Reston, VA

Southgate Community Center is getting a new name.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday (Tuesday) to approve Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s suggestion that the community center be renamed after his predecessor, Catherine Hudgins, who retired from the board at the end of 2019.

The board directed staff from Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services, which operates the facility, to “work with the community” and report back with a plan for implementing the change.

Located at 12125 Pinecrest Road, the Southgate Community Center provides a variety of recreational, cultural, and educational programs, along with access to county and community resources. Recently, the facility has hosted regular COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

According to Alcorn’s board matter, Hudgins was instrumental in establishing Southgate as an essential community facility during her nearly two decades as supervisor.

“It was her vision and dedication that has made Southgate Community Center the success that it is,” Alcorn said.

The full board matter is below:

Mr. Chairman, for two decades, Cathy Hudgins tirelessly served our communities in Hunter Mill District, from 2000 until 2019 when she retired from the Board of Supervisors. She was a community builder with a passion for improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods that are often overlooked. One of Supervisor Hudgins’ biggest accomplishments and one that is a lasting legacy is the re-creation of the Southgate Community Center as a County-owned facility in Reston in 2006.

From the day this renewed facility’s doors opened, Southgate Community Center has been a mainstay of the surrounding neighborhoods, providing residents of all ages a place to meet, learn and play. There is a gymnasium, teen center, computer lab, multi-purpose rooms, and other accommodations. Children in need have been fed, pro bono legal advice has been given, English lessons have been provided, COVID vaccinations delivered, and teens have had a safe place to go after school.

Supervisor Hudgins worked tirelessly to negotiate the land lease with the Reston Association, secure the financing, review the building design, monitor its construction, and support the center’s program activities. It was her vision and dedication that has made Southgate Community Center the success that it is.

Therefore, Mr. Chairman, in honor of Cathy’s passionate and successful efforts, I move that the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) work with the community to re-name Southgate Community Center in recognition of Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins, and I further request that NCS to report back to the Board about the name change and an implementation plan.

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Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn hosted a town hall on Tuesday (April 20) to talk about public places in Fairfax County named after Confederates.

The discussion was based on the Fairfax County History Commission’s 539-page inventory, which was first released in December and details the history and context of each place named after a prominent Confederate figure.

The project traces its roots to last summer, when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed the commission to study the legal and financial implications of possible name changes throughout the county.

The commission determined that, out of about 26,500 total named places in the county, approximately 157 streets, parks, monuments, subdivisions, and public places in Fairfax County bear names with ties to the Confederacy.

“This research confirmed…that Fairfax County was a crossroads of war,” Fairfax County History Commissioner Barbara Naef said. “Combatants of both Union and Confederates flourished, camped, marched, clashed, and suffered both victory and defeat here.”

In addition to cataloging sites, the report provides appropriate context, history, and narrative for possible name change discussions, including a dive into “Lost Cause” ideology, its pervasiveness in Fairfax County, and how it influenced the naming of places.

The Lost Cause ideology encompasses myths used to rationalize Confederacy sympathy, mainly that the Civil War was not fought over slavery, the pre-war Southern way of life is to be celebrated, and that prominent figures like Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee didn’t believe in slavery.

“There was an urging by some to exclude it from the report altogether or soften its tone,” Naef said. “These reactions prove the point. The perspective of the Lost Cause has been embraced by generations.”

In its report, the History Commission recommended making the inventory available to the public via the Fairfax County Public Library, which is currently the case, and using the report as a guide for “a robust public process for considering future actions.”

The Hunter Mill District town hall is one of the first steps in that process, members of the commission at the meeting noted.

Within the Hunter Mill District, there are believed to be four places named after Confederates: Fort Lee Street, Lee Manor, the Mosby’s Landing condominium complex, and Wade Hampton Drive.

Fort Lee Street in Herndon and Lee Manor along Lee Highway near Vienna both derive their names from Robert E. Lee.

Fort Lee Street was named in the mid-1970s when Fox Mill Inc. developed the Folkstone subdivision, while Lee Manor is directly tied to Lee Highway, which is in the process of being renamed.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill in February, allowing Arlington to rename their portion of Lee Highway.

Mosby’s Landing in Vienna takes its name from John Mosby, a Confederate commander who was also known as the “Gray Ghost.” The condo complex was built on the site where legend says that Mosby and his horse hid out from Union soldiers.

Vienna’s Wade Hampton Drive is named after a Confederate lieutenant general who reportedly led a unit of 600 men and horses down the road in 1865. After the war, Hampton criticized Reconstruction and worked to suppress the vote among South Carolina’s Black population when he became governor of the state.

According to the history commission, the Town of Vienna named the street after Hampton in recognition of the Civil War’s 100th anniversary. The town is currently in the process of having the road’s name changed.

“The town has appointed an ad hoc group to look at this street name and consider alternatives,” Fairfax County History Commissioner Anne Stuntz said.

While the Commission’s charge was to examine places named after Confederates, several residents suggested that places named after individuals involved in the “Mass Resistance” movement opposing school integration should also be re-examined.

Examples include former Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent W.T. Woodson, who opposed desegregation and still has a high school bearing his name, though schools were overall not included in the history commission’s inventory.

Commenters also mentioned Carter Glass, a state senator who developed laws intended to prevent Black people from voting, including Virginia’s poll tax.

For years, the library at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston was named after Glass. Today, that building is now the Reston Museum.

Photo via Fairfax County/YouTube

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The real estate tax, a proposed freeze on county employees’ wages, and affordable housing were on top of residents’ minds at the Hunter Mill District virtual budget town hall on Monday (March 29).

Hosted by District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the town hall gave residents the chance to provide feedback and ask questions about the county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1.

Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Director Christina Jackson kicked off the meeting with a review of the proposed budget, which termed as “conservative” due to the ongoing pandemic and lost revenue associated.

Highlights include decreasing the real estate tax rate by one cent to $1.14 per $100 assessed value, schools receiving a half percent increase in funding compared to 2021, no pay increases for county employees, and “modest investments” in Board priorities like public safety staffing, environmental initiatives, and opioid use prevention efforts.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on March 9 to advertise a real estate tax rate of $1.15. The final adopted rate could be lower but not higher than that limit.

The proposed decrease in the real estate tax rate is intended to give homeowners a bit of financial relief at a time when the unemployment rate remains high. Even with the reduction, however, the average real estate tax bill will still go up by more than $200 due to significant increases in assessed value for many county residential properties.

Lowering the real estate tax also takes about $27 million off the table for the county to use to fund other priorities, such as increased compensation for county employees and affordable housing initiatives, Alcorn noted.

“We tied at least one hand behind our back by [advertising] the tax rate at $1.15,” he said.

Under the proposed budget, this would be the second straight year that county employee wages will not be increased.

One resident participating in the town hall said she was “incredibly disappointed” in the potential salary freeze, particularly because some neighboring jurisdictions, such as Loudoun and Prince William counties, are raising wages for employees.

“We are failing our employees who can’t afford to be [county] residents,” the resident said. “It’s really disappointing to see that the county doesn’t want to retain us because they don’t want to pay us.”

Alcorn responded that he was also very concerned about the implications of the pay freeze. Jackson noted that the county is considering potential bonuses and are annually reviewing job classifications for potential increases in 2023.

“We are trying to find ways to reward our employees with compensation increases,” Jackson said. “I anticipate that 2023 is going to be different and we might have to do a little bit of catching up if those jurisdictions do provide sizable pay increases.”

Alcorn argued that decreasing the real estate tax rate will make it “very hard” to make progress on the county level to expand the availability of affordable housing, something that has long been a challenge for Reston and a priority for the supervisor.

One south Reston homeowner commented that the annual increases in value for her townhouse have become a concern not only because it raises her tax bill, but also because it means so-called “starter homes” are no longer affordable for those looking to live in Fairfax County.

“Frequently, I go out and there’s a new baby in the neighborhood. Those are the people buying these houses,” she said. “…Because of these increases, these [houses] are increasingly becoming out of reach for many people.”

Hanging over the budget discussion is the possibility that Fairfax County will receive as much as $222 million from the most recent federal stimulus package, though the county does not know exactly when that money will come in.

The budget does not factor that money in, because it’s a one-time payment, as opposed to recurring dollars, Jackson explained.

In the last stimulus package, Fairfax County received about $200 million that was used for a myriad of needs, including virtual education, contact tracing program, business relief grants, and pandemic-related administrative leave.

Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held on April 13-15. It will go through mark-ups on April 27 and is scheduled to be adopted on May 4.

Image via Fairfax County government

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(Update 5:00 p.m.) The soon-to-be-completed Reston Comprehensive Plan study is reviewing previous plans from 2014-2015 that say the Reston’s population is slated to more than double in the coming years, according to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

Reston was home to an estimated 66,000 people in 2019, according to Fairfax County, which projects the population to jump to about 71,000 people by 2040. The existing comprehensive plan makes room for up to 157,000 people to eventually live in Reston — a 138% increase from 2019.

However, the RCP community task force is reassessing that number to see if it still remains appropriate.

“It’s definitely been an area of discussion for the task force,” Alcorn said at a briefing with local reporters on Friday (March 26). “The task force is making sure…the [RCP] infrastructure will be sufficient to manage that, both in terms of residential but also office workers and retail.”

Alcorn also noted that this population hike will have a notable impact on transportation and school capacity, elements that are continually part of the task force’s discussions.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a review of the Reston Comprehensive Plan in January 2020, and the task force formed in May. The goal of the review is to analyze potential changes to the plan, which was last adopted in 2017 and guides future planning and land use decisions for the area.

The process was expected to take 12 to 18 months, but the pandemic may end up delaying the study’s completion by a few months. Alcorn said they are looking to wrap up by the end of the summer.

Chaired by Alcorn, the task force is made up of 32 members, including representatives from Reston Association, Save Our Sunrise, Reston Community Center, and Southgate Community Center.

In relation to anticipated population increases, the task force is also examining land use and areas where density might need to come down. Alcorn specifically noted Hunters Woods, South Lakes, and North Point village centers.

There’s also talk of having developers “earn” requested density by making commitments related to environmental impact and equity.

“How can new development, and the economic activity that comes with that, [make] connections…with underserved communities, communities in the Reston area that have not had the opportunity to fully take advantage of prosperity that comes with new development?” Alcorn said.

In terms of environmental footprint, Arlington County offers a similar exchange to developers, allowing extra density if they promise buildings will earn green building certification.

Alcorn noted that Reston could end up being a model for the rest of Fairfax County with what they are finding out from this study.

“Reston is exactly the right place to start these discussions in Fairfax County, given Reston’s history and Bob Simon’s principles,” Alcorn said.

The task force’s next meeting will take place on April 12.

Photo via Reston Association/Facebook

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(Updated 3/29) This May, bicyclists will get a chance to pedal around Hunter Mill District with Fairfax County Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

Fairfax County is planning its inaugural “Tour de Hunter Mill” for May 15 starting at 8:30 a.m. Alcorn will host the scenic bicycle tour of the district that he represents.

“This will allow people to explore parts of Hunter Mill District that they haven’t before,” Alcorn said on a call with reporters talking about the event.

After starting at Reston Community Center, the ridealong will take bikers along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail to the Vienna Metro station before following quiet trails to the Spring Hill Metro station. Then, the route will circle back to Reston Community Center.

All in all, this “long” route encompasses about 20 miles. There’s also an option to board the Metro at Spring Hill to come back to Reston, which shaves about six miles and 475 feet of climbing from the trip.

Families or more inexperienced riders can also take a route that’s less than five miles through the Reston Association’s pathway system.

The tour costs $25 per adult, but the price includes a pair of “Tour de Hunter Mill” socks and a $5 donation to Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling.

Safety and health protocols will be followed, adhering to Virginia Department of Health’s current guidelines. Riders will be capped at 150 people and must stay at least six feet apart. Ride marshals and Fairfax County police will follow along as well.

The event will take place rain or shine.

Photo Courtesy of Fairfax County

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A Reston Now employee was kicked out of Reston Town Center on Tuesday afternoon for taking photos.

Jay Westcott, a staff photographer for Reston Now and its sister sites Tysons Reporter, ALXnow and ARLnow, was asked by a security guard to leave RTC after he attempted to take several photos outdoors. Westcott has earlier been asked by an editor to update Reston Now’s file photos, which we use to illustrate stories about everything from new office tenants to events and other happenings.

Westcott had just paid for parking and begun taking photos of a landscaping crew when he was approached by a security guard.

Boston Properties, the Massachusetts-based company that owns RTC, says that any media, photographer or videographer must seek a permit — processed through RTC’s marketing — each time they want to take photos in the center.

The permit application notes that all photos must be approved by RTC prior to publication and “are available for licensing by Reston Town Center management for use in Reston Town Center publications.”

‘This is not a new policy. Some brands have policies in place regarding professional photography so we normally escort media on site,” said Ashley Arias, director of TAA Public Relations, Boston Properties’ PR agency.

The application also stipulates that storefronts, loading docks, and building entrances cannot be photographed without written permission.

Reston Now owner and publisher Scott Brodbeck said that although RTC is privately owned, it is a de facto public space.

“Jay is a consummate professional who was simply updating our stock photos of the area. Credentialed members of the media should not be required to obtain permits in order to do their jobs in such a setting,” Brodbeck said. “That’s doubly true given that any member of the general public is able to take such photos with their smartphones without being hassled by security.”

Some local photographers say that although the permit process is cumbersome, RTC’s marketing team is forthcoming and welcoming.

“I just keep a copy of the PDF on my phone, and any time a security guard requests a permit, I show them my phone, they take a quick glance at it, and let me carry on,” Reston-based photographer Charlotte Geary told Reston Now.

Boston Properties’ photography policy highlights some elected officials’ concerns about the privatization of publicly used spaces.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said that the photography restriction in open areas of RTC underscores the fact that open areas in RTC are not public open spaces and rather “private property accessible and usable by the public with conditions established by the private property owner.”

He says his task force, which is reviewing Reston’s Comprehensive Plan, is taking a look at the pros and cons of privately owned and maintained open spaces versus publicly owned and maintained spaces. The topic was discussed at a December meeting.

It’s not the first time the privatization of open space has been an issue in Reston.

In the spring of 2019, Comstock Companies, the developer of Reston Station, clashed with the county over the permissibility of campaigning on its property.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Reston Comprehensive Plan Study Task Force is on schedule to finish its review of the document that guides planning and development in Reston this summer, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s office announced yesterday (Thursday).

After wrapping up its review, the task force will hold town hall meetings and convene with various stakeholders, including homeowners’ associations, business groups, and community organizations, to share its recommendations and solicit public feedback.

Alcorn initiated the review process in January 2020 with the goal of updating Reston’s Comprehensive Plan to more effectively manage growth and development in Reston. The 32-member task force, which Alcorn chairs, officially kicked off their review in May and has held more than two dozen meetings since then.

Topics that have been considered by the task force as part of its review include planning principles, population and density, transportation, parks and open space, affordable housing, public health, energy and the environment, equity, and public art.

Alcorn expressed enthusiasm about the work by the community members on the task force so far, even though the schedule has been “somewhat slowed” by the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force is being supported by county staff from the planning and transportation departments, among others.

“I am very excited by the work and the collaboration by the task force,” Alcorn said. “…We still have several months of work ahead, but I believe the outcome will reaffirm Restonians’ decision to live in a planned, equity-focused community.”

The task force will hold its 16th meeting on March 22 from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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Friday Morning Notes

Alcorn Seeks Intern — The Hunter Mill District Office is seeking a part-time summer intern to help with public service activities. The deadline to apply is March 1. [Fairfax County Government]

Reston House Fire Extinguished — A small fire broke out on the outside of a roof on the 11500 block of Greenwich Point in Reston yesterday evening. The fire was quickly extinguished and no injuries were reported. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

Late Night Thieves Target Minority Business OwnersDetectives in Fairfax County are investigating a series of overnight commercial burglaries at minority-owned businesses located in Alexandria, Annandale, Falls Church and Springfield in Virginia. [WTOP]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is aiming to formally update its Workforce Dwelling Unit (WDU) policy to provide affordable rents for those in need as rents continue to increase across the region.

However, these policy changes would not apply to Reston, which is currently undergoing its own separate study to update its WDU policy. The proposal heads to the board for a public hearing and a vote today.

The main update is lowering the household income levels served under the county’s rental WDU program from a maximum of 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) in the Washington D.C. Metro Area to 80% of AMI. It also now includes those at 70% and 60% of AMI in the program. The changes are based on a comprehensive staff report released last month.

The area median income (AMI) is the household income for the median household in a region. Currently, in the D.C. region, the AMI is $126,000 for a household of four.

“We conducted a housing strategic plan process over the last two or three years, which identified, sort of these lower incomes as being in the greatest need,” says Tom Fleetwood, Director of Fairfax County Housing and Development. “While at the same time, the higher income tiers that were served under the original version of the WDU program really were closer to the prevailing market rents here in Fairfax County.”

The updates would also lower the minimum percentage of rental units offered as WDUs from 12% to 8%. According to the plan, 4% of those units would need to be offered to those at 80% AMI, 2% to those at 70% AMI, and 2% to those at 60% AMI.

However, these numbers are different and are specifically revised for the Tysons Urban Center.

Fleetwood says the policy is “similar in intent” but the specific numbers are more in context with the realities of Tysons’ rental market.

In Tysons, developers would have the ability to choose between two different options for their affordable rental units. Either they can offer 2% of the units at 60% AMI, 3% at 70% AMI, and 8% at 80% AMI, which brings their WDU commitment to 13% in total, or they can simply offer 10% of their units at 60% of AMI.

The county’s planning commission voted unanimously to make these changes.

Reston is working on their own separate WDU study as part of the Reston Comprehensive Plan Study. That study is being initiated by a task force led by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

Alcorn’s communication director Lisa Connors, tells Reston Now that Reston has a “separate formula for WDUs.” Similar to the policy updates that the county is voting on, WDUs will be discussed at the study’s task force meeting on March 8.

Affordable housing continues to be a challenge for Reston.

The Board of Supervisors is also voting to update, revise, and rewrite editorial elements of the policy that was first established in 2015. The revisions would update data, rework outdated terminology, and remove references to programs that no longer exist.

Photo by Mike Reyes/Flickr

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Tuesday Morning Notes

FCPS to Host Annual Special Education Conference — The school system’s sixteenth annual special education conference will be held virtually on Saturday, April 17th. [FCPS]

Local Town Halls Set for This Week — Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is hosting a town hall tonight and Thursday. The first meeting is with the Reston district police station commanders and the second is with Alcorn. [Fairfax County Government]

Northern Virginia Returns to In-person Schooling — ”The case numbers of the new variants in Virginia are increasing as some school systems in Northern Virginia prepare to resume in-person instruction this week. The counties are returning to in-classroom learning before all teachers have received their COVID-19 vaccine.” [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Alcorn Plans Virtual Town Halls for Next Week — Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn will host two town halls on Feb. 16 and 18. The first discussion is with Reston District Police Station commanders and the second is with Alcorn. [Fairfax County Government]

Body Worn Camera Program Expands in Fairfax County — Phase two of the program is complete as officers from the police department’s Franconia and McLean District Stations received training and are now fully equipped with the devices. [Fairfax County Police Department]

CVS in Annandale to Distribute Vaccine — CVS will offer the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible 1a and 1b populations through a federal program. So far, the only participating location in Virginia is located at Little River Turnpike in Annandale. Supply is limited, but more locations will begin to offer the vaccine soon. [Fairfax County Government]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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Wheelock Street Capital plans to build up to 90 townhouses next to Fannie Mae’s current offices at 11600 American Dream Way.

The move comes after Wheelock’s plans to redevelop the nearby Hidden Creek Club were opposed by neighboring community groups and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

The company, which bought the sprawling 29-acre property in 2018, plans to build the townhouses in four blocks on open space.

Although the county’s zoning allows the Connecticut-based company to build two more office buildings on the site, Wheelock chose the residential route to complement existing office space on the site.

“The introduction of an option for residential use will help to complement and balance the existing office use on the property, and will create positive traffic impacts relative to the full office build-out option,” according to the application.

Its plans for the golf course, which it purchased in 2017, are more uncertain. Wheelock has proposed general plans for a community park and between 500 and 2,000 residential units. No formal proposal has been filed with the county yet.

But Alcorn publicly stated he would block any efforts to redevelop the golf course, which requires rezoning and is a flashpoint in several community groups’ efforts to maintain Reston as a community with two golf courses.

The Fannie Mae proposal is in its early phases. The project heads to the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Sept. 22 and a staff report isn’t expected until Sept. 7.

Meanwhile, Fannie Mae is expected to move into Boston Properties’ next phase of development in Reston Town Center next year.

Image via handout/Fairfax County Government

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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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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every facet of the world including Metro planning, but officials say the construction phase of Phase II of the Metro Silver Line has managed to stay on track.

Marcia McAllister, the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Communications Manager, noted that Phase II is 99 percent complete. McAllister shared the update during the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Metro Monday Jan. 25 virtual meeting about COVID-19’s financial impact on Metro and the Silver Line.

“COVID has had very little effect on our construction,” McAllister said. “As you know, construction workers were allowed to continue to work and they did work, and our contractors have put in extra hours to make up any time they may have (needed) when they may have had cases of COVID.”

She added that the project is undergoing system testing and that coordination is happening daily with Metro moving forward. While the project’s eventual opening will be up to WMATA, the goal is to turn it over to the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority in late spring.

When Metro takes control of the project, it will conduct its own testing before opening the second phase. During a Metro Monday meeting on Dec. 10, head of capital delivery for Metro Laura Mason estimated that Phase II’s tentative start of service would begin in the fall of 2021. The completion of the project has been delayed by more than a year.

McAllister also addressed rumors about the construction budget funding for the project.

“Our funding is completely intact. There’s been no change in the allocation of funds,” she said. “In fact, we have already spent all of the Phase I money that came from the federal government to fund this project. That part is set in golden stone.”

Loudoun County Supervisor and Metro Board of Supervisors member Matt Letourneau reiterated McAllister’s budget comments and clarified that the construction budget for the project is not related to Metro’s capital budget. Letourneau went into further detail on Metro’s financial standing during the ongoing pandemic and the federal COVID-19 relief package signed on Dec. 27 to support transit.

The overall region is expected to receive about $830 million, with about $720 million going to Metro. Metro will keep about $600 million of the funds and allocate about $108 million to local providers.

“That will allow us to essentially balance the FY (fiscal year) 21 budget with about $95 million of that,” Letourneau said. “We had planned some fairly significant, but not necessarily painful, cuts coming in February that we’re going to be avoiding.”

The remaining $515 million allocated to Metro will be used to help balance the fiscal year 2022 budget. Metro will pass a budget in the mid-March to early April timeframe. However, Letourneau cautioned that the federal funds would not cover the entire fiscal year 2022 budget.

Unless additional federal funding is received, Letourneau said, service cuts and employee layoffs are potential threats in January 2022. He estimated that the layoffs could encompass an estimated 2,500 people.

“The Metro board has not done anything to delay the opening of Phase II as a matter of Metro policy or budget policy,” Letourneau said. “Thus far the position of the Metro board has been whenever the project is been turned over and deemed acceptable and safe, and gone through testing, we should open it.”

Since the inception of the pandemic, Letourneau estimated that Metro rail ridership is between 10 and 15 percent of what it was prior to COVID-19, while bus ridership is around 50 to 60 percent. He added that if additional federal funding is not provided, the fiscal year 2022 budget process will involve considering $171.4 million service reductions for the last six months of the fiscal year.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn urged officials to open phase two as soon as it is ready and practical.

“As we think about the Metro budget and going forward, we have to keep in mind that the long term viability of Metro depends on using rail,” Fairfax County Supervisor Walter Alcorn said.

Letourneau echoed Alcorn’s statement by that saying Phase II should continue as previously planned despite challenges and low ridership.

“If we are trying to recover, if we want to be part of that recovery, we know that the highest growth part of the system is the silver line; it is the Dulles corridor,” Letourneau said.

The WMATA Board voted to authorize a public process to participate in discussions on the fiscal year 2022 budget in February. Hearings are anticipated to begin in early March and the board is then expected to approve a budget in April.

Photo by Chuck Samuelson/Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project

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Following a flood of demand yesterday, Fairfax County plans to launch a new online vaccine registration system as early as tomorrow that will allow residents to schedule an appointment according to the county’s Information Technology Department.

On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the Fairfax Health District is one of several districts in the state to jumpstart the next phase of vaccinations — phase 1b. The first priority group in this phase is adults age 75 and older, followed by priority groups like police and grocery store workers.

The new system, which is currently under development, follows a pre-registration tool that was launched by the county on Monday after overwhelming demand for scheduling jammed county phone lines and flooded the overall system. The pre-registration form, which is currently open, includes pre-screening questions and was launched earlier than originally anticipated in order to shift demand from the county’s phone line to the online system. Pre-registered residents will likely be contacted via email by the county to complete the registration process.

At an IT committee meeting today, some members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors were dismayed by the initial rollout of the registration system and phone line. Overall, the county received nearly 1.2 million calls on its vaccine hotline yesterday. Within the first hour that the phone line went up, the system was jammed.

Jeff McKay, the board’s chairman, said that he was concerned the board did not receive information about the issues facing the county until around 6 p.m. yesterday.

“I know it is disappointing that we weren’t better prepared for this,” McKay said. “I will say that we need to be a lot quicker.”

He also noted that residents should be aware that phase 1b is not a first-come, first-serve system. Frontline essential workers will be vaccinated in a pre-determined order, with police, fire and hazmat workers on the top of the list.

The county is testing out the new system today in cooperation with the Fairfax County Health Department, according to Gregory Scott, director of the county’s Department of Information Technology.

His office also plans to implement a virtual system with automated chatbots and work with external vendors to help manage call volume. The county also routed some calls to a voice message that said to call back later due to busy phone lines.

“Everybody was in this predicament yesterday morning,” Scott said.

Staff noted that additional manpower may be needed to manage call volume and respond to registration forms to sort out missing or conflicting information.

For example, more than 286,000 voicemails were left on the county’s vaccination line yesterday alone. So far, the county hopes to automate as much of the registration process — including administration of the vaccine’s second dose — as much as possible.

Residents will likely receive an email about registering for the second dose, according to the county’s health department.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who chairs the IT committee, also encouraged the county to ensure the registration form is friendly for seniors. The first version of the preregistration form sent yesterday made providing a cell phone a required field, for example.

The new registration form is expected to be available as early as tomorrow, pending final testing and revisions.

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