Tysons, VA

The announcement of more delays for the Silver Line have led to concerns from Supervisors Dalia Palchik and John Foust that Metro isn’t giving the communities around the Tysons area a fair shake.

Metro was one of several topics the supervisors spoke to the McLean Citizens Association about earlier this week.

“They are currently talking about reducing Metrorail service across the system to 80%,” Foust said. “Except that they’re saying they don’t have the funds to commence service on Phase II of the Silver Line.”

While Foust said the second phase of the Silver Line expansion isn’t quite ready for opening, it will be soon, and Foust said it deserved to be treated like any other wing of the Silver Line. Foust was particularly vexed by arguments from WMATA that Metro lines that had been operational before the shutdowns will be prioritized for service.

“If they get 80%, we should get 80%,” Foust said. “We’ve invested $6 billion into the Silver Line… I’m advocating for opening Phase 2 of the Silver Line as soon as possible.”

Palchik said these issues have been exacerbated by lack of communication between WMATA and Fairfax County.

“We found out, maybe hours before the public, that the Orange and Silver lines were being shut down,” Palchik said. “The lack of communication between our boards and the WMATA boards is frustrating beyond compare. [We] need to ensure we’re not seen as the wicked stepchild of the metro system.”

Staff photo by Michelle Goldchain

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The Virginia Department of Transportation is now soliciting public input on its draft proposals for potential safety and operational improvements on Route 50 until Oct. 30.

The Route 50 Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions (STARS) study centers on the three miles of Arlington Boulevard between Jaguar Trail and Wilson Boulevard (Route 613) in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County.

Released in an online presentation on Oct. 13, the proposed improvements include:

  • Pedestrian enhancements at Jaguar, Allen Street, Graham Road, Woodlawn Avenue, Annandale Road, the area between Marshall Street and East Tripps Run Road, and the Thomas Jefferson Library area
  • Turn lane improvements at Allen, Graham, and South Street
  • Access management improvements throughout the corridor, including a widened median in the Thomas Jefferson Library area, and extended medians at Allen, Graham, Annandale, and the area between Marshall and East Tripps Run

VDOT says its proposed improvements are primarily designed to reduce pedestrian crashes and improve safety without making significant changes to the roadway. Possible costs range from $2.5 million to $12 million depending on whether they would require any construction.

VDOT launched the Route 50 STARS study back in June 2019 and held a public information meeting on Oct. 21, 2019. An online survey conducted last October drew 962 participants, who identified traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, and travel time reliability as their top three issues with Route 50.

According to VDOT, Route 50 sees over 50,000 vehicles a day on average, and drivers often experience delays during peak hours, especially at the Graham Road and Annandale Road intersections. It also features 10 pedestrian crosswalks and 12 bus stops, while accommodating 60 Metro buses per day during the work week.

The annual crash rate on Route 50 is 32% to 43% higher than the average rate for the other primary highways in Northern Virginia.

“While they were not a large percentage of the reported crashes, pedestrian crashes accounted for many of the fatal crashes and severe-injury crashes in the corridor,” VDOT said in its video presentation.

VDOT had planned to present its initial draft recommendations this past spring, but limitations on large in-person meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic led the department to delay the presentation and deliver it virtually instead.

Community members can provide input on the recommendations by taking an online survey or sending comments to VDOT by email at [email protected] They can also be mailed to VDOT traffic engineer Bobby Mangalath at 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.

A report with the study’s final recommendations is expected to be released this coming winter.

VDOT emphasizes that the purpose of the study, which has a cost of $280,000, is to give Fairfax County options to consider when making funding requests and developing its comprehensive plan, but no decisions will be made on which projects, if any, will be implemented.

Staff photo by Catherine Moran, image via VDOT

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There’s been some progress on plans to start an autonomous shuttle service between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and the Mosaic District, but a large percentage of Americans still have concerns about autonomous vehicles.

The shuttle, operated in a partnership between Fairfax County and Dominion Energy, would be the first driverless public transportation in the region and the first state-funded autonomous transportation project in Virginia. The shuttle would be free to ride.

“The shuttle travel between the Dunn Loring Metrorail station and Mosaic in Merrifield,” Fairfax County said on the project website. “Signage has been installed along the testing route. At the conclusion of testing, the route should remain the same.”

The shuttle started testing in July and word on the grapevine is a new announcement about the shuttle is incoming within the next week.

While autonomous vehicles are generally safe, the few incidents of crashes have been high profile cases.

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The Board of Supervisors approved the receipt of a $58,212 compensation package to Fairfax County as reimbursement for this summer’s shutdown of stations along the Silver Line at the meeting on Sept. 29.

The planned shutdown had been in the works pre-COVID, but the nature of the closure changed when the pandemic hit.

“On December 11, 2019, WMATA announced the temporary closure of three Orange Line Metrorail stations west of Ballston Station during Summer 2020,” staff said in a report. “This temporary closure is part of a large construction project to rebuild 20 outdoor station platforms. The Summer 2020 shutdown was originally planned to impact four stations: Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church. Access to West Falls Church Station would be restricted but was going to remain open during the project because, it is equipped with three tracks and two platforms that can be reconstructed, one at a time. The West Fall Church Station was supposed to be the western terminus of the Orange Line during the summer months.”

When COVID-19 hit, Metro expanded those plans to include reconstruction work on all five Silver Line Metro stations, including West Falls church, to connect to Phase II of the Silver Line.

In total, nine stations were impacted.

The compensation is meant to help cover some of the costs to Fairfax County, like supplemental bus services, providing customer service and fare card loading services at the stations as Metro users were sent to buses.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Fairfax Connector will resume full service on all routes next Saturday (Aug. 29), bringing a return to a “new normal” after months-long disruptions in service.

The bus service — which is the largest local bus system in the state — will also feature new services, including a new commuter route from Stringfellow Road Park and Ride to Southwest DC.

Throughout the pandemic, the bus service maintained roughly 70 percent of its service in order to cater to customers who depend on it for essential jobs and vital services.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay thanked customers for being patient with past service reductions. “As we return to full service, the health and safety of Fairfax Connector passengers and personnel continue to be our top priority. Working together to diligently follow public health and safety guidelines will result in safer travel conditions for all,” McKay said in a statement.

A breakdown of new service being offered is below:

Route 699: Enhanced service on this route includes two additional morning and afternoon rush hour trips from the Fairfax County Government Center to Downtown Washington, D.C. (Foggy Bottom); adjustments to the departure times to better align with rider demand; and morning and afternoon rush hour reverse commute trips from Downtown, Washington, D.C., to the Fairfax County Government Center.  This route is supported by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) Commuter Choice Program and I-66 toll revenues.

Route 334: Enhanced weekday service operating every 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour during non-rush hour to better serve the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) facility in Springfield by way of Springfield Center Drive and Metropolitan Center Drive, with access to the Franconia Springfield Metrorail Station, the Defense Logistics Agency, and the Army Museum.

Routes 340/341: Minor route adjustments to maintain efficiency and dependability.

Transdev, the bus system’s operations contractor, will implement improved cleaning protocols, especially on common touchpoints like door handles and handrails.

Customers must continue to enter and exit the bus through the rear doors and wear face coverings. Riders are encouraged to practice social distancing by keeping six fee

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The Vienna and Dunn Loring stations will reopen to riders right after Labor Day, Metro announced yesterday (Monday).

The two stations are set to reopen on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The stations temporarily closed a few months ago for platform reconstruction.

“Rail service has returned to near pre-pandemic levels, and Metrobus service will increase dramatically beginning Sunday, August 23,” Metro said in the announcement.

Meanwhile, the East Falls Church station, which was originally set to open around Labor Day, is now expected to reopen two weeks ahead of schedule on Sunday, Aug. 23. Metro said that riders will be able to use a new free Bike & Ride facility at the East Falls Church station.

On Sunday (Aug. 16), five Silver Line stations, which temporarily closed for Silver Line Phase 2 work, and the West Falls Church station returned to service.

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Metro’s services are gearing up for a return to a “new normal.”

More buses and trains and expanded hours of service are set to begin this Sunday (Aug. 16), restoring most service to pre-COVID-19 levels. The McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill Metro stations are set to reopen on Sunday, along with the West Falls Church stop.

The Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church Metro stations are expected to reopen around Labor Day (Sept. 7), according to the announcement.

Metrorail plans to add 15 more hours of service per week. Opening times will also return to normal, with the system closing two hours later each night in anticipation of ridership increases after Labor Day.

The system is expected to restore roughly 75 percent of its pre-pandemic service beginning Aug. 23. Buses would operate until midnight and weekday service would return with 174 routes.

The reopening of six Fairfax County stations on the Silver Line is also on track for this Sunday.

Here’s more from Metro on the planned service changes:

Metrorail will open at 5 a.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. on Sundays and close daily at 11 p.m.

Weekdays Red Line trains will operate every 5 minutes during peak periods and 12 minutes off-peak; all others lines every 8 minutes during peak periods and 15 minutes off-peak.

On weekends Red Line trains will operate every 12 minutes; all other lines every 15 minutes.

Six stations west of Ballston re-open — McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill, Wiehle-Reston East and West Falls Church.

Arlington Cemetery Station remains closed as Arlington National Cemetery is currently closed to the general public.

Face masks or covering are required to travel on Metro, including at stations, trains, buses and MetroAccess vehicles.

Metro also warns that social distancing may be impossible due to projected ridership increases. Customers can consider traveling during off-peak hours.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Dominion Energy plans to roll out an autonomous, electric shuttle named “Relay” for testing in Merrifield as early as next week.

The self-driving shuttle will make a loop between the Mosaic District to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station. Fairfax County and Dominion Energy teamed up last year to start the pilot program to improve connectivity between the station and the shopping center, which are just under one mile apart according to Google Maps.

Peggy Fox, Dominion Energy’s spokesperson, told Tysons Reporter that testing is expected to start soon on the pre-mapped route. “It will be several weeks before we’re able to accept passengers,” Fox said.

Currently, the autonomous shuttle, which was made by the French company EasyMile, is in Alexandria awaiting its move to Merrifield next week, Fox said.

According to Dominion Energy, Relay is the first test of autonomous public transportation in Northern Virginia.

Photos courtesy Dominion Energy

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Updated 7/28/2020 — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the Memorandum of Agreement today.

Chairman Jeff McKay said that when he and former Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins first worked on the program, they were faced with skepticism about how much it would get used. McKay said that the program has seen “tremendous popularity” and that it helps address equity issues around transportation. 

“This program has been greatly expanded in a short period of time,” McKay said.

Earlier: While Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) will start the school year virtually, county officials want to make sure students will have continued access to free bus passes.

Fairfax County and FCPS teamed up in 2015 to create a pilot program that gives free Fairfax Connector bus passes to middle and high school students.

“Since its inception, nearly two million trips have been taken through the Free Student Bus Pass Program (FSBPP) and as of February 2020, student ridership accounted for approximately 6.5 percent of the total Fairfax Connector ridership,” according to county documents.

More from the county:

Through this innovative program, students can access extracurricular activities, stay after school for support and tutoring, access after school jobs and internships, and visit libraries, museums, and other recreational activities.

The program familiarizes students with public transportation and supports the development of a more multi-modal generation of young adults in the future. This is critical to increasing transit ridership, reducing traffic congestion, and improving mobility around the National Capital Region.

Fairfax County officials are looking to formalize the collaboration so that the program can continue.

The Board of Supervisors is set to vote on Tuesday (July 28) to approve moving forward with a Memorandum of Agreement between the county and FCPS, according to the meeting’s agenda.

Once the agreement is complete, the county will provide free rides on the Fairfax Connector to students with eligible passes and promote the program, while the school system will register, distribute and manage the passes.

In addition to the pilot program with Fairfax Connector, the county also works with the Washington Area Transit Authority (WMATA). In 2018, the county and WMATA expanded the bus pass program to include Justice High School in Falls Church.

Starting with the 2018-2019 school year, students now receive the bus pass in the form of a “specially designed SmarTrip Card,” according to Fairfax County’s website.

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Work for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project’s Silver Line Phase 1 has been underway in Tysons.

Phase 1 for the Silver Line includes the four stations (McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill) in Tysons along with the Wiehle-Reston East station.

Here is a roundup of recent work in Tysons for the project and what drivers and pedestrians can expect this week.

Near McLean Metro Station

People can expect a lane shift in mid-August for the realignment of Old Meadow Road with Capital One Tower Drive at Dolley Madison Boulevard (Route 123), according to the website.

“The Virginia Department of Transportation and Fairfax County requested the realignment to facilitate traffic crossing Route 123 from the Capital One complex to Old Meadow Road,” the website said. “The change is needed because of impacts caused by Silver Line construction at McLean Metrorail station.”

When the new work starts in August, crews will create a new median on Old Meadow Road at the intersection, necessitating the lane shift. The work at the intersection faced delays due to COVID, the website said.

“Crews continue to install drainage infrastructure, signal equipment, and landscaping along the south side of Old Meadow Road and the east side of Dolley Madison Boulevard to complete that part of the work,” the website said.

Leesburg Pike

Crews plan to wrap up Phase 1 work along Leesburg Pike in Tysons.

By the end of this week, final clean up is expected to be done on asphalt repairs and striping, according to the project’s website.

Recently, contractors finished “upgrades for the latest ADA compliance, repaired cracked sidewalks and repaired curb and gutter along the Phase 1 alignment,” the website said.

Lane Closures in Tysons

People will also see several lane closures this week in Tysons from today (Monday) to Thursday (July 23) from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and on Friday (July 24) from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

The closures include:

  • left turn lane from 300 feet before Westwood Center Drive to Leesburg Pike.
  • right lane from Route 267 to Westwood Center Drive
  • left lane from 300 feet before Westpark Road to 400 feet after Westpark Road
  • right lane from 600 feet before Spring Hill Road to 300 feet after Spring Hill Road
  • right lane from 300 feet before Tyco Road to 300 feet before Dulles Toll Road exit ramp

The closures are for manhole and sidewalk repairs and underdrain installation.

Photo courtesy Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project

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