Morning Notes

Metrobus Service Will Expand This Weekend — Starting Sunday (June 6), Metrobus will operate late-night service to 2 a.m. every day of the week on 36 of its busiest routes. There will also be more frequent service and restored service on more than 60 routes, bringing bus service to approximately 85% of pre-pandemic levels. [WMATA]

Independence Day Fireworks Coming to Lake Fairfax — “In honor of the nation’s Independence Day, Lake Fairfax will once again host a fireworks display. The event will take place on Saturday, July 3, 2021. Preregistration and capacity limits will be in place. Details will be posted as they become available on the Lake Fairfax Park website.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Chandon Park Playground to Be Replaced — Demolition and construction work has started on the playground at Chandon Park in Herndon. Expected to finish by July 31, the $140,000 project will introduce new equipment, subsurface drainage, and other upgrades to replace the playground, which was originally installed in the 1990s and no longer meets current safety guidelines. [Fairfax County Park Authority]

CACI Joins Fortune 500 List — For the first time in its history, CACI International was named a Fortune 500 company, an annual ranking of the biggest companies in the country based on revenue. Previously based in Arlington, the defense contractor officially opened its new corporate headquarters in Reston on May 28. [Business Wire]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax Connector suspended fare collections last year as a temporary health measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the public bus system is considering longer-term adjustments to its fare policies with support from a new state grant program.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is one of 12 transit agencies in Virginia that have expressed interest in the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s new Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP), which will fund projects that increase connectivity in highly populated areas or remove barriers for low-income individuals by reducing or eliminating fares.

While fare collection resumed on Jan. 4, county leaders see reducing or subsidizing trip costs as one way to encourage more people to ride the Connector, which is the largest local bus system in Northern Virginia, transporting approximately 30,000 passengers on 91 routes in ordinary times.

“Access to transit is crucial in promoting equity county-wide and for many a barrier is cost,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay said. “Our Department of Transportation is committed to looking into how we can provide aid to those experiencing economic hardship.”

Created by the General Assembly during its 2020 session, TRIP was conceived before the novel coronavirus arrived in the U.S., but Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine told the Commonwealth Transportation Board during a May 18 workshop that the pandemic illustrated how vital public transportation is for essential workers, DCist reported.

“Fares turned out to be an obstacle. So we are really trying to use this as an opportunity,” Valentine said, according to DCist.

DRPT has split TRIP into two programs: one focused on regional connectivity, which could include everything from integrated fare collection systems to the creation of bus-only lanes on significant routes, and one focused on reducing the impact of fares on low-income users, which could involve eliminating fares, creating zero-fare zones, or providing subsidized or free passes.

Virginia has allocated a total of $129 million to the TRIP initiative through fiscal year 2027, including $88.4 million for the connectivity program and $39.6 million for the fare program, according to a presentation that DRPT delivered to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Legislators limited the fare reduction program to 25% of the initiative’s annual funding, but the General Assembly gave the program an additional $10 million in the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget, raising its total to $12.5 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

DRPT released a draft policy last week outlining how TRIP will be implemented, including how projects will be evaluated for grant funds. The resolution is open for public input through June 18, and the CTB is scheduled to vote on it on June 23.

The department has also made a draft of the program’s application guidelines available for public comment until July 7. Read More

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Fairfax County is taking a small but crucial first step toward electrifying its sprawling government vehicle fleet, thanks to more than $4 million in state grants.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (May 7) that the county will receive $4.4 million from the first round of Virginia’s Clean Air Communities Program, an initiative that launched in November using $20 million from the state’s Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust.

Three of the five awarded grants went to Fairfax County agencies:

  • Department of Transportation: $2.9 million for four shuttle buses and chargers
  • Department of Public Works and Environmental Services: $1.2 million for four solid waste and recycling trucks and chargers
  • Department of Vehicle Services/Department of Procurement and Material Management: $205,275 to purchase a medium-duty truck and charger for the public library system

The other recipients are the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which will get $3.9 million to purchase five shuttle buses and chargers, and Amherst County, which got $998,301 for two trucks, a shuttle bus, and chargers.

“Supporting clean transportation solutions is a vital part of our efforts to combat climate change and improve air quality in the Commonwealth,” Northam said. “These investments will reduce harmful vehicle pollution, which disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, and help accelerate an equitable transition to a cleaner economy for all Virginians.”

Fairfax County will use its grant funds to launch an electric vehicle pilot as part of a broader push to eliminate fossil fuels from the county’s transportation operations and achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.

The county’s Joint Environmental Task Force recommended in October that the Fairfax Connector bus fleet transition to electric vehicles or other non-carbon-emitting alternatives by 2030, followed by public school buses and non-bus vehicles in 2035.

The county has approximately 6,347 vehicles in its overall fleet, including 1,540 Fairfax County Public School buses, according to the Department of Vehicle Services.

While the new pilot will kick off the conversion of the county government fleet, FCPS received its first electric school buses in January from a statewide initiative led by Dominion Energy, which has pledged to replace all diesel buses in the state with electric ones by 2030.

The county first utilized electric vehicles for public transit in November, when the autonomous Relay shuttle kicked off passenger service in Merrifield for a year-long pilot project.

“To cut carbon admissions, we have to reimagine the way in which we travel,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “As a county, we are already actively moving towards cutting our emissions from our public transit and this will move us closer to our end goal.” Read More

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Passengers on several Fairfax Connector service will have to use a different bus stop.

The bus stop at the intersection of Colts Brook Drive and Sunrise Drive has been permanently removed due to sidewalk construction, according to a statement released online.

The county’s department of transportation is constructing a missing segment of walkway along Sunrise Valley Drive westbound between Colts Brook Drive and Hitchcock Drive, according to Anna Nissinen, a county spokeswoman told Reston Now.

A six-foot-wide asphalt walkway is planned in the area. The project would also upgrade existing curb ramps so that they are ADA compliant.

The bus stop at Colts Brook Drive was removed to encourage pedestrians to cross Sunrise Valley Drive at the nearest signal location at Monroe Street using the marked crosswalks, she said. The walkway is intended to provide another way for pedestrians to access the Herndon Metro Station.

Passengers are encouraged to use another stop with the identification number of 3540 at the intersection of Sunrise Valley Drive and Milburn Lane instead.

The bus stop will no longer be served by routes 924, 926, 927, 929, 937, 950, 952.

The project will likely be completed next month.

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Now, Reston residents can access detailed local transportation data with a click.

An interactive Reston Transportation Data Hub came online earlier this week, offering compiled data sets detailing how and when Restonians move about town.

The tool features vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit data. Much of the data is from November 2019.

“This system provides a new way for residents to understand both the big picture and the details of our current and planned transportation system,” Walter Alcorn, Hunter Mill District Supervisor and Transportation Committee Chair, wrote in the press release. “Whether you drive, ride rail/buses, walk or bicycle, information on how the system fits together and coming improvements is critical. This data hub is an important step forward.”

Beyond that, the tool also maps upcoming transportation and infrastructure projects including timelines and costs. It also provides a comprehensive map of pedestrian and biking trails in Reston.

A high level analysis shows that traffic volume tends to be higher in Reston during the evening peak rush hour than the morning equivalent.

The report speculates that, along with commuting, this is due to the combination of errands and non-work trips that more often happen in the evening.

There are also other data hubs being planned, including ones showing zoning activity and parks that will show how land is being used in Reston.

Full press release below:

Reston residents, businesses and stakeholders can now access the latest information about transportation in the Reston area. The online, interactive Reston Transportation Data Hub features vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit data, in addition to information about planned infrastructure improvements and transportation projects for Reston.

The Transportation Data Hub is one component of the Reston Data Visualization project. Led by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development Urban Center’s Section and GIS Department, the project focuses on data transparency associated with Reston development and infrastructure improvements, including information about mobility, parks, and zoning activity.

“This system provides a new way for residents to understand both the big picture and the details of our current and planned transportation system,” said Walter Alcorn, Hunter Mill District Supervisor and Transportation Committee Chair. “Whether you drive, ride rail/buses, walk or bicycle, information on how the system fits together and coming improvements is critical. This data hub is an important step forward.”

Additional Data Hubs are planned for the Reston Data Visualization project – including a Zoning Activity Data Hub and a Parks Hub – for sharing land use information with the Reston Community.

The main Reston Data Visualization page, which includes the Reston Transportation Data Hub, can be found at https://reston-data-visualization-fairfaxcountygis.hub.arcgis.com/. For questions about the new Transportation Data Hub or the Reston Data Visualization project, contact the Department of Planning and Development’s Urban Centers Section.

The Transportation Data Hub is a collaboration between Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Transportation.

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Fairfax County Public Schools is getting its first electric school bus today as part of a statewide initiative led by Dominion Energy.

The bus is expected to arrive at the Stonecroft Transportation Center in Chantilly. It is the first of eight vehicles that FCPS will receive from Dominion in an initial deployment of 50 buses throughout Virginia.

FCPS says it anticipates getting the remaining seven buses by the end of January.

Made by Thomas Built Buses, the new vehicles will join Fairfax County’s fleet of approximately 1,625 diesel-fueled school buses, one of the largest in the country.

“Electric school buses in FCPS will benefit not only the school division and its community, but the entire national capital area,” FCPS says. “…They will help reduce carbon emissions, serve as a resource for national emergency planning efforts, and provide stability and capacity to the grid with meeting increasing energy demands.”

While electric buses are more expensive to purchase than diesel ones, they are cheaper to maintain and operate. FCPS is covering the difference in the initial cost with a grant from Dominion Energy, which also funded the installation of electric charging infrastructure at the Stonecroft facility and is responsible for maintaining the equipment.

FCPS says training for bus drivers, maintenance technicians, and other staff will start once the first bus arrives. The vehicles will undergo testing before being assigned to routes in early to mid-April, though whether there will be any students for them to transport at that time remains to be seen.

The arrival of Fairfax County’s first electric bus is a welcome step forward for community members and public officials who have been advocating for a transition to electric vehicles, citing health and financial benefits as well as environmental ones.

One of the most prominent advocates for electric school buses has been the Fairfax County branch of the national climate advocacy group Mothers Out Front, which launched a campaign in 2019 calling on FCPS to commit to converting its entire fleet to electric power by 2024.

“We are so excited for Fairfax to get its electric school buses on the ground and running,” Mothers Out Front Fairfax co-leader Barbara Monacella said in a statement. “…Every electric school bus we add to our fleet reduces the air pollution from diesel that harms our kids’ health, and brings us closer to our goal of converting every bus in order to reduce emissions and fight climate change.”

The community advocacy group has teamed up again with Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) on legislation that would create a state fund for school districts to purchase electric buses, a move aimed at addressing concerns about the amount of control Dominion has over the current initiative.

Last year, lawmakers opted to pursue the utility company’s pilot program instead, but Monacella says Keam will reintroduce his bill when the Virginia General Assembly convenes for its 2021 session on Wednesday (Jan. 13).

“We applaud the buses Fairfax has added, and we hope to add more through the state grant fund in the future,” Monacella said. “With every electric bus we add, we move the needle for our kids’ health and their future in the face of climate change.”

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Fairfax Connector will begin resuming fare collection on Jan. 4 following a months-long hiatus that began in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The local bus system will also begin boarding from the front door instead of rear door entry, another move that was undertaken to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The move comes as doses of two vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer are delivered in Virginia and throughout the country to front-line health care workers and individuals in long-term care facilities.

Metro will also begin resuming the collection of bus fares on Jan. 3.

In order to maintain protect passengers and bus operators, the county has installed polycarbonate driver shields on buses. Face coverings continue to be mandatory inside buses.

Since May, staff has given 66,000 face coverings to passengers without masks. Passengers are encouraged to practice social distancing when possible, stay at home if they are sick, and wash hands often with soap and water.

Transdev, the bus systems operations continue, continues to step up cleaning and disinfecting of bus interiors and commonly used areas like door handles and handrails, according to the county.

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors indicated interest in a pilot program for electric-powered buses during its transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

During the meeting, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny delivered an presentation that explained the “ins and outs” of electric vehicles and and included a proposal for moving forward with a pilot plan.

The next step would be to return to the supervisors with a more in-depth financial plan that includes details such as when and where this would take place, and how long the demonstration would last, which could be in the early part of 2021, Biesiadny says.

“This is exciting,”said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay. “Clearly we need to jump into this area and we need to do it quickly.”

Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchick supported a pilot because it would help ensure the county implements these changes correctly.

“This is the future,” she said. “We need to stop going backward. I’m hopeful to see a plan not just to see a pilot but do a demonstration project, which in my mind, means ‘how can we move forward?'”

A pilot with four buses could cost between $3.8 million and $4.2 million, a gross cost that does not take into account sources of funding. Some money has been set aside through a bus replacement program, and there are grants available, Biesiadny said.

FCDOT has in-house and external expertise from Fairfax’s “ongoing partnership with Dominion Energy” and the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit team to draw from, said Tom Reynolds, the FCDOT Section Chief of Transit Services Division.

The pilot would help the department learn about the buses’ range and charging, how they perform during different seasons of the year and on various local and express routes, and what staff training needs to be done, Reynolds said.

“The sooner we do the pilot, the sooner we see the results of it, the sooner we can start to make longer-term decisions about some of the capital costs that would be necessary if we were to expand this,” McKay said.

When the county talks about costs, Palchik — who said she developed childhood asthma living in the area — and Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw emphasized the costs of treating asthma and the health impacts of poor air quality.

“In Virginia, we spend $87 million a year because of asthma hospitalization,” Walkinshaw said. “Fairfax County is lower, but Route One is higher. Annandale is higher. Other parts of the county are higher. It would be a small thing, but as we look at this pilot, we might want to look at locating it in parts of the county that have been hit harder by asthma.”

Fairfax County’s first effort to introduce electric vehicles into public transit came this year with the autonomous Relay shuttle now operating in the Mosaic District. That demonstration project is a partnership with Dominion Energy, Biesiadny said.

Photo via Electrify America

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Monday Morning Notes

New Roles for County Bus Drivers — Fairfax County Public Schools’ bus drivers are taking on new roles during a hiatus in in-person learning. Some were matched with temporary jobs based on their skill set. [NBC 4]

Volunteers Sought for Laptop and Book Distribution — Volunteers are “greatly needed” to help schools in Reston and Herndon, according to Fairfax County Public Schools. Volunteers can sign up to help with curbside library book distribution, weekend food distribution packing, helping with laptop distribution, and other tasks. [Fairfax County Government]

Virtual Appraisal Roadshow Set for Tomorrow — Reston Association is hosting a virtual appraisal roadshow from 11 a.m. to noon tomorrow (Tuesday). Experts will be on-site to educate the audience about facts and the worth of items selected by residents. [RA]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax Connector will resume full service on all routes beginning Aug. 29, bringing a return to a new normal after months-long disruptions in service.

The bus service — which is the largest local bus system in the state — will also feature new services, including a new commuter route from Stringfellow Road Park and Ride to Southwest DC.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay thanks customers for being patient with past service reductions. Throughout the pandemic, the bus service maintained roughly 70 percent of its service in order to cater to customers who depend on it for essential jobs and vital services.

“As we return to full service, the health and safety of Fairfax Connector passengers and personnel continue to be our top priority. Working together to diligently follow public health and safety guidelines will result in safer travel conditions for all,” McKay wrote in a statement.

A breakdown of new service being offered is below:

Route 699: Enhanced service on this route includes two additional morning and afternoon rush hour trips from the Fairfax County Government Center to Downtown Washington, D.C. (Foggy Bottom); adjustments to the departure times to better align with rider demand; and morning and afternoon rush hour reverse commute trips from Downtown, Washington, D.C., to the Fairfax County Government Center.  This route is supported by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) Commuter Choice Program and I-66 toll revenues.

Route 334: Enhanced weekday service operating every 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour during non-rush hour to better serve the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) facility in Springfield by way of Springfield Center Drive and Metropolitan Center Drive, with access to the Franconia Springfield Metrorail Station, the Defense Logistics Agency, and the Army Museum.

Routes 340/341: Minor route adjustments to maintain efficiency and dependability.

Transdev, the bus system’s operations contractor, will implement improved cleaning protocols, especially on common touchpoints like door handles and handrails.

Customers must continue to enter and exit the bus through the rear doors. A face mask is still required while riding the bus.

Riders are encouraged to practice social distancing by keeping six feet apart, when and if possible.

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand has no plans to furlough bus drivers and food service workers, despite the virtual start to school next month.

In a letter sent to the community last night (Monday), Brabrand said he plans to “keep our FCPS family 100 percent intact” as the school year begins. Bus drivers are set to return to work on August 25. Some will deliver meals to specific locations or along select bus routes.

In other cases, the school system may provide other work assignments like facilities maintenance, student support, and delivering books and supplies to schools.

Brabrand also said the school system is working on an alternative plan to keep all food service workers employed throughout the academic years. Funding for service food service employees, which primarily relies on the sale of food, has taken a major hit due to school closures.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter:

I’d like to thank our food service employees for your heroic efforts to provide grab and go meals for our families since our schools shut down in March. More than 2 million meals have been served so far. Food distribution will continue through the rest of summer break and once the school year begins.   

A community survey is underway to determine meal demand for the upcoming school year. The results will determine if changes to the food striation schedule are warranted.

Other staff — including security guards and office employees — may also be asked to shuffle their job duties to support virtual learning.

The FCPS School Board is meeting today for a day-long work session to continue formalizing plans for the return to school.

Photo via FCPS

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After a variety of issues and delays, Silver Line’s Phase Two is now aiming for completion in spring 2021.

Updates on the second phase of the Silver Line were briefly mentioned due to time constraints during the Transportation Committee yesterday. Phase Two will connect six new stations to the Wiehle-Reston East, bringing Metro riders out to Ashburn.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said that he briefly talked to Paul Wiedefeld, the general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, last week.

“He assured me that — at least as of early last week — the Phase Two opening is still on track for next spring,” Alcorn said. “I’m sure there are probably a dozen ways that that can change, but for now, at least it is moving forward, according to that schedule.”

Phase Two is 98% complete overall, according to the presentation for Martha Elena Coello with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

The project has faced several delays, from train control software issues to flawed rail ties. The presentation addressed the ongoing issues the project has faced, including:

  • concrete panel deficiencies
  • concrete ties/cross level deficiencies
  • fouled ballast
  • automatic train control
  • insulated joints replacement

Work is expected to finish on the new rail, systems, stations and yard later this year or early 2021.

Recently, “substantial work” wrapped up on the garage at the Innovation Center Metro station, according to the presentation. The garage, which costs roughly $52 million, is 98% complete and awaiting its official occupancy permit, according to the presentation.

Bus loop work is expected to be done at the Herndon station garage this month.

The presentation also provided an update on the bus service plan for Phase Two. Currently, Fairfax County is seeking public input on the plan.

More from Fairfax Connector:

Welcome to the Reston-Herndon Area Bus Service Review final round of public input!… Fairfax Connector is considering a variety of options to improve bus service to, from, and around the new stations in Fairfax County.

Our previous round of outreach proposed three bus transit service alternatives, each with their own set of unique characteristics. We ranked the alternatives based on coverage, average travel times between key origin-destination pairs, and ridership potential (see right). We also listened to what Connector riders and nonriders had to say through several public meetings and an online survey. Based on feedback received, the preferred alternative presented today is cost-neutral, and includes the best elements of the three originally proposed scenarios and existing service.

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(Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has selected its preferred bus service plan for the Fairfax Connector in Reston and Herndon.

County planners say the plan “aims to improve on-time performance and streamline service to meet the needs of the community and commuters.”

Here’s more from FCDOT on what’s being considered:

Some of the key improvements to the bus service in the area include new and more direct connections and routes; new connections to Chantilly, Centreville and the Dulles Corridor; service to Northern Virginia Community College (Loudoun Campus); and routes travelling from Sterling to Herndon. The plan, which also uses elements from all three of the proposed alternatives, shortens travel time, increases access for transit dependent populations, and maintains bus stop coverage at most locations.

The implementation of the proposed service changes will coincide with the start of the new Metrorail Silver Line service and will provide connections to the Reston Town Center StationHerndon StationInnovation Center StationDulles Airport StationLoudoun Gateway Station and Ashburn Station.

The plan will include three new routes: Chantilly to the Dulles Corridor, Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun campus, and Sterling too Herndon. Planners say the proposal shortens travel time and creates more direct connections.

The average travel time could be reduced from 57.3 minutes to 49.4 minutes. The updated plan would also improve service to more households, especially those that are low-income.

More information about the proposal is available online.

The county is seeking feedback via an online survey and via email at [email protected]. Residents can also call the county at 703-877-5600, extension 711, or mail comments to 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400.

The county is also hosting a virtual public meeting on the plan with Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust on Wednesday, July 8 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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County officials are evaluating if the Fairfax Connector bus service should continue normal operations. For now, Fairfax Connector is operating on a normal schedule.

A spokesperson for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation told Reston Now that changes in service levels are possible in the future, but no plans have been finalized yet.

Overall, ridership has taken a hit, but it’s too soon to tell by how much, according to Robin Geiger, an FCDOT spokeswoman.

The Fairfax Connector’s operations contractor has implemented a more rigorous vehicle cleaning cycle with “a special focus on bus interiors and critical touchpoints such as door handles, handrails, and other surfaces,” according to FCDOT. The contractor is also working with its workforce to ensure employees are informed about coronavirus and measures to slow its spread.

Passengers should continue to practice ways to prevent spreading COVID-19 by washing hands often with soap and water, avoiding touching your eyes nose or mouth, and avoiding contact with people who are sick.

The Fairfax Health District has 14 presumptive cases of COVID-19.

How do you think the bus service should respond to COVID-19? Let us know in the poll below.

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All Fairfax Connector buses will return to normal operations today (Monday) after a worker strike ends.

Transdev, the company that recently took on a new contract to operate buses for the county, is ending the strike without a negotiated contract.

The Amalgamated Transit Unions 1764 told WTOP that a deal is within reach, although issues like wages, vacation, sick time and retirement remain to be ironed out.

“We still have items to negotiate, but our riders come first and foremost for us. We are going back to work because their support and that of elected officials and allies have helped us make significant advances at the table,” said ATU International President John Costa said in a release Sunday night.

Photo via ATU 1764/Facebook

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