(Updated at 6 p.m.) A project to enhance the capacity of a key rail line through Fairfax County is chugging along, thanks to a major infusion of federal cash.
The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority has been awarded $100 million in federal funds to design and build a bridge that will allow Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak trains to cross over tracks approaching the Franconia-Springfield station (6880 Frontier Drive), Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced yesterday (Thursday).
The bridge will relieve congestion and open up the possibility of additional passenger and freight service on the railway, which is one of Virginia’s busiest, according to the senators.
“Passenger rail is a vital connector for so many Virginians — carrying people to their work, their families, and their travel plans,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement. “We’re thrilled to see this funding make rail safer and more efficient for Virginians by addressing a critical chokepoint in a vital location, alleviating congestion for hundreds of Virginians every single day.”
Under development since 2021, the Franconia-Springfield Bypass will consist of a roughly 1-mile-long bridge that will carry passenger trains over two existing tracks for CSX freight trains just south of the rail station, VPRA officials said at a neighborhood meeting in July.
The bridge will have just one track, but it will be built to accommodate a future second track.
The project is part of a larger push by Virginia to improve its rail service between Fredericksburg and D.C. Other projects include an extension of a third track that currently starts in Alexandria for about six miles from Franconia to Lorton.
“Expanding passenger rail as an alternative to interstate travel is critical as traffic congestion in Northern Virginia continues to grow at an unsustainable rate,” VPRA Executive Director DJ Stadtler said. “Building the Franconia-Springfield Bypass will allow us to expand our state-supported rail service by alleviating train interference at the most congested point in Virginia…The bypass is key to providing Virginians with reliable, consistent, and convenient passenger rail service.”
According to VPRA, engineering on the bypass is scheduled to begin this year, with construction potentially kicking off in 2024 and finishing in 2026. VPRA has budgeted $405 million overall for the project, a spokesperson says.
The new federal funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed into law on Nov. 15, 2021 and a fiscal year 2022 spending package, Warner’s office said.
There has been another change in criteria for determining where the new FBI headquarters will go, prompting annoyance and even anger from several local officials.
Late last week, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced that it will now weigh cost and “advancing equity” as factors of higher importance when deciding if the new FBI headquarters will end up in Springfield or one of two sites in Prince George’s County, Maryland, per an updated site selection plan.
“The consultations with the delegations provided valuable feedback, and helped us refine our plan to maximize value for the FBI and the public,” said GSA commissioner Nina Albert in a press release. “While the core elements of the site selection plan remain the same, we have updated the plan to incorporate new government-wide directives and to increase the consideration of cost to deliver better value for taxpayers. We believe these adjustments will support a process that results in a site that best serves the FBI and the public for years to come.”
The federal agency also lowered the importance of transportation accessibility and the proximity of being near other FBI facilities (like Quantico, which is in Virginia). Proximity remains the highest determining factor, though, sitting at 25%.
This is the second time in less than a year that the GSA “updated” its criteria for selecting the location of the new headquarters. It also comes a little over a month after the FBI stressed the importance of having a headquarters close to its pre-existing facilities.
GSA anticipates making a decision on where the new FBI headquarters will go “in the coming months,” the press release notes. Some had anticipated a decision was going to be announced in March, but that didn’t happen.
The late-stage shift has prompted a number of Virginia lawmakers to speak out, arguing that this change is a result of political inference and constant lobbying from Maryland officials seeking to gain an edge for the Prince George’s sites.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, whose 11th District includes the Springfield site, was particularly incensed. In a statement posted on social media, Connolly accused Maryland of trying to “cook the books” and the GSA of caving to political pressure.
Only Virginia has consistently opposed and condemned political meddling in what should be a purely independent, agency-run effort. We will continue to make the case for the only location that truly makes sense for the FBI HQ – Springfield, Virginia. pic.twitter.com/WqdGZNM6H7
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) July 14, 2023
Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner put out a combined statement reiterating their confidence that the FBI will still end up moving to Fairfax County, coupled with worries that the change will further delay a decision that’s been in the works for years.
The GSA didn’t pluck its initial criteria out of thin air — it spent years talking to experts and carefully deliberating on what is best for the mission of the FBI. While we are concerned that these changes to the criteria will further delay what has already been a drawn-out, decade-long process to select a new site to replace the dilapidated headquarters downtown, we remain confident that Virginia continues to be a home run in every category, and encourage the GSA to draw this process to a close sooner rather than later.
In a statement to FFXnow, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay also expressed his displeasure, particularly with the likelihood of another delay of a final decision. Read More
Metro’s bus facility in Franconia is a step closer to going electric, thanks to a big infusion of funding from the federal government.
The Federal Transit Administration has awarded Metro a $104 million grant to convert its Cinder Bed Road Bus Division garage at 7901 Cinder Bed Road into a fully electric facility, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced Monday (June 26).
In addition to supporting new charging infrastructure, the funds will enable Metro to buy about 100 battery-powered buses and develop a training program for drivers, mechanics and first responders, according to Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who lauded the grant in a joint statement.
“We appreciate the Federal Transit Administration’s leadership in the transition to zero-emission bus technology that will help reduce air pollution and improve quality of life across the region,” WMATA Board Chair Paul Smedberg said, thanking the senators and other federal, state and local elected officials for helping secure the money.
Metro’s board of directors adopted a plan in 2021 directing the transit agency to purchase only buses that don’t produce carbon emissions by 2030 and fully transition to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2045.
Metro’s first electric bus arrived this month as part of an initial 12-vehicle batch that will operate out of the Shepherd Parkway garage in D.C., according to WMATA. The vehicles were expected earlier, but the delivery got delayed after a fire in Connecticut last summer forced the manufacturer New Flyer to recall hundreds of buses.
Located northeast of the I-95 and Fairfax County Parkway interchange, the Cinder Bed Road garage houses 121 40-foot buses that serve 11 routes, as of December 2021. It has parking for 160 vehicles and 13 maintenance bays.
According to Metro’s transition plan, the facility could host 112 battery-powered electric buses. It has “safe and efficient site circulation,” but a stacked bus parking layout and existing underground infrastructure for utilities and stormwater pose hurdles.
To fully cover the cost of converting the Cinder Bed garage, the federal grant will be matched by “a combination of local funding,” a Metro spokesperson said.
Fairfax County plans to use the facility for its future Richmond Highway bus rapid transit service. Branded as The One, the system will operate all-electric buses from Fort Belvoir to the Huntington Metro station, potentially beginning in 2030.
“Thanks to our partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and federal support, we will soon deliver a fully converted battery-electric bus facility in Fairfax County,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “This project aligns with the county’s important goal of carbon neutral government operations by 2040 and is an investment in the region’s transit system and clean energy that will bring significant environmental and community benefits.”
The conversion design process is slated to begin later this year, with a projected opening coming in 2027-2028, according to WMATA’s transition plan. Read More
A proposal for more long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport (DCA) is catching the ire of some of Virginia’s Congressional representatives, who say it could undermine efforts to grow Dulles International Airport (IAD).
Proponents led by Capital Access Alliance argue that current restrictions at Reagan National — an airport owned by the federal government — are outdated and hurt the economy. They want to increase the number of flights that travel beyond 1,250 miles from the airport, allowing as many as 25 daily round trips.
According to the Alliance:
Since the late 1960s, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) has been the only airport subject to a federally imposed perimeter rule, which limits the number of flights that are allowed to take-off and land outside a 1,250-mile perimeter. However, the consumer, economic, technological and industry landscape has changed substantially in the last 60 years, and the rule’s original goals no longer apply to today’s air travel ecosystem in the nation’s capital.
The group released a study by Boston Consulting Group that argues more long-distance flights would boost all airlines equally, reduce ticket prices for passengers, and result in millions of dollars in economic growth.
But senators who represent Virginia and Maryland say that the proposal will undermine Dulles, just as more customers may utilize the airport due to the arrival of Metro last year.
In a joint statement issued last Wednesday (April 26), Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine said that past efforts to allow exceptions to the perimeter pool have “produced significant stress” on the airport.
“Those changes have also prevented Dulles, whose size allows for larger planes to land and take off, from realizing its full potential as the primary long-haul flight destination for the Washington metropolitan area,” the statement reads.
According to the letter, Reagan National is now seeing more travelers than Dulles, even though the international airport was designed for more capacity.
For over a decade, traffic at DCA has risen sharply, while IAD has declined or stagnated in the same measures. In 2010, total annual enplanements at IAD exceeded those at DCA by more than 5 million. At the end of 2019, before COVID-19 upended the national aviation industry, IAD outpaced DCA by less than a million passengers annually. Now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic and Americans return to travel, this pattern has worsened. Today, IAD trails DCA by more than 1 million.
The senators go on to argue that loosening the slot and perimeter rules threatened the balance between the airports.
“As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we will strongly oppose any efforts to disrupt or undermine the balance between Dulles and National, an airport one-fourteenth the size of Dulles,” the statement said.
Warner wrote a similar letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation in March.
Congress is expected to take up the FAA’s reauthorization bill this fall.
More than two decades after he graduated, astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren has been drawn back into Robinson Secondary School’s orbit.
The Fairfax school will welcome its Class of 1991 alum back this afternoon (Friday) for a student assembly, where Lindgren will be joined on stage by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
After helping secure $103 million in federal funding to replace the Wallops Island Bridge linking NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to mainland Virginia, Kaine has been tasked with delivering introductory remarks before participating in a question-and-answer session, according to his office.
“I’m really looking forward to heading to Robinson Secondary School…to connect with students there and hear more about Dr. Lindgren’s experience in space and learn about NASA’s recent work,” Kaine said in a statement to FFXnow. “It’s my hope that this event will help inspire a new generation of astronauts and researchers from Virginia, and I appreciate Dr. Lindgren taking the time to share his story at his alma mater.”
Since graduating from Robinson, Lindgren has notched some out-of-this-world accomplishments, per his NASA bio.
Selected as one of 14 members of NASA’s 20th astronaut class in 2009, he now has 311 days in space and two spacewalks under his belt. That experience came as a crew member on the agency’s 44th and 45th expeditions to the International Space Station in 2015, and as commander of its SpaceX Crew-4 mission.
Lindgren and three other crew members in that mission — NASA’s fourth commercial flight overall and first in the “Freedom” capsule manufactured by Elon Musk’s private company — splashed back down to Earth on Oct. 14, 2022 after 170 days in orbit.
During his time in space, Lindgren helped conduct hundreds of scientific experiments that dealt with subjects like growing crops in space and the impact of life in microgravity on hearing, according to NASA. As part of Expedition 44, he was among the first people to eat lettuce grown in space.
A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Lindgren grew up in the Midwest and England before moving to Virginia for his last three years of high school. His parents still live in Burke.
For his undergraduate education, he attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, serving as an instructor and jumpmaster for the school’s “Wings of Blue” parachuting team. He later went to medical school and got certified in emergency medicine, supporting NASA as a flight surgeon before becoming an astronaut.
Photo courtesy NASA/Flickr
In an unusual show of bipartisan unity, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin will attend a press conference tomorrow (Wednesday) with Democratic senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and other elected leaders to rally for a Northern Virginia FBI headquarters.
A release from Warner’s office said the elected leaders will hold a press conference in Springfield to lay out the case for bringing the proposed headquarters to Fairfax County.
According to the release:
The press conference comes as the FBI and the General Services Administration (GSA) work to finalize a location for the new headquarters after years of work on the project spanning multiple presidential administrations.
The press conference follows a letter from the Commonwealth’s congressional delegation and Gov. Youngkin, detailing the ways in which Springfield best meets the five selection criteria set forth by the GSA and FBI, which are: support for the FBI mission requirement; transportation access; site development flexibility; promoting sustainable siting and advancing equity; and cost.
The bidding war over the FBI headquarters is possibly the most intense skirmish between Virginia and Maryland since 1865. Virginia is hoping to bring the FBI to a 58-acre site in Springfield, while Maryland is hoping to draw the FBI to Landover or Greenbelt.
The lineup looks like Coachella for Fairfax County elected leadership, with representatives Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer and Abigail Spanberger joining Youngkin and the senators, along with Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, and representatives from other local organizations.
McKay previously accused Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) — multiple times — of unfairly trying to tip the scales in favor of the FBI purchasing a Maryland site currently owned by WMATA. Maryland, meanwhile, has argued that proximity to Quantico is being too heavily weighted in favor of Virginia.
The Board of Supervisors approved its own letter to the GSA and FBI last week advocating for the Springfield site, which currently a warehouse for the GSA right next to the agency’s headquarters.
The press conference is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. at Northern Virginia Community College (6699 Springfield Center Drive).
A cycle path to the Innovation Center Metro station is circling closer to construction.
Roughly $4 million in federal funding was secured for the project, which will include a cycle path from Sunrise Valley Drive to Innovation Metro Station, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced yesterday.
The upgrades are part of the county’s Active Transportation Program, which covers non-motorized methods of travel and aims to reduce vehicle traffic.
The changes to the four-lane boulevard, which also has additional turning lanes at various intersections, would connect to existing bicycle and pedestrian paths, notably the Fairfax County Parkway Trail, FFXnow previously reported.
“This project will provide significantly improved access to several Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail Stations and high-density transit-oriented development near the Metrorail Stations and activity centers,” said a statement breaking down the funds designated for Northern Virginia.
Other projects also fit the bill in Fairfax County.
Among them is a neighborhood job and entrepreneurship research center for teens and young adults in the county’s community centers. The centers will offer teens and young adults career readiness skills, job training and leadership programs, according to the release. That project is expected to cost $2.1 million.
In Springfield, the Northern Virginia Community College’s Medical Education Campus will receive $2.2 million to grow its nursing program. Funds will also go towards buying computerized manikins and other technology to supplement clinic training for nursing, respiratory therapy and EMS students.
Other cyclist-related improvements include $1 million for bicycle and pedestrians upgrades near the Vienna Metrorail Station in Oakton. The project is targeted to the area near the station and Oakton High School.
A complete list of secured funds is available online.
Fairfax County has gotten a little help from the federal government for its efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing.
The county was awarded a total of $8.9 million in grants and other funds by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced on Friday (May 13).
The funding comes from three different programs:
- $5.9 million in Community Development Block Grants, which can be used for housing construction, homeowner assistance, infrastructure, economic development, and other community projects
- $2.5 million from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which supports partnerships with nonprofits to provide affordable housing and direct rental assistance to low-income individuals
- $515,135 from the Emergency Solutions Grant program, which funds emergency shelters, services for people experiencing homelessness, and homelessness prevention programs
The county typically receives approximately $8.5 million each year from those programs, according to the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says federal funds “are critical” to helping the county achieve its affordable housing goals, which was recently doubled to 10,000 new units by 2034.
“I thank Senators Warner and Kaine for helping us to advance housing opportunities for veterans and their families, providing supportive housing for those with special needs, enabling older adults to age in place, and much more,” McKay said. “Fairfax County is working every single day to ensure that everyone here access to a safe, secure, and affordable home.”
With the block grant and HOME funds, the county says it has been able to create or preserve over 800 affordable housing units, along with 220 affordable rental units, in the past five years. Projects that have benefitted include Wesley Housing’s The Arden in Huntington, the new Lee District Community Center, and a planned acquisition of 12 condominiums by the nonprofit Pathway Recovery.
According to Housing and Community Development spokesperson Benjamin Boxer, the new funds will be allocated in accordance with the county’s Five-Year Consolidated Plan and the related One-Year Action Plan, which set housing goals and establish services for older adults, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and households earning 30% or less of the area median income.
The newest One-Year Action Plan, which is currently under review and will take effect for fiscal year 2023 on July 1, calls for funding for 13 different projects, ranging from rental assistance vouchers to home repairs for seniors and people with disabilities in Falls Church and Herndon.
Overall, Virginia will receive $114.7 million from HUD.
“All Virginians deserve access to safe and affordable housing, but rents and home prices have skyrocketed across Virginia in recent years,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement. “We’re glad that this funding will go to supporting the construction of new affordable housing units and help Virginians access more housing options.”
“Despite facing difficult challenges throughout COVID-19, small businesses have adapted to the pandemic, kept workers employed, and continued to support their communities,” Kaine said yesterday (Monday) in a statement. “Our small businesses are the backbone of our communities. I’m glad I’m able to share some examples of resilient small businesses across Virginia, many of which have used federal COVID relief to keep the lights on during the pandemic.”
Several business owners identified their establishments and described how they received help during the pandemic.
Here are some of the Fairfax County business highlighted by the senator, per the news release:
- John Norce from Vienna wrote in about his small business, Medicare Portal, which helps provide education and enrollment services to residents in Virginia during the pandemic. They received PPP funds to help them transition to virtual services. He wrote: “Virginia has provided a great environment to allow small businesses to grow pre- and post-pandemic.”
- Debi from Reston wrote about her nonprofit that provides day programs to adults with disabilities. She pivoted to programs on Zoom during the pandemic, and received PPP funding to help cover costs. She said: “An unexpected outcome from going virtual during COVID is we now have the technical infrastructure to provide…virtual programming for participants who are on bed rest from surgeries…Now they can enjoy the benefits…while recuperating even months at a time!”
- Valerie from Fairfax wrote in about Clawes Carpets, a family-owned small business that successfully adapted to online sales during the pandemic. They received a PPP loan to help cover payroll and rent, and did not lay anyone off.
- Shannon Link from Lorton wrote about FIT4MOM, her business providing wellness services for mothers. During the pandemic, she successfully pivoted to online fitness classes, social events, and children’s activities and continued to provide a community space for women in the area. She received EIDL funding. She wrote: “My team and I did not relent. We are coming out on the other side!”
- Robin from Reston wrote in about the Pearl Project Institute for Innovation in STEM Literacy, her nonprofit that is dedicated to nurturing the next generation of tech talent, especially among women.
- Harsha Rajasimha from Herndon wrote in about Jeeva Informatics Solutions, a small business that develops software to better accelerate clinical research.
- Tess Rollins from Herndon wrote in about Simply Enhance, her business offering graphic design and brand strategy services for small businesses.
The Small Business Administration oversaw the distribution of over $400 billion in emergency relief funding last year.
According to the SBA, which defines “small” businesses based on annual revenue and the number of employees, small businesses have been responsible for two of every three jobs added to the U.S. economy over the past 25 years.
Photo via Google Maps
A federal budget plan passed by the U.S. House yesterday (Wednesday) would send more than $8.3 million to Fairfax County, Virginia’s senators report.
Designated H.R. 2471, the $1.5 trillion spending package funds the federal government for fiscal year 2022, which began on Oct. 1, 2021, and ends on Sept. 30. It also includes $13.6 billion in aid to support Ukraine during Russia’s invasion and releases funding for the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November.
The House approved the package with two separate votes of 361 to 69 and 260 to 171 after removing a portion that would’ve provided $15.6 billion for COVID-19 response efforts, including vaccines and testing — measures that would’ve faced an uphill battle in the Senate, which will now take up the budget.
“We are pleased to see the House of Representatives vote to pass a full-year spending package, which will prevent a costly shutdown and provide key federal funding for some of Virginia’s top priorities,” Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner said in a joint statement.
According to the senators, the package contains more than $85 million in earmarks for Virginia, including the following allocations for Fairfax County, per Warner’s office:
- $2 million for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board’s Merrifield Crisis Response Center, which provides mental health, substance use, and developmental disability services
- $1.7 million to develop Fair Ridge at West Ox, a affordable housing community that the nonprofit Cornerstones Housing has proposed building near Fair Oaks Mall
- $1.03 million to boost the county’s First Time Homebuyers Program, which helps low and moderate-income families purchase affordable housing
- $1 million to purchase equipment and expand Capital Bikeshare facilities for underserved areas
- $742,000 to support a diversion program for adults who have gone through the criminal justice system
- $400,000 to help the county launch a new skills development center that would assist minority and low-income residents disproportionately affected by the pandemic with job training and finding employment
- $1.5 million for the Residences at Government Center II, a planned affordable housing development with up to 275 units
According to Rep. Gerry Connolly’s office, the $2 million for the Merrifield Center would be used to redesign the facility with security enhancements and additional capacity to support an expanding array of services, including the county’s Diversion First efforts.
“This redesign is necessary due to significant programming changes since the opening of the building,” the release says.
The spending package also includes $1 million for the Fairfax County Health Department to develop a “Stable Families, Thriving Futures” program focused on “improving the immediate and long-term educational, employment, and health outcomes of pregnant and parenting teens and non-parenting young adults ages 15 to 25 in Fairfax County’s underserved communities of color.”
If the Senate adopts the budget as is, George Mason University will receive nearly $2 million to establish Virginia Climate Center in partnership with the county, Fairfax City, and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.
Another $1.15 million has been allocated to GMU for a learning laboratory where students will design and implement projects aimed at improving social and population health:
The centerpiece will be the launch of a Summer Immersion Institute (SII) for 96 students. The SII curriculum will focus on building students’ capacity to address social health for communities and ensure access to care for marginalized communities in Fairfax County, especially for communities who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These projects reflect the shared priorities of local leaders, and I am greatly looking forward to seeing these dollars in action for the people of Northern Virginia,” Connolly said. “This funding will be put toward critical efforts to bolster Northern Virginia’s response to climate change, expand affordable housing initiatives, invest in workforce development and training, and more.”