Newsletter

Morning Notes

Wiehle Metro Station to Close This Weekend — “Head Up! This weekend, WMATA is closing the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station for integration of Phase 2 of the Silver Line with the existing Silver Line. During the planned closure, free Metrobus shuttles will go between Wiehle-Reston East & Spring Hill Metrorail Stations” [Fairfax Connector/Twitter]

FCPS Enrollment Still Below Pre-Pandemic Levels — “Fairfax County Public Schools officials reported a total of 178,595 students in classes on Sept. 30…That figure is down from 179,741 recorded in June when the 2020-21 school year ended, and is well down from the 189,010 students counted in class at the start of the 2019-20 school year.” [Sun Gazette]

A Going-Out Guide to Tysons — “This kind of place-making from scratch has become common in the Washington area…but it’s interesting to see it happening in Tysons, once defined as an ‘Edge City’ because, while it was technically located in Washington’s suburbs, large crowds commuted into Tysons in the morning, and left again at night. Now, there might just be more reasons to stay.” [The Washington Post]

How to Celebrate Another COVID Halloween — “While trick-or-treaters under 12 aren’t eligible for vaccine yet, this fun tradition can be done safely if families keep activities outdoors, wear a cloth or surgical mask (don’t rely on a costume mask to protect you), avoid crowded doorsteps, and wash hands before eating candy.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Local Health Startup Has Big Plans — “Kinometrix Inc., a Fairfax County startup whose software help hospitals prevent patient falls, is making some big changes and kicking off a funding round to expand nationally. The company, originally part of Inova Health System’s accelerator until that program shut down in late 2019, is shooting to raise at least $3 million.” [Washington Business Journal]

Drug Take Back Day Is Tomorrow — The Fairfax County Police Department will collected unused and expired prescription drugs tomorrow (Saturday) for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, which comes twice a year. Collection sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the county’s police district stations, including in McLean, and Reston Hospital Center. [Patch]

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Morning Notes

Metro Service Cutbacks Continue — “Reduced Metrorail service is expected to continue until at least Sunday, October 24, as the investigation into the October 12 derailment continues. Beginning tomorrow, trains will operate every 15 minutes on the Red Line and will continue to operate every 30 minutes on all other lines. Silver Line trains will operate between Wiehle-Reston East and Federal Center SW only.” [WMATA]

What to Know About COVID-19 Boosters and Vaccines for Kids — More than 45,000 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten an additional or booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The Fairfax County Health Department says  it is “actively planning and preparing for the authorization of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster doses and vaccinations for children ages 5-11.” [FCHD]

Capital Bikeshare Changes Prices — The D.C. area bicycle-sharing system raised rental prices for non-members on Oct. 1, dropping a flat $2 fee for 30-minute rides in favor of charging 5 cents per minute and a $1 “unlocking fee.” Officials say the changes will help cover increasing operational and maintenance costs as well as future improvements and expansion plans. [The Washington Post]

Local Environmentalist Dies — “McLean resident Debra Ann Jacobson, a lawyer, investigator for Congress and ardent environmentalist, died Sept. 15 at her McLean home. She was 69 and died from complications of liver cancer, her family said. ‘Debra was a champion for the environment and someone who inspired those who were fortunate enough to know her,’ said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).” [Sun Gazette]

Vienna Family Raises Funds for Child After Stroke — Vienna residents Tom and Paige Shahryary will hold their second annual James’s Promise Run at Nottoway Park on Nov. 7 to raise money for their now-2-year-old son, James, who suffered a stroke after he was born in August 2019. The family also has a GoFundMe page to raise funds for medical treatments and therapies. [Patch]

Vienna to Give Away Native Tree Seedlings — “Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Find out why and pick up a free native tree seedling this Saturday, Oct. 23 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Vienna Community Center. Town arborist Scott Diffenderfer will be on hand to answer your questions about trees.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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Metro is no stranger to safety challenges.

Last week’s train derailment in Arlington was just the latest in a long history of perilous, occasionally fatal incidents that have plagued the D.C. region’s primary transit system, from track fires and smoke-filled tunnels to the Red Line crash that killed nine people in 2009.

While no injuries were reported from the derailment, the ensuing investigation disrupted rail service on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines throughout the week.

Initial findings of that investigation are now in, and they could be a devastating blow to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s campaign to lure passengers back after the COVID-19 pandemic sent ridership tumbling last year.

Metro pulled nearly 60% of its fleet out of operations Sunday night (Oct. 17) after the National Transportation Safety Board uncovered wheel axle defects on multiple 7000-series trains, which were introduced in 2015. The federal agency reported today (Monday) that these issues have occurred at least 31 times since 2017, including twice on the derailed car before it actually went off the tracks.

With use of the 6000 trains already suspended due to recent car separations, Metro was left with just a few dozen trains today and reduced service to just one six-car train every 30 minutes, resulting in crowded trains, platforms, and buses.

While WMATA hasn’t announced its upcoming service plans yet, it seems like a safe bet that the challenges facing the transit system won’t be solved overnight.

How will Metro’s safety issues and new service limitations affect your travel plans going forward? If you were a regular rider, will you continue that habit or seek alternatives when possible?

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Morning Notes

Metro Announces Reduced Service Today — “As part of the investigation into the Blue Line derailment, Metro is holding out of service all of its 7000-series railcars, which is nearly 60% of its rail fleet. Without these railcars, Metro will operate about 40 trains tomorrow — offering a basic service pattern on all lines of trains departing about every 30 minutes.” [WMATA]

Why a Police Helicopter Dropped by Vienna on Friday — “Look what dropped into Vienna today — Fairfax 1, the FCPD helicopter! More than 100 children of police officers who were killed in the line of duty spent the day at the Vienna Community Center to participate in fun activities, including getting a close-up look at Fairfax 1.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Major I-66 and I-495 Closures Start Tonight — “All lanes of I-66 West approaching Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) will close nightly, Monday through Thursday, October 18-21, for continued bridge beam installation at the I-66/I-495 Interchange…Additionally, multiple lanes will be closed on the northbound I-495 general purpose lanes near I-66, as well as a full closure of the 495 Express Lanes, and associated ramps at the I-66 and I-495 interchange so that this work may be implemented.” [VDOT]

Vienna Hit by Pumpkin-Throwing Spree — Three different Vienna residents told police that someone threw a pumpkin at their parked vehicle overnight between Oct. 12 and 13. The tossed squashes shattered the windshield of a resident in the 500 block of Birch Street, shattered the rear window of a vehicle at 1200 Ross Drive SW, and damaged the trunk of a resident in the 900 block of Echols Street SE. [Vienna Police Department]

McLean District Police Report Robberies — Five or six men with a gun approached a victim in the 7200 block of Arlington Boulevard on Thursday (Oct. 14) and took personal property, according to police. Three days earlier, two men reportedly assaulted an individual and demanded property in the 7900 block of Tysons Corner Center. No injuries were reported in either case. [FCPD]

Volunteers Sought for Tysons Block Party — Celebrate Fairfax is seeking volunteers for its next Tysons Block Party, which will take place at the former Container Store now known as The PARC (8508 Leesburg Pike) on Friday and Saturday (Oct. 22-23). Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up through a form linked in the organization’s Twitter bio. [Celebrate Fairfax/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Metrorail Returns Normal Service After Train Derailed — “On Friday, October 15, normal service will resume on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Intermittent delays are possible as the investigation into Tuesday’s derailment continues.” [WMATA]

Vienna ExxonMobil Now Serves Up Indian Cuisine — “Raja and Bindu Puri opened Chit Chaat cafe inside the gas station at 200 Maple Avenue E a few months ago. The husband and wife do all the prep and cooking. Their children Neil, Maggie, and Nikki take on respective roles in operations, finance, and social media. Although it’s not the family’s first restaurant, it’s their first one surrounded by fuel pumps.” [DC Eater]

Sexual Assault Reported Near Bailey’s Crossroads — Fairfax County police are looking for two men who reportedly broke into a woman’s apartment in the 6000 block of Knollwood Drive around 5:10 a.m. yesterday morning (Thursday). The woman told police that she woke up to one of the men sexually assaulting her. He punched her, and they ran from the apartment. [WTOP]

Tysons Senior Living Development Lands Construction Financing — “Mather, an award-winning senior living provider, announces that it has secured $300 million in construction financing for The Mather, a luxury Life Plan Community being constructed in Tysons, Virginia, with the syndicated transaction led by The Huntington National Bank. Expected to open in 2024, The Mather is a $500 million development.” [The Mather]

I-66 Paving Work to Close Lanes and Ramps in Vienna — I-66 East will be reduced from four to three travel lanes throughout the day tomorrow (Oct. 16), with just a single lane open overnight today and tomorrow. The Nutley Street North and South ramps will also be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for paving work as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project. [VDOT]

Tysons Consultant Plans Major Spending — “Tysons-based consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton plans to step up its spending on acquisitions over the next few years, targeting companies…in areas such as healthcare technology and cybersecurity services, the Wall Street Journal reported. Booz Allen plans to spend about $4 billion between April 2022 and March 2025, largely on acquisitions, executives said last week at the company’s investor day.” [Fairfax County EDA]

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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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Morning Notes

Police Charge Local Imam for Reported Sexual Assault — “An imam at a Fairfax County mosque in Virginia has been charged with sexually assaulting a girl in 2015. Fairfax County police said Said Shirzadi, 36, the imam at the Mustafa Center, on Braddock Road in Annandale, was charged Tuesday with indecent liberties by a custodian.” [WTOP]

Meetings Scheduled on Fairfax Connector Service Changes — The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is seeking public input on a proposed plan for Fairfax Connector bus service in Tysons, Vienna, Chantilly, Centreville, and neighboring areas, such as McLean and West Falls Church. After a previous round of engagement, the county will share its preferred plan at virtual meetings on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7. [FCDOT]

Vienna Restaurant Wins 2021 RAMMY Award — “Clarity, a restaurant from Chef-owner Jon Krinn, won the Outstanding Covid-Safe Redesign (Indoors or Outdoors) RAMMY. The restaurant adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering Krinn’s rotating menu in an outdoor kitchen and outdoor dining area in the parking lot.” [Patch]

Former McLean Home of Capitals Owner Up for Sale — “The exclusive McLean compound built by Monumental Sports and Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis is ready to trade hands again. The 3.5-acre property, which includes a Georgian-style mansion, Olympic-length pool, tennis court, and a guest house that has hosted the likes of Beyonce and Jay-Z, as well as Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, is currently on the market for $14.7 million.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro Is Considering More Fare Changes — “Metro’s board will discuss a variety of possible changes to the transit system’s fares during its meeting on Thursday, including ideas as simple as reducing bus fares to $1 and as dramatic as getting rid of peak-hour pricing. The menu of options is part of a larger conversation around increasing ridership and ensuring the system’s fare structure is equitable, especially as the system struggles to look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.” [DCist]

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Silver Line Express proposal, via WMATA

Metro has some bad news for fans of a proposed “Silver Line Express” rail service.

A recent cost-benefit analysis by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) found the project had the lowest cost-effectiveness of the five options being considered to boost capacity and reliability on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.

The hypothetical “Silver Line Express” would run through a new tunnel and tracks starting at the West Falls Church Metro station out to a second Rosslyn station in Arlington. The new tunnel could support express service, local service, or some mix of the two, a WMATA report said.

But a WMATA report and discussion at a Metro Board of Directors meeting on Thursday (Sept. 9) indicated the Silver Line Express may never leave the hypothetical stage. The cost-benefit analysis most heavily favored a new Blue Line route down from Union Station down to National Harbor.

The Silver Line Express carries an estimated cost of $20-25 billion, about the same as a new Blue Line route, but the report indicated that the express line would generate fewer new weekday trips — 139,000 compared to 180,000 for the new Blue Line — and receive less in annual fare — $119.4 million versus $154.2 million.

“When you look at the performance, the new Blue Line to national harbor offers highest impacts and highest benefits while lower cost alternatives have fewer benefits,” Mac Phillips, a principal planner and senior transportation economist-analyst for WMATA, told the Metro Board.

A cost-effectiveness ranking of the projects found the Silver Line Express to be the least cost-effective proposal, and only sitting at “medium-high” in terms of benefits.

Other options to expand capacity and ridership proposed by the study, which launched in 2019, include realigning the Blue Line at the second Rosslyn station to Greenbelt in Maryland and separating the Orange and Silver lines at Clarendon to create a second Silver Line connection at the proposed new Rosslyn station.

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4/15/20: Silver Line Phase 1 crews place concrete for new ADA ramp along eastbound Route 7 (courtesy Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project)

On paper, the Silver Line Phase 2 expansion should be “substantially completed” by November or December this year, but doubts expressed by the construction contractor about that timeline have filtered up to the Metro Board of Directors, where there are worries that construction delays could have a ripple effect.

At a meeting yesterday (Thursday), board members questioned staff about the status of construction following a disagreement between Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and Capital Rail Constructors (CRC).

“We have seen some reports that Capital Rail Constructors, the main Silver Line contractor, is telling MWAA that substantial completion date is something like May 2022,” said Metro Board member Matt Letourneau. “MWAA has stuck to November/December 2021 completion date. As of now, that’s still our understanding and what we’re operating on, correct?”

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority staff said they are still operating on the November or December timeframe for substantial completion laid out by MWAA. Andy Off, executive vice president for capital delivery, said substantial completion is still expected for later this year.

Even so, this wouldn’t be the first time the Silver Line has missed a deadline, and other Metro projects have also seen significant delays recently.

Off said testing with trains started on Aug. 21 and has been going well, potentially bringing the project closer to operational readiness testing, a process projected to take 60 days after substantial completion. However, that timeline is not set in stone and depends on how testing goes.

“We’re hesitant to get too far out in front of the timeline,” Off said.

After that, WMATA moves into a 90-day period for pre-revenue service activity — things like outfitting the kiosks, updating signage, and assigning staff.

The uncertain timing is a particularly sticky issue when it comes to hiring of new staff for the Silver Line expansion, who the Metro Board warned could be paid to sit around waiting for construction to finish.

“It seems like we don’t have an end date, so we’re training all these people early, but what happens when we’re not ready to go forward with operating the silver line?” board member Tom Bulger said. “What happens to those employees? Do they just sit around?”

WMATA Chief Operations Officer Joe Leader said the process of hiring and training staff takes time and, in the final stages of construction, needs to run in parallel with testing and other tasks in order for the Silver Line extension to be fully staffed when it opens.

“It’s an issue we’re dealing with with MWAA,” Leader said. “One of the things important to keep in mind: lead time for training employees takes time, just hiring them can take months to go through background check and medical. A Metro transit police officer can take up to ten months to train.”

Leader said WMATA will continue to monitor the substantial completion date to decide when to start moving forward with hiring and training.

“Based on what we’re hearing,” Leader said, “we need to continue to bring people onboard.

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Morning Notes

Silver Line Phase 2 Construction Could Finish This Fall — Construction on the long-delayed Silver Line Phase 2 could reach substantial completion in November, letting Metro take control of the project for a potential opening in the first half of 2022, officials said yesterday (Thursday). The project will add six stations to the rail line, whose first phase opened in the Tysons area in July 2014. [The Washington Post]

Vienna Town Council Gets Peek at Police HQ — “Donning hard hats, members of the Vienna Town Council got a first-hand look at the new police headquarters construction [Thursday] morning. Later they joined staff and contractors to sign one of the steel beams. As of now, the new facility is on schedule to open in summer 2022.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Tysons Consultant and IT Firm Merge — Tysons-based consulting company Guidehouse has agreed to acquire the McLean-based Dovel Technologies Inc., which provides data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other technology services. Expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year, the sale will add 1,800 employees from Dovel to Guidehouse, which plans to expand with a new global headquarters on International Drive later this year. [Virginia Business]

Annandale Resident Dies in Helicopter Crash — “An Annandale man was one of the five sailors killed in a helicopter crash following a flight operation off the coast of San Diego on Aug. 31. Lt. Paul R. “Boo” Fridley, 28, of Annandale was part of the crew…conducting a routine flight operation from USS Abraham Lincoln when the aircraft crashed into the sea roughly 60 nautical miles off the coast of San Diego at 4:30 p.m.” [Patch]

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