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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Fairfax Connector suspended fare collections last year as a temporary health measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the public bus system is considering longer-term adjustments to its fare policies with support from a new state grant program.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is one of 12 transit agencies in Virginia that have expressed interest in the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s new Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP), which will fund projects that increase connectivity in highly populated areas or remove barriers for low-income individuals by reducing or eliminating fares.

While fare collection resumed on Jan. 4, county leaders see reducing or subsidizing trip costs as one way to encourage more people to ride the Connector, which is the largest local bus system in Northern Virginia, transporting approximately 30,000 passengers on 91 routes in ordinary times.

“Access to transit is crucial in promoting equity county-wide and for many a barrier is cost,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay said. “Our Department of Transportation is committed to looking into how we can provide aid to those experiencing economic hardship.”

Created by the General Assembly during its 2020 session, TRIP was conceived before the novel coronavirus arrived in the U.S., but Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine told the Commonwealth Transportation Board during a May 18 workshop that the pandemic illustrated how vital public transportation is for essential workers, DCist reported.

“Fares turned out to be an obstacle. So we are really trying to use this as an opportunity,” Valentine said, according to DCist.

DRPT has split TRIP into two programs: one focused on regional connectivity, which could include everything from integrated fare collection systems to the creation of bus-only lanes on significant routes, and one focused on reducing the impact of fares on low-income users, which could involve eliminating fares, creating zero-fare zones, or providing subsidized or free passes.

Virginia has allocated a total of $129 million to the TRIP initiative through fiscal year 2027, including $88.4 million for the connectivity program and $39.6 million for the fare program, according to a presentation that DRPT delivered to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Legislators limited the fare reduction program to 25% of the initiative’s annual funding, but the General Assembly gave the program an additional $10 million in the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget, raising its total to $12.5 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

DRPT released a draft policy last week outlining how TRIP will be implemented, including how projects will be evaluated for grant funds. The resolution is open for public input through June 18, and the CTB is scheduled to vote on it on June 23.

The department has also made a draft of the program’s application guidelines available for public comment until July 7. Read More

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Fairfax County is taking a small but crucial first step toward electrifying its sprawling government vehicle fleet, thanks to more than $4 million in state grants.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (May 7) that the county will receive $4.4 million from the first round of Virginia’s Clean Air Communities Program, an initiative that launched in November using $20 million from the state’s Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust.

Three of the five awarded grants went to Fairfax County agencies:

  • Department of Transportation: $2.9 million for four shuttle buses and chargers
  • Department of Public Works and Environmental Services: $1.2 million for four solid waste and recycling trucks and chargers
  • Department of Vehicle Services/Department of Procurement and Material Management: $205,275 to purchase a medium-duty truck and charger for the public library system

The other recipients are the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which will get $3.9 million to purchase five shuttle buses and chargers, and Amherst County, which got $998,301 for two trucks, a shuttle bus, and chargers.

“Supporting clean transportation solutions is a vital part of our efforts to combat climate change and improve air quality in the Commonwealth,” Northam said. “These investments will reduce harmful vehicle pollution, which disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, and help accelerate an equitable transition to a cleaner economy for all Virginians.”

Fairfax County will use its grant funds to launch an electric vehicle pilot as part of a broader push to eliminate fossil fuels from the county’s transportation operations and achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.

The county’s Joint Environmental Task Force recommended in October that the Fairfax Connector bus fleet transition to electric vehicles or other non-carbon-emitting alternatives by 2030, followed by public school buses and non-bus vehicles in 2035.

The county has approximately 6,347 vehicles in its overall fleet, including 1,540 Fairfax County Public School buses, according to the Department of Vehicle Services.

While the new pilot will kick off the conversion of the county government fleet, FCPS received its first electric school buses in January from a statewide initiative led by Dominion Energy, which has pledged to replace all diesel buses in the state with electric ones by 2030.

The county first utilized electric vehicles for public transit in November, when the autonomous Relay shuttle kicked off passenger service in Merrifield for a year-long pilot project.

“To cut carbon admissions, we have to reimagine the way in which we travel,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “As a county, we are already actively moving towards cutting our emissions from our public transit and this will move us closer to our end goal.” Read More

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Morning Notes

NoVA to Expand COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments — Virginia Vaccine Program Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula says that COVID-19 vaccine appointments will become more readily available in Northern Virginia “in the next couple of weeks.” Loudoun County and the City of Alexandria have already entered Phase 2, but appointments may initially become harder to schedule when localities like Fairfax County expand eligibility. [WTOP]

NVTC Requests Congress Support for Tysons Bus Service — The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission sent a letter to Northern Virginia’s Congressional delegation seeking financial support for the Envision Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit project, which aims to establish bus service between Tysons and Alexandria. [NVTC/Twitter]

Inova Officially Takes Over Surgical Partner — “Inova Health System has taken over Fairfax’s Virginia Surgery Associates, in moments of expansion for the Falls Church-based nonprofit and increasing consolidation in the industry. The deal, effective Tuesday, puts VSA’s 47 employees under the growing health system’s umbrella…It also adds four office locations in Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church and Lansdowne, to Inova’s footprint — bringing its total to six general surgery sites in Northern Virginia.” [Washington Business Journal]

Police Make Hire to Support Officer Wellness — “Interim Police Chief David M. Rohrer of the Fairfax County Police Department is pleased to announce, the hiring of Cindy I. Guerra as Director of the Incident Support Services Bureau, following a national search.  Ms. Guerra has formal training in police psychology and extensive experience in police operations, communications and officer wellness and support.” [Fairfax County Police Department]

McLean Art Classes and Summer Camps Begin Registration — Registration is now open for the McLean Project for the Arts’ spring art classes and summer art camps. Classes will take place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the summer camps are filling up fast and will include in-person and online options. [McLean Community Center]

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People who live and work in Tysons are one step closer to getting a bus rapid transit route through the area.

Fairfax County began studying options for bus rapid transit in Tysons two-and-a-half years ago as part of the larger Envision Route 7 BRT project from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which would establish bus service between Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria.

Now, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation has settled on a preferred route within Tysons, which it will recommend to the NVTC as the organization embarks on the fourth phase of study for the Envision project.

The county’s preferred route goes up Route 7 and takes International Drive up to Spring Hill Road, where it loops onto Tyco Road to rejoin International Drive. It will make six stops, FCDOT BRT Route 7 Project Manager Sean Schweitzer said during an informational meeting Wednesday night (March 24).

FCDOT chose the route out of three proposed alternatives because it would serve the most households, the greatest population — about 6,700 people — and the largest employment area in Tysons, according to Schweitzer.

Staff had narrowed nine options down to three after considering cost, sustainability, and accessibility, among other factors, he said. The second option, which is much shorter, branches off Route 7 to loop past Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Metro station.

Schweitzer said the third alternative most closely resembles the NVTC’s vision for a route through Tysons, circling around Tyco and Spring Hill roads but remaining aligned with Route 7 by passing through the Greensboro Metro station.

FCDOT staff will accept comments on the proposed paths through April 14 via the Route 7 BRT Survey. The NVTC will incorporate the selected route into the final phase of its Envision Route 7 BRT study this summer and fall, Schweitzer said.

“BRT is a more efficient form of local bus, which typically operates in zone-exclusive lanes,” he said. “BRT usually has enhanced stations with raised platforms for level boarding, smart digital fare, and real-time passenger information and bus times. Stops are more limited than local bus and are more distanced.”

BRT is comparable to light rail but at a lower capital cost, he said.

Like the BRT service operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Alexandria, pictured above, a service in Tysons could run along the median for part of the route. To further reduce conflicts with cars and bicycles, buses would get transit signal priority, and bicycle lanes would run behind the stations.

The buses would drive in mixed traffic, turning left onto Spring Hill and transitioning into a bus-and-turn lane before returning to the median lane, according to Schweitzer.

The service would run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekends, seating 110 passengers, he said.

After the meeting, FCDOT planner Mike Garcia told Tysons Reporter that the county obtained input from residential and commercial management groups, homeowners and civic associations, faith communities, libraries, recreational centers, schools, and other stakeholders, including the Tysons Partnership, in coordination with district supervisor offices.

“The pandemic did limit our outreach efforts to physically reach out to communities,” he said.

Map via FCDOT, photo via Google Maps

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Fairfax Connector will make a few service changes this summer.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved several proposed service changes during its meeting yesterday (Tuesday). The changes will be implemented starting July 10.

Service on Routes 462 and 467 will be enhanced “to improve connectivity between the Dunn Loring and Tysons Corner Metrorail Stations, as well as provide access to employment centers and activity centers along Maple Avenue,” according to the proposal made to the Board of Supervisors.

Route 462 will operate with 30-minute frequency while providing weekday peak-period service between the Dunn Loring and Tysons Corner Metrorail stations.

The realignment of Route 467 comes in response to the opening of a new Cedar Lane Bridge in Vienna.

The route will add Sunday service and provide weekday, midday and evening service as well as weekend service between the Dunn Loring and Tysons Corner Metrorail stations. The new realigned route will service Maple Avenue, and Old Courthouse Road to Gallows Road. It will operate with 40-minute frequency.

Route 422 will be discontinued due to low ridership, and because it duplicates service on other routes, including Routes 462 and 467. It currently operates as a circulator between Boone Boulevard and the Tysons Corner Metrorail station.

The proposal to the board says that eliminating Route 422 would offset the service adjustments to Routes 462 and 467.

Fairfax Connector will also assume operations of five Metrobus routes — Routes 703, 715, 803, 834, and 835 — that link communities to the McLean, East Falls Church, West Falls Church, and Pentagon Metrorail stations.

Route 703 replaces the existing Metrobus Route 3T, which is not currently operating and had been scheduled to be eliminated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority this year. The new route will provide weekday and Saturday service, linking Pimmit Hills and Tysons to the McLean and West Falls Church Metrorail stations.

Route 803 replaces existing Metrobus Route 3A, which is operating with reduced levels of service. The route will provide weekday and Saturday service to connect Lake Barcroft, Annandale and North Springfield to the East Falls Church Metrorail station.

Both 703 and 803 will operate with 30-minute frequency during weekday peak periods, 40- to 60-minute frequency during weekday off-peak periods and 45-minute frequency on weekends.

Routes 715, 834, and 835 will all provide peak-period service to replace existing Metrobus routes that are not operating currently. They will operate with a frequency of 30 minutes.

Route 715 replaces Route 15K, which links McLean, Salona Village and Chesterbrook Gardens to the East Falls Church Metrorail station.

Route 834 replaces Route 29C, which connects Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale, and Lincolnia to the Pentagon Metrorail station.

Route 835 replaces Route 29W, which links the Northern Virginia Community College and Willow Woods communities in Annandale to the Pentagon Metrorail Station.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation announced plans to pursue the service changes in December. The changes carry an estimated capital cost of up to $650,000 to purchase 12 buses from Metro and an additional $400,000 to convert them to the Fairfax Connector fleet, according to county staff.

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) has developed three potential routes for a bus rapid transit system (BRT) that would travel through Tysons and along the Route 7 corridor.

County staff will hold virtual public meetings at noon on Friday (March 19) and at 7 p.m. next Wednesday (March 24) to share details about the proposed routes, including possible station locations and performance analyses based on tests of the options.

Fairfax County has been studying options for bus rapid transit in Tysons since October 2018 as an offshoot of a larger Northern Virginia Transportation Commission Envision Route 7 BRT project that would establish bus service between Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria through Falls Church.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently approved $140,000 in funding to support the next phase of NVTC’s study, which will evaluate mobility benefits, impacts, and potential issues that could arise from the proposed bus system.

The county’s Route 7 BRT study focuses specifically on the Tysons portion of the project, which encompasses approximately three miles of Leesburg Pike from the Spring Hill Metro station to the I-66 interchange.

Based on a map from FCDOT, the three routes currently being considered are:

  • Alternative 1 circles around Tyco and Spring Hill roads via the Spring Hill Metro station and travels along International Drive before connecting with Route 7 at Gallows Road
  • Alternative 2 branches off Route 7 to loop past Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Metro station
  • Alternative 3 circles around Tyco and Spring Hill roads but stays aligned with Route 7, passing through the Greensboro Metro station

FCDOT staff will present a preferred route out of those three options during the two upcoming public meetings, and there will be time for questions and provide feedback.

Attendees can register online to receive a link to the WebEx meetings or dial in by phone at 1-844-621-3956. Comments can also be provided through an electronic survey that will be available after the meetings or through the project team’s feedback form.

Comments on the Route 7 BRT study will be accepted until April 14.

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