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Shuttles for Tysons Metro stations in Virginia need grants

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By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

When four new Metro stations open in Tysons Corner in 2013, Fairfax County plans to have a shuttle bus service ready to ferry riders among the Silver Line stations, office complexes and shopping malls.

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But cash-strapped Fairfax has no money now to fund the proposed service. The county's silver lining could come in the form of $280 million in new federal grants dedicated to urban circulators such as streetcars and buses -- if Fairfax can compete successfully for the money.

The grants give priority to transit projects that support the redevelopment of communities into mixed-use, high-density areas. Those guidelines seem to be in line with Fairfax's draft blueprint for redeveloping Tysons into an urban epicenter with pedestrian-friendly streets surrounded by high-rise office and residential buildings.

"It looks like someone wrote [the guidelines] with Tysons in mind," said Clark Tyler, chairman of the county-appointed Tysons Land Use Task Force, a 37-member panel that helped draft the blueprint.

The grant program, which was announced this month, is open to state and local governments. Federal officials said they don't know how competitive the process will be until all applications are submitted by the Feb. 8 deadline.

Fairfax County officials, transit experts and developers agree that a shuttle service with frequent stops would encourage motorists in Tysons to ditch their cars for the rails, relieving congestion in the traffic-choked job center.

The proposed "Tysons Link" would consist of five routes, with each one connecting office complexes and residential areas to two Silver Line stations and retail and restaurant outlets. All of the routes would serve the Tysons Central 123 station. Four would also serve Tysons West, and one would also serve Tysons East.

Preliminary estimates from transit officials indicate that Fairfax needs $9 million to buy the new buses and $5.8 million annually to operate the service.

The county can vie for up to $25 million from a $130 million federal grant designated for urban circulator systems. It also can compete for a chunk of another $150 million allocated for the purchase, replacement or rehabilitation of buses and related equipment.

Kathy Ichter, Fairfax's transportation director, said the county considers all potential funding for its transit projects. But she said Fairfax is still studying the grant requirements to gauge whether the proposed shuttle bus service is eligible for federal money.

"If there is a match here for Tysons, we will be making a grant application," she said. "Tysons is one of our number one priorities."

Ichter cautioned that a federally funded shuttle service could become a cost burden for Fairfax. The county would be required to spend additional money to comply with federal regulations.

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