Tysons, VA

With only a week left until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Fairfax Connector announced that two bus routes will stop operating today (Wednesday) through Jan. 20 due to planned road closures in Washington, D.C.

Route 699, which normally travels between the Fairfax County Government Center and downtown D.C., will instead serve as a free shuttle to transport riders from the government center park and ride to the south entrance of the Vienna Metro station.

“The shuttles will leave the government center at the time on the schedule,” Fairfax Connector said in a tweet. “The shuttles will leave Vienna about 45 mins after their DC departure time with the goal of getting riders back to the P&R lot near their regularly scheduled arrival time.”

Fairfax Connector suggests Routes 631, 632, and 634 as travel alternatives for passengers on Route 697, which goes from the Stringfellow Road Park and Ride in Centreville to D Street SW in D.C. Routes 631, 632, and 634 all stop at the Stringfellow Park and Ride and the Vienna Metro station.

Fears that the violence that embroiled the U.S. Capitol last week could return during the lead-up to Inauguration Day have put the D.C. region on edge, prompting thousands of National Guard troops and federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to mobilize for the National Special Security Event.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay joined other local and state public officials in warning community members against traveling to downtown D.C. on the day of the inauguration and the days preceding it.

“Sadly, the terror that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was not a contained or isolated incident, and there is continued concern that similar violence is an ongoing threat to Americans and our democracy,” McKay said in a statement today.

The chairman says that the Fairfax County Police Department has been in contact with D.C. police about “the evolving situation” and has increased its presence in “key areas” of the county.

McKay advises residents to stay home if possible, avoid downtown D.C., and report any suspicious activity to police at 9-1-1 or the FCPD’s non-emergency line at 703-691-2131.

“Fairfax County will do all we can to help our partners in the region ensure a peaceful and safe transition of power on January 20, 2021 because that is the will of Fairfax County residents and the majority of Americans across the country,” McKay said.

Photo via Fairfax Connector/Facebook

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on 10 proposed changes to its Fairfax Connector bus service, including alterations to several routes in the Tysons area.

Fairfax Connector announced on Dec. 18 that, in response to the opening of a new Cedar Lane Bridge over Interstate 66, it will enhance service to Routes 462 and 467, which link the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station with Tysons Corner.

In a news release issued yesterday (Tuesday), FCDOT provides more details on those impending changes, which are set to take effect on Jan. 4:

Route 462 — Dunn Loring-Navy Federal-Tysons: This route would continue to serve Old Courthouse Rd. and Gallows Rd. operating every 30 minutes, during rush hour, presently being served by Route 422. The route is now linked to Route 467.

Route 467 — Dunn Loring-Tysons: This change would add service to Old Courthouse Road and Gallows Road, add Sunday service and improve frequency, operating every 40 minutes, 7 days a week.

On top of those changes, Fairfax Connector is also exploring the possibility of adding five routes that would replace service previously provided by Metrobus.

Two of the proposed new routes would serve the Tysons area:

Route 703 — Pimmet Hills: This route would replace Metrobus 3T and provide service between the West Falls Church Metrorail and McLean Metrorail stations, operating Monday-Friday + Saturday

Route 715 — Chain Bridge Rd.: This route would replace Metrobus 15K on weekdays only. The first southbound trip starts at Langley and would eliminate a section of the current Metrobus 15K route between Rosslyn and Langley.

FCDOT will host a virtual community meeting on all of the suggested service changes on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. Registration for the WebEx event is now open.

Community members can also share their feedback by taking an online survey that is available in English and Spanish, emailing [email protected]irfaxcounty.gov, calling 703-339-7200, or sending a letter addressed to FCDOT Planning at 4050 Legato Road #400 Fairfax, VA 22033-2895.

Public comments must be received by 5 p.m. on Jan. 22.

According to a presentation on the service changes, FCDOT plans to request that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approve its proposal in February. If approved, the changes would take effect in July 2021.

Photo via Fairfax Connector/Facebook

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Fairfax Connector is enhancing its service for two routes between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and Tysons Corner.

The Fairfax County bus system announced today (Friday) that the anticipated Dec. 23 opening of a new Cedar Lane bridge over Interstate 66 gives it the ability to restore Routes 462 and 467 to their previous routing and scheduling, effective Jan. 4.

Route 467 will also have Sunday service “due to increased passenger demand,” Fairfax Connector says.

The enhanced Dunn Loring-Tysons routes are one of several service changes that Connector passengers can expect starting on Jan. 4.

On that day, Fairfax Connector will begin resuming fare collection following a months-long hiatus that began in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Riders must also return to boarding from the front door after entry shifted to the rear doors in an effort to limit close contact between passengers and drivers and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The move comes as doses of two vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer are delivered in Virginia and throughout the country to front-line health care workers and individuals in long-term care facilities.

Metro will also begin resuming the collection of bus fares on Jan. 3.

In order to protect passengers and bus operators, the county has installed polycarbonate driver shields on buses. Face coverings continue to be mandatory inside buses.

Connector staff have distributed 66,000 face coverings to passengers without masks since May. Riders are encouraged to practice social distancing when possible, stay at home if they are sick, and wash hands often with soap and water.

Transdev, the bus systems operations continue, continues to step up cleaning and disinfecting of bus interiors and commonly used areas like door handles and handrails, according to the county.

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report

Staff photo by Jay Westcott, photo courtesy Fairfax County Department of Transportation

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Metro will start collecting fares from bus riders again on Jan. 3 as part of its pandemic recovery plan, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced yesterday (Thursday).

The WMATA board of directors authorized a temporary suspension of Metrobus fare collections in March as part of a policy prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic that required riders to board buses through the rear doors in an effort to reduce contact between passengers and drivers.

With fare collections resuming, bus riders should return to entering the vehicles from the front, where the farebox and SmarTrip equipment are located.

WMATA says the change in policy is enabled by the more robust public health procedures that it has put in place now that there is a better understanding of how the novel coronavirus is transmitted.

“With everyone wearing masks, shields for operators on every bus, and enhanced daily cleanings, front-door boarding is safe, expands our capacity for more riders, and helps us resume some normalcy,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said. “We also need to collect fares from every rider to keep essential Metro transit employees working and continue to provide essential service.”

Metrobus costs $2 per trip, which is payable in cash or with a SmarTrip card. Metro also offers a seven-day bus pass for $15 that provides unlimited access to Metrobus and other local bus services, including the Fairfax Connector.

The plan to resume collecting bus fare comes as Metro threatens to make significant service cuts after plummeting ridership during the pandemic contributed to a projected deficit of nearly $500 million for Fiscal Year 2022.

The dilemma facing Metro is shared by other major transit systems around the country, leading local elected leaders and transportation officials to call for the inclusion of public transit funding in a federal coronavirus relief package currently under negotiation in Congress.

Without outside support, WMATA could close 19 stations, drastically reduce rail and bus service hours and routes, and eliminate 2,400 additional jobs. The impact of those cuts is expected to land hardest on low-income residents and other populations that depend on transit.

Metro’s proposed FY 2022 budget will be up for public comment early next year.

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously and without discussion on Tuesday (Dec. 1) to begin the procurement process to find a contractor to build a new Tysons Fire and Rescue Station.

After occupying 1560 Spring Hill Road for 40 years, the new Fire Station 29 will be located at 8300 Jones Branch Drive in McLean, where it will share the site with the Tysons West Park Transit Station.

Constructed in 1978, the existing Fire Station 29 needs more apparatus bays to house fire trucks, major upgrades to its building systems, and enhanced living facilities for female personnel, according to Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Building Design Branch Chief Tiya Raju, who is managing the project.

The new station will be approximately 20,000 square feet in size with five bays. The current station only has three bays.

The two additional bays will enable the new station “to add emergency response units to meet future increased demand for emergency medical and fire suppression services to support population growth and high-density development in Tysons,” Raju says.

As part of the project, Fairfax County is planning to add a seven-bay bus transit facility to the Tysons West Park Transit Station. DPWES is also coordinating with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation on the construction of a future ramp through the site that will connect Jones Branch Drive with the Dulles Toll Road.

The county has approved a $15 million construction budget, estimating that the total cost of the project will be $20 million.

Plans to replace Tysons Fire Station 29 have been in the works for almost a decade since the county initially negotiated a proffer to move the station to the bottom floor of a mixed-use high-rise building in 2011.

After those plans fell through, Fairfax County opted to use an off-site alternative clause in 2016 that would allow it to construct a new station when needed instead of waiting for development. The Tysons West Park Transit Station emerged as the most appropriate location.

“The original fire station no longer meets the needs of the community or the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “The larger replacement fire station will have the capacity to add emergency response units in order to best serve the Tysons region, which is one of the fastest growing areas in Fairfax County.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Metrorail and Metrobus users in Fairfax County may be seeing service changes next year.

Proposed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority staff to help close a $176.5 million-gap in the budget for this fiscal year, the changes span management actions to service changes to deferred capital projects. WMATA staff say the Silver Line expansion will not be impacted.

The proposed budget revisions are currently under review and will be voted on by the WMATA Board of Directors this Thursday (Nov. 19).

This deficit is mostly a result of an 80% reduction in revenue from ridership, WMATA Virginia Government Relations Officer Gregory Potts told the Greater Tysons Citizens Coalition during a meeting on Nov. 12.

The Metro saw a 90% drop in ridership across the board, including Tysons, Potts said. The declines in train and bus usage began in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they persist today.

Nine months into the pandemic, Metrobus ridership is down by 60%, a slight recovery from the 80% drop seen earlier in the year. That change can be partly attributed to the number of essential workers who may not be able to afford a car but still need to get to their jobs, Potts said.

“It’s been pretty eye-opening to us how important the bus is to the region,” Potts said. “Sometimes rail gets all the attention, but the bus system is really important to a lot of individuals. It’s an equity issue for us.”

WMATA staff are recommending Board members vote to authorize management actions and save $30.5 million, to defer non-safety related capital projects and save $30 million, and to make service reductions amounting to $116 million in savings.

The cuts could have been worse. A first draft of the plan released in September had more changes and cuts, because the deficit was projected to be $212 million. The plan was revised after WMATA opened up the plan for public comment, pushed its CARES Act money further, and found additional savings in operating costs.

WMATA initially projected the $546 million it received from the CARES Act would only last through 2020, but the agency now says it will stretch until March 2021. It also saved $35.5 million that would have paid for overtime, fuel, utilities and other costs.

Despite public objection to some reductions in services, a few bus lines that have been suspended in Fairfax County will remain on hold under WMATA’s updated budget plan.

It is hard to pinpoint when transit rates could return, Potts said.

“If you’re talking about pre-COVID-19 rates or more generally, some talk of ‘normalcy,’ where there are people wearing masks but more people riding, for transit, there will be an impact for longer than we want to imagine right now,” Potts said.

Currently, WMATA cleans buses, trains, and high touch-points daily, and it disinfects on demand with an electrostatic fogger machine, he said. Staff are providing riders with masks. Bus riders board from the back and the operators are protected by plastic shields.

Earlier this year, the Metro board approved a six-month deferral of the fare changes that will last through November.

To eliminate contact with employees, WMATA launched a SmartTrip app for Apple in September that enables contactless mobile fare payment. An Android app will be available by the end of the year, according to Potts.

“That’s good for convenience and safety,” he said.

Despite initial concerns about people contracting the novel coronavirus while using public transit, some preliminary studies internationally have demonstrated that “transit has not been known to be a transmitter in the way that other facilities may be,” Potts said.

Another positive development is that platform renovations to improve safety and accessibility at the Metrorail stations in Vienna, Dunn Loring, East Falls Church, and West Falls Church were completed on time.

“We’ve finished 10 platforms in the last year and a half,” Potts said. “It’s really moving along well. With the pandemic, they could actually maintain their schedule.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott, slides via WMATA

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Fairfax Connector will hold a trio of community meetings next week to solicit public feedback on how it can improve its service in Vienna, Tysons, Chantilly, and Centreville.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is developing recommendations for ways to improve different parts of the Fairfax Connector system, which transports about 30,000 passengers on 91 routes daily and represents the largest local bus system in Northern Virginia.

The focus of the review has now shifted to the Vienna, Tysons, Chantilly, and Centreville areas after Fairfax Connector planning staff previously looked at improving service in the Franconia-Springfield area and, before that, Herndon and Reston.

“FCDOT’s goals for this process include increased mobility, better access to destinations, improved travel times, increased schedule reliability, more effective transit operations and increased ridership,” the department says.

During next week’s meetings, FCDOT staff will present three possible plans for the future of Fairfax Connector service in the relevant areas.

According to the department’s website, the first alternative will build on Fairfax Connector’s most recent Transit Development Plan, and it is designed to reduce inefficient service while providing more service to frequently busy locations like Tysons. This option is most similar to the bus system’s current service.

County staff have also proposed a “transformation” alternative that completely overhauls service in the study area, including local all-day routes, rush hour-only service to Metro stations, and express service to the Tysons and Franconia-Springfield Metro stations.

“This alternative improves frequency, span of service, and provides new regional connections such as Vienna to Reston, Centreville to Tysons, and Chantilly to the Franconia-Springfield Metrorail Station,” FCDOT says.

The third proposed alternative is a hybrid of existing service and the new regional connections suggested with the second alternative, including Centreville to Tysons and Chantilly to Franconia-Springfield.

The community meetings have been scheduled for:

  • 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17
  • Noon on Wednesday, Nov. 18
  • 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19

The meetings will be held online, and the same material will be presented at all of them, FCDOT head of communications Robin Geiger says.

Members of the public can also give feedback by filling out an online survey or by mailing comments to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation at 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax, VA 22033.

Information for registering and accessing the virtual community meetings can be found on the FCDOT website.

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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Friday Morning Notes

School Staff Say Only 48 Hours Given to Decide Whether to Stay or Quit — “According to the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT), FCPS emailed some staff members two days ago asking them to decide on whether to accept an in-person position. The FCFT said the email from the school system gave staff members until Oct. 2 at 4:30 p.m. to make a decision.” [wusa9]

Mary Riley Styles Public Library Reopens Book Drop — “The moment you’ve been waiting for …. Our outside book drop is finally OPEN!” [Twitter]

Developer Association Launches $175 Virtual Bus Tour — “The 2020 NAIOP Northern Virginia Bus Tour is going virtual. The bus tour will be presented in three 45-minute online tours.” [NAIOP]

Fairfax County Discourages Traditional Trick or Treating — “To keep the number of new COVID-19 cases low, we must all do our part to stop the spread of the virus. This includes finding new and socially distant ways to celebrate the upcoming Halloween holiday.” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

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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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand has no plans to furlough bus drivers and food service workers, despite the virtual start to school next month.

In a letter sent to the community last night (Monday), Brabrand said he plans to “keep our FCPS family 100 percent intact” as the school year begins. Bus drivers are set to return to work next Tuesday, Aug. 25. Some will deliver meals to specific locations or along select bus routes.

In other cases, the school system may provide other work assignments like facilities maintenance, student support and delivering books and supplies to schools.

Brabrand also said the school system is working on an alternative plan to keep all food service workers employed throughout the academic years. Funding for service food service employees, which primarily relies on the sale of food, has taken a major hit due to school closures.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter:

I’d like to thank our food service employees for your heroic efforts to provide grab and go meals for our families since our schools shut down in March. More than 2 million meals have been served so far. Food distribution will continue through the rest of summer break and once the school year begins.   

A community survey is underway to determine meal demand for the upcoming school year. The results will determine if changes to the food striation schedule are warranted.

Other staff — including security guards and office employees — may also be asked to shuffle their job duties to support virtual learning.

The FCPS School Board is meeting today for a day-long work session to continue formalizing plans for the return to school.

Photo via FCPS

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