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Fairfax to add bus service to assist in yearlong Metro SafeTrack disruptions

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Fairfax County on Tuesday unveiled plans to realign and increase bus service in areas affected by the Metro service disruptions that start next month as part of a yearlong  effort to bring the troubled rail system to a state of good repair.

The plan aims to give Metro commuters an array of transit options to help ease the anticipated travel nightmare from the upcoming single-tracking and shutdowns, and in so keeping residents from returning to already congested Northern Virginia roadways, officials say.

Across the Washington region, local governments and transportation agencies are scrambling for ways to mitigate the impact of Metro’s SafeTrack plan, with some, as Fairfax is doing, considering more frequent buses, new temporary bus and shuttle service and even prioritizing lanes for transit.

Metro’s plan includes 15 “surge” projects that involve continuous single-tracking or shutdowns in portions of the six-line system.  Ten of those projects affect Fairfax County.

Metro’s revised SafeTrack plan

“This will not be easy and we need to make sure that we are being flexible and responsive,” Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said at a morning news conference, emphasizing the county’s support to carry out the plan by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld.

“Right now we have a crisis,” Bulova said.  “The system is deteriorating big time and so we have a system that is becoming, and in some places is unsafe, and so the effort needs to be made right now to shore up the system and make sure we are addressing the safety concerns…. We need to do what we need to do to make sure that it continues to be the kind of system that we rely upon in the Washington metropolitan area.

Fairfax transportation officials say they will coordinate with Metro to provide a robust shuttle service around the track work areas.  The county also is embarking on a campaign to promote current bus service that Metro riders can use as alternatives and will launch new temporary express shuttle service to accommodate riders from areas such as Reston to Pentagon.

The first test will come June 4, when Metro starts the plan with 13 days of continuous single-tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston. As many as 73,000 passengers of the Orange and Silver lines will be impacted during this event, Metro official Jack Requa told Fairfax supervisors  Tuesday. Riders should expect crowded trains and platforms, especially during rush hours.  Orange Line trains running between Vienna and Ballston will operate every 18 minutes. Silver Line trains also will operate every 18 minutes.

Fairfax plans to plan to address this surge with the following additional services:

  • Fairfax Connector express shuttle service between Vienna and Pentagon.
  • Additional buses will run on some lines between Reston and Pentagon, in the Dulles/I-66 corridor, including the Connector’s 599 and Metrobus 5A.
  • Shuttle service between Vienna and West Falls Church.

Officials said the bus supplements will be made specifically to address the impact of specific surge projects.  Riders can learn about those on the County’s SafeTrack page.

Requa said Metro has 40 buses available to use during each of the work surges. Specific to the project that starts June 4, he said, the transit agency plans to boost rush hour service on various lines, including the 3Y line that runs from East Falls Church to McPherson Square, the 38B from Ballston to Farragut West and the 2A bus that connects Ballston to East Falls Church and Dunn Loring. Metrobus will also double the service on the 5A that connects Washington to Rosslyn, Reston and Dulles International Airport, Requa said.

Transportation officials warn that any bus additions will not be enough to handle Metro masses. While buses have capacity for up to 55 people, one Metrorail car alone can accommodate 175 passengers, Fairfax Connector section chief Nick Perfili said, noting that to handle the crowds of a six-car train, the county would need 20 buses.

“We don’t anticipate being able to carry 73,000 people on our bus system,” Requa said. “These are supplemental services but not the answer to everything.”

Officials are urging riders to also consider telecommuting, slugging and carpooling. Fairfax is also betting on some commuters to switch from Metro to the Virginia Railway Express when possible, and the county will be posting updates at commuter lots where they can connect to bus and the VRE system that runs along the I-95 and I-66 corridors to Washington’s Union Station.