(Updated at 3:50 p.m. on 1/31/2023) Just three years after going a full season without Metro, Fairfax County’s Orange Line stations will again be subjected to an extended summer shutdown, as the transit agency works to upgrade some of its equipment.
As part of a larger maintenance work plan, the Vienna and Dunn Loring stations will be closed from June 3 to July 27 so Metro can replace a steel rail that has degraded, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency announced yesterday (Tuesday).
The replacement will unfold in two phases “to reduce the customer impact,” according to Metro. During the first phase from June 3-26, the closure will also include the West and East Falls Church stations. Those stations will reopen on June 27.
(Correction: This article previously reported that the Ballston and McLean stations will also be closed during the first phase. Metro has clarified that they will remain open, but a shuttle will be needed to get around the East Falls Church station closure.)
“The Infrastructure team will focus on replacing 40-year-old steel rail that has become significantly more susceptible to rail breaks than rail in any other part of the system,” WMATA said. “Metro has been tracking rail breaks in the system to identify priority locations for replacement and has determined the rail in this stretch of track to be a top priority.”
The work will also include a replacement of the copper cables at the stations with fiber-optic cables, giving them “advanced radio, signal, and train communication technology.”
Metro typically schedules its major maintenance projects during the summer when there’s lower ridership, according to the news release.
This year’s plan is focused on modernizing the rail system. It will also involve single-tracking on the Maryland end of the Orange Line from May 12 to 22 and a 44-day shutdown of the Maryland end of the Green Line from July 22 to Sept. 4.
“Continued maintenance work is essential to safe and reliable rail service,” WMATA Executive Vice President of Infrastructure Andy Off said in a statement. “We are working strategically to target maintenance locations and minimize the impacts on customers as we conduct this critical work to upgrade systems, improve reliability, and modernize station facilities.”
A Metro spokesperson said the agency is “working on a shuttle bus plan to connect the closed stations and will announce the travel alternatives well ahead of the stations closures.”
This summer’s partial Orange Line shutdown won’t be as extensive as the three-month-long closure of 2020, when Metro overhauled the station platforms.
When ridership plummeted that spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency expanded the closure to include the Silver Line between Ballston and Wiehle-Reston East so that it could connect those stations to the upcoming extension into Loudoun County.
The Silver Line stations ultimately reopened that August, followed by the Orange Line stations just after Labor Day. Even with the unexpected leeway for construction in 2020, the Silver Line extension still encountered several delays before finally launching service last November.
According to its online rail data, the Vienna Metro station is averaging the most daily rail entries out of the four Fairfax County stations that will be affected this summer, as of November:
- Vienna — 8,794 entries
- West Falls Church — 4,674 entries
- Dunn Loring — 3,543 entries
- McLean — 928 entries
In a quarterly report last fall, WMATA reported its highest ridership levels since the pandemic took hold in March 2020, though the 45.6 million riders across rail and bus was still just 60% of 2019 levels.
A path has been cleared for construction to begin soon on the long-awaited MetroWest town center, promising retail and pedestrian safety enhancements near the Vienna Metro station in Oakton.
As recommended by the planning commission in late October, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted last week to remove a limit on the number of residences allowed at the mixed-use development before work also starts on planned office buildings.
Occupying approximately 9.8 acres directly south of the Metro station, the future town center will bring up to 900 residential units, 300,000 square feet of office, and at least 55,000 square feet of retail to the 56-acre MetroWest development.
Developer CRC Companies said at the public hearing on Nov. 1 that the county is on the verge of approving site plans for the first two residential buildings, which will combine for more than 500 units and 12,000 to 15,000 square feet of retail space.
“To say that’s a long time coming is probably the biggest understatement of the afternoon, if you know the history and legacy of MetroWest at all,” McGuireWoods attorney Greg Riegle said, representing CRC at the hearing.
When originally approved in 2006, MetroWest was capped at 1,100 residential use permits (RUPs) until some construction is completed on one of the planned office buildings, but market changes have stalled the commercial portion of the project.
With 706 dwellings already built and 408 more units on the way from fellow developer Pulte Homes, CRC sought to have the condition removed so it can also deliver the town center’s third and final residential building — and the accompanying retail and open space that has failed to materialize.
“By continuing to develop the town center and round out the amenity package, that’s the best chance to make the office actually happen at MetroWest,” Riegle said.
As part of the updated development conditions, known as proffers, CRC will provide a 2-acre interim open space with an asphalt trail on Atlas Plaza “to create a walkway circuit,” according to a county staff report. The plaza will eventually be replaced by the third residential building.
The town center will have a permanent plaza between that residential building and the two office buildings, but CRC isn’t required to build it until the first RUP or occupancy permit is issued for the second of those buildings to be constructed.
The developer has also agreed to construct pedestrian safety improvements along Vaden Drive and at its intersection with Royal Victoria Drive, right in front of the Providence Community Center.
The proposed improvements will extend the existing concrete medians on Vaden Drive into the crosswalks, adding detectable warning strips and rapid flashing beacons, shown as yellow diamonds on the diagram above.
“There’s quite a bit of pedestrian, bike, family, dog activity, and improvement to that safety is definitely a priority for the community members, for the residents, and for my office,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.
Though it’s unclear when construction on the town center will begin (CRC didn’t return an inquiry from FFXnow by press time), Palchik and other supervisors expressed hope that their vote will allow the county’s vision for a vibrant, mixed-use community at the Vienna Metro to finally come to fruition.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn and Franconia Supervisor Rodney Lusk recalled discussing the MetroWest plan when they served on the planning commission back in 2006. The meeting lasted until 3:45 a.m., according to Alcorn.
“I appreciate where it’s come and see this as a very vital and necessary step for this development,” Lusk said.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission will soon decide whether to remove a condition that could allow construction to start on the planned town center at MetroWest.
The proposed buildings would bring up to 900 residential units and retail amenities to the 56-acre community south of I-66 and the Vienna Metro Station.
According to an application submitted in January, developer CRC Companies asked the commission to remove a condition, also known as a proffer, that limits how much a housing developer can build without providing the 300,000 square feet of office space.
The original MetroWest plans were approved in 2006, and the proffer was put in place to guarantee different uses for the space. However, CRC has argued that the real estate market has changed since it was approved, making office space less viable.
The developer also said the proffer hinders the development of retail and open space for existing residents.
During the planning commission’s public hearing on the amendment last week (Oct. 20), McGuireWoods managing partner Gregory Riegle announced that construction on the first phase of the town center would begin soon.
“We are literally within weeks or months of starting to construct the first phase under the governing proffers and understanding that this has always been an important project,” Riegle said. He also briefly explained why developers are requesting a change to the existing proffer.
“The reasons for this change are perhaps self-evident, given well-documented realities about an objective oversupply of office space combined with decreasing demand,” he said.
Riegle noted that the amenities, size and scale, retail, and the required urban design would not change if the proffer were revised.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred the final decision to its meeting tomorrow.
Thanks to some unanticipated financial wiggle room, Fairfax County’s request for funds to build pedestrian facilities near the Vienna Metro station now has support from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
At a meeting on Thursday (June 2), the regional group of elected officials approved the proposed trail as one of seven projects recommended for I-66 Commuter Choice funding, which comes from toll revenue and supports transit and infrastructure improvements in the corridor.
NVTC staff had recommended in April that the commission leave the trail off its list of projects to submit to the state for consideration. The six projects supported at that time included a continuation of Fairfax Connector’s bus service between the Vienna Metro and the Pentagon.
The projects were seeking $12.4 million in funds, and the group estimated that $14.1 million would be available. Fairfax County is requesting $2.2 million to build a nearly 1-mile I-66 Trail segment between the interstate’s Nutley Street interchange and Blake Lane in Oakton.
NVTC says the project could now be fully funded with $1.4 million that has been freed up by “a pending project closeout” on top of $1 million in “remaining revenue that staff had already identified” for the coming fiscal year 2023-2024, which starts July 1 and ends on June 30, 2023.
“The proposed trail would create a safe, attractive route to Metrorail by bicycle or foot for commuters making their way to destinations in the I-66 Inside the Beltway corridor,” NVTC said in its agenda for yesterday’s meeting.
The trail will consist of 5,000-foot-long cycle track and sidewalk along Country Creek Road/Virginia Center Boulevard and a 10-foot-wide, paved shared-use path along Sutton Road.
According to a staff report, the commission received 17 public comments specifically about the trail from an online survey that was open from April 15 to May 16. All but one expressed support for the project.
“This is the project I’m most supportive of. Anything we can do that makes it easier and more convenient to walk or bike we should do,” one respondent said.
With construction on the cycle track and path not expected to start until late 2024, the Virginia Department of Transportation is planning interim amenities for bicyclists and pedestrians that are scheduled to fall into place this year.
The addition of the Vienna Metro trail brings NVTC’s total funding request up to $15.1 million. The other submitted projects include bus service renewals, bus fare reductions in Prince William, a Virginia Railway Express parking garage in Manassas Park, and a new Ballston Metro entrance in Arlington.
A sewer infrastructure project in the Vienna Metro station area is in the works, anticipating future needs in northern Fairfax County.
The Accotink Gravity Sewer Improvements Project will upgrade existing facilities that are projected to be insufficient, county staff say.
“In order to prepare the sewer system for the future needs, we really need to go forward with this project,” said Department of Public Works and Environmental Services project manager Thomas Grala during a virtual meeting for the public about the project on Tuesday (May 24).
According to a presentation, the county’s current total sewer capacity is approximately 90 million gallons per day, but by 2045, the area will need to accommodate a projected 120 million gallons per day, a 33% increase.
The Accotink Gravity project’s design phase could begin this summer and finish in the spring of 2023. The design phase will finalize the exact route of the sewer. Construction could begin in the fall of 2023 and end two years later.
Additional public meetings, including those with smaller groups such as homeowners’ associations and businesses, are expected in the future.
The existing Accotink gravity sewer starts by James Madison High School, passes through Nottoway Park, continues to Nutley Street, goes underneath I-66, and passes south under routes 29 and 50.
“It’s been working fine and many people walk along these routes…as pathways,” said Andrew Casolini, a project manager with Whitman, Requardt & Associates, a firm headquartered in Baltimore that the county selected to partner with on the work.
He noted during the public meeting that the system was initially installed in 1963 and upgraded in 1978.
The new project is estimated to cost approximately $37 million and would be covered by existing user fees and availability charges.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently agreed to raise sewer fees by about $38 on average starting July 1, and those annual rates are slated to continue increasing.
Meanwhile, the board is also considering switching an existing “growth-pays-for growth” policy, where developers’ costs would be shared by residents and other property owners.
Grala said the project is one of a series of upcoming efforts, such as a $110 million project in Tysons to create a new 5.5-mile-long pipeline for future growth that could be completed by the summer of 2026.
Photo via Fairfax County
Whenever the planned I-66 Trail is unveiled, it might have some glaring gaps in Fairfax County.
For a second time, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission has opted not to recommend funding for the county’s planned 1-mile segment of trail from the Vienna Metro station near Nutley Street to Blake Lane in Oakton.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation had requested $2.2 million in funding for the project, which would add a 5,000-foot-long cycle track along Country Creek Road/Virginia Center Boulevard and a 10-foot-wide paved path along Sutton Road.
It was one of four projects that the county submitted for consideration in the next round of the I-66 Commuter Choice program, which allocates I-66 toll revenue to transportation projects throughout the corridor.
NVTC staff recommended moving forward with six of nine projects proposed for fiscal years 2023-2024, which runs from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023. The regional group’s program advisory committee met yesterday (Thursday) to discuss the rankings prior to opening a public comment period today (Friday).
With a score of 69 out of 100 points, the only Fairfax County project to make the cut was a request for $1.2 million to support two more years of bus service between the Vienna Metro station and Pentagon. The funding will cover 10 morning and 10 evening peak direction, express trips.
The Vienna Metro trail project received 57 points based on technical merit, cost-effectiveness, and other factors. The county had previously submitted the project for Commuter Choice funding in 2019.
NVTC staff also did not recommend funding for an I-66 Trail segment along Post Forest Drive in Fairfax to the future Monument Drive commuter parking garage, or to enhance bus service from the Stringfellow Road Park-and-Ride in Centreville to the Pentagon.
Those projects had price tags of nearly $4.4 million and nearly $2.9 million, respectively, and received scores of 40 and 47.
How efficiently a project can move people is the leading factor when calculating scores, said Ben Owen, NVTC’s Commuter Choice senior program manager. The top six projects would involve nearly $12.4 million in funds, with a conservative estimate of $14.1 million expected to be available for this year.
The recommended projects are projected to reduce vehicle usage in the region, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 84%, and save commuters 83,000 hours of delay and $2 million annually in fuel costs, according to a presentation to the committee.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and Commonwealth Transportation Board are slated to approve the project list in June and begin funding in July.
Photo via NVTC/YouTube
For a system that’s already free for riders to use, cash prizes might seem too good to be true.
But Fairfax City’s public bus service is offering three $50 Visa gift cards to people who fill out an online survey for its first major rebranding effort since it launched in 1980.
Known as the CUE, or City-University-Energysaver, the service primarily operates in the city but also extends outside city limits, notably to George Mason University and the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metro station.
“CUE’s branding has remained largely the same for 40 years and it’s time to change things up,” CUE Transit Manager Ryan Visci told FFXnow by email. “We want to present ourselves as a modern, efficient, and reliable service to encourage new riders to give us a try.”
He noted the project is expected to refresh the service’s logo and branding so the service appeals to more potential riders.
“CUE is looking for input on a new branding project!” the city said on Twitter. “Whether you ride CUE or not, your opinion can help shape the future of public transit in our community.”
Per the survey:
The goal of this project is to evaluate the existing CUE brand and identify improvements to attract new riders, solidify CUE’s identity, and standardize public information while maintaining current customers and partnerships.
The city will also meet with riders to get feedback on March 30 during peak commuting times at the Vienna Metro station and the CUE bus stop at GMU’s Fairfax campus.
Early in the pandemic, ridership was about 25% of 2019 levels, but the service is now at 90-100% of pre-Covid levels, which amounts to around 2,000-2,500 trips per day, according to the city.