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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a pair of agreements yesterday (Tuesday) that will send $1 million in I-66 toll revenues to Metro for the planned project to build a second entrance at its McLean station.

“I’m looking forward to this improvement,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said just before the unanimous vote. She also thanked county transportation staff for their work.

The funds will be awarded by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission as part of its I-66 Commuter Choice program, which launched in 2017 to allocate a dedicated portion of I-66 Express Lanes revenue to transit and capital improvement projects in the corridor.

NVTC included the McLean Metrorail station entrance project in the most recent round of Commuter Choice funding, which spanned July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 and was approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board on Dec. 10.

The new entrance will be located on Scotts Crossing Road in anticipation of increased activity north of the station from the burgeoning Capital One Center mixed-use development, according to a project description in yesterday’s board package.

“With up to 2,000 prospective residents moving into the redeveloping area north of the current station, this project will create a shorter, more convenient walk to the Metro and increase its visibility,” the document says.

Ridership at the McLean Metro station had been on the rise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which decimated ridership levels and revenue across the board last year to the point where the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority considered shuttering 19 stations, including McLean.

As of August, weekday train ridership was still only at 26% of pre-pandemic levels, though usage of both rail and bus services has been increasing since February. WMATA’s estimate of 230,000 train riders for Oct. 1 was the highest of the year so far.

WMATA will be responsible for constructing the new McLean station entrance, which carries a total budget of $1.3 million. The actual costs could change once the procurement and contractor selection process begins, according to WMATA spokesperson Sherri Ly.

Capital One contributed $300,000 to the project, which was part of a proffer agreement with Fairfax County for its headquarters campus redevelopment. That money includes $100,000 for preliminary engineering and $200,000 for construction costs, according to county documents.

In order for NVTC to transfer the $1 million in Commuter Choice funds, Fairfax County had to sign off on separate project agreements with NVTC and WMATA that set the conditions tied to the money, including requirements that Metro provide regular status updates to the county and notify county staff of any potential cost overruns.

Ly says the agency’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on whether to approve its project agreement with the county when it meets on Oct. 28.

“Under the proposed agreement, Metro would build the entrance which is funded by Fairfax County,” Ly said. “The design work for the entrance is already done and construction would begin once funding and permitting is complete and a contractor selected through the procurement process.”

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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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Site of power outage affecting 1,215 people in Tysons’ Pimmit neighborhood after July 1, 2021 storm (via Dominion Energy)

Updated at 4:40 p.m. — Metrorail service has been restored between the Vienna and West Falls Church stations after the transit system encountered power issues at its Dunn Loring station.

“Residual delays continue in both directions,” Metro says.

Updated at 1:40 p.m. — The I-66 eastbound and westbound left lanes in the Vienna/Oakton area have now reopened, the Virginia Department of Transportation says.

Earlier: More than a thousand people in the Pimmit area of Tysons are currently without power after a thunderstorm rattled the D.C. region last night (Thursday).

According to Dominion Energy’s outage map, the most substantial power outage in the Tysons area involves 1,215 customers in the Pimmit neighborhood west of Leesburg Pike, specifically along George C. Marshall Drive.

Those affected include the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library, which will not open at 10 a.m. today as scheduled.

Dominion is attributing the outage to the storm and says crews have been dispatched. The estimated time of restoration is between 6 and 11 p.m.

As of 9 a.m. today (Friday), there were 6,699 customers in Northern Virginia without power, primarily in Fairfax and Arlington counties. Overall, the storm produced 33,000 power outages in the area, according to Dominion spokesperson Peggy Fox.

“Due to much damage from last night’s storm, it’ll take most of day for our @DominionEnergy crews to repair all the damage & get everyone’s power back,” Fox said in a tweet. “Thank you for your patience!”

Metro announced just after 5 a.m. that the power issues had affected its Dunn Loring-Merrifield station, requiring a suspension of train service between the Vienna and West Falls Church stations. Shuttle buses are being provided to serve that section of the Orange Line.

As of 9:30 a.m., service has not been restored yet.

In addition, the Virginia Department of Transportation says the Interstate 66 east and westbound left lanes have been closed at the new split near the 61-mile marker in Vienna so that crews can clear standing water left by last night’s rain.

The I-66 westbound ramp to Nutley Street was also temporarily but reopened around 7:35 a.m.

According to The Washington Post, the National Weather Service is investigating whether a tornado touched down after a tornado warning was issued last night for neighboring Arlington County and D.C.

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Getting to and from Metro stations can be a harrowing experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and the Fairfax County Planning Commission and others want something to be done about it.

The planning commissioners have called on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to require Metro, the state and county transportation departments, and more to “work immediately” to make safety and accessibility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists to transit stations.

“This is a call for action by the public to improve pedestrian/bicycle access to metro stations as envisioned in the comprehensive plan,” Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said when introducing a motion during the commission’s meeting on May 19.

The measure calls for numerous changes, such as:

  • Providing wide sidewalks at intersections within walking distance of transit stations,
  • Making turns on roads tighter at intersections to slow traffic down,
  • Providing a “double ramp” for people with disabilities instead of single ramp that’s currently in use directing pedestrians to the middle of intersections,
  • Avoiding extra turning lanes at intersections with high volumes of pedestrians
  • Providing closely spaced street trees between curb and sidewalk areas to protect pedestrians.

The motion passed, with 10 members voting for it and at-large member Timothy Sargeant, abstaining. Sargeant did not respond to a message seeking comment on why he voted that way.

“Failure to act will cause pedestrian access to continue to be ‘significantly challenged’ and ridership on the metro station to be reduced,” Carter said.

He introduced the motion during the commission’s discussion on whether to approve changes to the mixed-use Reston Gateway development being constructed near the upcoming Reston Town Center Metro station, but he noted that the issues seen there could apply to other locations as well.

Supervisor Walter Alcorn, whose Hunter Mill District includes the Reston Gateway project, agrees that the main crosswalk serving the Reston Town Center station is not pedestrian-friendly.

“The rail project used cookie-cutter designs,” he said, adding that a walkway over the road has been proposed but could be years away from coming to fruition.

When touring the area a couple weeks ago, Alcorn asked the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to identify short-term improvements to occur before the station opens, which isn’t expected to happen until early 2022.

“I want to make sure riders can readily get to the stations on day one and every day thereafter,” he said.

Pedestrian and bicyclist advocacy groups expressed support for the commission’s call for change.

Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright says some progress has been made to improve safety, but numerous deficiencies remain. The Greensboro station in Tysons, for example, not only lacks access from Gosnell Road and Westpark Drive, the roads are outright dangerous, he says.

Read More

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (March 15)

  • Honoring Women Warriors (Online) — 7-8:30 p.m. — In celebration of March as Women’s History Month, the Fairfax County Commission for Women is hosting a virtual event to highlight the work of women who have helped lead the county’s pandemic response, including Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu. The forum will stream on Facebook Live, and comments can be submitted before and during the event.

Tuesday (March 16)

  • Mystery Book Club (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — The mystery book group will be discussing The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey. New members are welcomed. Copies are available for curbside pickup at the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library. Register for the Zoom link for the book club.
  • Bollywood Dance Fitness (Online) — 6-7 p.m. — Join fitness instructor Aparna Rao in a Bollywood dance fitness class. The class is virtual and free to join. No experience necessary. Register one day in advance to receive the Zoom link. This class is for adults.

Thursday (Mar. 18)

  • Vienna Metro Station Improvements Meeting (Online) — 7-8:30 p.m. — Fairfax County and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will host a meeting to present the ideas to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety and accessibility to the Vienna Metro stations. Some proposed improvements include shared-use paths, sidewalks, and two-way cycle tracks according to the project’s website. To join the live webinar register on the VDOT website.
  • “We’ve Got Issues” Teen Forum (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — While it’s hard to see each other in person, join fellow teens virtually to talk about topics like stereotypes, relationships, and more. Program kits are available while supplies last at your local Fairfax County regional library. Register online by Tuesday (March 16) to get the Zoom link.
  • Let’s Talk: Human Trafficking in the Age of COVID (Online) — 7:30 p.m. — The McLean-based nonprofit Anti-Trafficking International is hosting a discussion on how the pandemic has heightened the risk of trafficking, especially for young people. The talk will be led by ATI founder and Department of Justice Director of Human Trafficking Programs Bill Woolf. Contact [email protected] for more information on the webinar.

 Friday (Mar. 19)

  • Virtual Glow Party (Online) — 7-9 p.m. — McLean Community Center is hosting a free virtual dance party. Join online and request your favorite songs. The night will include music, games and other surprises! Open to all ages.

Saturday (Mar. 20)

  • Fairfax County Teen Job Fair (Online) — 11-2 p.m. — Fairfax County will host its annual teen job fair this Saturday. Normally spread across multiple high schools, this year’s fair will take place online over two days due to the pandemic. This is the second of the two-day event. The fair is open to all teens in Fairfax County looking for work, volunteer, and internship opportunities. Businesses and organizations can register for free “booth space” to advertise their available positions. Teens must register online to get a link for the event.
  • COVID-19 Vaccine Registration Information Session (Online) — 2-4 p.m. — McLean Community Center instructor Quentin Levin will teach a class on how to register to get the COVID-19 vaccine for those who are eligible. The class has no affiliation with any vaccine providers. The class will focus on navigating technical issues but does not guarantee an appointment. Check the McLean Community Center website for more registration and to register for this class.
  • Vienna Photo Show — 10 a.m. at Vienna Community Center (120 Cherry Street) — The Vienna Photo Show will be open Mar. 20 through Apr. 17. The exhibit will be open for visitors during business hours, except between 12 and 1 p.m. every day, when it will be closed for cleaning. Ribbons for various categories will be awarded.
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Thursday Morning Notes

More Pharmacies to Administer COVID-19 Vaccine — “Giant Pharmacy and MyDr.’s Pharmacy have joined the list of vaccination partners who are assisting the Health Department in its efforts to vaccinate eligible individuals in its queue…All vaccinations occur by appointment only, there are no walk-ins.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Senate Drops Amendment Tying Metro Funding to McLean Station Name — Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) says she is pulling her amendment that would have made $165 million in funding for Metro contingent on adding “Capital One Hall” to the McLean station’s name after the transit agency agreed to install wayfinding signs for the new performance venue and speed up construction of a second entrance to the station. [The Washington Post]

McLean Resident Wins $2 Million in Lottery — “Accidents happen, but sometimes the outcome turns out better than you’d expect. For one McLean resident, buying too many Powerball tickets turned into a $2 million win.” [McLean Patch]

General Assembly Makes Last Year’s Voting Changes Permanent — “Both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate approved legislation that creates drop boxes for collecting absentee ballots; makes it easier for someone to get on the list of permanent absentee voters; pays the postage for mail-in ballots, and allows voters to correct errors on absentee ballots.” [WTOP]

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Senate Could Tie Metro Funding to McLean Station Name — “A Virginia Senate bill would withhold at least $166 million pledged to Metro unless the transit system adds the name of Capital One bank to the McLean rail station. The legislation would rename the Silver Line station as “McLean-Capital One Hall,” a reference to a performance venue the bank is building a quarter-mile from the site.” [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Equity Task Force Presents Recommendations — The Chairman’s Task Force on Equity and Opportunity released its recommendations yesterday (Tuesday) for how Fairfax County can address systemic racism and other forms of inequality. Suggestions include ensuring access to early childhood education and increasing the availability of affordable housing. [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax County Releases Revised Countywide Strategic Plan — “Following a year of pause and then refinement due to COVID-19, County Executive Bryan Hill unveiled his proposed strategic plan to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 23. The strategic plan lays out a community-based vision for the next 10 to 20 years and features nine priority areas to advance that vision.” [Fairfax County Government]

Town Hall Meeting Scheduled on West Falls Church Project — The City of Falls Church will hold a virtual town hall on Mar. 2 to provide updates on its West Falls Church Gateway project. The mixed-use development has been delayed as its developers revise the terms of their agreement with the city. [City of Falls Church]

Vienna Metro Bike/Pedestrian Improvements Meeting Rescheduled — A virtual public information meeting on a project to improve bicycle and pedestrian accessibility around the Vienna Metro station has been rescheduled for Mar. 18. The meeting was originally expected to take place today (Wednesday). [Virginia Department of Transportation]

Falls Church Pharmacy Provides Free Insulin to the Uninsured — “Through this pilot initiative NOVA ScriptsCentral will provide insulin for free to uninsured patients being treated at one of its 16 safety net partner clinics in Northern Virginia.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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MetroWest residents near the Vienna Metro station might soon finally start to see progress on stalled portions of the planned community, which led the way for mixed-use development in Fairfax County when it was originally approved more than a decade ago.

As the Washington Business Journal reported on Jan. 19, Pulte Homes — one of two developers involved, along with CRC Cos. — submitted an application to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning on Dec. 23 seeking to update its proffers for the joint project.

The proposed modifications include the removal of a barrier to construction on additional residential buildings with retail, an increased enrollment cap for a planned daycare center, and the replacement of a proposed business center with community space.

“The modest adjustments will allow the Applicant to deliver critically needed housing at market and affordable rates, thoughtful open space and an activated community hub,” DLA Piper associate Kevin MacWhorter, one of the attorneys representing Pulte, said in a statement of justification to Fairfax County Zoning Evaluation Division Director Tracy Strunk.

As of last week, Pulte’s application was still going through the county’s review process, but it is expected to be accepted and assigned to a staff coordinator soon.

The History

The MetroWest development encompasses 56 acres south of the Vienna Metro station from I-66 to Lee Highway.

The original plans approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Mar. 27, 2006 called for up to 2,248 residential units, 300,000 square feet of office, and at least 100,000 square feet of floor area for retail, service, institutional, and governmental uses, according to DLA Piper.

Much of the southern portion of the site has now been built out with homes, including housing for seniors, and the Providence Community Center, a $12 million project that was funded by Pulte and Fairfax County and opened in 2014.

However, construction has yet to start on a four-building parcel from Pulte and the CRC portion of the site, which are collectively supposed to bring retail and hundreds of residential units to the development. Read More

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Toll revenues from the Interstate 66 Express Lanes to the tune of $1 million will fund a second entrance to the McLean Metrorail Station.

The plan is to knock down part of a wall in order to add doors and an entrance, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Special Projects Division Chief Martha Coello said.

“It really enhances the ability for people who live or work north of the station to easily access it,” she said. “Hopefully, that gives them greater incentive to use transit, rather than use their own vehicle.”

Fairfax County aims to start work “in the next year or so,” she said.

Using 66 Inside the Beltway toll revenue, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission awarded money to six “low-cost, low-risk” transit projects as part of its Commuter Choice program for the I-66 corridor, according to an announcement on Thursday (Dec. 10).

“We’re expanding the transportation network now using a conservative strategy focused on low-cost projects and longstanding assets to ensure access to convenient, safe and reliable choices whenever people are ready to commute,” NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice said in a statement.

Both the scope and timeline of the program are more conservative this year due to a drop in toll revenue caused by the novel coronavirus. Pre-pandemic, Commuter Choice anticipated getting $25 million in grant funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Instead, tolled trips dropped by nearly 50%.

The announcement called Fairfax County’s application the strongest out of the six projects, which will receive a total of $3.5 million. Other picks included renewing service for three “existing, high-performing express bus services” and converting parts of one lane of Lee Highway in Arlington into a bus and HOV-only lane.

Staff picked this batch of projects because it “minimizes the risk around the uncertainty of a return to pre-pandemic traffic volumes and makes the best use of the minimal available toll revenues,” NVTC says.

According to Commuter Choice, the program has enough money saved from previous years to continue existing projects and fund new projects.

Coello said the McLean Metro Station project “is a bit unusual” in that it was not formally part of a capital improvements plan, but rather, arose during a rezoning application from Capital One in 2012.

Working with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a team from Capital One designed the entrance, she said. The county received the exact amount it applied for, but Capital One has pledged to contribute to overages.

Coello says Fairfax County has been waiting for the right time to develop the site. Back in 2012, the change was not urgent enough to justify spending the money.

“Having an opportunity like Commuter Choice, this was kind of a golden opportunity,” she said. “It was a case of the right place, right time, right pieces falling in place.”

Since the Commonwealth of Virginia and NVTC established the program in 2017, Commuter Choice has provided more than $60 million grant funding to 36 projects in Northern Virginia.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Updated on 12/2/2020 — The McLean Metro Station is one of 19 stations that would close if the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority adopts a new budget proposed for Fiscal Year 2022.

The stations being considered for closure were identified based on low ridership levels or their proximity to another Metro station. They were all shut down earlier this year as part of Metro’s efforts to conserve resources during the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WMATA said on Mar. 24 that the McLean Metro Station only recorded 148 Metrorail trips the previous day, making it among the least frequented stations in the system.

The Greensboro Metro Station is also on the list for potential closure, since it is within less than a mile of the Spring Hill and Tysons stations.

The potential station closures are among several drastic cuts on the table as WMATA attempts to fill a nealry $500 million deficit in its upcoming budget.

Scheduled for discussion during the WMATA Board of Directors’ finance committee meeting on Friday (Dec. 4), the proposal also suggests eliminating all weekend rail service, limiting weekday train service to every half hour, and slashing bus service from 60 to 41 routes.

Under the proposal, Metro would offer an “affordable bare-bones service network to sustain essential travel and support the region’s recovery.” Ridership would be reduced to around 45% of pre-pandemic levels, and the system would only operate from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays.

The proposal also calls for the elimination of 2,400 jobs in addition to workforce cuts already enacted this year.

“We’re facing, obviously, a historic budget crisis. It started in [Fiscal Year] ’21 and will continue in ’22,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.

Metro could possibly avoid this grim outlook if Congress passes another federal COVID-19 relief package that with funding for public transit.  According to the American Public Transit Association, public transit needs $32 billion just to survive.

Metro was awarded $800 million from the CARES Act in May — funding that runs out early next year.

“The latest proposed cuts to WMATA employees and service is a crisis for our region and frankly, the country,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “…Congress needs to step in immediately to fund WMATA and the countless ripple effects these cuts will have.”

If WMATA adopts Wiedefeld’s proposed budget, the 19 stations that would be closed could reopen based on the financial health of Metro.

The opening of additional Silver Line stations into Loudoun County will not be affected by the budget slashes, according to the presentation.

Metro’s fiscal year begins in July. Public hearings and outreach campaigns are planned until March.

Angela Woolsey contributed reporting

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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