Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit alternatives map (via Fairfax County Department of Transportation)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved a bus rapid transit (BRT) route through the heart of Tysons, despite some concerns that it might not be as “express” as hoped.

Fairfax County started studying options for BRT through Tysons three years ago as part of a regional push to establish a bus line between Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria.

After reviewing several alternative routes, the board voted on Tuesday (July 27) to approve county staff’s recommendation for a route that will run from the Spring Hill Metro station up to International Drive and from there down to Route 7 past Tysons Galleria and Tysons Corner Center.

“The outreach on this plan was very well done, very thoughtful, and working with our transit associations,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “I think this has had robust input from our community…This is going to be best for businesses in Tysons and for our pedestrians and cyclists.”

One concern raised at the board meeting by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity is that the route won’t have pull-off spots that will allow for both express buses that run directly between major points without interruption and local buses that would make more frequent stops within Tysons.

“I think we’re really short changing ourselves not doing the local stops, where they pull off, so we can run express [buses] on it,” Herrity said. “I think long term, we’re going to be sorry for that.”

Herrity abstained from the final vote, saying he supported the project overall but had concerns about its structure.

Chairman Jeff McKay said the existing configuration represented a compromise between the need for better transit and respecting the right-of-way limitations in Tysons.

“Right of way is at a premium,” McKay said. “The impact to our businesses and impacts to our residents on the right-of-way needs of these projects is significant and significantly challenging.”

With the route approved, the Tysons BRT route will be incorporated into the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s broader Envision Route 7 study, which is currently in its fourth and final phase.

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Southbound vehicles on the Capital Beltway in Merrifield travel on regular and express lanes

Virginia is reconsidering the future of funding for transportation infrastructure, as the rise of electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles has cut into the gas tax revenue that helps pay for those projects.

One option the Commonwealth has started pursuing is a “mileage-based user fee” that drivers would pay depending on how much or little they travel. Drivers could opt into the voluntary system in lieu of paying a mandatory highway use fee that first took effect on July 1, 2020.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) says the highway use fee — which applies to cars that average at least 25 miles per gallon and is calculated based on the fuels tax at the time of a vehicle’s registration and the average number of miles it travels in the state — is a precursor to Virginia’s planned mileage-based user fee program.

“For most of the past decade, Virginia, like the rest of the country, has been wrestling with the challenge of identifying the best approach to generating sufficient revenues to support transportation investments,” she said in a statement. “As cars have become more fuel efficient and electric vehicle adoption increases, it is increasingly difficult to strike the right balance of raising adequate revenues from traditional sources and adhering to a usage-based philosophy of highway financing.”

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is currently fielding requests from private contractors to operate the program, which it anticipates rolling out in July 2022. Led by the DMV, a workgroup tasked with developing the program is slated to deliver an interim report to the Commonwealth this December.

The working group is identifying all requirements to Virginia’s mileage-based user fee program with “a priority on consumer privacy protection and equity,” DMV spokesperson Jessica Cowardin said in a statement.

Seeking new ways to fund road repairs and transit projects, Virginia established the mileage-based fee program in April 2020 when the General Assembly adopted a major transportation bill that also established the highway use fee and raised gas taxes for the first time in more than three decades.

The bill also lowered vehicle registration fees by $10 and repealed an annual $64 fee for electric and alternative fuel vehicles.

The changes, which include tying the gas tax rate to the Consumer Price Index to keep up with inflation starting next year, will help Virginia diversify its funding sources to offset stagnant or declining gas tax revenue, state legislators say.

The consultant KPMG previously estimated that Virginia would lose nearly 33% of its gas tax revenues by 2030 due to fuel efficiency, or approximately $260 million.

“Neither the [Highway Use Fee] nor the EV Registration fee are intended to suppress the sales of fuel efficient or electric vehicles, but simply recapture the average annual revenue from the foregone gas taxes,” Howell said.

The idea of taxing drivers based on how much they travel instead of the fuel they use has been gaining traction throughout the U.S. over the past decade.

Despite inflation, the federal gas tax rate has been locked in at 18.4 cents per gallon since it went up from 14.1 cents in 1993, meaning there’s less money to fund highway improvements.

“Many cars are not using gas at all, such as electric, so that system of highway finance has been coming apart for a long time,” said Jonathan Gifford, director of George Mason University’s Center for Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy in Arlington.

If Virginia wants to encourage a transition to clean energy and electric vehicles, which “is absolutely essential to addressing climate change, we will need to look to other options” to pay for transportation projects, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President Jason Stanford says. Read More

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Virginia’s plan to extend the I-495 Express Lanes to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean, just south of the American Legion Bridge, is now one step closer to becoming a reality after the project received key federal approvals late last week.

The Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) and National Park Service (NPS) both determined that the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project would have no significant environmental impact based on an assessment submitted by the Virginia Department of Transportation, which announced the news on Friday (July 9).

FHWA also approved the project’s interchange justification report, which analyzed the potential traffic impacts.

The approvals allow VDOT to move forward with the design and construction process, even as many community members and local elected officials remain skeptical that the project should advance with Maryland’s Capital Beltway expansion plans in limbo.

“This is an essential step toward bringing relief and multimodal solutions to a section of I-495 that faces daily congestion and unreliability,” VDOT Deputy Commissioner Rob Cary said in the news release. “We are appreciative of the collaboration and partnership from our federal partners, as we work together to implement the best possible solutions to improve travel on the Capital Beltway and in our region.”

Signed on June 29, the FWHA Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) considered the project’s implications for surrounding communities, land use, historic properties, water and air quality, noise, and other factors.

The report says building the proposed three-mile toll lanes extension “could result in short-term reduced water quality, floodplain impacts, and forest and wetland impacts,” but the impacts could be minimized with “the implementation of state-mandated best management practices and conformance with current stormwater regulations.”

“Overall cumulative effects of the project are not expected to be significant,” FWHA says in the report. “In addition, current regulatory requirements and planning practices help to avoid or minimize the contribution of present and future actions to adverse cumulative effects for socioeconomic, natural, and historic resources.”

According to the NPS FONSI approved on June 7, 495 NEXT would permanently affect 0.9 acres of George Washington Memorial Parkway because land is needed to tie the project into the existing interstate near the American Legion Bridge. 1.3 acres of park land would be temporarily affected during construction, including the clearing of forest canopy and plants.

Still, the park service concluded the impacts will be minimal compared to the anticipated benefits of the project, which VDOT says will reduce traffic congestion, improve trip reliability, and support more travel options, with the addition of a shared-use path from Lewinsville Road to Live Oak Drive and bus service between Virginia and Maryland.

“The Build Alternative will result in both beneficial and/or adverse impacts on the Park,” the NPS said. “However, the NPS has determined that the Build Alternative can be implemented without significant adverse effects.” Read More

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The Virginia Department of Transportation will build a shared-use path on Old Meadow Road and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-495 (via VDOT)

The Virginia Department of Transportation has selected Shirley Contracting Company to build a bridge and shared-use path along Old Meadow Road, providing a crucial connection from Tysons Corner Center to the McLean Metro station over I-495.

The contract was awarded in June but has not been finalized yet. VDOT project manager Abraham Lerner confirmed that construction is still expected to start this summer.

“At this time we do not have a specific date when the construction of the Tysons Old-Meadow Road project is expected to begin,” Lerner told Tysons Reporter by email. “We need to finalize the administrative processes related to getting the contractor under contract…We will reach out to the community prior to starting construction work.”

Based in Lorton, Shirley Contracting is an affiliate of Clark Construction, which has been involved in numerous other projects in Fairfax County, including the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line project.

The project will provide a bridge over the Capital Beltway for pedestrians and bicyclists, who currently have no easy way to cross the interstate at the Route 123 interchange. It will also involve the addition of a 4,662-foot-long, 10-foot-wide trail along the west side of Old Meadow Road.

Construction will unfold in two phases due to the availability of funding, according to Lerner.

The first phase will introduce the bridge and a portion of the shared-use path up to the Provincial Drive intersection. Construction will be supported by $8.5 million in funding and is expected to be complete in the summer of 2022.

The shared-use path will then be extended to Route 123 during the project’s second phase, which will begin construction once “additional funding becomes available,” VDOT says.

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More Capital Bikeshare stations are in the works for the Tysons area, specifically in Merrifield and Vienna.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has proposed adding 10 new stations in the following locations, including what would be the bike-sharing service’s first stand at the Vienna Metro station:

  • Caboose Commons
  • Circle Woods Drive and Lee Highway
  • Gatehouse Road and Telestar Court
  • Hartland Road and Harte Place
  • Inova Fairfax Medical Campus
  • Javier Road and Arlington Boulevard
  • Kingsbridge Drive and Beech Grove Drive
  • Mission Square Drive
  • Prosperity Flats
  • Vienna Metro South Entrance

The expansion would bring the Tysons area up to 29 Bikeshare stations, including 15 in Tysons and one at the West Falls Church Metro stop. Fairfax County also has 16 stations in Reston, which is getting its own expansion starting in July.

Fairfax County is eager to expand Bikeshare in Merrifield, because the three existing stations that were installed there in 2019 have proven successful, generating some of the most trips per site in the county prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to FCDOT spokesperson Robin Geiger.

Vienna has been considered a candidate for Bikeshare since at least 2018, when the county worked with the town, the City of Fairfax, and George Mason University on a feasibility study.

“Plans to expand to the Vienna Metrorail station are underway to provide connectivity to the surrounding community,” Geiger said by email. “The Vienna area stations will also help provide access to the City of Fairfax, who is working to bring CaBi to their part of the region as well.”

While it is not included in Fairfax County’s expansion, Town of Vienna spokesperson Karen Thayer says the Virginia Department of Transportation has granted the town’s request for funding to add Bikeshare stations at multiple locations, including the Town Green and community center.

The total project cost will be $272,400, which covers engineering and design, equipment, and installation.

“We are currently waiting for VDOT to complete its internal process and respond with an agreement,” Thayer said.

For the county project, Geiger says transportation officials looked at a variety of factors when selecting the proposed locations, including the density of development and the potential to generate a lot of trips. The need for bicycling infrastructure is also considered “in an effort to improve transportation equity,” she says.

“On a more granular level, we like to place stations in areas that are already paved — on-street parking lanes are often easy for [installation] and future servicing, and has only a small impact on available car parking,” Geiger wrote, adding that docks typically take up no more than one or two parking spots.

The Merrifield expansion will be primarily funded with a $497,100 I-66 Commuter Choice grant, though that won’t cover the full cost of the project, which Geiger says is currently estimated to be around $600,000.

While Bikeshare usage in the Tysons area consistently rose prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 sank both ridership and membership numbers systemwide as people limited travel and many started working from home.

“At its worst, early in the pandemic membership was around 20% of ridership when compared to past years,” Geiger said by email. “Most of the lost trips were by annual members who were commuting by bicycle.”

Fairfax County saw a 50% decrease in Bikeshare riders in 2020 overall compared to 2019.

Geiger says ridership levels started to pick back up last summer, primarily from non-members, meaning people who were utilizing the service for a single trip or day instead of getting an ongoing subscription.

“Usage patterns systemwide changed as well, with fewer trips to Metro stations, but more to recreational locations, and grocery stores,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Fountains outside The Verse condos in The Boro (photo by John G. Colby)

Capital One Adopts Hybrid Work Model — The founder and CEO of Capital One, which employs almost 10,000 people in the D.C. area, told workers yesterday (Tuesday) that its U.S. offices, including its headquarters in Tysons, will reopen on Sept. 7. The company will shift to a hybrid model where employees can work virtually on Mondays and Fridays with no requirements for how many days they need to be in the office. [WTOP]

Traffic Calming Measures Coming to Vienna and McLean — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted last Tuesday (June 22) to approve the installation of “$200 Additional Fine for Speeding” signs along Vaden Drive between I-66 and Lee Highway near the Vienna Metro station. The county will also spend $40,000 to install four speed humps on Churchill Road in McLean. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Founders Row Apartments Start Preleasing — The 322-unit Modera apartment building and 72-unit Verso senior living complex in Falls Church City’s Founders Row development are now preleasing in anticipation of opening later this year. The site will also host a six-story, mixed-use building with ground-floor retail and a movie theater, and a second phase is currently in the works. [Mill Creek Residential/PR Newswire]

Falls Church Among Healthiest U.S. Communities — The City of Falls Church came in third in U.S. News & World Report’s fourth annual Healthiest Communities rankings, the same spot that it has occupied for the last two years. Fairfax County made the top 15 at No. 14. [Patch]

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(Updated at 6 p.m.) Fairfax County’s first venture into self-driving public transportation has encountered impatient drivers and other difficulties, but the autonomous shuttle in Merrifield could still serve as a roadmap for expansion and future projects.

Operating between the Mosaic District and Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station since October, the high-tech Relay service navigates through bustling areas and amongst shoppers, giving free rides and demonstrating the possibilities offered by autonomous vehicles.

Eta Nahapetian, a manager with the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, remembers watching “Star Trek” as a kid, along with flying cars in the animated TV show “The Jetsons.”

“Here we are, trying to make some of those childhood cartoons a reality,” she said on June 10 during a webinar about autonomous technology, “Creating an Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem in Virginia.”

Sarah Husain, a transportation planner with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said the technology has elicited high interest from the community for how it helps people with disabilities.

During the presentation, Husain also described some of the challenges that have emerged during the pilot project, which is a joint effort between the county and Dominion Energy.

She said drivers can get impatient and illegally pass it, so officials with the project worked on adding signage and enlisted the Fairfax County Police Department to help with the issue.

In response to complaints about vehicles passing the autonomous shuttle, the McLean District Station has assigned officers to conduct extra patrol and enforcement to address drivers “speeding or passing Relay,” the FCPD said.

“We’d like to ask for our community’s patience when driving behind the shuttle,” police said. “Relay should only be passed, with care, when a full lane is available.”

According to the county, “Do not pass” signage was installed alongside Eskridge Road and Merrilee Drive in March 2021. Stickers with the same message were also placed on the shuttle.

“We sought out these challenges with the pilot,” Husain said, noting several solutions that came forth, such as installing monitoring devices that detect if the shuttle needs more time to pass through an intersection.

The technology remains limited in some ways. For instance, if an idled vehicle, such as a parked car, is in the way, a shuttle attendant has to take over in manual mode to advance the shuttle.

The shuttle runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday from the Dunn Loring station to the Barnes & Noble in the Mosaic District. It’s designed to fill the “first/last mile” need in public transportation, connecting travelers to their ultimate destinations.

Fairfax County is seeking additional funding to continue Relay’s length of service and expand the routes that it serves. The pilot project is slated to end in August.

Dominion Energy, which supplied the shuttle, says an expansion of the pilot is among many options that it is considering for future uses of automated vehicle technology.

“Dominion Energy is considering other opportunities that may include an expansion of the current project,” Dominion Innovation Strategist Julie Manzari said. “The purpose of the pilot is to learn and gather information that will help us adjust or pivot to other concepts.”

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Map of the West Falls Church Metro development sites (photo courtesy EYA)

Concerns raised by both local citizens and Fairfax County Planning Commission members over the impact of a new West Falls Church Metro station development plan prompted the commission to defer a vote on the project on Wednesday (June 16).

The West Falls Church Metro station is one of the most underutilized stations in the Metro system, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has enlisted developer EYA to turn the site into a mixed-use development.

The plan was endorsed by a task force appointed by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, but at Wednesday’s public hearing, several nearby residents and civic association representatives spoke out with concerns about the project — though others praised it as an improvement over the existing space.

“There are several focused criticisms and concerns raised about the current proposal by the [McLean Citizens Association] and by some of the nearby residents, who feel that we need to go further than this plan suggests,” said Dranesville District Planning Commissioner John Ulfelder.

Much of the criticism focused around the effect of traffic brought by the project on nearby roads that the county acknowledges were not made to support a sizable increase in density.

Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina said she was concerned that the plans fail to adequately address pedestrian safety.

“The text I see in the pedestrian area talks about convenience and comfort: it doesn’t talk about safety,” Cortina said. “This is life and death. We have to call out safety where we have pedestrian sections because that should be a priority.”

County staff said a follow-up study will look at identifying funding for pedestrian safety and traffic improvements for nearby streets that are outside of the scope of the current project but will still likely be affected by it.

“Haycock Road and Route 7 prevent a lot of people from crossing safely [to the Metro],” said Tim Kutz, a transportation planner with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. “That’s something we’re going to look at further in the transportation plan looking at the surrounding neighborhood. It’s important that people have an opportunity to bike and walk safely…A lot of older neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks, don’t have crosswalks, and don’t have connectivity.”

Kutz said the funding for those future pedestrian improvements is something the county would “have to explore” later.

Some nearby residents commented that they support the project, notably Cheryl Smith, who represented the Gates at West Falls Condominiums and served as the majority vote for the West Falls Church TSA Task Force.

Smith argued that the project would be a net increase in terms of quality of life for those surrounding the project, but others disagreed.

“The WMATA site is not suitable,” said Adrienne Whyte, representing the recently-launched Reclaim Fairfax County group. “This is a lovely but limited fiction.”

Whyte said the West Falls Church Metro station is intended to be a neighborhood-serving station rather than a site for significant developments.

In the middle was Phil Cooke from the McLean Citizens’ Association, who said the MCA supported the developer’s plans, but with the provision that the county must further study ways to address the potential consequences of increased density and congestion.

“[This] will strain Route 7 congestion further than it already is,” Cooke said. “Folks will seek to avoid Haycock and Route 7 and exit the back way, increasing local congestion.”

At Ulfelder’s suggestion, the board voted unanimously to defer its decision on the comprehensive plan amendment to the June 30 meeting, to collect further feedback and reflect on public comment before the Commission votes on the project.

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Map of the West Falls Church Metro development sites (photo courtesy EYA)

(Updated 6/11) A plan to overhaul one of the Metro system’s least-used stations is headed to the Fairfax County Planning Commission next week, but surrounding the new project is a complex network of advocates, issues, and jurisdictional questions that’s built Katamari Damacy-style over the last two years of public engagement.

As the project to transform the area around the West Falls Church Metro station starts to move forward, advocates and opponents alike are already starting to look at the next stage of transportation questions down the road.

The proposed comprehensive plan amendment aims to turn the area near the West Falls Church Metro station into a mixed-use district with office, retail, and residential uses more typical of areas near Metro stations.

With the withdrawal of Virginia Tech taking the filling out of the development sandwich, the two pieces of the plan are the City of Falls Church parcel, with mixed-use developments around a central stretch of park and open space, and the area adjacent to the Metro station.

The first phase of the project is scheduled for a planning commission public hearing on Wednesday (June 16) before going to the Board of Supervisors on July 13, after which the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s development team will still need to get specific plans approved.

So far, most of the public discussion about the project has involved transportation.

Evan Goldman, executive vice president of acquisitions for site developer EYA, says an expanded roadway parallel to the crowded Haycock Road should help relieve some of the local traffic, along with a new exit off I-66 running directly to the West Falls Church Metro station.

“There’s no question that what is being built here is 100% better than what is there today,” Goldman said. “This will have dedicated bike lanes on almost all the streets.”

Goldman says the concerns raised so far have mainly focused on the single-family residential neighborhoods near the development, where there are insufficient sidewalks in some places.

“It’s specifically because of the location, surrounded by single-family neighborhoods in an area where there are existing traffic issues,” Goldman said. “The density is sized for the capacity of what the traffic can handle to make sure we’re trying to be respectful of neighbors in terms of height and density.”

Goldman says lower density requirements will also allow more of the buildings to be delivered together, so the project can be brought online all at once.

The reaction from surrounding neighbors to the project has been mixed.

Paul Rothstein, one of the representatives from nearby residential development The Villages on a task force to review the project, has argued that the increased density will pose a hazard to nearby residents, who will feel the ripple effect of traffic from the site on streets not built to handle it.

“Even though I view pedestrian infrastructure remediation as mostly Fairfax County’s responsibility and not [EYA’s],  your development will increase traffic in the surrounding areas and increase the risk to pedestrians,” Rothstein wrote in a letter to the developer.

Rothstein has been pushing for EYA to endorse a McLean Citizens Association resolution on the project, which notes that the traffic issues at the site remain unresolved.

“To quote the father of the injured child, ‘I also hope that the developers, who emphasize building walkable communities, will support the MCA resolution and thus make sure that walkability in existing communities does not deteriorate as a result of new communities,'” Rothstein wrote. “Adoption of the MCA resolution still will permit substantial development at the same time as promoting the safety of your neighbors, including their children.”

Goldman says current plans for the development include dedicated crossings on Haycock and Leesburg Pike, but Rothstein’s concern is for neighborhood children walking to Haycock Elementary along more crowded streets.

Goldman says EYA’s obligations for traffic improvement are primarily at the development site and not the broader region around the station.

Cheryl Sim, another nearby resident, agreed that, by and large, EYA is not responsible for the entire area, but it still has some obligations.

“The County and VDOT have long ignored this area and its needs,” Sim said. “However, EYA fronts for WMATA in this exercise. And, WMATA, based upon its Joint Development Guidelines and Principles from May 2020 place the onus on the developer.” Read More

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Morning Notes

County Board Approves PIVOT Grant Program — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday (June 8) to create a new grant program that will use $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to support businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will focus on the hotel, food service, retail, and arts and culture industries with applications scheduled to open from June 23 through July 9. [Fairfax County Government]

Armed Robberies Reported in Falls Church — Fairfax County police are investigating a series of armed robberies that have occurred in the 3300 block of Glenmore Drive since Saturday (June 5). In all four cases, a masked man described as white and between 17 to 25 years of age approached victims with a knife and demanded cash or property before running away. [FCPD]

Reckless Driving in Tysons Subject of Capitol Complaint — Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton is under investigation by the agency’s inspector general after a woman “recklessly” drove his work-issued vehicle around Tysons on March 6. A complaint says the vehicle was traveling at a high speed and made an unauthorized stop at Walmart, and the driver “made obscene gestures at the person who reported the incident.” [Roll Call]

Developer Starts Selection Process for Maryland Beltway Project — The development group selected to carry out Maryland’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway at the American Legion Bridge will launch a competitive procurement process on June 16 to identify design and construction contractors. The process will be watched by Virginia, particularly in McLean, as the Commonwealth moves forward with its 495 NEXT project. [Accelerate Maryland Partners]

Reminder: Idylwood Substation Public Hearing Tonight — The State Corporation Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. today (Thursday) on Dominion Energy’s plans to rebuild a substation in Idylwood. The project has been repeatedly delayed, and the utility company has proposed pushing the timeline for completion back even further to 2026. [SCC]

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