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Rep. Gerry Connolly talks about the Silver Line in Tysons at a House subcommittee hearing on Metro (via Oversight Committee/YouTube)

(Updated at 10:10 a.m.) Tysons got a shoutout yesterday (Wednesday) from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) at the Congressional hearing on Metro.

Connolly called the hearing before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Reform, which he chairs, in December to address the safety issues that have sidelined more than half of the transit system’s trains for nearly three months now after a derailment in Arlington.

The two-hour hearing primarily featured Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency leaders addressing questions about the prolonged effort to fix the 7000-series trains, ridership declines, and a looming budget shortfall with federal relief funds running out.

However, it also saw Connolly defend the investments made to bring Metro into Tysons and Reston. The first phase of the Silver Line opened in 2014, after Connolly assumed office in Congress, but the groundwork for the $2.9 billion project was laid while he served on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Asked whether the D.C. area has the density to support Metro, witness David Ditch, a policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, suggested local governments should privatize rail or shift resources to buses, which he argued are “more economical” since they “share road infrastructure.”

“When you’re in a hole, stop digging,” Ditch said. “Past spending on transit infrastructure is not a justification for ignoring high costs and limited benefits or adding even more high-cost infrastructure on top of what we already have.”

Connolly countered that federal and local officials “experimented with” a variety of options for the Silver Line, including the inclusion of a bus rapid transit system as part of the project. Fairfax County launched an express bus service in the Dulles corridor in 1999.

However, he said the buses saw a third or less of the ridership of the existing Metro trains, indicating that rail would be the better investment.

He pointed to Tysons as an illustration of how transit can spur economic development, drawing more residents and businesses that will sustain the system long term, at least if Fairfax County’s comprehensive plan pans out.

“When we built the Silver Line through Tysons, we had 17,000 people live in Tysons, a physical area bigger than downtown Boston,” Connolly said. “Because of the advent of rail, there’ll be 100,000 additional residents in Tysons. The density, in some cases, is dependent on the investment in rail, and I believe Tysons is a great example of a potential success story.”

Unmentioned during the hearing was that plans for bus rapid transit in Tysons are in the works, though the proposed system will be tied to Route 7, rather than the Silver Line.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is also scheduled to approve plans to enhance bus service in Reston and Herndon later this month, as Metro prepares to open the Silver Line’s second phase this spring after years of delays.

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Morning Notes

I-495 South Lane Closures Tonight — “Weather permitting, the three left lanes of the southbound I-495 (Capital Beltway Outer Loop) general purpose lanes will be closed over the Dulles Toll Road (Route 267) for bridge work…The three left lanes of the southbound I-495 general purpose lanes are scheduled to be closed between 11 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 20.” [VDOT]

Falls Church Civil Rights Icon Gets Historical Marker — “An unveiling ceremony will convene this Saturday, Nov. 20, at 1 p.m. for a state historical marker that highlights the career of Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson, known as the ‘Father of Black Basketball’…The dedication will be held at the marker’s location alongside Henderson’s former residence at 307 South Maple Ave, Falls Church.” [Virginia Department of Historic Resources]

Fatal Drug Overdoses to Surpass Last Year — “Preliminary numbers show the number of overdose deaths in Fairfax County in 2021 are on pace to exceed 2020 numbers, according to data from the Office of the Medical Examiner. Data provided to Patch shows there were 56 overdose deaths reported to the county in the first two quarters of 2021. Of these, 52 (93 percent) were related to fentanyl.” [Patch]

D.C. Area Gets $19.3 Billion from Federal Infrastructure Bill — “So far, no jurisdiction has highlighted which major road projects they’d like to tackle, but bets could be on the replacement of the American Legion Bridge, the Maryland toll lane project if it gets approved, and improvements to I-81 in western Virginia.” [DCist]

Virginia Tribes Get Say in Development Projects — “Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday signed an order requiring state agencies to consult with Virginia Indian tribes before making decisions that impact land, waterways and other natural sites important to Indigenous peoples.” [The Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Environmental Advocates Urge Warner to Act on Climate — “Environmental activists protested outside the Tysons Corner office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) Thursday afternoon, calling on him to commit to ending federal fossil fuel subsidies as Congress debates separate budget and infrastructure bills.” [Patch]

Tysons Area Beltway Lane Closures Start Tonight — “The southbound I-495 (Capital Beltway Outer Loop) general purpose lanes will have nightly triple lane closures along the three bridges over the Dulles Toll Road (Route 267) and related ramps, weather permitting, Friday, Aug. 27 and Saturday, Aug. 28 for restriping to implement a temporary traffic shift for bridge joint work.” [VDOT]

McAuliffe Leads Gubernatorial Poll — “Democratic candidate for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is ahead of his opponent, Republican Glenn Youngkin in the latest poll released Thursday morning. McAuliffe is leading 50% to 41%, according to Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center-AARP poll. About 6% of voters remain undecided two months ahead of the November 2 election.” [DCist]

Deadline Approaching to Recognize Vienna Volunteers — “Nominations are now being accepted for volunteers who are worthy of recognition as Vienna Hometown Heroes. Since last year’s event had to be cancelled for pandemic-related reasons, this year’s celebration will recognize individual and group volunteer efforts for 2020 and 2021…Nominations for individual heroes are due Aug. 31.” [Town of Vienna]

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Encampment set up by people experiencing homelessness (via MWCOG)

Thanks to federal relief funding, Fairfax County is getting an infusion of emergency housing voucher money to help people who are at risk of homelessness or fleeing from domestic violence and others in need.

The American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March is providing $10 billion to address homelessness, including 70,000 vouchers to local housing authorities, including Fairfax County.

The county will partner with community groups to provide the housing assistance, which could last 10 years — the length of the program — for each recipient.

“We are very grateful to receive these Emergency Housing Vouchers to serve many of our most vulnerable residents and neighbors and help them achieve safe and stable housing,” Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority Chair C. Melissa McKenna, who serves as the Dranesville District commissioner, said in a statement.

The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority approved a county framework last Thursday (July 15) to receive the money, which involves 169 vouchers that will be made available in coming weeks.

Recipients will need to be referred to the program by county case managers or other service points, such as homeless services, Coordinated Services Planning (703-222-0880), or the Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline (703-360-7273).

Money will go to landlords, and recipients will be required to pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities.

The emergency housing vouchers can cover a variety of costs, including security deposits, moving expenses, and essential household items such as bedding and tableware.

Even outside the vouchers, ARPA has dedicated billions of dollars to addressing housing issues, as people have struggled to pay rent amid statewide shutdowns last year and uncertain employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need to provide housing assistance is expected to become especially urgent in the coming months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium expires on July 31.

“The [assistance is] designed to prevent and respond to [the] coronavirus by facilitation the leasing of the [emergency housing vouchers], which will provide vulnerable individuals and families a much safer housing environment to minimize the risk of coronavirus exposure or spread,” Dominique Blom, a general deputy assistant secretary with the Housing and Urban Development Department, said in a May memo describing the funding.

Vaccinations have helped bring the virus under control, but cases have been rising in Virginia and the U.S. amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which is now the source of 83% of all new COVID-19 cases, according to CDC estimates.

“Individuals and families who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness are often living in conditions that significantly increase the risk of exposure to coronavirus in addition to other health risks,” Blom said in the memo.

Eligibility for the vouchers is limited to individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or were recently homeless and “for whom providing rental assistance will prevent the family’s homelessness or having high risk of housing instability.”

People fleeing — or attempting to flee — domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking are also eligible for the vouchers.

“These vouchers — in addition to the existing programs and services offered through a robust partnership — offer yet another valuable resource to help position individuals and families on a reliable foundation from which they can achieve their fullest potential,” McKenna said in her statement.

During the first year of the pandemic, homelessness decreased throughout the D.C. region except in Fairfax County, which saw a 17% increase from 1,041 people in 2020 to 1,222 in 2021, and Prince George’s County, which had a 19% increase, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report.

Fairfax County has attributed the increase to expanded services supported by COVID-19 relief funding.

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Morning Notes

Editor’s note: Tysons Reporter will be taking Memorial Day weekend off starting tomorrow (Friday). Except in the case of breaking news, publishing will resume on Tuesday (June 1).

More Early Voting Sites to Open Saturday — Fairfax County will add 13 more early voting sites for the June 8 Democratic primary on Saturday (May 29), bringing the total number of locations up to 16. Sites in the Tysons area include the McLean Governmental Center, Providence Community Center, and Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library. [Fairfax County Government]

Couple Killed in Springfield Shooting — “A husband and wife are dead following a shooting in a residential area of Springfield, Virginia, on Wednesday morning, according to police. Police Chief Kevin Davis said authorities believe the ‘shooter or shooters’ are ‘known to a relative of our two victims.'” [WTOP]

Fairfax County to Get $17 Million From FEMA — Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced yesterday (Wednesday) that Fairfax County will receive $17.1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover costs associated with COVID-related public communications as well as medical supplies and equipment to combat the virus. [Office of Sen. Mark Warner]

Falls Church Memorial Day Street Closures — The City of Falls Church will close several streets to traffic to accommodate its Memorial Day parade from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Monday (May 31). Little Falls Street will be closed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day between Park Avenue and Great Falls Street for Memorial Day events. [City of Falls Church]

Local Leaders Recognize Death of Longtime Virginia Senator — Elected officials representing Fairfax County, including Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and Rep. Gerry Connolly, shared remembrances of former Sen. John Warner after he died in Alexandria on Monday (May 24). Warner served five terms in Congress, giving him the second-longest tenure of any Virginia senator when he retired in 2009. [The Washington Post]

Photo by Hilde Khan

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Fairfax County has been awarded approximately $3.3 million in federal funds to cover the costs of personal protective equipment, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced on Wednesday (April 14).

The funds come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be used to purchase and distribute masks, respirators, eye and face shields, and other PPE necessary to protect county workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a joint news release from the senators’ offices.

The money can also go toward tents, bags, door openers, and tables utilized by workers as part of the county’s pandemic response.

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go towards managing, controlling, and reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Warner and Kaine said. “As Virginians continue to wear a mask, social distance, and get tested and vaccinated, we remain committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth has the necessary tools to continue to combat this health crisis.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisor Jeff McKay says that, so far, FEMA has approved $11.5 million in requests for financial assistance from the county, including public assistance reimbursements for PPE, disinfectants, plexiglas, and communications expenses related to public health orders during the pandemic.

“I am appreciative of FEMA’s responsiveness in approving our submissions,” McKay said.

McKay’s office confirmed to Tysons Reporter that Fairfax County will receive $402 million in COVID-19 stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan, the federal relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.

About $179.7 million will go to Fairfax County Public Schools, while the remaining $222.5 million will go to the county government. In addition, the Town of Vienna is expected to receive close to $15 million, and $2.8 million will be allocated to the City of Falls Church, according to Inside NoVA.

McKay says Fairfax County is still waiting for “specific guidance” from the Treasury Department for how to utilize its stimulus money, but the county hopes to continue initiatives like the Fairfax RISE grant program that were supported by previous relief funds.

“We expect the funds to be more flexible than the CARES Act funding so we will need some time to see what our options are,” McKay said. “Regardless, we are excited to have the support of the federal government and believe it will be crucial to continue to lift up our community.”

According to a March 12 memo from County Executive Bryan Hill, Fairfax County had finished allocating more than $200 million in the Coronavirus Relief Fund that it created with money from the CARES Act. The funds went to support public health programs, county government operations, and virtual learning at FCPS and to provide assistance for residents and businesses.

Hill also noted that the county will also receive additional funds from the American Rescue Plan for its emergency rental assistance program, though the memo doesn’t specify the amount.

Kaine and Warner announced on April 8 that Virginia will get more than $96 million, including $7.8 million for Fairfax County, to support access to safe and affordable housing for people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their homes.

The Board of Supervisors will formally accept its American Rescue Plan stimulus funds on April 27 when it approves the county’s fiscal year 2021 third-quarter review, according to Hill.

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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The Tysons Partnership greeted news that the federal government might allocate funding to Metro for the next decade with a cheer.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) announced on Tuesday (Feb. 2) that he has reintroduced the Metro Accountability and Investment Act, which would provide funding to sustain the D.C. area transit system for 10 years.

Several other members of Congress who represent the D.C. area have also sponsored the bill, including Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District).

“We are hopeful that stable funding would instill a bright future for Metro and specifically ridership in Tysons,” the Tysons Partnership said yesterday.

The Metro Accountability and Investment Act would give the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) $1.73 billion between 2022 and 2031 by reauthorizing the Passenger Rail Investment Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), which established annual federal funding for Metro until it expired in 2018, according to The Washington Post.

Under Connolly’s bill, Metro would be required to implement and maintain certain safety and oversight reforms in order to receive the annual allocations, which range between $150 million and $200 million per year.

Among other conditions, the WMATA board of directors must pass a resolution by July 1 that gives independent budgeting, hiring, and procurement authority to the Office of the Inspector General, which conducts audits, reviews, and investigations of the transit agency’s programs and operations.

“Even before the pandemic, which has only exacerbated the challenges facing transit agencies across the country, WMATA was in need of a long-term plan that restored confidence in the rail system,” members of the National Capital Area Congressional Delegation said. “The Metro Accountability and Investment Act is a balanced proposal that recognizes the federal government’s responsibility to the funding, safety, and reliability of Metro.”

Plummeting ridership levels during the COVID-19 pandemic have created a dire financial situation for WMATA, which said last year that it would have to make significant service and personnel cuts without additional assistance.

Metro will avoid the worst-case scenario for now after Congress included an estimated $610 million for the transit system in the coronavirus relief package that was signed into law on Dec. 27. However, those funds are a temporary solution, and Metro officials say major cuts could be on the table again in 2022.

WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld says the federal funding offered by the Metro Accountability and Investment Act “will be critical to the region’s recovery for years to come.”

“This bill once again demonstrates our Congressional delegation’s leadership supporting critically needed funding to maintain a safe and reliable transportation system,” Wiedefeld said. “…We welcome provisions that will increase transparency and ensure taxpayer funds are well-spent to continue to earn the public’s confidence.”

The Tysons Partnership published an article on Jan. 25 urging community members to tell legislators to support federal funding for Metro, noting that budget cuts would take a toll on the Silver Line with the potential closure of five stations — including the ones at McLean and Greensboro.

“If implemented, these transit cuts could be devastating to Tysons and the entire Silver Line corridor,” the Tysons Partnership said.

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The Postal Distribution Center in Merrifield has been drawn into a national debate over the future of the United States Postal Service.

In a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Congressman Gerald E. Connolly demanded access to mail facilities for himself and all Members of Congress to oversee operations. Connolly serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations

“I write to reiterate my request for immediate access to the Postal Distribution Center in Merrifield, Virginia — as well as access for my Congressional colleagues to other postal facilities,” Connolly wrote. “Oversight of Postal Service operations is more important now than ever, particularly in light of the troubling findings of the Inspector General that actions taken by Postal Service officials slowed postal operations nationwide in the midst of a global pandemic and economic collapse.”

Connolly said in the letter that he requested access after the Inspector General reported slowed operations at the agency.

“This letter follows my October 2, 2020, request for a tour of the Merrifield Postal Distribution Center in my Congressional District, as well as my October 13 letter requesting your new legal analysis of the Hatch Act, which you baselessly claim prevents Members of Congress from visiting Postal Service facilities within 45 days of an election,” Connolly wrote.

The letter continues with a rebuttle to an argument fron DeJoy that the Hatch Act would prevent Connolly from inspecting the USPS facility. According to the letter:

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the committee of jurisdiction for the Postal Service in the House of Representatives, and the Subcommittee on Government Operations has been charged with overseeing postal operations. As Chairman of the Subcommittee, I have a responsibility to oversee postal operations–which includes having access to postal facilities, managers, and employees–and this responsibility does not cease merely because an election is approaching. I did not seek access to the Merrifield facility in my capacity as a candidate for office, but rather to discharge my official duties as a Member of Congress and a Member of the Oversight Committee.

On October 20, 2020, you sent a letter citing new Postal Service guidance that you claim was approved by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Yet OSC–the principal enforcement agency of the Hatch Act–has made it clear that the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from allowing Members of Congress to tour federal facilities for an official purpose. According to your own letter, the portions of your Hatch Act policies that you claim OSC did not object to did not include your policy of prohibiting Members of Congress from postal facilities.

A spokesperson for the USPS said that they were aware of the pending request from Connolly and planned to respond directly, though what answer they were planning to give was not clarified.

“We are aware of the Congressman’s most recent request and plan to respond again directly,” said Martha Johnson, senior public relations representative for USPS.

In an email to Tysons Reporter, Connolly said inspecting the USPS facility in Merrifield was about restoring public trust.

“The Postmaster General’s partisan and political actions have eroded trust and caused nationwide concern about the USPS,” Connolly said. “Congress has a responsibility and constitutional duty to provide oversight, and that includes seeing on the ground how operations are being affected by Mr. DeJoy’s reckless changes”

Image via Google Maps

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While local representatives were quick to call for Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation over a blackface controversy, the public response has been slower to controversies involving Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District), who made headlines last year when she unseated Republican Barbara Comstock, expressed unequivocal support for Vanessa Tyson, who accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004.

Congressional Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) have been silent so far on the accusations against Fairfax.

Other local representatives, like State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District), shared a neutral statement from VA Senate Democrats but have made no other public comment.

The National Organization for Women, however, did call for Fairfax’s resignation Wednesday.

Photo via Facebook

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(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) The longest federal government shutdown in the county’s history has, at least for now, come to a close. Tysons’ state and federal representatives — who are all Democrats — are expressing relief at the shutdown’s closure but with harsh condemnation of President Trump.

Tysons, Vienna and Merrifield are represented by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District). Connolly was one of the first local representatives to comment on the news and called the decision long overdue.

With the shutdown ending, for now, Connolly announced today that he has introduced — with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — the Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act of 2019, “which would bring the 2019 pay increase for civilian federal employees in line with the raise given to members of the military.”

Pimmit Hills and parts of McLean are represented by Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District), who criticized Trump for waiting so long to back the deal proposed in December.

“I’m grateful that the shutdown will end soon, but I do not understand why it happened at all,” Beyer wrote in a statement. “Why did President Trump inflict this shutdown on the country?… It inflicted extreme pain on the people I represent, and there was no reason for it. As the president approaches the new deadline he just agreed to for the expiration of government funding, he must think of people besides himself. This must never happen again.”

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) expressed concerns over the long term impacts of the shutdown.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans will never recover from Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell’s petty power play,” Wexton wrote in a statement. “They should apologize for all suffering they inflicted on federal workers, contractors, and everyone who was impacted by their senseless shutdown. This debacle accomplished nothing other than to lower our nation’s standing in the world and attack our already overburdened federal workforce.”

Even with the shutdown ended, Professor Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University, warned that there could still be lingering economic effects of the delays in fee and payment collections by Fairfax County.

Photo via @whitehouse

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