Metrorail riders could soon enjoy free transfers to Arlington Transit (ART) buses.
The Arlington County Board this Saturday is set to consider covering bus trips for SmarTrip card users who start their one-way trips on the Metro.
Ordinarily, transfer trips cost $1.50 rather than the full $2. Individual jurisdictions get to decide whether to offer a discount.
“The WMATA Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget includes an increase of the rail to bus transfer discount from $0.50 to $2.00,” notes a staff report to the County Board. “If adopted by Arlington County, the increase in the discount would result in rail-to-bus transfer fare on ART of $0.00 and would align with the WMATA transfer discount.”
Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers tells ARLnow that her department supports these free rides because they are a “win-win” for the county, where users need a blend of rail and buses to navigate its Metro corridors and suburbs.
“The more that people are on rail, the better it is for us,” she said. “We really endorse people to use public transit other than single occupancy vehicles. This is another way of doing that — by making another portion free.”
Ridership in Arlington plummeted from 49.5 million bus and rail trips in the 2019-20 fiscal year to 16.1 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ended in June, per the report. This year, Arlington launched two pilot programs to increase ridership while offering reduced rates to low-income riders and students.
The free rides would cost the county $242,000, but Rivers said the tradeoff is that the program could generate more paying Metro customers.
The free transfers, if approved, would go into effect on Oct. 1.
The transfer discount is not the only opportunity for free rides on ART buses this fall. Arlington’s transit service has started testing out zero-emission buses (ZEBs) from several manufacturers as part of a pilot program, and is offering free fares to those who happen to board.
The battery-powered buses will tackle some of ART’s most challenging, hilly routes. The pilot program started Monday and is expected to continue into early 2023.
“The pilot will allow ART to collect data and assess vehicle performance during actual operation in the County,” according to a press release from the county. “Operators will drive ZEBs to test battery performance, range and response to Arlington’s geographic features including steep hills.”
In-service test buses will have signs indicating the route and the free fare. Passengers are able to provide online feedback on their ridership experience on these battery-powered buses.
The schedule for this month’s test rides is as follows:
On Friday, the GILLIG battery electric bus will be parked on the 2100 block of 15th Street N. from 1-3 p.m. so people can see it, ask questions and learn more about the pilot program.
Arlington will repeat these pilot rides with two to three additional manufacturers this fall and winter.
Transitioning to zero-emission buses would help the county meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the press release says. Arlington is also working to use renewable electricity for all of its government operations by 2025.
Local Home Sales, Prices Up — “The average price of a detached, single-family house that sold in Arlington County, Virginia, in December was $1,258,648. That is 17% more than the average price a year earlier, according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors.” [WTOP]
Crystal City Office Tower Sells for $188M — “The building at 1400 Crystal Drive, totaling 308,000 square feet, was sold in late December by affiliates of Lincoln Property Co. for $188.5 million, or $612 per square foot, to Starwood Capital Group, according to Arlington County property records.” [Washington Business Journal]
Metro GM/CEO Retires — General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld will retire from Metro in six months, after more than six years running the regional transit agency. [WMATA]
More Water Main Breaks — From Arlington DES: “An unusually intense winter has triggered an above-average number of water main breaks, often during the cold, dark early morning when most people are asleep. Saluting the folks who respond. They’re not in it for the glamour. #TheOtherFirstResponders.” [Twitter]
Larry Finch Plaque Likely Coming to Zachary Taylor Park — “The proposal emanated from the Donaldson Run Civic Association to honor Finch (1933-2020), who lived in Arlington from 1966 and 2013 and was active in civic affairs – especially in the parks and ecological arena – for much of that lengthy period.” [Sun Gazette]
Gas Leak Closes Street — A natural gas leak in Crystal City closed S Eads Street for over an hour Tuesday morning as Arlington County Fire Department waited for utility crews to assess the situation. Buildings were checked and no gas was detected. [Patch, Twitter]
Small Business Program Launches — From Arlington Chamber of Commerce: “We are proud to launch our Small Business Accelerator Program, presented by Amazon. As the Presenting Sponsor of this program, Amazon will sponsor half of the membership dues to verified Small, Women and Minority-owned (SWaM) businesses located in Virginia joining the Chamber for their first year of membership.” [Twitter]
It’s Wednesday — Today will be mostly sunny, with a high near 47. South wind 9 to 11 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 5:15 p.m. Tomorrow we’ll see rain and snow before 1 p.m., then a slight chance of snow. High near 38. North wind 10 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible. [Weather.gov]
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.
Metro’s Yellow Line, which runs through Crystal City and Pentagon City, could see major disruption next year due to needed repairs.
The proposed Yellow Line Bridge and tunnel rehabilitation project will include repairs to the bridge and the tunnels between the Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations.
WMATA’s project website said the bridge is now showing “excessive wear and corrosion,” while “decades of water infiltration and underground moisture have eroded the steel-lined tunnels.” Both the bridge and the tunnels “date to original construction [of the Metro system] more than 40 years ago.”
The transit agency warned that long-term repairs are necessary to avoid structural failure.
The project will also upgrade the fire suppression system on the bridge, which is currently past its useful life according to WMATA. Further remediation work in the tunnel will repair cracks.
The exact timeline for the project is still unclear. Andrew Off, Vice President of Project Implementation and Construction, said a shutdown of the bridge is expected sometime in fall 2022.
“We expect to start sometime at the end of the next calendar year,” Off said. “We’re still working through with our general contractor on the specific construction duration for the Yellow Line Bridge closure.”
Meanwhile, further south on the Yellow Line, Off said a two-week closure is likely as WMATA connects the new Potomac Yard Metro station.
“We’ll have a scheduled two-week or 16-day shutdown in late summer or early fall in support of connecting the new Potomac Yard infill station to our existing system,” Off said.
The station had been scheduled to open next spring but was pushed back to September 2022 after an error was found in the project’s design. Alexandria leaders are still hopeful the project could be moved up to earlier in the year.
Arlingtonians planning on taking Metro this weekend might want to allot more time than usual for their trips.
All four Metro lines running through Arlington will have delays this weekend, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The transit authority said riders should expect “service adjustments” on Saturday and Sunday for lines running through Northern Virginia.
On the Blue and Yellow lines, Metro will be single-tracking between the stations at Reagan National Airport and Braddock Road. WMATA said riders should expect a train every 30 minutes.
The cause of the single-tracking is ongoing work at the Potomac Yard Metro station in Alexandria, according to WMATA. Originally scheduled to open this coming April, the station’s opening was pushed back to next September.
The Orange Line, meanwhile, will be shut down between the East Falls Church and Ballston Metro stations for radio cable installation.
“Trains will operate in two segments: Vienna to East Falls Church and Ballston to New Carrollton,” WMATA said on its website. “Free shuttle buses available.”
The Silver Line will only be running from East Falls Church out to the Wiehle-Reston East station. Silver Line riders will have to take a shuttle bus to continue on the Orange Line.
Unfortunately, a Metrorail line through Columbia Pike — supported by nearly 70% of ARLnow poll respondents — did not make the cut. But each of the potential future projects does start with changes that some Arlingtonians could see as benefits: a second Metro station in Rosslyn and a first-ever Georgetown stop.
After linking Rosslyn to Georgetown, all four expanded lines would run parallel to and to the north of existing east-west trains, connecting Arlington to West End, the southern halves of Dupont Circle and Logan Circle, and stopping at Union Station. From there, they veer north toward Greenbelt and New Carrollton, Maryland or south to National Harbor.
Two options stand out from the pack. First, a Silver Line express tunnel in Virginia starting at West Falls Church station, and stopping at a possible second Ballston station en route to a second Rosslyn station. Another intriguing possibility is a Blue Line loop to National Harbor, which would add some new direct transit connectivity to Arlington’s Crystal City-Pentagon City corridor.
WMATA says these two would have the second-greatest and greatest gains in new ridership and annual fare revenue, respectively.
While these changes could improve commutes, the projects are decades down the road, if they happen at all. Each of the two options above could take up to 25 years to fund (needing $20-25 billion), construct and complete.
Suspending for a moment how far away these new Metro projects could be, what do you think of WMATA’s proposed changes to connectivity in Arlington and just over the river?
Tower of Light Returns — From Dave Statter: “The Tower of Light at the Pentagon began tonight & continues through September 12 in honor of those killed when the United States was attacked 20 years ago Saturday.” [Twitter, Fox 5]
Road Closures for Memorial 5K — “The Arlington Police, Fire, Sheriff and ECC Memorial 9/11 Memorial 5k race will take place on the evening of Saturday, September 11, 2021. The Arlington County Police Department will close the following roadways around the Pentagon and in Crystal City to accommodate the event.” [ACPD]
Some Boundary Adjustments Coming — “Arlington’s public-school leadership has so much on its return-to-classrooms plate already – ya think? – that a massive boundary-adjustment process is just not in the cards for now. School officials are planning for ‘only those adjustments that must be done,’ said Lisa Stengle, the school system’s executive director of planning and evaluation, during an Aug. 26 briefing to School Board members.” [Sun Gazette]
Feds Add Rep from Arlington to Metro Board — Updated at 9 a.m. — A new alternate Metro Board member from Arlington was sworn in yesterday. Assistant County Manager & Director of Communications and Public Engagement Bryna Helfer is a federal appointee to the Board. Helfer previously worked for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. [U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Twitter]
Biz Booming for Local Tattoo Shop — “As more Americans resolve to change their lives after a tumultuous year and a half, many are choosing to get tattoos: D.C.-area tattoo-shop owners are reporting a boom in business, even though the pandemic all but shuttered other industries. Inside Lady Octopus, in Arlington, Virginia, artist Gilda Acosta shades in a touch of light green on the leaves of a primrose. Client Meg Little, of Alexandria, booked this appointment seven months ago.” [WTOP]
Higher Ed Booms With Amazon Arrival — “With the arrival of Amazon and a proliferation of other tech companies in fields ranging from big data to cybersecurity, candidates like Bhatia are in high demand. The problem is, there aren’t enough to go around. Universities are trying to change that, and in the process, sparking an academic explosion in and around Arlington… Virginia Tech, Mason and the University of Maryland are preparing to open gleaming new facilities here.” [Arlington Magazine]
It looks like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is not going to consider a Metro line through Columbia Pike any time soon.
In December 2019, Metro mulled the idea for a Silver Line extension down Columbia Pike and up Route 7, connecting with the West Falls Church Station, as one of a handful of ways to address congestion in the Rosslyn Metro tunnel, system reliability and future ridership growth. News of President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which coincided with WMATA’s deliberations, further crystallized those hopes.
A new study posted this week, however, indicates this extension — which nearly 70% of ARLnow readers supported in an April poll — has been ruled out. That follows a cost-benefit analysis by planners, which favored four other routes — each starting with a second Metro station in Rosslyn and adding an underground Metro station in Georgetown — as well as two options that don’t involve new construction.
Pretty much all of these (admittedly far-off) scenarios call for Metro to finally pass through Georgetown…and you may recall that the city could soon buy a very prominent Key Bridge site for a station there: https://t.co/E1DaxMAn1e https://t.co/Lp0OhMsHGX
— Alex Koma (@AlexKomaWBJ) September 7, 2021
WMATA is looking for the next way to expand Metro on a scale similar to the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport, as it seeks to alleviate traffic and congestion in the Rosslyn tunnel and along the the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. In early 2019, it launched the Blue/Orange/Silver Capacity & Reliability Study (BOS Study) to identify a line that would do so.
Metro planners outlined the four finalists, absent the Pike, in an update to the BOS Study that Metro posted this week. The four options use a second Rosslyn station to alleviate congestion at the existing station, and establish a long-discussed underground station in Georgetown, which has never had a Metro connection.
The possible projects, which would cost billions of dollars to build, include a Blue Line loop to National Harbor — which planners think would add the most new riders and revenue to the Metro system — as well as a Blue Line extension to Greenbelt, a Silver Line express tunnel option through Arlington, and a Silver Line to New Carrollton.
The express option “would create a separate tunnel and tracks for the Silver Line, starting at West Falls Church Station,” according to WMATA. A diagram suggests it would skip all Arlington stations except the second Rosslyn station and perhaps a second Ballston station.
“From WFC to a new second Rosslyn station, the new tunnel could support express service, local service or a mix of express and local service,” WMATA said. “From the second Rosslyn station, the Silver Line would travel through Georgetown…. to Greenbelt.”
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
Fulfilling a long-delayed promise, Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey dropped off a cashier’s check for $10,000 to the headquarters of the Amalgamated Transit Union International yesterday.
The action is, one would assume, the last chapter in the saga of a political donation that caused Dorsey to lose his seat on the WMATA Board and lose the trust of some of his constituents in Arlington.
Dorsey was ordered by the WMATA Board to return the $10,000 political donation to his Christian Dorsey for County Board political committee due to a conflict of interest — between his role in helping to run the transit agency and his acceptance of a donation from its largest labor union. He also faced ethics scrutiny for not disclosing the donation for four months.
Dorsey resigned from the WMATA Board in February after failing to return the donation; at the time, he did not have sufficient funds in his campaign account to do so. Most of Dorsey’s campaign cash in 2019 went to himself and his wife, in the form of loan repayments and payments for campaign services, respectively.
Dorsey filed for personal bankruptcy in October 2019. The bankruptcy case was still active in federal court as of last week.
Friends helped to raise additional campaign funds for Dorsey in February and March, despite him not being up for reelection until 2023. In addition to donations from fellow elected officials and from individuals, Dorsey accepted $1,000 from the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and $2,000 from Steamfitters Local Union #602.
Dorsey wrote a $10,000 check dated Feb. 24, 2020 and sent it to ATU International but, according to reporting by the Washington Post last week, the check was somehow lost when it was sent from the union to the bank.
In response to subsequent inquiries from ARLnow, Dorsey said on Thursday that he had dropped off a cashier’s check drawn from his campaign account. He provided a photo of the check, and ATU International spokesman David Roscow confirmed that it had been received.
“I’d like for this saga to be closed as well, and will cooperate as necessary to do so,” Dorsey told ARLnow earlier in the week, though he added that he saw it as closed “at least as it pertains to my responsibility in the matter.”
“My promise was to return the contribution, which I did, as evidenced through the certified mail receipt and acknowledgment by ATU in February/March,” he said. “That they didn’t process it is a matter I cannot speak to, nor can I reasonably be held responsible for.”
According to the Virginia Dept. of Elections website, Dorsey’s campaign initially submitted a campaign finance report on July 15 that did not include the February return of the donation. That report was amended on July 19, to include the $10,000 check as an expenditure. The Post reported on July 23 that the check was never cashed.
Amazon Orders Thousands of Meals from Freddie’s — “Amazon has hired Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant, which is widely known as an LGBT establishment, to prepare and deliver 10,000 meals in the month of May for front line healthcare workers and first responders in Arlington and nearby Alexandria who are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement released to the Washington Blade, Amazon said it was investing $200,000 to pay for the 10,000 meals.” [Washington Blade]
VRE Ridership Down 97% — “First, the good news, such as it is: Ridership on Virginia Railway Express stabilized in April as the public-health pandemic rolled on. The bad news: The ridership decline is now averaging 97% compared to normal times.” [InsideNova]
Meat Section Bare at Local Costco — A photo posted Wednesday evening shows the Pentagon City Costco store’s meat section picked clean, amid a worsening meat shortage in the U.S. [@dccelebrity/Twitter]
Arlington Getting Big Check via WMATA — “The Arlington County government can expect a check for $7.2 million at some point in the future from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, as federal COVID-19 relief funding makes its way among government agencies. The funding will be part of $110 million that WMATA plans to reimburse to its member localities, so they can support non-Metro local transit systems, such as Arlington’s ART buses.” [InsideNova]