Newsletter

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has extended the Oct. 18 deadline for its community survey on proposed changes to bus service in Centreville, Chantilly, Vienna, Tysons, and neighboring areas, including McLean and Falls Church.

The online survey, which is available in English and Spanish, will now be open until next Wednesday (Oct. 27).

Unveiled at virtual public meetings on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, the preferred plan will enable Fairfax Connector to serve more people, reduce travel times, maintain more reliable schedules, and provide more access to key destinations in the area, according to FCDOT.

“We encourage people to take the survey so they can tell us what is most important to them in the preferred bus plan for the Centreville, Chantilly, Vienna and Tysons areas,” FCDOT Transit Planning Chief Michael Felschow said. “The service belongs to our riders and our goal is to make it dependable, convenient and on-time.”

Fairfax Connector launched its review last year as part of a broader effort to identify service improvements that could be made throughout the transit system. So far, the evaluation has also included looks at the Franconia-Springfield area as well as Reston and Herndon.

County officials initially presented three possible plans: one similar to existing service patterns, one that completely overhauled the service area, and a hybrid. The preferred plan now under consideration is the product of revisions based on community feedback.

The proposed plan encompasses 24 bus routes, including several involving the Tysons area:

  • Route 427 (North Tysons-Spring Hill): A new route between the Spring Hill Metro station and the McLean Governmental Center area, via Jones Branch Drive and Spring Hill Road
  • Route 468 (Vienna-Reston): A new route between the Vienna and future Reston Town Center Metro stations, via Lawyers and Soapstone roads
  • Route 660 (Centreville-Tysons): New, direct express service between the Centreville Park & Ride on Stone Road and the Tysons Metro station, via the Vienna station and I-495 Express Lanes
  • Route 662 (Centreville-Vienna): New off-peak and weekend service between the Centreville Park & Ride and the Vienna Metro station, via I-66
  • Route 671 (Chantilly-Vienna): New off-peak and weekend service with limited stops between Chantilly and the Vienna Metro station, via Route 50
  • Route 722 (McLean-Langley): A new express route between the McLean Metro station and Langley, via Route 123/Dolley Madison Boulevard

Some existing routes in the plan will have better connectivity or more frequent service, such as Route 467 between Dunn Loring and Tysons and Route 461, which travels in a loop through Vienna and Oakton.

A full breakdown of the routes and service maps can be found on FCDOT’s website.

Fairfax Connector is also studying a “flex service concept area” in Vienna and McLean northwest of Route 123 “as a way to provide future on-demand service to and from the four Metro Stations within Tysons,” according to a map showing the preferred plan’s peak service routes.

According to FCDOT, the preferred plan will shave about a minute off the average travel time within the review area compared to its existing Connector service. It will also put an additional 2,700 people within a quarter-mile of the bus system.

The changes will provide more service to population and job centers as well as minority communities and households with an income at or below $50,000, according to the county.

Along with filling out the online survey, community members can also provide input by phone (703-877-5600), email ([email protected]), and mail (Fairfax County Department of Transportation, 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax, VA 22033).

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Morning Notes

Last Day for Voting Registration in Virginia — Today (Tuesday) is the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 2 general election, which will determine Virginia’s next governor, House of Delegates, and other races. New voters and people who need to update their name or address can register online or by visiting the Fairfax County general registrar’s office. [Office of Elections]

Post Service Pilots Paycheck Redemption in Falls Church — The U.S. Postal Service is testing a program where people can redeem paychecks for Visa gift cards, topping out at $500, in Falls Church, Washington, Baltimore and the Bronx. It began in September and could expand to other places, possibly going nationwide after the holiday season. [The Washington Post]

More Overnight I-66 Closures Starting Today — “All lanes of I-66 West approaching Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) will close nightly October 12-14 for continued bridge beam installation at the I-66/I-495 Interchange. Traffic will be detoured using Route 7 and I-495. The ramp from I-495 North to I-66 West, as well as the 495 Express Lanes North, and multiple lanes of I-495 North approaching I-66 will also be closed so that this work may be implemented.” [VDOT]

Falls Church Warns of School Bus Delays — “Falls Church City Public Schools in Virginia is alerting parents that some school bus routes could be delayed because of double runs starting Tuesday. The problem is driver shortages. The announcement comes as many school districts in the D.C. region are experiencing similar issues.” [WTOP]

35th District Delegate Candidate Forum Tonight — The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area is hosting an online candidate forum at 7 p.m. today for Virginia’s 35th House District, which includes the Town of Vienna and part of Tysons. Register in advance to hear the conversation between incumbent Del. Mark Keam (D) and challenger Kevin McGrath (R). [Patch]

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Envision Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit concept (via NVTC)

A regional study of the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) route from Tysons to Alexandria is moving into a new phase that will assess options through the Seven Corners area.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission voted last night (Thursday) to approve a contract for the fourth phase of its Envision Route 7 mobility analysis study, which began in 2013 to evaluate the possibility of bus service between the Spring Hill Metro station and Alexandria’s Mark Center.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave their support to NVTC’s plans to continue the study in February and approved a recommended route for the Tysons segment of the BRT line in July.

“As we look to the corridor in segments, Fairfax has done a lot of work from Tysons to the border of Falls Church,” NVTC staff said at yesterday’s meeting. “This picks up on the analysis they’ve done and continues down to Seven Corners.”

The study is expected to take up to 18 months, ending in April 2023. It will be followed by environmental and preliminary engineering design before staff comes back with a strategic framework for the plan. The contract was approved with a $516,800 cap.

According to a report prepared for the meeting:

The Envision Route 7 Phase IV-1 Mobility Study will evaluate and determine the mobility benefits and impacts resulting from the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from Tysons to Seven Corners. The overall study objectives for this effort for the section of Route 7 from Tysons to Seven Corners are:

  • To determine the mobility benefits of BRT along Route 7;
  • To gain a better appreciation of the traffic impacts of BRT along Route 7;
  • To gain an understanding of the traffic operational issues with a BRT operating along
    Route 7; and,
  • To facilitate the public understanding of how a BRT would operate along Route 7.

With the 11-mile Route 7 corridor expected to see a 35% growth in population and jobs by 2040, NVTC anticipates that the planned BRT will generate about 30,000 boardings per day, two-thirds of which will be for shopping and recreation, according to the project webpage.

The project is part of a larger effort to create a regional BRT network, with services also planned for Alexandria’s West End and Richmond Highway in Fairfax County.

Photo via Northern Virginia Transportation Commission

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Starting over Labor Day weekend, transfers between Metro trains and Fairfax Connector buses will be free.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) said yesterday (Monday) it has partnered with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to provide free transfers on nearly all Connector bus routes beginning on Sunday (Sept. 5).

This lines up with Metro’s new policy of also offering free bus transfers, which was first announced earlier this month.

“Fairfax Connector has historically aligned fare policies with Metrobus and by doing so, helps create a seamless experience for users when moving between transit services provided by WMATA and the County,” FCDOT spokesperson Robin Geiger wrote in an email. “That’s why we are partnering with WMATA to extend their program to Fairfax Connector bus service to provide good customer service and provide incentives to ride transit.”

The two exceptions will be the Fairfax Connector Express Service and the Wolf Trap shuttle. Both will be discounted by $2, though, with the use of WMATA’s SmarTrip card or app.

This is a pilot program that will operate for the next 10 months, through early July 2022, Geiger says.

Fairfax Connector serves all Metro stations located in Fairfax County. The transit system recently expanded service in the Falls Church area by taking over five Metrobus routes, four of which had ceased operations during the pandemic.

Additionally, the Wolf Trap shuttle will start again operating on Sept. 5. The shuttle runs between the West Falls Church Metro station and Wolf Trap National Park’s Filene Center.

The new policy is part of a larger push to encourage increased ridership on the Fairfax Connector as schools, offices, and other public places reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We hope that when people go back to their workplaces, they consider returning to or trying transit for the first time,” writes Geiger. “Now, is the time to ride because the free transfer from Fairfax Connector to Metrorail or from Metrorail to Fairfax Connector saves money and because Fairfax Connector continues to provide a safe and healthy environment on buses.”

In May, county officials said they were reviewing possibly reducing or even eliminating fares altogether on the Fairfax Connector.

To help with this, the county was planning to apply for grant funds from Virginia’s Transit Ridership Incentive Program. The application deadline for the program is Sept. 17. Geiger says there’s currently no additional information on the possibility of reducing or eliminating fares.

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Spring Hill Elementary School students attend a morning meeting on the first day of the 2021-2022 school year (via FCPS)

The first day of school is always a nerve-wracking affair, but the stakes felt especially high on Monday (Aug. 23), when Fairfax County Public Schools brought back roughly 180,000 students after more than a year of mostly virtual instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the return to school unfolded relatively smoothly, students, staff, and parents raised a multitude of concerns as well, primarily around transportation and the lack of distancing and masks in cafeterias, Fairfax County School Board members said during a work session on Tuesday (Aug. 24).

The transportation challenges were largely expected, as FCPS advised families last week that a school bus driver shortage would lead to delays. In a presentation to the board, Superintendent Scott Brabrand reported that the district had filled 86.4% of its 1,121 bus driver positions as of Monday, leaving 152 vacancies.

Still, the advance warning didn’t make the delays less frustrating for students and their parents.

“[Parents] want to know how long is it going to take for their children to come in, and [there were] also lots of concerns with students who were left outside to wait for their buses, and they don’t know how long,” Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson said. “Is it 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 45? When we have the heat we had yesterday and rain that’s going to come, because let’s be clear, this transportation issue is not going to be resolved any time soon.”

According to an FCPS spokesperson, the Langley area has been hit hardest by the shortage, though the school system was unable to provide data on exactly how many students have been affected by bus delays.

Noting that the school system has 20 “double-back” routes this year, compared to just eight last year, FCPS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Transportation Services Jeff Platenberg told the board that delays were reduced by 40% from Monday morning to Tuesday.

Even on Tuesday morning, however, late runs to Langley High School, Spring Hill Elementary, and Longfellow Middle School were all an hour off of their schedules.

“We know everybody is anxious about it, including us,” Platenberg said. “We’re excited about this start for the school year. We have some extreme challenges with this bus driver shortage, but we are working with our communities.”

He added that kiss-and-ride lines at schools were “jammed” on Monday and Tuesday, calling it “a healthy problem to have” since the crowds indicated that parents were heeding FCPS’ advice to drive or walk their children to school if possible.

One parent who asked to not be identified described the kiss-and-ride experience at her son’s elementary school as “absolute pandemonium,” with supervising staff seemingly scrambling to figure out where students were supposed to go.

In one case, a 4-year-old girl ended up on a shuttle to an after-school program that she doesn’t attend, leading her parents to post on social media that she was missing.

“I’m not trying to disparage the teachers who are clearly out there doing the best that they can, but from a system standpoint,” the parent said on Tuesday. “Yesterday and today were very, very hot days to just sit there for 30 minutes with no shade. What if it’s a pouring rainy day? What is your system? There has to be a better way to think through this.” Read More

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Just days before the new school year is set to begin, Fairfax County Public Schools says it hasn’t hired enough bus drivers to fully serve the thousands of students who rely on the bus fleet to travel to and from school.

In a message posted to its social media channels, FCPS advised parents to walk with their children or drive them to school if possible, stating that “there may be delays impacting bus routes” across the county when school starts on Monday (Aug. 23).

FCPS says it is unable to provide exact numbers for the gap in staffing “because the situation is so fluid,” but the shortage is part of a nationwide trend that has resulted in reports of buses arriving hours late or not showing up at all from Stafford County and Lynchburg City to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Broward County in Florida.

“Like other school districts across the country, we do have more shortages than is usual for this time of year,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said. “We are actively recruiting and offering a $2,000 signing on bonus and are working to limit any potential disruption.”

Moult added that students will not be penalized if they are late to class due to a delayed bus.

Fairfax County Public Schools notified the community that a bus driver shortage will likely lead to delays when school restarts on Monday (via FCPS/Facebook)

The bus driver shortage is the latest instance of staffing challenges interfering with efforts to resume five days of in-person learning for more than 180,000 students in Virginia’s largest public school district.

After the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift to virtual learning in March 2020, teachers’ wariness of returning to physical classrooms earlier this year led FCPS to hire hundreds of classroom monitors that provided support and supervision for in-person students.

FCPS then delayed its Extended School Year classes for students with disabilities this summer, because it didn’t have enough teachers, especially for its special education program.

According to an ABC News report, it’s not unusual for schools to be short-staffed on bus drivers at the beginning of an academic year, but this year’s deficits have likely been exacerbated by health concerns: buses provide little space for distancing even when many students were still learning virtually, and drivers are often retirees, a demographic that has been hit hard by the pandemic.

Curt Macysyn, executive director for the National School Transportation Association, told ABC News that money and competition from commercial transportation jobs could also be factors.

The Fairfax Education Association, an FCPS employees’ union that represents more than 400 transportation workers, said in a statement that it believes higher pay would help alleviate the driver shortage:

We certainly know that our transportation staff play an important role in the lives of our students. This shortage will potentially delay the start of a school day, force multiple runs to cover all routes, and put drivers into a position of driving many more students than should be considered safe on a bus during this COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing will not be possible. Masks will be required. We believe that increases to hourly wages, in addition to the signing bonuses, would attract and especially retain our current drivers and attendants. We are committed to working with FCPS to address this situation.

As of 2018, the national median salary for bus drivers was $16.56 per hour or $34,450 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. FCPS starts wages for school bus drivers at $19.58 per hour, on top of offering a $2,000 bonus to new drivers this year.

FCPS says on its website that the shortage will require available drivers to more regularly cover two scheduled routes back-to-back that typically would be served by two different buses. These “double back” runs may affect pick-up and drop-off times before and after school.

FCPS has set up a webpage that will list delayed buses, which can also be tracked through the Here Comes the Bus mobile app.

“We understand that any transportation delay is frustrating and has an impact on the entire family,” FCPS said. “Thank you for your flexibility as we work through some of our challenges with transportation this fall. Our goal is to serve each and every one of our students and our families with safe, efficient transportation.”

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Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit alternatives map (via Fairfax County Department of Transportation)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved a bus rapid transit (BRT) route through the heart of Tysons, despite some concerns that it might not be as “express” as hoped.

Fairfax County started studying options for BRT through Tysons three years ago as part of a regional push to establish a bus line between Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria.

After reviewing several alternative routes, the board voted on Tuesday (July 27) to approve county staff’s recommendation for a route that will run from the Spring Hill Metro station up to International Drive and from there down to Route 7 past Tysons Galleria and Tysons Corner Center.

“The outreach on this plan was very well done, very thoughtful, and working with our transit associations,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “I think this has had robust input from our community…This is going to be best for businesses in Tysons and for our pedestrians and cyclists.”

One concern raised at the board meeting by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity is that the route won’t have pull-off spots that will allow for both express buses that run directly between major points without interruption and local buses that would make more frequent stops within Tysons.

“I think we’re really short changing ourselves not doing the local stops, where they pull off, so we can run express [buses] on it,” Herrity said. “I think long term, we’re going to be sorry for that.”

Herrity abstained from the final vote, saying he supported the project overall but had concerns about its structure.

Chairman Jeff McKay said the existing configuration represented a compromise between the need for better transit and respecting the right-of-way limitations in Tysons.

“Right of way is at a premium,” McKay said. “The impact to our businesses and impacts to our residents on the right-of-way needs of these projects is significant and significantly challenging.”

With the route approved, the Tysons BRT route will be incorporated into the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s broader Envision Route 7 study, which is currently in its fourth and final phase.

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Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Jeff McKay speaks during a press conference on Metro bus routes changing to Fairfax County Connector routes (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 10:05 a.m.) Bus routes taken offline during the pandemic are making a comeback.

Fairfax County officials gathered outside the West Falls Church Metro station yesterday (Tuesday) to herald the upcoming changes involving the Fairfax Connector, which will take over several Metrobus routes starting Saturday (July 10) and also adjust service on several key routes.

“As we come out of the pandemic, it’s never been more important to have robust bus service…to get people back on transit to remind them how convenient it is, how practical it is and how easy it is to use,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.

McKay noted that county officials chose the Metro station as the location for their press conference formally announcing the changes, because the new bus routes will help bring transit riders there. The five new Fairfax Connector routes are projected to serve around 69,000 residents.

Another Fairfax Connector service change also starting Saturday involves discontinuing route 422 (Boone Boulevard to Howard Avenue) due to low ridership and duplicate service provided by routes 401, 402, 462, and 467, the county said.

Approved by the county board in March, the changes will restore four existing routes that were run by Metrobus but had ceased operating due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county bus system will also take over a fifth route.

A Metrobus at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The county detailed the changes as follows:

  • 703: Pimmit Hills (former 3T route) will provide weekday and Saturday service, linking Pimmit Hills and Tysons to the McLean and West Falls Church Metrorail stations. The service operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours and every hour during weekday non-rush hours and Saturdays.
  • 715: East Falls Church – Langley (former 15K route) will have weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes to further link McLean, Salona Village, and Chesterbrook Gardens to the East Falls Church Metro station.
  • 803: Annandale Road (former 3A route) will deliver weekday and Saturday service, linking Lake Barcroft, Annandale, and North Springfield to the East Falls Church Metro station; it operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours, every 40 to 60 minutes during weekday non-rush hours, and every 45 minutes on weekends.
  • 834: Annandale-Pentagon (former 29C route) will extend to Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale Campus Route and offer weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale and Lincolnia to the Pentagon Metro station; express service is $4.25.
  • 835: Annandale-Pentagon (former 29W route) will extend to part of Olley Lane and Braeburn Drive and have weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking the Northern Virginia Community College and Willow Woods communities to the Pentagon Metro station; express service is $4.25.
Fairfax County announced bus route changes at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Bus fees are $2 ($1 for seniors) and have unlimited transfers within two hours of boarding with a SmarTrip card. More information is available at fairfaxconnector.com, which also provides text and email alerts as well as customer service contact information.

“We are pleased to restore and enhance these services,” McKay said.

Other service changes involve routes 171 (Richmond Highway), 462 (Dunn Loring to Tysons), and 630 (Stringfellow Road — Centreville).

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust called this an exciting time for Fairfax Connector specifically and transit in general, pointing to next year’s anticipated, long-delayed launch of the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line.

Fairfax County Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust speaks during a press conference on Metro bus routes changing to Fairfax County Connector routes (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The moves also come as the county looks to move away from diesel buses by 2035, which the board noted last week is ahead of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s timeline to have electric buses by 2045.

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Morning Notes

Metro to Phase Out Diesel Buses — The Metro Board of Directors approved a plan yesterday (Thursday) to phase out buses powered by diesel and natural gas over the next two decades with the goal of having a zero-emissions fleet by 2045. The transit agency will start adding electric buses in 2023 and cease purchases of emission-producing buses by 2030, a timeline that critics argued is too slow. [The Washington Post]

Approval of West Falls Church Plan Anticipated — “The Fairfax County Planning Commission, at its scheduled meeting next week, is expected to endorse the proposed amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan that will open up the potential for a large-scale coordinated development of WMATA’s West Falls Church Metro station property and adjacent property occupied by Virginia Tech.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Mosaic District to Open Rollerskating Rink — The Mosaic District in Merrifield will hold a grand opening celebration for its new Skateland rink from 5:30 to 10 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday). The disco-themed event will feature live music from the band Groovalicious and support Pride Month with 50% of ticket sales going to FCPS Pride. [EDENS]

Madison Baseball Vies for State Title — James Madison High School’s baseball team is set to compete in the 2021 Virginia High School League Class 6 state tournament tomorrow after defeating Lake Braddock 6-0 on Tuesday (June 22). If the Warhawks win, it would be the program’s first state championship since 2015 and its fourth ever. [Sun Gazette]

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Bus riders in McLean and Falls Church can expect an increase in service next month, as Fairfax Connector prepares to take over multiple Metrobus routes, including four that had ceased operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting on July 10, the Fairfax County bus system will assume control of five routes from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Some changes to existing Fairfax Connector routes, including two that connect the Tysons Corner and Dunn Loring Metro stations, will also take effect.

“Fairfax Connector will restore and provide enhanced service on these routes serving key areas in Fairfax County with connections to the McLean, East Falls Church, West Falls Church, and the Pentagon Metrorail Stations,” the Fairfax County Department of Transportation said in a news release yesterday (Wednesday).

FCDOT says the former Metrobus routes serve approximately 69,000 residents and provide access to more than 36,000 jobs in the county.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the new routes and the changes to existing routes on March 23.

Here are the routes that Fairfax Connector is taking over from WMATA, according to the county:

Route 703: Pimmit Hills – West Falls Church (replaces Metrobus Route 3T)

  • Provides weekday and Saturday service, linking Pimmit Hills and Tysons to the McLean and West Falls Church Metrorail Stations.
  • Operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours, and every 60 minutes during weekday non-rush hours and on Saturdays.

Route 715: East Falls Church – Dolly Madison (replaces Metrobus Route 15K)

  • Provides weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes with improved connectivity linking McLean, Salona Village and Chesterbrook Gardens to the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.

Route 803: Annandale Road – East Falls Church (replaces Metrobus Route 3A)

  • Provides weekday and Saturday service, linking Lake Barcroft, Annandale, and North Springfield to the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.
  • Operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours; every 40 to 60 minutes during weekday non-rush hours; and every 45 minutes on weekends.

Route 834: Pentagon – Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale Campus Route (replaces Metrobus Route 29C)

  • Provides weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking the Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale and Lincolnia to the Pentagon Metrorail Station.
  • Express service – $4.25.

Route 835: Braeburn Drive – Pentagon – Route 835 (replaces Metrobus Route 29W)

  • Provides weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking the Northern Virginia Community College and Willow Woods communities to the Pentagon Metrorail Station.
  • Express service – $4.25.

Service on all of those routes had been discontinued due to the pandemic, except for Metrobus Route 3A, which saw a reduced service levels.

Effective July 10, Fairfax Connector will also make a “minor operational adjustment” on Route 462 that it says will improve connectivity between the Tysons and Dunn Loring Metro stations, while increasing access along Maple Avenue in Vienna. Buses will run every 30 minutes during weekdays and weekends on that route.

In addition, Route 467, which also links the Tysons and Dunn Loring Metro stations, will start operating every 40 minutes throughout the week with the addition of Sunday service.

The route has been realigned to serve Maple Avenue, as well as Old Courthouse Road to Gallows Road, after a newly reconstructed Cedar Lane Bridge over I-66 opened to traffic in December.

Photo via Fairfax Connector/Facebook

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