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The Herndon Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

With the Silver Line Phase II opening still in flux, Fairfax County is being asked to pay another $40 million.

At its transportation committee meeting on Friday (Sept. 30), the Board of Supervisors got an update on the ramifications of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) agreeing in July to increase the budget for the Silver Line extension by $250 million.

The original project agreement calls for Fairfax County to pay about 16% of the asked-for overage, so with the quarter of a billion dollar budget increase, the county owes an additional $40.25 million.

All told, the county will have spent nearly a billion dollars — $960 million — on the second phase of the Silver Line, which will add six stations from Reston to Ashburn in Loudoun County.

In total, the project has cost just over $3 billion. The board is set to vote on the payment later this month.

While likely to approve the additional payment, several supervisors expressed frustration and annoyance with the need to throw even more dollars at a project that has been besieged by constant delays.

“I don’t think it’s a shock and it’s a tiny portion of the overall project,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. “But [the extra $40 million] has rightly angered a lot of folks given all the delays.”

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust also made clear he was not happy that the county is being asked to pay more.

“Have we asked ourselves if this is a good deal and the Airports Authority is not just…spending a lot of money to make a problem go away? And it’s our money that they are spending,” Foust asked staff.

He also asked if $960 million will be the final amount. However, county staff couldn’t guarantee that there won’t be any further costs, considering Phase 1 is still undergoing repairs after opening in 2014.

“We still have to reconcile Phase 1 and Phase 2…All parties have to be reconciled at the end of the project,” said Martha Elena Coello, head of special projects for the Fairfax County Department of Transporation. “We are still doing some work on Phase 1 and that needs to be completed. At the end, there will be a reconciliation of both those phases.”

McKay asked, seemingly rhetorically, what would happen if the county didn’t pay the extra money. Staff responded that it might become a “legal matter” since the payment is required by the signed project agreement.

“According to the funding agreement, this is not a ‘might be’ or ‘may be,'” he said. “It’s a requirement for the county. We don’t have the flexibility…without significant negative consequences.”

Still relatively new Metro General Manager Randy Clarke was given authority by the Board of Directors last month to set an opening date for the Silver Line extension. While no exact date has been announced, Clarke said safety certifications are expected this October, and Metro has updated its maps to feature the new stations.

At the same time, Clarke warned that opening the Silver Line could force service reductions due to a deficit in trains when currently shuttered Blue and Yellow Line stations south of Washington National Airport reopen.

That headache will be put off a little longer by an entirely different Metro problem. Last week, the transit agency announced that its new Potomac Yard station won’t open until 2023. As a result, the Yellow and Blue stations will be closed for another two weeks, until Nov. 5.

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

Fairfax County is looking into purchasing additional “Know Your Speed” signs after a fatal crash that killed two Oakton High School students, and seriously injured a third.

After the Oakton crash in early June, the devices were placed on Blake Lane, where the teenagers were walking on the sidewalk before they were struck by a speeding car. Police say the driver, an 18-year-old who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, was going around 81 mph where the speed limit was 35 mph.

“These signs, that are currently limited in supply and moved to different locations across the county, were deployed to Blake Lane immediately following the crash, and were very much appreciated by the community,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said on Tuesday (July 19). “They have now been, understandably, rotated to another site. With a larger inventory of these devices, we could serve more communities for longer periods of time, but I am interested in the staff assessment of this idea.”

The Board of Supervisors directed staff to provide information and recommendations on purchasing more of the devices, which can take the form of signs on mobile trailers or fixed to posts as well as radar guns.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said police have told him no one is available to place the speed devices in his district. The Fairfax County Police Department used to have three people who were properly trained to place them, but two left and one was assigned to a different squad, he said.

“I think we can add all the devices we want, but if we can’t get them in place…Part of this I would hope is that the police will come back and tell us how they’re going to take the devices we have and get them out into the field,” Foust said. “And I ask that it not be relying on district by district. I mean, it’s a countywide problem.”

There are different kinds of devices, and some don’t require a special certification to utilize the devices, Palchik said.

With the FCPD experiencing staffing challenges, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity wondered if civilians could be trained to set up the devices.

“One of the things we might be able to look at as a solution is do we really need police officers to set these up, or can we get other folks trained to set it up? I don’t know whether that’s an option,” he said. Read More

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Traffic fills the Richmond Highway (via Fairfax County)

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has awarded nearly $341 million to seven major transportation projects in Fairfax County.

Approved on Thursday (July 14), the NVTA gave out about $630 million to 20 projects across the region with its latest six-year program. More than half the money went to projects in Fairfax County.

“The NVTA takes a multimodal approach to providing transportation solutions and options that keep Northern Virginia and beyond moving, recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling traffic congestion in the Washington, D.C. region,” NVTA chair and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said in a statement. “The 20 projects the NVTA has just adopted are no exception.”

NVTA committed to funding six county projects and one project from the Town of Herndon:

“We regularly talk about our goal in Fairfax County to ‘move people’ no matter how they choose or need to travel. I could not be more pleased with this investment in our community,” Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay wrote in a statement. “Fairfax County is the economic engine of the Commonwealth, and our infrastructure is at the core of this tremendous progress.”

The Fairfax County Parkway funding will widen 2.5 miles of the road between Nomes Court and Route 123 (Ox Road) in Fairfax Station as part of a larger project. No timeline is being given yet for when construction might start or be completed, according to the project page.

Fairfax Connector will acquire eight electric buses to initially serve four routes between Tysons and Franconia, potentially starting by the end of this year.

The combined $140 million for the two Richmond Highway projects will widen a three-mile stretch of the corridor from four to six lanes, among other improvements, and support The One, a dedicated bus service.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, construction on the widening could begin “as early as 2025” and take three to four years to complete.

The bus rapid transit service expected to serve up to 15,000 passengers a day with nine stations by the time it’s completed in 2030. All in all, both projects are expected to cost a billion dollars in total. Read More

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D.C. region price increases over the last decade for basic needs (via Fairfax County)

Sufficient health care, college degrees, and homeownership are becoming increasingly unattainable for Fairfax County residents with low to moderate incomes, a new report finds.

Late last month, Fairfax County released its “Needs Assessment” study, which comes out every three years with data on the current economic conditions in the county and the impact those conditions have on residents.

The report paints a pretty harrowing picture in light of the pandemic and recent inflation, particularly for lower-income residents. Low to moderate incomes are generally defined as those earning 60% or below the area median income. In 2021, that number was $77,400 for a family of four.

Just in the last year, those living on a limited income are having more trouble affording basic needs, as rising cost-of-living expenses mean lower-income households are spending more than they did in the past.

“Fairfax County residents with moderate to low income may have little to no money remaining after covering essential expenses, such as food and housing,” the report says. “This limits a household’s ability to build savings and restricts economic competitiveness.”

According to the report, household incomes have not kept pace with rising costs of essential expenses over the past decade.

In Fairfax County, the median household income has gone up about 21% since 2012. However, food, housing, and transportation all have risen more in that timeframe. Most notably, health care costs have risen by a whopping 41% in the last decade.

“Longer-term, health care costs have increased the most over 10 years, which may present challenges for residents who do not have health insurance coverage,” the report says.

As a result, the lowest-income households in the county are spending much more on health care, percentage-wise, than other income brackets.

The lowest 20% of households by income are spending nearly 29% of their expenses on health care, while those in the middle are spending between 15% to 17%.

Consumer prices have also gone up more in this past year than at any other point in the previous four decades. Tuition and child care now cost nearly 4% more than last year, housing more than 5%, health care 7%, and food 8%, according to the report. Read More

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

While it won’t be quiet around Fairfax County on Monday with Fourth of July celebrations, many government offices and facilities will be closed.

Government offices, and some businesses, are closed for the Independence Day holiday. Public transportation schedules may be lighter and public services, like trash collection, may be changed. See our listing below to get details on what will be open and closed.

Government

Fairfax County government offices will be closed Monday (July 4) in recognition of the Fourth of July holiday, but some facilities are open and schedules vary.

The library system’s branches will be closed on Monday. Animal Control is closed, as it normally is, on Mondays.

The Circuit and District courts will be closed Monday.

The Town of Herndon offices will be closed Monday.

Park Authority

All Park Authority rec centers and golf centers and will be open Monday. Historic sites, nature centers and Green Spring Gardens will be closed. Frying Pan Farm Park Farm and indoor arena will be open while its visitor center will be closed. The River Bend Park Visitor Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All Neighborhood and Community Service facilities will be closed Saturday (July 2) through Monday. Reston Community Center Hunter Woods will be open Monday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Lake Anne will be closed on Monday.

The McLean Community Center will be closed.

Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. But Herndon Centennial Golf Course will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting.

Transportation

Fairfax Connector will operate on a Saturday service schedule on Monday. Human Services Transportation (FASTRAN) will not operate on Monday.

On Monday, Metrorail will open at 7 a.m. and close at midnight but last train times vary by station. The Orange Line trains will operate between Vienna and Stadium-Armory only, according to Metro, but free express and local shuttle buses will be provided.

Trash

The county advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for service schedule changes due to the holiday.

The I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be closed Monday.

Town of Herndon recycling will be collected Tuesday (July 5) since it is normally collected Monday.

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Juneteenth will be celebrated across Fairfax County and the nation Sunday and Monday this year.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed into law Juneteenth, June 19, as a federal holiday. This year, the holiday will be observed on Monday (June 20).

The date has been commemorated to mark the end of slavery, recognizing that on June 19, 1865, news that the Civil War was over and the enslaved were now free reached Galveston, Texas.

It has been celebrated since but only became a federal holiday last year. See a listing below of what will be open and closed in Fairfax County on Sunday and Monday.

Government

Fairfax County government offices will be closed Monday (June 20) in recognition of the Juneteenth holiday, but some facilities are open and schedules vary. Fairfax County Public Schools will also observe the holiday Monday for all personnel.

The library system’s branches will be closed on Sunday and Monday. Animal Control will still have its regular Sunday hours, and is closed, as it normally is, on Mondays.

The Circuit and District courts will be closed Monday.

The Town of Herndon offices will be closed Monday.

Parks Authority

All Parks Authority rec centers, nature centers, historic sites, visitor centers and the Green Spring Gardens Horticultural Center will be open Sunday. The Green Spring Gardens Historic House will be closed. But on Monday, the historic sites — Colvin Run Mill and Sully Historic Site — will be closed.

All Neighborhood and Community Service facilities will be closed Saturday (June 18) through Monday. Reston Community Center Hunter Woods and Lake Anne will be open Monday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. But Herndon Centennial Golf Course will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., weather permitting.

Transportation

Fairfax Connector will operate on a holiday weekday service schedule on Monday. Its stores and customer service center will be closed. Human Services Transportation (FASTRAN) will not operate on Monday.

On Monday, Metro will operate buses on a Saturday supplemental schedule, but trains will run from 5 a.m. to midnight, following a “normal” schedule aside from the ongoing closure of certain Orange Line stations due to platform work, according to a news release.

Trash

The county advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for service schedule changes due to the holiday.

The I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be open for their normal hours.

Town of Herndon recycling will be collected Tuesday (June 21) since it is normally collected Monday.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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A photo of a street sign on Lee Highway (file photo)
A photo of a street sign on Lee Highway (file photo)

If it were up to a majority of local business and property owners, the Fairfax County portions of Routes 29 and 50 would simply adopt those numbers as their official names.

County staff revealed yesterday (Tuesday) the results of a survey asking business and property owners located on Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways (Route 50) what their preference for new names would be.

The survey provided five options for each road, but in each instance, the original route number won out, staff said at the Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting.

For Lee Highway, about 55% of the 86 respondents chose Route/Highway 29 as the preferred new name. For Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, more than 60% of the 62 respondents chose Route 50.

Several board members agreed that, in terms of efficiency and continuity, reverting back to the road number is probably the best route.

“Frankly, I’m not surprised by the responses to the name changes, if we were to move forward with those,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said, adding later that “in terms of implications on businesses and people who live along these corridors…that would be the least intrusive and, frankly, easiest for drivers and commuters.”

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik suggested the board consider aligning the roads’ names with neighboring jurisdictions to prevent further confusion among those driving in the region.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity asked whether the survey included a question about if the businesses and property owners wanted name changes at all. Staff said it didn’t due to a previous task force determination that the names should be changed.

The ongoing process of changing the names of the two major thoroughfares in the county began in 2020 when the Fairfax County History Commission unveiled a report that showed about 150 public sites in the county were named after Confederate figures or symbols.

Then, a task force was appointed specifically to review renaming Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial. That group recommended late last year to rename the two roads, and earlier this year, alternate names were recommended to the Board of Supervisors.

​​Outreach to businesses and property owners along these corridors was the next step.

Now, the Board of Supervisors needs to approve new names, commit to the costs associated with the changes, and submit a request to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. At this time, it’s unclear when all of that might happen.

The survey also inquired that if the name changes would result in any financial expenses for the businesses. For both highways, more than 70% of respondents answered yes, citing potential expenses related to legal documents, signage, and marketing.

In response, the committee discussed ways to help or reimburse businesses on these expenditures when the name changes do happen including a grant system and a reimbursement program.

Regardless of the final names, the county is responsible for paying the cost of updating signage and way-marking. The staff determined the overall cost could range from $1 million to $4.2 million.

The price will depend on which names are selected, with the cost increasing for longer names.

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Still waiting for Silver Line phase two… (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Officials say it’s just a matter of weeks before the long-anticipated opening date of phase two of the Silver Line will be known.

At a Fairfax County transportation committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill said he expects to find out about a date for operational readiness within two weeks.

“If we don’t hear back as a board and as a region that operational readiness is not completed or available no more than two weeks from now, I would be very surprised,” Hill said at the meeting.

Still, it’s unclear exactly when that could be. Interim Metro Head Andy Off has previously stated that Metro expects to declare operational readiness within the “next several weeks.”

The 11.4-mile extension, which would bring six stations through Loudoun County, has been besieged with delays for years. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has remained tight-lipped about an expected opening date, which would be determined once operational readiness is formally declared.

Metro’s board will establish a service date after identified deficiencies are resolved to meet acceptance standards.

Martha Coello, who works with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s special projects division, said that the county’s portion of the punch list is 99% complete. The county just faces a small hang-up with a contractor that “won’t impact operational readiness or opening.”

Coello said discussions with stakeholders on opening days are ongoing. FCDOT is also seeking the board’s suggestions on how to best proceed with launch-day festivities. The project was substantially completed in November.

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A taxicab in a parking lot (staff photo by David Taube)

As gas prices continue to rise, cab drivers in Fairfax County may be getting even more help at the pump.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is looking at implementing an emergency $2 fuel surcharge on every trip starting later this month. That would double the current surcharge, which was implemented in April, as gas prices have climbed even compared to two months ago.

“The current emergency taxicab fuel surcharge of $1.00 only covers an increase in fuel cost up to $4.30 per gallon,” the staff report notes.

The average gas price in Fairfax County is currently $5.02, according to the American Automobile Association.

“Taxicab drivers already operate on low margins, but they play an important role for many residents and visitors to Fairfax County,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement to FFXnow. “It is vital to keep them operational and, additionally, it is not fair for the taxicab drivers themselves to be impacted by devastating increases in fuel prices throughout the county. This is a temporary surcharge increase that we have the ability to rescind as gas prices hopefully fall in the future.”

The initial $1 surcharge ordinance expires this Saturday (June 11). If approved, the new one would begin June 29 and last six months — essentially to the end of 2022 — “unless rescinded.”

When it met yesterday (Tuesday), the county board approved a June 21 public hearing to discuss the increase. A vote on the measure is anticipated on June 28. If approved, it will be implemented the next day.

A number of neighboring jurisdictions have implemented similar fuel surcharges. Arlington’s $1 charge went into effect mid-May and will be on the books for six months. The City of Alexandria’s dollar surcharge began in March and could last up to a year.

Beyond those employed by the industry, keeping the taxi business afloat is important for a number of other county residents, according to the staff report.

“The on-demand availability of safe and reliable taxicab services…is important to the public well being, especially for those consumers unable to use public transportation and who rely on taxicab service for their basic transportation needs,” it reads.

The county government and Fairfax County Public Schools work with cab companies for special-needs transportation, including providing nearly 3,000 wheelchair accessible trips in 2020.

Cabs are also part of the TOPS program, which provides subsidized transportation to eligible residents. The report says TOPS participants take about 134 taxicab trips per month, so the fuel surcharge is estimated to cost the county about $1,600 extra per month.

Approximately 90 students with disabilities and special needs use cabs to go to and from school. FCPS estimates that an extra $15,000 will be needed for the surcharge, but it will be able to absorb the extra costs into its budgets.

The ordinance leaves room for the surcharge to be extended, increased or rescinded “if prices fall significantly.”

There’s hope that the surcharge may actually increase the number of cab drivers in the county.

“The $2.00 per-trip emergency taxicab fuel surcharge will continue to provide relief to the taxicab drivers who are suffering an economic hardship from increased fuel costs,” the report said. “This increase may also help retain current drivers and recruit new drivers.”

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A Bird e-scooter at The Boro in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County has now lived with shared electric scooters for almost half a year, and early data suggests the devices have been serving their intended function.

There has been one hiccup, however: Superpedestrian’s LINK — one of two vendors approved to operate in the county last July — did not renew its permit after it expired in January, according to the Fairfax County Department of Cable and Consumer Services, which regulates the Shared Mobility Device program.

For now, that means Bird is the only e-scooter operator in town, but Superpedestrian and the county say Link will return.

“Superpedestrian plans to continue serving Fairfax County,” Superpedestrian Director of Communications Jamie Perkins said by email. “We’re working with the County now on our permit renewal, so that our riders in Fairfax won’t experience a gap in service.”

Rebecca Makely, acting director for the Department of Cable and Consumer Services, said Superpedestrian had recently experienced “some staff turnover,” possibly contributing to the permit renewal delay.

The permits granted by the county allow operators to deploy up to 300 scooters each. Superpedestrian says it plans “to continue with that level of service.”

Prior to its permit expiration, usage of Link’s e-scooters in the county was on the rise, according to data that the company submitted to the county as required by its contract.

Link reported 702 total rides in August, when it started deploying its scooters, with an average trip distance of 0.77 miles. The number of rides increased every month, reaching 1,045 rides for January.

Maps showing where trips start and end indicate that the company’s devices are concentrated in Tysons, Merrifield, and Fairfax, particularly around George Mason University.

For Bird, ridership has trended in the opposite direction, starting at a high of 4,968 rides in September 2021. After hitting a low of 1,007 rides in February, though, the company saw its usage more than double for 2,309 rides in March, suggesting the previous drop could be related to the winter weather.

“We’ve been encouraged by ridership in Fairfax County and commend the County for their commitment to providing residents with an eco-friendly alternative mode of transportation,” Bird said in a statement. “As the weather warms up, we look forward to seeing more riders scooting around town.”

According to heat maps that Bird gave to the county, its scooters are primarily being used in Tysons, Reston, and Bailey’s Crossroads.

For both vendors, the average travel distance has typically been under a mile, though Link saw an average of 1.16 miles in October. That suggests e-scooters are serving as a “first mile, last mile” transportation option, as the county hoped when the Board of Supervisors approved regulations for the devices in 2019.

“[Shared mobile devices] are easy to use and access and have a low cost of use, providing yet another transportation option to access entertainment, dining, shopping, and other destinations,” Makely said in a statement. “SMDs serve as a component in the ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, with a framework for advancing active transportation and a vision and roadmap for safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets and trails in Fairfax County.”

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