Press Club

Morning Notes

Kayakers on the Potomac near Key Bridge (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Driver Crashes into Trooper’s Cruiser — A Virginia State Police trooper was radioing in a license plate during a traffic stop on I-395 near Shirlington when his cruiser was rear-ended. The trooper finished giving the tag number before telling the dispatcher about the crash. [Twitter]

Circulator Strike Continues — “The first day’s negotiations between a bus drivers union and the operator of D.C. Circulator since workers began striking were unsuccessful through Wednesday evening, increasing the prospects of a potentially lengthy outage of the city’s only public bus service.” [Washington Post]

Marymount Planning Child Care Center — “Marymount University is setting up a new child care center on campus in a renovation project that it said is designed to fill a critical, and deepening, local workforce need as those with young children return to the office. The Marymount Early Learning Academy for children aged 3 to 5 will open in the summer or fall of 2023, reviving the idea of an on-campus preschool that the university used to run in the 1990s before it closed down.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sexual Battery Incident in Pentagon City — “500 block of 12th Road S…. at approximately 11:40 p.m. on April 29th the male victim had entered into the elevator of a secure residential building when the unknown suspect followed behind him. The victim exited the elevator and walked down the hallway, during which the suspect grabbed his buttocks. The suspect then fled the scene.” [ACPD]

Air Force Colonel on Trial — “An official with the California National Guard charged with indecent exposure in Arlington in March is scheduled to go to trial in Arlington on July 18… the suspect entered the business and exposed himself to female victims, according to the ACPD.” [Patch]

Falls Church Lowers Property Tax Rate — “On Monday night, the Falls Church City Council approved a $112.8 million Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) that invests in public schools, core government services, walkability and traffic calming, environmental sustainability, and more, all while reducing the real estate tax rate by 9 cents… To mitigate the 11 percent overall increase in real estate assessments, the adopted budget includes a decrease in the real estate tax to $1.23 per $100 of assessed value.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Cinco de Mayo — Mostly cloudy, with a high of 67 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:07 am and sunset at 8:06 pm. [Weather.gov]

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In the next couple of months, Arlington County will launch a campaign encouraging transit use and thanking people who rode Metro and the bus during Covid.

The campaign, aimed at restoring transit ridership rates to pre-pandemic levels, should kick off later this spring or early this summer and will last at least one year, says Department of Environmental Services Director of Transportation Dennis Leach.

“This is an ongoing effort,” he said. “It’s going to take a couple of years to rebuild transit ridership.”

Metrorail use plummeted in March 2020 as large swaths of federal and private employees were directed to work from home. Since then, rail ridership has picked up in fits and starts, most recently recovering by 33% in the fall before the Omicron variant hit. Leach predicts a long recovery for Metro that will depend in large part on federal return-to-work guidelines.

Local bus ridership rates, meanwhile, fell to 50% of pre-Covid rates, as many essential workers continued to take the bus, and had also been recovering quickly before Omicron, he said.

Rates for both modes were ticking up in late February as more people seem to be out and about, as well as commuting to the office, he said. With ridership creeping up and Covid cases remaining low, Arlington County, the Northern Virginia region and the state are all embarking on efforts to further boost public transit use.

Arlington will focus on promoting bus ridership and encouraging Metro trips for accessing entertainment and cultural sites. Targeting Metrorail is paramount, he said, as the lion’s share of Arlington’s pre-pandemic transit riders used Metro, and work-from-home may be around for good.

The county will be seizing on historically high gas prices — fueled by a host of supply issues, most recently the Russian invasion of Ukraine — as a reason to choose public transit.

In Arlington, a gallon of regular gas costs an average of $4.19, up from $2.80 per gallon in 2021 and $3.05 per gallon last month, according to the pump price watch group GasBuddy.

https://twitter.com/GasBuddyGuy/status/1501920976958803969

“Any time gas prices really spike, it’s an opportunity to promote transit as an affordable way to get around,” Leach said. “The ART bus and Metrobus are $2, we offer free transfers from the bus to Metrorail and Metro has introduced a lot of discounts to promote the return to rail.”

Locals can expect to see and hear messages on social media and on Spotify — targeting commuters who listen to music and podcasts — and promotions on buses and in Metro stations.

“Spotify has been helpful in the past for Arlington Transportation Partners to localize where those listeners are and target them where they are,” DES spokeswoman Claudia Pors says. “Hopefully, people are still listening to podcasts on their commute to the living room.”

The local effort is part of a push by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to encourage transit ridership. NVTC used a one-time, $500,000 state grant to launch a campaign and asked the jurisdictions in its borders to each contribute to a 20% match, or $100,000.

Arlington is contributing $10,000, which the Arlington County Board approved on Saturday. Other participating localities include Fairfax and Loudoun counties, the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and entities such as Virginia Railway Express and OmniRide.

NVTC’s effort and Arlington’s plans dovetail from a statewide transit recovery marketing initiative, for which the Commonwealth has set aside $2 million, and are geared toward an already well-connected region.

“We’re the most transit-centric part of the state — about 70% of state transit ridership is in Northern Virginia,” Leach said. “At the state level, they’re much more focused on commuting. In Arlington, that’s important, but you’re going to see us pivot to transit for lifestyle and using transit to do multiple things.”

Virginians can expect to see the state and region promoting public transit in various news outlets and on social media.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Arlington County is requesting feedback on partial designs for expanded bus bays and pedestrian safety improvements at the East Falls Church Metro station.

The $6.6 million bus bay expansion project, a capital improvement project approved last year, is part of a handful of near-term upgrades planned at and around the Metro station, the parking lot of which was frequently packed pre-pandemic.

Project and regional transit representatives say the expansion will allow for more regional bus routes without causing traffic jams while making walking from the park-and-ride lot safer. The existing bays currently serve nine Metrobus, Arlington Transit (ART) and Fairfax Connector bus routes.

“The East Falls Church Metrorail station currently has four bus bays that are at maximum capacity,” according to the county. “The project will expand bus bay capacity by adding up to three new bus bays and replacing the existing shelters in the off-street bus loop at the East Falls Church Metrorail station.”

Arlington is leading and sponsoring the project, but Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) owns the Metro station, the bus loop and park-and-ride lot.

The county asks locals to say whether the proposed changes will make them feel safer walking, taking the bus, biking, scooting and driving. The survey, open through Sunday, March 20, includes an interactive map people can use to give location-specific feedback.

 

“What this expansion will allow us to do is get buses in and out of the bus loop more efficiently so we don’t have as much gridlock as we currently do at this time,” WMATA planner André Stafford said in a meeting Tuesday.

It may be awhile before more bus routes are added, county transit planner Paul Mounier said in the same meeting.

The county will install seven new bus shelters and is considering adding a new signal and crosswalk at the Washington Blvd entrance to the park-and-ride lot.

Arlington County staff identified this expansion project back in 2011. Four years later, staff found the biggest needs were increasing the capacity of the bus bays, adding refuges to the 150-foot crosswalk that passes in front of the bus loop, replacing the aging, hazardous cement and adding ramps accessible to people with disabilities.

After the expansion work, Arlington will make streetscape and signal upgrades to N. Sycamore Street, Arlington County project manager Kenex Sevilla said Tuesday. The street forms the eastern edge of the Metro parking lot and bus bays.

Meanwhile, both Arlington and the City of Falls Church are expanding Capital Bikeshare stations nearby. The station was once a popular station to ride to that is still recovering from the pandemic-era hit to commuting. A new $2 million, 92-spot bike facility to accommodate cyclists made its debut in August 2020.

This area is poised to see other development in the future, too. WMATA is studying the site for future transit developments while the Department of Community, Planning and Housing Development is studying it as part of the Plan Langston Blvd initiative. A second entrance to the station was put on hold in 2018.

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A Metroway bus at the Transitway bus stop at 27th Street S. and Crystal Drive (staff photo by Matt Blitz

Many are predicting that the pandemic will drastically affect how we commute and use public transportation for the foreseeable future.

How that will impact long-term transportation projects, like the Metroway bus rapid transit line and the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway extension to Pentagon City, is a puzzle that local officials are trying to put together.

In 2021, according to Metro’s data, bus ridership overall is down by close to two thirds from 2019. And those numbers may not increase a whole lot for at least a couple of years.

“It really is something that we all are literally struggling with to understand,” Arlington County’s Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers told ARLnow. The transit bureau was responsible for building out the initial Transitway infrastructure, as well as the forthcoming Pentagon City extension. “Now… we’re talking 2023 when we’re going to start seeing the same levels [of bus riderships] that we had before.”

Even as more people head back to the office and lockdowns are no longer in effect, traffic patterns have shifted particularly on the roads. There’s now less traffic in the mornings, allowing cars and buses to get to their destination quicker.

“People are changing their patterns and how they are using the service,” Rivers said. “The huge rush hours in the morning and in the afternoon, we may not see that.”

Instead of seeing huge jumps in use during peak times — 6-9 a.m. in the morning and 3-7 p.m. in the evening — Rivers said there may be a leveling-out of how commuters use train and bus transit.

“Throughout the day, there will be constant movement,” she said.

This shift could be at least somewhat permanent and largely due to still a large number of folks continuing to work from home. Those that are going to the office, meanwhile, are spending fewer hours there.

(Nearly half of readers who responded to a ARLnow morning poll in October said they were still working from home.)

In response, and to encourage more people to use the bus system, Metro increased the frequency of the Metroway back in Sep last month (as well as other bus lines). It now runs every 12 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., in a bid to encourage ridership.

This shift in commuting patterns comes just as the county unveiled design plans last months for Pentagon City extension of the Transitway. While it comes with a price tag of nearly $28 million, most of the cost will be financed by the state and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Arlington is contributing about $1.8 million to the project, according to county officials.

Nonetheless, that’s still a significant use of tax dollars at a time when commuting is down and there are plenty of competing priorities. When the rapid bus transit system in Arlington was first conceived more than a decade ago, an airborne illness was not infecting millions across the globe.

With the knowledge that Covid spreads more easily in indoor settings, there could be hesitation among some commuters to be in crowded spaces with strangers despite relatively high local vaccination rates.

“Are we really going to cram back on a bus?” Chris Slatt, Arlington Transportation Commission chair and founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County, asks rhetorically. “Are we going to want to be crowded into a Metro train as we were two or three years ago?”

John Vihstadt, former County Board member who vehemently opposed the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which he helped to scuttle, agrees that shifting commuter behaviors could make the Transitway not as a sound an investment as it once appeared.

While an avid public transit user himself and, generally, in favor of bus rapid transit — opponents of the streetcar argued that BRT along the Pike was a cost-effective alternative to a light rail system — Vihstadt thinks the county needs to do more modeling and forecasting of people’s commuting patterns before moving ahead with the build out.

“We can’t stick our heads in the sand and just expect that everything is going to ultimately return to the status quo,” he tells ARLnow.

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A Metroway bus (Staff photo)

When Metroway, the region’s first rapid bus transit line, launched in 2014 it was hailed as the future.

Dedicated lanes, more frequent service, covered stations, and bigger, newer buses along a 4.5-mile route connecting Arlington and Alexandria would boost bus ridership in sections of both jurisdictions that were rapidly developing.

The price tag was big — more than $42 million, split nearly evenly between Arlington and Alexandria — but officials believed it was worth it and could have the added benefit of revving up rapid bus transit elsewhere in the D.C. area.

“A lot of people will be looking to this project as a test concept to find out what lessons they can learn from it,” said Eric Randall, a senior transportation engineer at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), at the time. “It offers us an opportunity to apply some concepts for the first time — things like off-board fare collection, a design of bus stops with higher platforms and custom design shelters, a new branding and frequency of buses.”

It’s now 2021, seven years since Metroway’s launch, and it seems like a good time to ask the question: what have we learned from Metroway, the region’s first rapid bus transit?

Despite less-than-stellar ridership numbers and outside factors, rapid bus transit with dedicated infrastructure remains a worthy investment, according to local officials and public transportation advocates.

“I live in Alexandria and take Metroway monthly, from my perspective as a user, I think it’s a success,” Randall told ARLnow earlier this fall. He remains a transportation engineer with MWCOG.

“[Metroway] is doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” said Lynn Rivers, Arlington County’s Transit Bureau Chief. “Which is getting people out of their cars and onto the transit lanes.”

“Metroway is great,” said Sustainable Mobility for Arlington founder and Arlington Transportation Commission chair Chris Slatt . “It’s fantastic to have an example in Arlington of a dedicated space for transit. We really want to make transit time competitive with other ways to get around… and I think it does that.”

What’s more, the county is investing further into the needed infrastructure. In September, the county unveiled designs to extend the Transitway by an additional five stations and 1.1 miles so that it connects with the Pentagon City Metro station (not to mention areas close to Amazon’s new HQ2). While some advocates expressed their frustration about the lack of community engagement on street designs, their complaints were not necessarily about the concept of rapid bus transit or Metroway.

The extension is costing nearly $28 million, though most of it will be financed by the state and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Arlington itself is spending about $1.8 million, according to Rivers, which is only about 6% of the project’s total cost.

Construction on the first segment is expected to start in the winter of 2022 with completion in late 2023.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. Off-board fare collection, even though it was promised, has not been implemented yet. There’ve been sightings of confused motorists, as reported by ARLnow readers, driving their cars the wrong way in the dedicated bus lanes, despites signs and marked roads. Ridership hasn’t been as high as perhaps expected, leading to 2016 reports that shutting it down was being considered.

For that, the lack of steady progress in terms of development at Potomac Yard and issues with opening the Metro station there are being blamed.

“Certain forecasts way back when were perhaps based on more optimistic assumptions in terms of development [in Potomac Yard],” admitted Randall.

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Morning Notes

Running Store Coming to Pentagon City — “Federal Realty Investment Trust has leased the last bit of vacant retail space at Westpost, the 14-acre mixed-use development a short walk from where Amazon.com Inc.’s new headquarters buildings will stand. The leases put the roughly 297,000-square-foot retail center on course to be fully occupied in the first half of 2022 after a handful of notable vacancies, including the nearly 34,000-square-foot former Bed, Bath & Beyond to be replaced by a Target store, and the roughly 4,500-square-foot space where Road Runner Sports will replace a shuttered Unleashed by Petco.” [Washington Business Journal]

Library Seeking Latino History Donations — “Over the last three decades, Arlington’s Latino community has rapidly grown and stockpiled a wealth of history. And this week, librarians and historians at the Center for Local History at Arlington Public Library are asking for donations of documents to archive the county’s Hispanic history. The project is called Re-Encuentro de Arlington Latinos.” [WTOP]

Rock Climbing Gym Goes Green — “Earth Treks Crystal City prides itself as a rock climbing outlet for people living in a metropolitan area and the business in northern Virginia hopes its roots in rock climbing can bring forward better environmental practices… Earth Treks announced recently its partnership with a Virginia company that allows its climbers to bring in old and rundown equipment — shoes, water bottles and harnesses — which will be reused in a variety of ways, including to make dog harnesses.” [WUSA 9]

Synetic Returns to Theater — “Last night night found me in Crystal City, where Synetic Theater was back in its performance venue for the first time since the pandemic, staging a production of ‘The Madness of Poe…’ Performers were not masked, a nice change after recent experiences with a number of troupes who use Arlington Public Schools facilities and are not allowed to let their actors, though all vaccinated, go without masks.” [Sun Gazette]

New Commuter Bus Service Funded — “The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission plans to fund a new express bus service, part of efforts aimed at reducing congestion connected with Interstate 66 and the Beltway. The commission approved a plan yesterday to fund the bus service with over $5.1 million for two years. Routes would run from the Reston South Park and Ride lot to key destinations in Arlington County that include the Pentagon, Pentagon City and Crystal City.” [Reston Now]

More Studies for Route 7 Bus Route — “A regional study of the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) route from Tysons to Alexandria is moving into a new phase that will assess options through the Seven Corners area. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission voted last night (Thursday) to approve a contract for the fourth phase of its Envision Route 7 mobility analysis study.” The bus might also make a stop at the East Falls Church Metro station in Arlington. [Tysons Reporter]

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A discussion about improving Georgetown-Rosslyn connectivity last night was not supposed to be about the controversial yet ironically beloved gondola.

But the gondola — which 47% of respondents to a recent, unscientific ARLnow poll said they support — was nonetheless on Arlington transportation commissioners’ minds during their Thursday meeting.

The same coalition of D.C. nonprofits and organizations that studied the feasibility of the gondola five years ago is now embarking on a study of other ways to improve transit in and out of Georgetown. Last night, Federal City Council (FC2), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing life in the District, presented the scope of the study to the Transportation Commission.

“I think it’s important to start by saying that tonight, I’m not here to talk to you about the gondola,” said FC2 representative Laura Miller Brooks.

A few commission members had to ask just to be sure. The gondola resurfaced this summer when the D.C. Council approved $10 million in 2022 budget to purchase the old Exxon gas station in Georgetown, a location the could work well as a gondola terminus.

“Is this truly a broad look at transit connectivity between Georgetown and Rosslyn, or [are we] all just doing that wink-wink thing where we pretend it could be anything but everyone knows what’s going to come out at the end?” asked commission Chair and ARLnow opinion columnist Chris Slatt.

Commissioner Richard Price warned against re-exploring the gondola. He endorsed an extension of the Blue Line recently proposed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which would include a second Rosslyn Metro station tunnel and a new Georgetown Metro station.

“Don’t run down a rabbit hole with the gondola — that’s going to make us a laughing stock,” he said. “We need a second Rosslyn tunnel. We need a station in Georgetown. That is the future.”

The $250,000 study is a partnership among FC2, the District Department of Transportation, the Georgetown Business Improvement District and Georgetown University. While the gondola seems off the table, it is why these organizations originally came together in 2016 and partnered with Arlington County. The need for better connectivity remains, study organizers said.

“The core question from the gondola feasibility study — can transit access to Georgetown be improved, especially access to jobs? — still has not been met,” Brooks said.

With 23,000 jobs, Georgetown is one of region’s largest employment centers without convenient Metro access, she said. Better transit would enhance access to jobs, healthcare, hospitality, retail and education for D.C. area residents, putting more people within 30 minutes of a Metro station.

How transit access would improve with a Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola (via Arlington County)

Commissioner Jim Lantelme countered that the proposed gondola would only get folks to the old gas station, leaving them to walk uphill to get to Georgetown University, its hospital, M Street retail or to the West End.

“I always look at that map as being a little disingenuous,” he said.

In addition to encouraging the group to study destinations within Georgetown, commissioners said the group should look into “low-hanging fruit” such as exclusive bus lanes on the Key Bridge and enhanced DC Circulator bus service.

“There are so many more improvements that could be made in terms of frequency, reliability, and customer service,” said commissioner Donald Ludlow.

As for Arlington’s involvement in the new study, Brooks said some transportation staff members are providing input, and FC2 will occasionally present to the Transportation Commission and the County Board.

The public can weigh in now through next Friday to inform the drafting of the study. People will have another opportunity, later on, to provide input on proposed solutions.

Brooks told the commissioners that FC2 sees the study and its possible outcomes as beneficial for Arlington. It will help the county understand how current congestion levels affect bussing, cycling, walking and ride-sharing, she said.

“It will also… hopefully provide a new platform for imagining how Arlington County can connect with Georgetown and create a bigger corridor that benefits economic development, place-making initiatives and creates more cohesive Rosslyn-Ballston, Rosslyn-National Landing, Arlington-Georgetown connections,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Apartment Rents Bounce Back — “It took a little while, but average rents for Arlington apartments have now shot past pre-pandemic levels, according to new data. With median rent prices of $2,013 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,437 for two bedrooms, Arlington is among 92 of the nation’s 100 largest urban communities that has seen rents return to, or exceed, levels of March 2020, when the pandemic hit.” [Sun Gazette]

Ballston Resident Creates Bourbon Brand — “I Bourbon is one Arlingtonian’s ode to this classic American whiskey. Now, if he could just get it on store shelves.” [Washington Business Journal]

Reston to Crystal City Bus Proposed — “One of two projects proposed by Fairfax County, the new express bus service would connect Fairfax Connector’s Reston South Park and Ride lot with key employment destinations in Arlington County, including the Pentagon and Pentagon City and ending in Crystal City. The county is seeking $5.1 million to cover two years of operating costs for the service as well as the purchase of six buses.” [Reston Now]

AWLA Takes in Louisiana Pets — “A special delivery arrived Wednesday afternoon at Manassas Regional Airport: a plane carrying more than 100 pets that were evacuated from the Louisiana hurricane zone ahead of Ida’s arrival earlier this week. As the plane landed, rescue organizations from throughout the D.C. area were standing by to take the animals in. ‘There were mostly dogs, but also a few cats in the mix,’ said Samantha Snow with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.” [WJLA]

Student Housing May Become Hotel — “Marymount University is moving to convert some of its recently acquired student housing in Ballston into hotel rooms, giving its hospitality program a boost in the process. The Arlington university filed documents with county planners Tuesday seeking permission to convert as much as half of the 267-unit residential building at 1008 N. Glebe Road into a hotel. Marymount has operated the building, dubbed The Rixey, as housing for students, faculty and staff since buying it back in 2019.” [Washington Business Journal]

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An ART bus (via Arlington Transit Facebook)

(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) Arlington Transit buses will return to full service after Labor Day weekend, the county-run transit agency says.

Rush-hour-only ART buses 53, 61, 62 and 74 will run again starting Tuesday, Sept. 7, after being out of service since March 2020 due to the pandemic. Once these buses resume operation, Arlington Transit will largely be back at full service. ART 72 will continue on a modified weekday schedule, however.

With construction ongoing around the Ballston Metro station, ART 53 and 62 bus stops will be relocated near the Metro elevator on Fairfax Drive.

While seating restrictions were lifted on Aug. 1, riders will still be required to wear masks as per a federal mask mandate for passengers on planes, trains and buses from the Transportation Security Administration, effective until January 2022.

Meanwhile, Metrobus is set to implement some changes after Sunday, Sept. 5, adding more buses and trains and extending Metrorail’s weekend hours.

Notably, bus 16Y from Columbia Pike to Farragut Square will resume operation, going both directions during weekday rush hours. The limited-stop service route, which once connected Columbia Pike stops to McPherson Square in D.C., was halted during the pandemic and was absent from when a number of routes were restored earlier this summer.

Buses 16A, 16C and 16E in Columbia Pike and 16G and 16H between Columbia Pike and Pentagon City will get service upgrades as well.

“Service will operate every 12 minutes or better from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily between Columbia Pike & South Joyce Street and Columbia Pike & South Dinwiddie Street at stops served by all routes,” WMATA said.

Bus 25B from the old Landmark Mall in Alexandria to Ballston will see some changes, with Alexandria working to overhaul its own DASH bus network. 25B will travel between Ballston, Southern Towers and Mark Center every day except Sunday, and between Ballston and Southern Towers on Sundays.

Metrorail trains will be available until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, an hour later than was previously offered. Trains will also start running earlier on Sundays, with riders able to board at 7 a.m. rather than 8 a.m.

More on the planned Metro changes from a press release, below.

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Folks wanting a weekend trip to Virginia Beach can now catch a luxury motor coach — with leather seats and hot towels — that has regular departures from Fashion Centre at Pentagon City.

Rides with the bus company, ROX, started July 1, 2020, and ended 90 days later as coronavirus cases rose in the fall. Service between Arlington and Virginia Beach started back up in July, and the company is set to bring a Charlottesville-Virginia Beach route online in September.

Today, the Virginia Beach-based company has three motor coaches that seat up to 23 passengers (a normal bus has 56 seats). Buses leave Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Each ROX bus has WiFi, individual charging outlets and chargers available on-demand. Riders can choose from a digital library of books, movies and TV shows, and are served a complimentary meal, snacks and soft drinks, with the option to buy alcohol.

“It’s better than any first class flight you’ve been on,” said ROX founder Jeff McWaters, a businessman and former Virginia state senator, who represented part of Virginia Beach.

McWaters, who founded the health insurance company Amerigroup, got the idea from his personal experience traveling for work between Virginia Beach and D.C.

If all the employees drove, “no one could work, it was dangerous, and we had issues,” he said, while flying was a hassle with frequent delays, and trains had poor WiFi and food.

With ROX, the former senator is looking to invigorate the commercial connection between the two hubs while taking advantage of a growing preference for remote work, with occasional trips to the office.

“We learned during the pandemic, you can work from home, you can work from the park, you can work with a glass of wine, but you can’t work on I-66, working on trains is spotty, and you can’t work on airplane,” he said. “You can work on the ROX.”

So far, most riders are using the bus for leisure, but McWaters predicts business travel will return.

ROX stops at Fashion Centre because it is well-connected and offers shopping and dining, he said. The mall, which offers luggage storage, alos has an Avis rental car outpost, and riders can catch the Metro or a car to get to other parts of Arlington, D.C. or the airport.

“It’s got everything,” he said.

While the bus service was shut down, the company earned income from private charters of a fourth bus. That coach features reclining seats, a kitchen, a sofa and eight televisions, including one outside for tailgating.

The bus has been to “some fun places,” and is set to embark on a 10-day hunting trip to Wyoming this fall, said Janice Tuckman, a sales representative for ROX.

“We picked up group at the The Greenbrier and drove them on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, where they visited distilleries and stayed at an Airbnb. They had a whoopin’ good time, and after four days, headed back to Greenbrier.”

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Langston Blvd, formerly Lee Highway, at N. Veitch Street (via Google Maps)

The Arlington County Board took a step toward converting one lane of the newly renamed Langston Blvd into a bus- and HOV-only lane.

On Saturday, the Board accepted and appropriated a $710,000 grant from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to pay for the transit project, which will run through parts of Rosslyn. Last year, Arlington County applied for funding from the Commuter Choice program, which helps pay for transit upgrades using toll revenue from I-66 inside the Beltway.

“This is an area where we are continuing to work toward multi-modal,” said Board Chair Matt de Ferranti during the regular County Board meeting on Saturday. “On Lee Highway, soon to be Langston Blvd, we will have a bus-only lane so that more residents can move more quickly to work, through our community, and home as well.”

This grant will cover pavement treatment, restriping, and signage for the new bus lane. The lane will run eastbound from N. Veitch Street, near Courthouse, to N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn during peak morning hours.It will run westbound from N. Oak Street to N. Veitch Street during the evening peak period.

At other times, the lane will continue as a general-purpose travel lane.

This segment of Route 29 in Rosslyn “is very heavily congested and sharply degrades bus performance and reliability, which will be improved by the lane conversion,” a staff report said.

Pre-pandemic, that section of Lee Highway carried around 25 loaded buses per hour, according to the report.

The project could take two years to complete, according to Eric Balliet, a spokesman for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services.

“The County Board’s acceptance and appropriation of the funds signals the start of the project,” he tells ARLnow. “The schedule included with the NVTC funding application was 26 months from project start to end of construction.”

The funding is less than the full $1 million that the county applied for, but staff are not earmarking more for it.

“We will work to deliver the project within this funding amount,” Balliet said.

The county mulled this project over before, even seeking funding — unsuccessfully — in 2019.

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