Tysons, VA

Construction on the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project will continue disrupting travel at the I-66 and I-496 interchange in Dunn Loring this week.

Overnight lane closures and traffic stoppages will begin at 10 p.m. today (Monday) on I-495 South, whose general purpose lanes will be reduced to a single travel lane from Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) approaching I-66 to accommodate overhead bridge work and partial demolition of the I-66 West bridge over I-495 South.

The Virginia Department of Transportation says drivers should expect periodic stoppages of up to 20 minutes between midnight and 4 a.m., though the lane closures will last until 5 a.m. on Tuesday. The 495 Express Lanes will not be affected.

The 495 lane closures will take effect again during the same time frame on Thursday (April 8) and Friday (April 9).

That final day will coincide with more substantial closures planned for I-66.

On Friday and Saturday (April 10), all westbound lanes approaching I-495 will be closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. so that construction crews can install bridge beams for new ramps at the I-66/I-495 interchange, VDOT says. The ramps to I-66 West from 495 North and the 495 South Express Lanes will also be closed.

“Drivers traveling on I-66 and I-495 during this time should expect delays and should consider using alternate routes,” VDOT said.

Here are the details on those closures from VDOT:

I-66 West at I-495

  • All I-66 West travel lanes will be closed at I-495 from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. both nights.
  • All westbound I-66 thru-traffic will be directed to exit the interstate at Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) West, travel about one mile to the ramp for I-495 South, and then follow signs to I-66 West.
  • The ramp from I-66 West to I-495 South will remain open.
  • All lanes will reopen by 6 a.m.

Ramp from I-495 North to I-66 West

  • The ramp will be closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly.
  • Traffic will be detoured farther north to Route 7 West, stay to the right to I-495 South, and then follow signs to I-66 West.
  • The ramp will reopen by 6 a.m.

Ramp from the 495 Express Lanes South to I-66 West

  • The ramp will be closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly.
  • Overhead variable message boards in the Express Lanes will direct traffic to an alternate route.

The I-66 and I-495 closures both stem from ongoing efforts to reconstruct the interchange as part of the Transform 66 project, which will extend the I-66 Express Lanes 22.5 miles from Dunn Loring to Gainesville.

“Improvements at the interchange include adding access to and from the existing 495 Express Lanes and the new I-66 Express Lanes, as well as building new connections between express and general-purpose lanes,” VDOT said.

Images via Google Maps, VDOT

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It took an unprecedented shift to distance learning for Shrevewood Elementary School to drop below capacity for the first time since 2012.

After nearly a decade of parent and community advocacy, however, a long-term solution for overcrowding at the Falls Church-based school is finally in sight.

The Fairfax County School Board voted this week to repurpose the Dunn Loring Administration Center as an elementary school using $36.8 million in school bond funds.

That money had previously been earmarked for a new school in the Fairfax/Oakton area to lessen overcrowding at Mosby Woods and Oakton elementary schools, which has since subsided.

Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch proposed the plan last year after meeting with parents in the communities affected by the crowding.

“We’ve been pushed to the next year for so long,” Shrevewood Elementary PTA President Kate Coho said. “If we could get the ball rolling, that would be great.”

In the past, parents focused on a new boundary process to offset a mini-baby boom in the neighborhoods around Shrevewood.

Coho remembers that a mother began drawing attention to the school’s overcrowding about four years ago. The school was put in line to get a boundary study the following year, but FCPS dropped that provision from its capital planning program until Frisch put it back in last January.

“Then COVID-19 happened, so we’ve obviously been kicked down the road again,” she said.

Coho and fellow parent Jeremy Hancock, whose daughter is in third grade at Shrevewood, both embrace the Dunn Loring plan.

“A school boundary change has always appeared like the most likely or easy thing, but it’s encouraging that we have a longer-term solution,” Hancock said.

Coho said administrators have found creative ways to mitigate the crowding, but the school experience still suffers.

Some kids eat and play early or late in the day to avoid maxing out the cafeteria and the playgrounds. Sixth graders learn in seven temporary classrooms, and some elective courses like art and music are located out there, too.

School-wide activities are “basically impossible,” Coho said.

The 12-acre campus has no space for an addition or more trailers, which are located in the middle of the playground and extend all the way to a hill on the back-end of the school, she said.

The school was last expanded in 1998, when the building was updated to meet current design standards.

“Shrevewood ES has had a slight capacity deficit of 102% beginning in [School Year] 2012-13 and a substantial capacity deficit of 116% beginning in SY 2017-18,” FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said in an email.

Since 2012, the following work has been done:

  • 2013-14: Added temporary classrooms
  • 2015-16: Divided two classrooms into four classrooms
  • 2016-17: Added temporary classrooms
  • 2019-20: Assigned newly identified primary students to the enhanced autism program at Freedom Hill Elementary School instead of Shrevewood
  • 2019-20: Added additional parking

Moving special education programs would effectively free up a few classrooms, but it is “a tricky issue,” Coho said. “It is a difficult situation to put special-needs children in.”

Meanwhile, Hancock, who serves as president of the Falls Hill Civic Association, is also working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to address safety concerns on Shreve Road, which compounds the overcrowding issue.

Because the road’s big intersections and adjacent neighborhoods are designed for driving, there are no sidewalks or protections for pedestrians and cyclists using the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail.

Hancock argues that the chronic lack of parking — a symptom of overcrowding — could be mitigated by safe walking routes.

“It’s such a long term process,” he said.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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On Tuesday morning, the Fairfax County School Board approved a proposal to convert the Dunn Loring Administration Center into an elementary school.

All 10 board members who were present supported the measure. Two members were absent at the time of the vote.

The move is intended to relieve overcrowding at Shrevewood Elementary School in Falls Church and avoid the need to make multiple boundary adjustments.

“We want to limit the disruption to the community, and potentially facing several adjustments is not a path we want to go down,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch told the board.

Fairfax County Public Schools staff support the plan but want to avoid setting a firm timeline to keep their focus on returning to school, he said. Once planning starts, a new school could be ready in five years.

“This is one of the first steps that needs to be done to deal with the development going on in that area,” Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen said.

Today, the Dunn Loring center houses some special education services and programs for parents, but it previously served as an elementary school from 1939 to 1978.

Converting it back will cost $36.8 million in school bond funds. The school board will be using funds that were earmarked for a new school in the Fairfax/Oakton area, which was intended to lessen overcrowding at Mosby Woods and Oakton elementary schools.

The student populations at those schools have since dropped below capacity, Frisch said. Meanwhile, Shrevewood is “bursting at the seams” and could reach 120% capacity by 2025.

The school was first identified as slightly overcrowded in 2012, and became substantially overcrowded in 2017, FCPS spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said. Since 2012, the school has taken steps to ease crowding, such as adding space, trailers and more parking, she said.

Repurposing the Dunn Loring center is a more viable long-term solution than redrawing boundaries, Shrevewood Elementary PTA president Kate Coho told Tysons Reporter.

“Dunn Loring provides the long-term solution to the problem that’s only going to get worse in this immediate area, as we see housing continuing to go up,” she said.

At-large school board member Abrar Omeish said Shrevewood’s over-capacity is not as stark as schools like Glen Forest Elementary School, which has “more kids in trailers than in the building” and a 75% poverty rate.

“When people say that we focus more on schools that have more than the ones that don’t, I can’t refute that,” she said.

Hunter Mill Representative Melanie Meren said no solution will serve everyone, but this repurposing option is available now.

“I thought this would be a more straightforward conversation,” she said.

The Fairfax County School Board currently does not have any official policies dictating a public process for reallocating bond funds to different projects than the ones they were intended to support when approved by voters.

Frisch held two community meetings in December on the Dunn Loring repurposing proposal, one for the Shrevewood community and one for the Mosby Woods/Oakton area. However, the school board’s guidebook does not require those meetings or even a forum discussion for proposals to change how bond funds are allocated.

As part of the approval, the school board also directed its governance committee, which is chaired by Frisch, to look at developing a mechanism for a public process to ensure more clarity and transparency for future projects such as this one.

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Mixed-Use Development Near Dunn Loring Metro Sold — Avenir Place developer Mill Creek Residential has sold the property to two different buyers, with the residential portion going to Pantzer Properties and the retail going to Asana Partners. Asana says it “plans to pursue some physical changes to the retail, upgrading the outdoor areas and adding more gathering places.” [Washington Business Journal]

What Census Data Tells Us About Growth in Tysons — The Tysons Census Designated Place has added more than 7,000 new residents since 2010. Key changes include the number of people of Asian descent, who now make up 40% of the population, and people who speak a language other than English at home, a group that now constitutes more than half of all residents. [Greater Greater Washington]

Northam Allocates Additional $20 Million to Economic Recovery Fund — “This new funding will bring the program total to $120 million and will enable more than 300 small business and nonprofit organizations that applied before the last round of funding was exhausted in early December to receive grants.” [Office of the Governor]

Fire and Rescue Department Finishes Annual Holiday Toy Drive — “Via partners/donors, between 3,000-4K toys were given to over 55 schools, shelters and non-profits throughout Fairfax County.” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department/Twitter]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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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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The mixed-use development that Elm Street Development has envisioned for the Dunn Loring Center remains on track for realization.

In a report released on Nov. 18, Fairfax County staff recommends that the county planning commission approve the developer’s application to rezone the two-acre site at 2722 Merrilee Drive for planned residential mixed-use zoning.

Located less than half a mile from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, 2722 Merrilee Drive is currently occupied by a three-story office building that was originally constructed in 1984. The site is zoned for an I-4 medium intensity industrial district.

Under the name Merrilee Ventures L.C., Elm Street Development first submitted a proposal for turning Dunn Loring Center into a mixed-use development to Fairfax County on Dec. 9. The application was accepted on Mar. 5.

The developer proposes transforming the existing office building into a seven-story, 85-foot building with 239 multifamily residential units across five floors.

The bottom two floors will consist of an above-grade parking structure with 294 parking spaces – 264 for residential use and 30 for retail use – as well as two loading spaces, a trash enclosure, and a bike storage room, according to the Fairfax County staff report.

Amenities proposed for the development include an expanded streetscape along Merrilee Drive, a retail plaza adjacent to the nearby mixed-use apartment building Halstead Square, public open and park spaces, a dog park for residents in the building’s northwest corner, and other private indoor and outdoor spaces for residents, such as a pool, grilling stations, and a fitness center.

The project will occupy 235,235 square feet total with a floor area ratio of 2.70.

“The proposed development would contribute to the revitalization and development of the Merrifield Suburban Center and Transit Station Area through the provision of high-quality design and pedestrian facilities that are appropriate to the ‘Main Street’ designation of Merrilee Drive,” county planning staff say in their report.

In addition to seeking to rezone the site, Elm Street has asked Fairfax County to approve the proposed reduction of 18% of the property’s existing parking.

“Fewer parking spaces than would be required in the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance will be necessary to accommodate future on-site parking demand because of the site’s proximity to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro Station,” the engineering consultant Gorove Slade says in a parking reduction study prepared on May 19. “A parking reduction would not adversely affect the surrounding areas.”

Elm Street says on-street parking will be provided on Merrilee Drive and on a proposed private street that could eventually be extended to connect Merrilee with Dorr Avenue to the west.

Fairfax County staff say the planning commission should approve the parking reduction request “based on the proximity of the development to mass transit facilities.”

According to the report, Elm Street has committed to making 16.6% of the residential units in the new development workforce dwelling units. A third of those units will be priced at 80% of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area’s area median income, a third will be at the AMI, and the last third will be at 120% of the AMI.

Since the existing property has few existing trees, the developer has proposed adding about 8,962 square feet of tree canopy coverage, which Fairfax County staff says would exceed the county’s comprehensive plan requirements.

In another proffer, Elm Street has said it will contribute $12,262 to Fairfax County for each of the 27 new students that the Dunn Loring Center development is expected to add to the public school system. Children who live in the development will attend Shrevewood Elementary, Kilmer Middle, and Marshall High Schools.

The full staff report for the Merrilee proposal can be found through Fairfax County’s land development system.

A Fairfax County Planning Commission public hearing on the Merrilee application has been set for 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on Jan. 26, 2021 at 3:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy Elm Street Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bruster’s Real Ice Cream near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station plans to close permanently tomorrow (Friday).

Renita Shelton, the eatery’s manager, posted the announcement earlier today on the Facebook page for the location (2672D Avenir Place).

Bruster’s is known for its variety of cold treats including ice cream, shakes, floats, sodas and cakes.

Shelton called the upcoming closure a “bittersweet moment,” sharing that “the decision to close the shop at this given point in time was necessary for your safety as well as ours.”

Shelton thanked customers who “traveled far and wide” to come to the shop and other D.C. area locations for the ice cream chain.

Tysons Reporter reached out to the store earlier today and will update this story if more information becomes available.

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Late Payment Fees Reduced — “As a move to help taxpayers during the ongoing pandemic, Fairfax County significantly reduced penalties for late personal property and real estate tax payments this year.” [Fairfax County]

Profile of Local Activists — Here’s how two students have been pushing for the removal of the bust of Stonewall Jackson in Stonewall Manor. [Washington Post]

History of Antique Lamp Store in Dunn Loring — “Artisan is still around, but it has moved to a cluttered little shop in a secluded corner of a Fairfax County industrial park where the owner has adapted its business plan to the digital age. It has evolved out of necessity from a mom-and-pop storefront on a first-name basis with clients into a niche retailer whose audience stretches from Taiwan to Italy.” [Washington Post]

Local Man Hits the Lottery — “[Falls Church resident Douglas] Rosen scored $100,000 in the Virginia Lottery’s Pick 4 game using his birth year, 1958, as the winning four digit combination.” [Falls Church Patch]

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