Tysons, VA

Metro will maintain its current rail and bus service levels under a proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors’ finance committee approved yesterday (Thursday).

Since February, Metrorail has been operating at 80% of its service levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted a nearly 90% drop in ridership. Metrobus has been operating at 85% of its pre-pandemic service levels after seeing a less pronounced decrease in ridership.

The $4.7 billion operating and capital budget proposed for FY 2022 is being supported by $722.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding, including $193.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that Congress enacted in March.

Those funds have enabled WMATA to avoid making the significant service and personnel cuts that had been on the table even after the passage of the second coronavirus relief bill in December. Among the possible cuts was the closure of 19 Metro stations, including the McLean and Greensboro stations.

Tysons Partnership, the nonprofit group that has been overseeing the implementation of Fairfax County’s vision for Tysons, welcomed the news that those potential cuts have been averted.

“After a very uncertain time, we are pleased the federal government provided ample funding for WMATA to cover operating costs for the near future and that Tysons Metro stations will remain open,” Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner said. “Now, we and the region need to focus efforts on returning to riding Metro as economic recovery efforts get underway and more retail and hospitality businesses return to normal operations.”

However, the proposed budget will delay funding for service on the long-anticipated second phase of the Silver Line, which expands the transit system from Reston into Loudoun County.

Previously scheduled to open this fall, Silver Line Phase 2 will now begin operations in January 2022 at the earliest as the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority works to resolve ongoing construction issues. MWAA said in March that it will be ready to hand over the project to Metro by Labor Day.

“We are preparing to welcome back customers as part of a return to normalcy, and welcome new customers who have long awaited the convenience of the Silver Line and new stations serving their communities and workplaces,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “I am especially looking forward to beginning rail service to Dulles Airport as people resume travel to and from the nation’s capital as one of the great destinations in this country.”

Metro’s proposed FY 2022 budget also includes the transfer of five bus routes to Fairfax Connector, which will assume operations of the routes in July in conjunction with a host of other service changes concentrated around Tysons, McLean, and Falls Church.

WMATA says it received more than 22,400 responses during the public comment period on the FY 2022 budget, which lasted from Feb. 20 to March 16. That is the most comments the transit agency has gotten on a budget proposal in the past 10 years.

WMATA’s board of directors is scheduled to give final approval to the proposed FY 2022 budget on April 22. The fiscal year will begin on July 1 and last until June 30, 2022.

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Metro riders will now be able to make calls, listen to music, and scroll through social media while commuting without risking any service interruptions.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it has finished establishing a systemwide wireless network, bringing WiFi to all 91 Metrorail stations and throughout 100 miles of tunnels.

The Silver Line in Tysons was one of the last three segments of the network to come online, along with the tunnels from Dupont Circle in D.C. to White Flint in Maryland and the Yellow Line between L’Enfant Plaza and the Pentagon.

According to a Metro press release, the project had been underway for more than a decade and involved partnerships with three major wireless carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

“Bringing this project to the finish line gives riders added security and all the conveniences of wireless connectivity,” WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “Customers can text, talk, and explore the internet and apps, including Metro’s mobile payment options to load value and manage their SmarTrip account while traveling on Metro.”

Congress ushered in wireless service for Metro with the passage of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which included an amendment authorizing grants for WMATA maintenance projects and requiring the transit agency to ensure access to wireless provider services.

Funded by an agreement between Metro and the wireless carriers, the project required the installation of more than 400 miles of cabling and infrastructure. WMATA attributes the lengthy timeline to the fact that much of the work could only be done when trains were not operating, limiting workers to three or four-hour overnight maintenance windows and scheduled track outages.

The completion of Metro’s wireless system will improve the safety of Metro riders and workers, according to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who helped facilitate the project with the rest of the D.C. region’s Congressional delegation.

“The federal government and the region have made substantial investments in making this system safer and more reliable, from rebuilding tracks to introducing new rail cars,” Warner said. “Now passengers will be able to use their cellphones underground throughout the system.”

Wiedefeld says systemwide wireless coverage will pave the way for Metro to implement technology that provides real-time communications with customers and allows the rail system to operate more efficiently. It could also be critical for enabling first responders to communicate in an emergency.

The wireless carriers will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and maintenance of their own networks, including testing and enhancements.

“This significant joint investment provides a communications network that allows each provider’s customers to stay connected with their friends, families and favorite content when using the Metro system,” AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon said in a joint statement. “The cooperative approach adopted by the Providers and WMATA was critical in bringing this project to fruition.”

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Friday Morning Notes

Metro Silver Line Phase 2 Delayed Again — “Metro executive vice president of capital delivery Laura Mason said Thursday based on the latest information from the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority – which is in charge of building Silver Line phase two – fall 2021 appears to be the best estimate for when service can start.” [ABC7-WJLA]

VHSL Issues New Face Mask Requirement for Student Athletes — “Starting tomorrow, winter athletes must wear a face mask at all times. This includes while they are engaged in physical activity. Because of safety concerns the only exceptions would be wrestling, gymnastics and swim & dive (when engaged in activity).” [McLean High School]

Fairfax County Suggests Pause on 495 NEXT — “Fairfax County supervisors approved two letters to the state transportation secretary Dec. 1 urging the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) not to finalize decisions on its 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project until Maryland officials make highway-capacity arrangements on their side of the Potomac River.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NOVA]

Comcast Expands Network in Tysons and Other Parts of Virginia — “Comcast Business today announced it has completed construction in Virginia – expanding the company’s advanced fiber-optic network to more than 2,800 additional businesses.” [Comcast Business/PR Newswire]

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The announcement of more delays for the Silver Line have led to concerns from Supervisors Dalia Palchik and John Foust that Metro isn’t giving the communities around the Tysons area a fair shake.

Metro was one of several topics the supervisors spoke to the McLean Citizens Association about earlier this week.

“They are currently talking about reducing Metrorail service across the system to 80%,” Foust said. “Except that they’re saying they don’t have the funds to commence service on Phase II of the Silver Line.”

While Foust said the second phase of the Silver Line expansion isn’t quite ready for opening, it will be soon, and Foust said it deserved to be treated like any other wing of the Silver Line. Foust was particularly vexed by arguments from WMATA that Metro lines that had been operational before the shutdowns will be prioritized for service.

“If they get 80%, we should get 80%,” Foust said. “We’ve invested $6 billion into the Silver Line… I’m advocating for opening Phase 2 of the Silver Line as soon as possible.”

Palchik said these issues have been exacerbated by lack of communication between WMATA and Fairfax County.

“We found out, maybe hours before the public, that the Orange and Silver lines were being shut down,” Palchik said. “The lack of communication between our boards and the WMATA boards is frustrating beyond compare. [We] need to ensure we’re not seen as the wicked stepchild of the metro system.”

Staff photo by Michelle Goldchain

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The Metro Transit Police are looking to identify a suspect in a report of an attempted rape on a Silver Line train yesterday (Tuesday) in Northern Virginia. 

The incident took place at approximately 11:35 a.m. between the McLean and East Falls Church stations, according to a statement from the WMATA. The statement says the suspect boarded the train at the Wiehle-Reston East station and physically assaulted an adult female, exposing himself and attempting to remove her clothing. 

According to the statement, the female was able to escape the train at the East Falls Church station, where Metro Transit Police detectives were able to respond. The victim’s child was apparently the only other individual on the train at the time of the incident. 

The suspect was apparently wearing a dark-colored shirt with the words “Piranha Joe” on the left sleeve, a logo of a circle and a fish on both the rear and left breast of the shirt, according to the statement. 

Tysons Reporter contacted Metro Transit Police this morning for updates but was told police could not discuss the case further.

Anyone with more information can contact the Metro Transit Police detectives at 301-955-5000. 

Photo via the WMATA

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Northern Virginia community leaders are looking for affordable housing solutions as the Silver Line expansion gears up to bring more people to local urbanized areas.

The Dulles Chamber of Commerce brought together representatives from Fairfax and Loudoun counties to talk about what the expansion means for the future of affordable housing at a public meeting yesterday evening. The conversation focused on roadblocks to construction, current demand for units, land-use policies and who needs subsidized housing.

The Silver Line extension is expected to be completed in 2021 and will run from Fairfax County into Loudoun County.

But, the cost of living is not sustainable for lower-income people working in the area, according to Tom Fleetwood, the director of Housing and Community Development for Fairfax County. The average income only increased by 10% while the cost of housing increased by 17% from 2010-2015 in Fairfax County.

Fairfax County will require at least 15,000 new affordable housing units in the next 15 years to support families earning 60% of the median income and below, according to Fleetwood.

Currently, there are 30,000 low-income renters in Fairfax County that are paying more than one-third of their income on housing. “This means that they’re what we call a ‘cost-burden’ and that they have less money to contribute to our economy,” he said.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, four minimum wage jobs are needed in order to afford the average apartment in the county.

Once the Metro extension project is complete, the housing disparity is only expected to grow.

In Tysons and Reston specifically, Fleetwood said that the biggest challenge is the limited availability of land for affordable housing projects. To combat this, updated inclusionary zoning policies have been a large help in rethinking how space is used, he said.

“Visionary zoning policies have produced a substantial number of below-market units that are serving working families in Tysons and in Reston,” Fleetwood said but didn’t volunteer a specific number.

Stephen Wilson, the president of SCG Development, which has an office in Tysons, offered examples at the meeting of how his company has worked around small parcels of open land.

At Ovation at Arrowbrook in Herndon, SCG Development is branching out and working with community planners to incorporate affordable housing close to stations like Innovation Center.

“Land is a precious commodity everywhere, but particularly around high-density areas,” he said.

Image courtesy Fairfax County

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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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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is aiming to finish work on the Orange Line stations in Northern Virginia around Labor Day.

“[The] Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church are on target for completion around Labor Day, Sept. 7,” WMATA announced today.

Additionally, riders can expect several stations west of Ballston to reopen on Sunday, Aug. 16: the McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill, Wiehle-Reston East and West Falls Church stations.

The six stations are temporarily closed for Silver Line Phase 2 work and platform reconstruction.

The news is a part of WMATA’s announcement that it is restoring most of its service with longer Metrorail hours and increased bus service.

More from WMATA:

Metrorail will add 15 hours more service per week, with opening times returning to normal and the system closing two hours later each night in anticipation of potential increases in ridership after Labor Day.

Metro today also announced a significant investment to support the region’s overnight workers by doubling the discount customers receive when using Lyft during times Metro is not available.

Metrobus will offer more buses, running more frequent service beginning Sunday, August 23 restoring approximately 75 percent of pre-pandemic service. Weekday service will improve on 174 routes with most routes operating close to normal. Buses will operate until midnight, an additional hour.

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Repairs are almost done along Leesburg Pike in Tysons as part of the Silver Line’s first phase.

The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project shared photos of the concrete work on a new ramp along westbound Leesburg Pike, finished sidewalk repairs near the Spring Hill Metro station and finished work on the sidewalk, curb and gutter near Spring Hill Road.

Silver Line Phase 1 includes the four stations (McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill) in Tysons along with the Wiehle-Reston East station.

“Crews will finish repairs along Route 7 and will complete final clean up and punch list items by the end of June according to a project executive,” according to the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

Previously, the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project shared updates in April on crews placing concrete near Leesburg Pike for a new ADA ramp and excavation work along Old Meadow Road.

Photos courtesy Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project

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After construction-related closures, commuters can expect several Silver Line stations to reopen ahead of schedule, according to a press release from the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.

On Aug. 16, WMATA plans to reopen the McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill and Wiehle-Reston East stations along with the West Falls Church station.

“Assuming the platform work continues at its current pace, the remaining three west-of-Ballston stations (Vienna, Dunn Loring, and East Falls Church) are expected to reopen around Labor Day,” the press release added.

The timely completion of the projects can partially be contributed to the drop in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the press release said, adding that ridership is down 90% from this time last year.

“Metro has been working to efficiently use track access time during a period of historically low ridership,” the press release said. “Earlier this year, the transit agency combined Orange Line platform reconstruction and Silver Line signal integration into a multi-month summer shutdown of the nine rail stations west of Ballston”

Free shuttle busses will replace trains until the stations reopen, the press release said. “However, Vienna and Dunn Loring customers will be able to connect to Metrorail at West Falls Church, rather than Ballston.”

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