Arlington County has received a $710,000 grant to convert an outside lane of Lee Highway to bus- and HOV-only.
The lane will run eastbound from N. Veitch Street to N. Lynn Street during peak morning hours and westbound from N. Oak Street to N. Veitch Street during the evening peak period. During these times, roughly 25 loaded buses travel that stretch per hour, staff said in a report this January.
At other times, it will continue as a general-purpose travel lane.
The project is one of six “low-cost, low-risk” projects to receive a grant through the Commuter Choice program, which funds transit projects with toll revenue from I-66 inside the Beltway. On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Transportation Board authorized the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to award $3.5 million in grants, NVTC announced.
“We’re expanding the transportation network now using a conservative strategy focused on low-cost projects and longstanding assets to ensure access to convenient, safe and reliable choices whenever people are ready to commute,” NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice said in a statement.
The scope and timeline of the program are limited this year after revenue plummeted due to COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, Commuter Choice on the I-66 corridor anticipated $25 million in grant funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Instead, tolled trips dropped by nearly 50%, the 2020 Commuter Choice report found.
“Given the lower revenues and increased competition for this round of I-66 Commuter Choice, we’re pleased that NVTC and the CTB selected this project for funding,” said Eric Balliet, a spokesman for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services.
The funding, less than the full $1 million the County applied for, will be used to cover pavement treatment, restriping, and signage for the new bus lane.
“We anticipate fully implementing the project but have not yet had discussions about adjustments to the project scope based on the lower funding amount,” Balliet said.
The County Board will be need to accept and appropriate the funds and execute an agreement with NVTC, he said. Staff have up to two years to dedicate the money to the project, and up to five years to spend it.
The county mulled this project over before, even seeking funding — unsuccessfully — in 2019.
The county was also denied a request $10 million to help add a second entrance to the Ballston Metro station at N. Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street.
Other funded projects include three “existing, high-performing express bus services” and $1 million towards a second entrance to the McLean Metro station, the announcement said.
These projects minimize “the risk around the uncertainty of a return to pre-pandemic traffic volumes and (make) the best use of the minimal available toll revenues,” the announcement said.
Since the Commonwealth of Virginia and NVTC established the program in 2017, it has provided more than $60 million grant funding to 36 projects in Northern Virginia.
Photo via Google Maps
Among the proposed cuts is the Metroway route between Pentagon City and the Braddock Road Metro stations.
Arlington and Alexandria have spent millions building the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway that the Metroway line serves, with more than a dozen stops, primarily in the Crystal City and Potomac Yard area. An $27.7 million expansion of the Transitway to Pentagon City is in the works and set for construction.
The revenue-starved Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority shut Metroway down at the beginning of the pandemic in March, and has since experienced a system-wide 90% decline in ridership. The budget, as proposed, would extend the closure at least to mid-2022.
With Amazon’s choice of National Landing for its HQ2 headquarters in Pentagon City and Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus to be situated next door in Alexandria, the budget moves have caused concern for many, including Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, president and executive director of the National Landing Business Improvement District.
“Transit access is at the center of National Landing’s vibrant future and is a critical component of keeping our community competitive, equitable and sustainable,” Gabriel told ARLnow. “Public transit is more essential today than ever before as it enables our region’s frontline workers to access their jobs and continue serving the community during the pandemic. As the backbone of our transportation network and the most efficient means of reaching our commercial centers, our economic recovery will similarly depend on the continued funding, reliability and effectiveness of WMATA.”
Metro, which has sought a second injection of federal relief funding since May, is also proposing to shutter 19 Metrorail stations — including Arlington Cemetery, Clarendon, East Falls Church and Virginia Square — as well as eliminate weekend rail service and reduce weekday hours to 5 a.m.-9 p.m.
Metro is proposing the elimination of the following bus lines in Arlington and Alexandria:
- 4A and 4B from Pershing Avenue to the Pentagon
- 7F and 7Y from Lincolnia to North Fairlington
- 10A from Alexandria to the Pentagon
- 16A, 16E, 16G and 16H on Columbia Pike
- 22A, 22F from Barcroft to South Fairlington
- 25B from Landmark to Ballston
- 38B from Ballston to Farragut Square
- 7M from Mark Center to the Pentagon
Other lines are set for reductions or modifications in service.
In neighboring Alexandria, Mayor Justin Wilson said the changes would harm those who most rely on Metro service.
“My hope is that the federal government enacts new COVID-relief legislation that provides support to transit agencies and local and state governments so that we do not need to inflict these cuts on transit and city services,” Wilson said. “If that doesn’t happen, this will very detrimental to our community. Many of our residents rely on these transit services to get to places of work, healthcare services and essential trips. It has taken generations to develop our transit system and dismantling it will be tragic.”
On Tuesday night, members of Metro’s Rider Advisory Council (RAC) said that the bus cuts were “dramatic” and “draconian.”
“I’m just really sad and scared about this,” RAC Member Rebekah Mason said. “It just seems really highly prejudicial and really not a way to treat riders who have jobs, other than white collar jobs.”
Doris Ray, a member of the WMATA Accessibility Advisory Committee, wants the agency to instead enhance bus service in light of potential rail cuts.
“I am concerned as many in the community about the ability of people who do not drive, particularly essential workers, but for everyone who doesn’t drive and rely on transit to be able to get around,” Ray said.
Photo via Donna Gouse
Frederick-to-Arlington Transit Proposal — “Proposed transit service connecting Arlington to Frederick (Md.) and points in between remains on the table, but barely, after scoring low in a recent cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Virginia and Maryland state governments… As envisioned, the transit route would start at Frederick six times each workday morning and terminate an hour later at the Pentagon, with intermediate stops at Monocacy, Urbana, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Montgomery Mall and Rosslyn.” [InsideNova]
Women Groped in Aurora Highlands — “At approximately 7:18 p.m. on November 3, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 6:30 p.m., the victim was running in the area when the suspect approached her from behind and grabbed her buttocks. The victim yelled, and the suspect fled on foot, then entered the passenger side of a vehicle and left the area.” [ACPD]
Data Breach Affecting Hospital — “Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), a community-based hospital providing medical services to the Washington, DC metropolitan area for 75 years, has recently learned of an information security incident experienced by one of its vendors… [an] unauthorized party may have acquired a backup of the database that compromises certain limited elements of VHC’s donor and fundraising information, as may be the case with other nonprofits affected by this incident worldwide.” [Press Release]
Grand Opening for New Business — Paint Nail Bar (1520 Clarendon Blvd) is holding its grand opening celebration this weekend, from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday. “Champagne and light bites will be served and all attendees will receive a goody bag,” the business says. [Facebook]
Tea Returns to the Ritz — “The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City is now offering Afternoon Tea, bringing a time-honored tradition at an affordable price – all with safety and the health of guests in mind. Offered in their fyve restaurant, featuring globally inspired dishes, the hotel’s Afternoon Tea service is available at three price points, perfect for adults and children celebrating a special occasion or looking for a weekend respite from the day-to-day.” [Press Release]
More Nice Weather on Tap — “Quite a stretch of tranquil weather ahead of us as high pressure dominates into early next week, resulting in dry conditions and temperatures running 5 to 10 degrees above normal for early November.” [@NWS_BaltWash/Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]
ACLU Suit Names ACPD Captain — Arlington County Police Department Captain Wayne Vincent has been added, in his personal capacity, to the ACLU lawsuit over the actions by police to clear protesters from Lafayette Square ahead of President Trump walking from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Some twenty ACPD officers, who are not named, are also being sued over the use of force and chemical irritants. [WTOP, ACLU]
Where APS Students Are Going to College — “The following is a list of the colleges and universities where Arlington Public Schools high school graduates (Class of 2020) applied and where they were accepted.” [Arlington Magazine]
Sen. Kaine in Arlington Today — “On Thursday, September 3, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine will host a socially distant conversation in Arlington with local leaders to discuss the work being done to support the Latino community in Northern Virginia, as reports show Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.” The closed event is taking place at an apartment building near Columbia Pike this afternoon. [Press Release]
Bus Project Likely to Be Funded — “A project submitted by the Arlington County government remains in contention for Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) funding, even as a number of other regional projects have been delayed for consideration due to sharp dropoffs in available funding. As a result, the Arlington project — an HOV- and bus-only lane on Route 29 in Rosslyn during rush hour — is likely to receive the $710,000 in regional funds being sought to help with the overall project cost.” [InsideNova]
Local Group Supports Eviction Moratorium — “Leaders of VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement) cautiously welcomed the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of a nationwide eviction moratorium through Dec. 31, but noted that Congress and the Administration still need to work together to provide significant funding to prevent huge rental housing market instability after the ban expires.” [Press Release]
Arlington is once again planning to convert an outside lane on Lee Highway to bus and HOV only.
The Transportation Commission unanimously approved staff’s request to seek $1 million in funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission for pavement treatment, restriping, and signage for a new bus lanes.
The lanes would operate eastbound from N. Veitch Street to N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn during morning peak period, and westbound from N. Oak Street to N. Veitch Street during evening peak periods, staff said in the application. The lane would otherwise be open to general-purpose travel.
The sections with a bus lane are three lanes in each direction, and during peak periods roughly 25 loaded buses travel down that stretch of Lee Highway per hour, according to county documents.
“The section between North Veitch Street and Rosslyn is very heavily congested and sharply degrades bus performance and reliability, which will be improved by the lane conversion,” staff said.
An application for the project was submitted last year, but staff said at the Transportation Commission that funding was not approved because the designs had not advanced enough and were too broad in scope.
“The FY 2021-2022 application has been re-scoped to focus on the portion of Lee Highway with the greatest need,” staff said in a request to file the applications. “That has in turn reduced the estimated cost by one-third compared with the previous application.”
Staff said the deadline for grant submission is the end of January and the county would hear back in the spring. If approved, funding would include a feasibility test and the project could be incorporated into ongoing plans to reshape Lee Highway.
Photo via Google Maps
A bus driver was sprayed with pepper spray by a woman who tried to ride the bus without paying over the weekend, police say.
The incident happened Friday night in Clarendon.
According to Arlington County Police, the woman and several other people boarded a bus without paying shortly after 7 p.m. at the intersection of Clarendon Blvd and N. Highland Street. When the driver said they would have to pay the fare or get off, the woman pepper sprayed him, police say.
The driver was treated by medics at the scene.No arrests had been reported as of Monday afternoon.
More from an ACPD crime report:
MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 2019-11010270, Clarendon Boulevard at N. Highland Street. At approximately 7:12 p.m. on November 1, police were dispatched to the report of an assault with a weapon just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect attempted to board a bus with a group of individuals without paying. When the bus driver informed them they would need to pay the fare or exit the bus, the suspect assaulted the driver and sprayed him with pepper spray. The suspect exited the bus and fled prior to police arrival. The driver was treated by medics on scene for minor injuries. The suspect is described as a black female, 18-25 years old, 5’0″-5’4″, 100-120 lbs., regular build, wearing a gray hoodie and a bandanna. The investigation is ongoing.
New projects approved by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) could improve some bus offerings around Arlington.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted yesterday (Wednesday) to use nearly $20 million in toll revenue to fund commuter projects along I-66.
“We [will] fund 13 projects that will provide connections to places people want to go, add options for commuter and local bus riders, encourage ridesharing and make it easier to choose transit,” said NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice in a press release. “The projects funded through I-66 Commuter Choice will save Northern Virginia commuters approximately 485,000 hours of travel delay each year and move over 3,000 additional people through the corridor during rush hour.”
Additional bus trips are funded for some of Arlington’s major commuter destinations:
- Metrobus 3Y: Lee Highway-Farragut Square — The $1 million project will increase the frequency of Metrobus 3Y, a peak-direction route that operates between the East Falls Church Metro and downtown D.C. via Lee Highway (I-66).
- OmniRide Express: Gainesville-Pentagon — The $4.7 million project will add three new buses and eight total trips to the route from Gainesville to the Pentagon. The route averages 300 riders daily, according to the project description, and connects riders to multiple Metro lines.
- OmniRide Express: Haymarket-Rosslyn — The $776,700 project would add a new express bus between Haymarket Park and Ride lot to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The lot was built in December and offers 230 parking spaces.
- New Bus: Stone Ridge-Pentagon — The $1.3 million project would fund a new bus line running from Stone Ridge II Park near Dulles to the Pentagon. The route will feature two morning and two evening peak-direction trips.
Five other bus routes enhanced or newly funded would pass from the outlying suburbs into D.C. along I-66.
The NVTC also agreed to spend $1.4 million to support I-66 marketing and outreach efforts of Arlington County Commuter Services — an agency that works to reduce traffic congestion and parking demand through programs like BikeArlington and The Commuter Store. The project will be continued for another three years.
“The approved projects for the FY 2020 Commuter Choice program provide connections to key destinations, address the needs of commuter and local bus riders and encourage commuters to use transit, carpools and vanpools,” the NVTC said in a report.
Within the next decade, a new transit group wants to make the bus the go-to transit option in the D.C. area
Earlier this year, the Washington Area Bus Transformation Project — which is backed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — released a draft strategic plan with a variety of short and long-term goals and strategies for improving the D.C. region’s bus network.
“The national capital region is adding 40,000-60,000 jobs and households each year,” the group said in its strategic plan. “But its transportation system is struggling to keep pace, leading to some of the longest commutes and worst traffic congestion in the nation.”
Potential ways to improve D.C. area buses and thus help alleviate traffic issues were broken into six categories, ranging in complexity and potential cost.
- Ease of use: make simpler, consistent maps, naming conventions, and pricing. Another recommendation would be free transfers between Metrorail service and local bus lines.
- Prioritizing buses on roads: potentially with bus-only lanes and traffic signal priority, though regional coordination will be needed.
- Frequent, reliable, convenient service: overhaul existing routes to create a more efficient system and provide flexible, on-demand transit services for areas not well served by conventional buses.
- Balance regional and local bus systems: develop a 10-year plan to allocate services between bus systems and applicable routes. The plan also includes a recommendation to “revise the cost local jurisdictions pay WMATA for local service to better match the actual cost to provide service.”
- Streamline back-office functions: most of the recommendations in this category are behind-the-scenes improvements, like consolidating support functions and developing regional standards for bus data collection and analysis.
- Centralizing regional bus networks: form a regional coalition of jurisdictional representatives with authority to implement strategy recommendations.
The bus system has a long way to go if it wants to turn its image around. Since 2012, bus ridership has fallen 13 percent across the region. The project will also require cooperation from the region’s nine bus service providers.
Much of the project also depends on local jurisdictions to implement strategies like restricting parking to facilitate better bus transit. This is why representatives from Arlington Transit and several Arlington County departments are in the group’s technical team and strategy advisory panel.
Meanwhile, most of the technical team and all of the leadership team are WMATA employees.
So far there are no cost estimates for the plan’s recommendations. Allison Davis, a member of the project team, said the price tag will come later in the process.
The project started in September. The group is currently in the middle of a public outreach campaign to sell the public on the idea and gather feedback. At an open house yesterday at George Mason University’s Arlington campus, the room was covered with boards for collecting thoughts on the project and the direction it should take. A survey is also available online.
The plan goes to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the WMATA board this summer for review, with a roadmap planned for development in the fall.
“We’re trying to look at this from a customer perspective,” Davis said. “This [plan] is a tool we have to make better [transit] choices.”
A Look at Bryce Harper’s Rosslyn Apartment — “For much of the time that Harper was in a Nationals’ uniform, he rented a two-bedroom, 2,000 square-foot loft condo at the Wooster and Mercer Lofts, a luxury residential development from Abdo Development in Arlington.” [UrbanTurf]
Crash Takes Out Traffic Signal Near Fairlington — Per Alexandria Police yesterday: “Use caution in the 3600 block of King St, the Bradlee shopping center. A vehicle crash caused a traffic light outage. Treat uncontrolled intersections as 4-way stops. Be patient & take turns.” [Twitter]
Car Careens Over Wall in Arlington Mill — A car somehow rolled over a low wall and onto a sidewalk across from the Arlington Mill Community Center yesterday. The circumstances surrounding the crash are unclear. [Twitter]
Big Hole in Road Near Shirlington — A main road between the Shirlington and Fairlington neighborhoods was blocked for a period of time yesterday due to large hole in the road. The closure happened on 31st Street S., where a new sound wall is being constructed, during yesterday’s nightmarish evening commute. [Facebook]
Ballston Startup Gets Funding — MotoRefi, an auto refinance startup we profiled earlier this week, has “announced a $4.7 million seed raise led by Accomplice with participation from QED Investor sand Motley Fool Ventures. Ryan Moore, co-founder of Accomplice, will join MotoRefi’s board of directors.” [MotoRefi]
Service Cut to Metrobus Line — Metro is reducing service to Metrobus Route 2A (Dunn Loring-Ballston), after a ridership drop. Metro increased service to the line a few years ago and that net increase is now being eliminated. [Twitter]
Nearby: Companies Worried About HQ2 — “‘Recently a company was looking to put 600 jobs in this area, and they decided not to come here because they were concerned about getting the workers they need,’ [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority Chair Cathy] Lange said, not identifying the company. ‘Many of the companies are worried that their workers in Fairfax County are going to be hired by Amazon. And they are not going to be able to have their growth plans.'” [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington Transit could soon roll back some of its bus service on two different routes, with county officials arguing that ridership isn’t robust enough on the routes to justify keep them going.
County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing the service reductions in his first draft of a new county budget for fiscal year 2020, which he forwarded on to the County Board for consideration last week.
The service cuts would primarily affect ART Route 53, running from the Ballston Metro up to the Chain Bridge Forest neighborhood in North Arlington and then down to East falls Church and Westover.
Schwartz is proposing eliminating midday service on that route, noting that it’s currently averaging about 7.4 riders per hour on buses along the route during the day — the bus service has a “minimum service standard” of 15 passengers per hour, according to documents forward along by Schwartz to the Board.
The manager is also calling for the elimination of rush-hour service to Westover on the route, as that section of the route is averaging just three riders per hour. Buses currently stop there near the intersection of Washington Blvd and Patrick Henry Drive.
Schwartz estimates that the changes would save the county about $244,000 each year, though staff also wrote that the elimination of that service “significantly impacts neighborhoods in the northernmost portion of the county that will lose all midday bus service.”
The buses currently provide service adjacent to five county elementary and middle schools north of Lee Highway, and staff estimate that the changes would leave the following neighborhoods without midday service:
- N. Sycamore Street between 26th Street N. and Williamsburg Blvd
- Williamsburg Blvd between N. Sycamore Street and N. Glebe Road
- N. Glebe Road between Williamsburg Blvd and Military Road
- Military Road/Quincy Street between N. Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive
However, Schwartz does point out in his message to the Board that Metrobus routes 2A, 23B and 23T also partially cover the area, as do ART routes 52, 55 and 72.
He’s also proposing cutting weekend service along ART Route 43, which runs between Courthouse and Crystal City.
With an average of four riders per hour, Schwartz argues that it isn’t coming close to meeting ART’s minimum ridership numbers, though weekday service remains robust and would remain under his current plans. That move could save the county nearly $196,000 each year.
These latest service reductions would follow persistent ridership declines for the bus service, as part of a broader decline in bus ridership nationwide. Schwartz also proposed eliminating two ART bus routes last year, and the Board ultimately agreed to those reductions in a budget defined by some difficult spending cuts.
Schwartz is proposing a total of $5.2 million in cuts this year, paired with a tax increase, though he has not proposed the sort of drastic spending slashes he initially feared. The Board will spend the new few weeks tinkering with the spending plan, with plans to adopt the final budget (perhaps including the ART service cuts) in April.
As Arlington’s bus service grapples with a shortage of drivers, the company responsible for doing the hiring says it’s bumping up starting salaries to lure more applicants.
Arlington Transit told riders last week that a lack of bus drivers has been a prime factor in a series of service delays over the last few months, putting most of the blame on the National Express Transit Corporation, the company that employs the drivers.
The bus service lamented that it’s “lost a number of bus operators to other companies in the region, and the resulting operator shortages are contributing to many missed ART trips each day.” With a tight labor market, it’s a problem that many bus services around the country have been experiencing recently, analysts say.
But National Express is taking new steps to remedy the problem, according to company spokesman Ed Flavin. He told ARLnow that the contractor recently “implemented a considerable increase to our starting wage in cooperation with our local labor union,” which went into effect on Jan. 1, in order to reverse this trend.
“We also provide sign-on bonuses, as well as other employee incentives to help improve recruitment and retention,” Flavin wrote in an email. “Our efforts have provided promising results, with a [recent] increase in qualified applicants.”
Flavin did not answer follow-up questions about the size of the salary bump, or what sort of resulting increase in hiring the company has seen.
However, online job advertisements show that National Express is currently offering $20 per hour for new bus drivers, so long as they have at least one year of “commercial driver” experience. By contrast, the contractor working with the neighboring Fairfax Connector service is currently offering anywhere from $17 to $19 per hour for entry-level drivers.
“We recognize the importance of providing safe, reliable public transit for the ART community and we will continue to work hard to improve the reliability of ART service,” Flaven said. “Our number one priority will always be the safety of our customers.”
In the meantime, ART has still recorded some serious service issues. The “ART Alert” Twitter account, which announces all bus delays and cancellations, shows that the service has experienced 47 missed trips or other delays since Monday alone, though some of those problems are attributable to Tuesday’s snow and mechanical issues.