issues. If Metro accepts the project from MWAA, the entity will continue a nearly three-month period of broadly defined “pre-revenue activities” before trains start running.

That date has already been delayed several times, resulting in some mounting frustration from Fairfax County officials.

At the meeting, officials emphasized that there is not fixed duration for Metro to declare operational readiness, because it depends entirely on the progress of testing.

Overall, punch list progress is nearly complete. Roughly 85% of the punch list for Package A — the main line and stations — has been complete, along with 97% for Package B — which covers the Dulles rail yard.

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Morning Notes

Cherry blossoms seen from Tysons parking garage (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

New Issues Hamper Silver Line Phase 2 — While a summer opening is still possible, don’t expect the Silver Line extension from Reston into Loudoun County before July 1, Metro officials said yesterday (Thursday), citing waterproofing and insulation issues around power cable connections. Past problems with “the orange boot” have caused fire and smoke incidents. [DCist]

County Residents Report Lags in Rent Assistance — “Sarah Allen, regional director of Fairfax County Human Services, told InsideNoVa in October the county was rolling out a separate online portal that tenants could also use to apply for assistance. The online portal has yet to launch, according to a county spokesperson who said it’s still in development.” [Inside NoVA]

NoVA Faces Mental Health Services Deficit — “Last week, the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia published a report claiming that as of 2021 approximately 750,000 adults in Northern Virginia are currently receiving or want to receive mental health services. However, 350,000 of those adults who want therapy or counseling are unable to get it.” [Inside NoVA]

County Police and Firefighters Face Off for Charity — “The puck will drop on Friday at 6 p.m. at the SkateQuest ice rink in Reston as the Fairfax County Police Department takes on the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in a charity hockey game…Donations will be accepted at the game and will go to RedHelp.org and BlueHelp.org.” [Patch]

Road Closure Planned in Clifton Next Week — “Kincheloe Road (Route 641) between Old Yates Ford Road (Route 612) and the Kincheloe Soccer Park will be closed to through traffic, weather permitting, Monday, March 28 and Tuesday, March 29 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day to replace two culvert pipes.” [VDOT]

Park Authority Celebrates Women’s History Month — “The Fairfax County Park Authority has launched a new website celebrating the accomplishments and impact of extraordinary women who have shaped Fairfax County’s parks.” [FCPA]

Herndon Software Company Acquired — “Wavedancer Inc. (NASDAQ: WAVD), a Fairfax cybersecurity software company, said this week it has reached a deal to acquire Herndon’s Knowmadics, a software-as-a-service company specializing in the Internet of Things device management, for $90 million.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Artists Partner for Capital One Hall Concert — The Virginia Chamber Orchestra, which now resides at the Tysons performing arts theater, will play music by Aaron Copland tomorrow (Saturday) in a joint concert with the College of William & Mary Symphony Orchestra. Artwork by members of the McLean Arts Society will be displayed in the Atrium. [Virginia Chamber Orchestra]

It’s Friday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 58 and low of 45. Sunrise at 7:05 a.m. and sunset at 7:27 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Still waiting for Silver Line Phase 2… (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A property tax paid by businesses in the Silver Line Phase 2 corridor has been helping to fund the infrastructure upgrades, even as delays have repeatedly stalled the Metrorail expansion.

The special tax has been 20 cents per $100 of assessed property value for nearly a decade and applies to commercial and industrial real estate. It can be used to pay up to $330 million of Fairfax County’s $527.3 million obligation for the project, which will extend the Silver Line from Reston to Ashburn.

As property values have dramatically increased over the last decade, the tax has brought in over $20 million annually in recent years. But an agreement with commercial and industrial property owners filed in 2009 locked in the current tax rate, according to the county.

“Per the terms of the petition for [fiscal year 2023], we can’t change the rate. So we’re going to have to keep it at 20 cents,” Fairfax County Debt Coordinator Joe LaHait said at an advisory meeting yesterday (Thursday). “And we’ve accrued quite a bit of cash — to the tune of almost about $66 million to date.”

The petition states the rate can’t exceed 20 cents per $100 of assessed property value as of the 2013 tax year and subsequent years before Metrorail service begins there.

County staff recommended keeping the rate the same for the upcoming year. The Phase 2 Dulles Rail Transportation Improvement District Advisory Board, which will meet March 29, will advise the Board of Supervisors in setting the rate.

While the tax rate can’t be changed just yet, the county is looking to reduce its debt, possibly paying off a loan in advance. The tax could be lowered in coming years before finally being phased out, possibly in the next decade or two.

Repeated delays have meant the Silver Line extension won’t open until this summer or later, but the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority must give the final OK. Testing is 74% complete with trains and stations, and a rail yard is 63% complete, the county said yesterday.

Overall, office vacancy rates jumped from the end of 2020 to the end of 2021, but nonresidential real estate values have increased after a prior year decrease, County Executive Bryan Hill noted last month in a budget presentation.

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An exact opening date for the Silver Line extension project has not yet been determined (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The 11.4-mile extension of the Silver Line is still eying a summer completion date, but an exact date remains elusive.

At a meeting earlier today (Thursday), the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Safety and Operations Committee did not provide a specific date for the completion of the $2.8 billion project.

Instead, members noted that cooperative agreements do not call for a specific date. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is currently negotiating the period between substantial completion — which it completed in November — and Operational Readiness (OR).

Andrew Off, WMATA’s executive vice president of capital delivery, said that Metro’s general manager will officially determine an Operational Readiness Date (ORD) once OR testing is completed.

Because of the fluid nature of testing and issues that may arise as testing and certification continues, MWAA cannot provide a target opening date. Once the ORD is determined, Metro will formally accept the project from MWAA.

WMATA expects that a 90-day period of pre-revenue activities will then commence.

“There is no defined time period between substantial completion and operational readiness,” Off said, adding that the date of operation is “all condition based.”

That date has already been delayed several times, resulting in some consternation and frustration from county officials.

Metro’s punch list of the main line and station — known as Package A — is 80% complete. Package B — which covers the Dulles Yard — is 95% complete and has been “stagnant” for several weeks, Off said. Remaining items include contract safety certification and certificates of occupancy that are needed for employees.

Joe Leder, WMATA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said 400 new employees have been hired for the extension project. Another 20 are expected to be hired by the end of the month.

Dulles District Supervisor Matthew Letourneu noted that the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission — which oversees and enforces safety practice of the rail system — must also complete its own safety enforcement measures, including a safety certification process.

“There’s obviously increasing interest in having this up and running,” Letourneu said.

He clarified with staff that WMSC’s reports should not produce additional delays or surprises because the commission is coordinating closely with Metro.

“As a result of this process, there shouldn’t be surprises from the WMSC that come kind of at the last minute because it’s been iterative,” he said.

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Metro’s Silver Line Phase 2 isn’t isn’t expected to be completed until the summer (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated on March 3 to add additional quote) The long-delayed 11.4-mile Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County will not open until this summer.

Last month, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) maintained that trains would run this spring, but at a Tuesday meeting with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, transportation officials said they anticipate a summer 2022 opening.

“We believe that early summer is a good time to start thinking about some of the activities related to opening,” said Martha Coello, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s Special Projects Division chief.  “Obviously we need to get through the testing they are trying to narrow down what’s needed for operational readiness for WMATA to declare that and obviously we want to make sure there is enough time for WMATA to complete their pre-revenue activities.”

County supervisors said they were exasperated by delays in the opening of the $2.8 billion project. There will be six new stations, from Reston Town Center into Ashburn.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said he was concerned that officials could not provide an opening date, pointing to what he said was poor project management.

“It’s inconceivable that a $3 billion project does not have a schedule showing a projected completion date that the activities that have to be accomplished [by] to achieve that completion date,” Foust said.

FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny noted that opening day will depend how quickly testing is completed.

“The tactic has been a little bit different this time to speak in generalities and not to put a specific date out there,” Biesiadny said, noting that the project has already repeatedly missed completion deadlines.

Once it finishes conducting its testing, MWAA will hand over the project over to Metro. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board of directors will set a formal opening date once it determines it is operationally prepared to handle the opening.

MWAA is still conducting operational readiness testing through simulated service. Pre-revenue activities will follow once operational readiness is achieved, including warranty management, policy and procedure updates, and asset inventory. That process could take up to 90 days.

An issue related to heat tape deficiency — which prevents ice buildup on the rail when it rains or snows — remains unresolved, and roughly 74% of testing for tracks, stations and system is still pending. Hiring and training is already underway.

The county has begun planning with WMATA for opening ceremonies. The county board also approved an updated bus service plan on Feb. 22 that was created with the new rail service in mind.

Construction on a new sidewalk on Sunrise Valley near Reston Parkway is expected to begin this spring. The county also plans to remove a bus bay at Wiehle Avenue.

MWAA reached substantial completion on phase 2 of the Silver Line in November after months of delays.

“We are at the mercy of WMATA now,” Hunter Mill District Suprvisor Walter Alcorn said.

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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.

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