Tysons, VA

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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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors voted on Thursday (Nov. 19) to grant Fairfax County’s request to drop the “corner” from the name of the Tysons Corner Metro Station.

The board simultaneously approved a name change for the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station in Maryland. That station will now be called Hyattsville Crossing.

The name changes were approved despite the results of surveys of riders and members of the public that found most respondents “significantly preferred” the stations’ current names over the proposed replacements, according to a report by WMATA’s safety and operations committee.

“History with Metrorail Station naming informs us that our riders and the communities we serve develop attachments to rail station landmarks and resist change,” WMATA staff said in the report.

For the Tysons station, only 36% of the online public survey’s 5,508 respondents said they like “Tysons” as a station name, compared to the 45% who disagreed and the 67% who said they like the name “Tysons Corner.”

However, 62% of respondents agreed that the name “Tysons” is easy to remember, and 58% said it would not be easily confused with other station names. 48% said the name clearly conveys the station’s location, and 47% said it describes the location well, surpassing than the 35% and 36%, respectively, who disagreed with those statements.

While the affirmative percentages are higher in all categories for Tysons Corner than they are for Tysons, those results are evidently positive enough that WMATA staff believes objections to the name change will dissipate once community members become familiar with the new moniker.

“Six in 10 survey respondents found the name [“Tysons”] easy to recall and not confusing with other names,” the staff report says. “Should the Board wish to approve the jurisdiction’s request, it is likely that the new name will become synonymous with the surrounding community over time and customers will find it sufficient for wayfinding.”

All of the Metro directors who were present for the vote supported the name changes, except for District of Columbia First Vice Chair Stephanie Gidigbi, who cited concerns about the public feedback when opting to abstain from the vote.

WMATA announced on Oct. 27 that Fairfax County and Prince George’s County had submitted formal name change requests for the Tysons Corner and Prince George’s Plaza stations.

According to the safety and operations committee report, Metro is planning systemwide signage and rail map changes in preparation for the second phase of its Silver Line service, which is not likely to start service until next summer.

With a Dec. 31 deadline for signage changes to be finalized, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors requested that Metro rename its Tysons Corner station as part of the county’s ongoing efforts with the Tysons Partnership to rebrand the area around the Tysons Corner Center mall as Tysons.

The Board of Supervisors has also asked Metro to rename the West Falls Church-VT/UVA Metro Station to reflect that the University of Virginia no longer has facilities nearby as of April 2020.

Like Prince George’s County, Fairfax County has committed to funding the $332,000 needed to change signage at the affected stations, according to WMATA.

Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Metro Seeks Public Input on Name Change for West Falls Church Station — “As of April 2020, The University of Virginia (UVA) no longer has a presence near West Falls Church. Accordingly, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is requesting that ‘UVA’ be removed from the station’s name in maps and signage.” [WMATA]

Fairfax County Prosecutors Charge Four Men in Burglary Ring — “Most of the suspects lived in New York, but police said they traveled to Virginia to carry out roughly 40 burglaries between October 2018 and February 2020 in homes in Oakton, Fair Oaks, McLean and other locations.” [Washington Post]

McLean Filmmaker Presents Short Film Inspired by McLean Bible Church Trip — “The Other Side seeks to raise awareness for Ethiopia’s abandoned children crisis through narrative film, and the team is currently seeking partners for the development of a feature-length version of the film.” [McLean Connection]

American Legion and Rotary Clubs Laud Service of Veterans in McLean — “The annual event, sponsored by American Legion Post 270 and the Rotary Clubs of McLean and Tysons Corner, began outside in the rain at McLean High School and ended in one of the school’s gymnasiums.” [Inside NOVA]

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff photo by Jay Westcott, slides via WMATA

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a proposed name change of the McLean Metro station to the McLean-Capital One Hall Metro station, but it isn’t the end of the line for the name change yet.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the change, though several supervisors made sure to clarify the name change was to draw people towards the upcoming performance center and not as advertising for the banking giant whose headquarters the facility is part of.

“This is a very particular situation in which we do have an agreement between the county and Capital One Hall to provide a minimum of 100 days of use,” said Supervisor Dalia Palchik, representing the Providence District. “It’s going to be our very own Strathmore. It’s a very specific request to have this name put on the Metro station so people know we have this asset here in Fairfax County.”

Palchik admitted that at first, seeing the corporate name attached to the Metro station gave her some pause, but concluded: “this is not a slippery slope, this is a very unique situation.”

Supervisor John Foust, representing Dranesville, was similarly supportive of the name and pushed back on the idea that the county had sold the naming rights.

“I’m supportive of the name change, but I don’t support every proposed name change,” Foust said. “This is not selling a naming right to a single corporate entity. It’s not being done for the exclusive benefit of a single land owner. Capital One Hall is a state of the art performing arts center. It will play a significant role in implementing the comprehensive plan for Tysons. It is absolutely in the public interest that we draw attention to this center and by this name change I think we will do this.”

Supervisor Jeff McKay clarified that Capital One would pay for changing the Metro signs and would not be publicly funded.

Though the name was approved by the Board of Supervisors, the proposed renaming will still have to be approved by WMATA, which has its own guidelines for changing a station name.

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Funding Metro Project — “A project submitted by the Fairfax County government remains in contention for Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) funding, even as a number of other regional projects have been delayed for consideration due to sharp dropoffs in available funding.” [Inside NoVa]

Acquisition Takes Flight — “McLean-based communications satellite services provider Intelsat Corp. announced Monday it will acquire in-flight broadband connectivity provider Gogo Inc.’s commercial aviation business for $400 million.” [Virginia Business]

New Space for Shows — “The Creative Cauldron, a home-grown theater with some of the more successful performance and educational programs in the Little City’s history, has been promised 5,000 square feet for an expanded venue as a part of the Broad and Washington project.” [Falls Church News-Press]

New Auto Care Shop Rolls Into McLean — “McLean Automotive Service Center, a family-run business for nearly 70 years, has been turned into another locally-owned business.” [Patch]

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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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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Metro’s services are gearing up for a return to a “new normal.”

More buses and trains and expanded hours of service are set to begin this Sunday (Aug. 16), restoring most service to pre-COVID-19 levels. The McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill Metro stations are set to reopen on Sunday, along with the West Falls Church stop.

The Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church Metro stations are expected to reopen around Labor Day (Sept. 7), according to the announcement.

Metrorail plans to add 15 more hours of service per week. Opening times will also return to normal, with the system closing two hours later each night in anticipation of ridership increases after Labor Day.

The system is expected to restore roughly 75 percent of its pre-pandemic service beginning Aug. 23. Buses would operate until midnight and weekday service would return with 174 routes.

The reopening of six Fairfax County stations on the Silver Line is also on track for this Sunday.

Here’s more from Metro on the planned service changes:

Metrorail will open at 5 a.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. on Sundays and close daily at 11 p.m.

Weekdays Red Line trains will operate every 5 minutes during peak periods and 12 minutes off-peak; all others lines every 8 minutes during peak periods and 15 minutes off-peak.

On weekends Red Line trains will operate every 12 minutes; all other lines every 15 minutes.

Six stations west of Ballston re-open — McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill, Wiehle-Reston East and West Falls Church.

Arlington Cemetery Station remains closed as Arlington National Cemetery is currently closed to the general public.

Face masks or covering are required to travel on Metro, including at stations, trains, buses and MetroAccess vehicles.

Metro also warns that social distancing may be impossible due to projected ridership increases. Customers can consider traveling during off-peak hours.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Two Metro stations in Tysons will receive shuttle bus service as part of Metro’s plans to reopen more than a dozen stations this Sunday (June 28).

Metro announced yesterday (Monday) that the Greensboro and McLean stations in Tysons, along with the East Falls Church station are the three stations that will soon have shuttle buses but still won’t offer rail service.

A dozen other stations, including Clarendon, Smithsonian and College Park, will reopen this Sunday with rail service. “Beginning Monday, June 29, buses will be added to the system’s 14 busiest bus lines to provide more capacity and more frequent service as the region reopens,” according to Metro.

Metro closed 15 stations earlier this year due to limited cleaning supplies and decreased ridership. Once the stations reopen this Sunday, Arlington Cemetery will be the only station left without regular service, Metro said.

Meanwhile, Orange and Silver stations west of Ballston are undergoing work this summer, including platform reconstruction and work connecting Phase 2 of the Silver Line.

In addition to the reopened stations, Metro riders can expect bus service realignment starting Monday, June 29.

More from Metro:

Metrobus customers on the region’s busiest routes will notice more frequent buses, less crowding, and more regular service beginning Monday, June 29. An additional 136 trips are being added across 14 routes: 54, 70, 92, 30N, 30S, A4, A6, A8, P6, V4, W4, F4, P12, and T18.

To make these improvements possible, Metro will temporarily suspend bus service on four routes that currently have extremely low ridership — NH2, C14, G2 and M6. Customers along these routes are asked to use other Metrobus routes nearby.

Starting Monday, weekday service will be improved with additional buses on the 54, 70, 92, 30N, 30S, A4, A6, A8, P6, V4, W4, F4, P12, and T18.

Service will be temporarily suspended on the NH2, C14, G2 and M6. Use alternate bus service nearby.

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